News on the Ancient World – 4/24

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News on the Ancient World

Alright, fans of ancient history, here is a quick run down of all the stories about the Ancient World from the last week:

First up, April 25th is the date traditionally given for the conclusion of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta in 404BCE, with Athens surrendering to the Spartan king Lysander. The war ended the political domination of Athens of the rest of the Greek city states and began 30 years of Spartan dominance in Greece. Athens would regain some of its prestige in the following decades and the war did little to dim the cultural and intellectual fame of the city, a reputation for which the city would not lose until the closure of the Academy in Athens in 529CE by the Emperor Justinian(though it did lapse for a time early in the Roman occupation of the city). Not coincidentally it is this date that some scholars have labelled as being the ‘end of antiquity’.

Second, A fragment of the Egyptian ‘Book of the Dead’, dating from 1420BCE has been found in the Queensland Museum in Brisbane, Australia. The fragment, happened upon by Dr. John Taylor, curator of the British Museum’s mummy collection, is from a high ranking temple priest and are the missing portions of a manuscript of which other fragments have been found. Dr. Taylor is optimistic that this new discovery, which has been with the Museum for 100 years after being donated, might help archaeologists and historians to reconstruct the entire text. The papyrus will remain in Brisbane with scholars using computer technology to reconstruct the document.

Taking a jump to the other end of the world, a scientist from Salford, Dr. Bruno Fazenda, has revealed the findings of his, and his colleagues, 4 years project to reconstruct what Stonehenge might have sounded like when complete. While Stonehenge itself has too much missing to get accurate acoustical measurements, a full size replica of Stonehenge was built in Maryhill, Washington in the United States as a memorial to those that died in the First World War(it was the first memorial built for soldiers of WWI, at the time). The study indicates that, much like a Greek or Roman theater, Stonehenge would have had impressive acoustics. It is still something of a mystery, however, and one we may never solve given the absence of written evidence, what exactly the site was used for.

Britain is also in the news this week as the Museum of London has been awarded the Guinness World Record for the Largest Archaeological Collection in the World. They have over 5 million pieces and records of over 8500 digs, which fill 120,000 boxes on 10 kilometers of shelves. This collection contains materials from every ere of human existence and every part of the world. The question, however, is how long this collection will remain intact, as more and more world governments are seeking to reclaim parts of their cultural heritage from museums in Europe and the United States, which have held them for the past several hundred years from their days as colonizers.

Moving on to sunny Italy, Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno, is currently supporting the proposal to build an $800 million theme park outside of Rome which will recreate many of the architectural wonders of the Eternal City and give tourists a glimpse of what life in Rome might really have been like. Backers of the project are hoping that the proposed theme park, or Romaland as some are calling the proposal, will create jobs and revenue by increasing the length of time the average tourist stays in Rome by several days. Critics of the project are saying that the money would much better be spent in maintaining and securing the real monuments. With increasing awareness by the Italian Government and the European Union on the fragile nature of many such architectural and archaeological sites, somehow I personally doubt this project will ever truly come to fruition.

Speaking of which, another wall has collapsed in the city of Pompeii. This event has increased calls for a consistent and sustained effort to preserve it, and other such sites around Italy. Critics have said that previous efforts, largely by private donors, have been inconsistent, and too prone to being siphoned off to the local mafia, the Camorra. The recent cost cutting efforts by the Italian government have always been widely criticized. While much of the talk has been directed toward the stabilization and preservation of the site itself, none of that will matter if the tourist flow into the city is not better controlled and regulated.

It seems moles are the most effective archaeologists at the isolated Roman fort of Epiacum in West Northumberland, near Hadrian’s Wall. The site is a scheduled archaeological monument and as such excavation is strictly prohibited. However, local moles routinely churn up archaeological fragments which are gone through yearly under the watchful eye of the English Heritage. Despite moles being the excavators the artifacts are reported to be in quite good shape.

Researchers, namely Dr. Klaus Reicherter of Germany’s Aachen University, have discovered evidence that the ‘Wave of Poseidon’ which the Greek Historian Herodotus reported saving a town in Northern Greece, now called Nea Potidea, from the invading Persian army in 479BCE was in fact a Tsunami. Herodotus detailed the wave which saved the town, which modern researchers determined sounded very much like the stages of a Tsunami. Geological evidence has confirmed that a Tsunami did in fact occur in the region at around the time Herodotus reported. This research is part of ongoing efforts to find ancient tsunami’s using geological and historical evidence in order to determine what areas might be vulnerable to such an event happening today. Given that tsunamis are sudden, unpredictable, and deadly occurrences, having warning of areas vulnerable to them will certainly help people be better prepared in the future.

Finally, excavators in the coastal city of Sozopol in Bulgaria have unearthed vase fragments depicting erotic scenes in the style of Ancient Greek vase painters. In particular, initial analysis of the fragments has determined that they are of the same style as that used by the ‘Artist of the Running Satyr’ a prominent Apollonian vase painter. The archaeologist working the site has observed that this fine will help to expand knowledge of the trading contacts and artistic preferences of the region. This fine is yet another example of just how far goods and materials could and did travel from their original sites. While very few Ancient Greeks ever left their home region, their artifacts and materials have been found thousands of miles away, spread through various trade contacts and middle men. Such discoveries as this continue to be made and continue to expand our knowledge of how economy and trade in the ancient world operated.


Most of these stories were brought to my attention through:

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  1. Jon Holtgrefe says:

    By 4/24, I of course my 4/26. . .I looked up the date before I went to type it in the title and somehow I still got it wrong, my bad.

  2. Hello fellow historian!

    Excellent post. I would have to agree that moles probably are the best archeologists.

  3. Jon Holtgrefe says:

    Thank you. Yeah, I thought that story was quite funny. I will be doing one of these news run downs every week pretty much, though I think I need to work on the formatting a bit to make to highlight where stories begin and end better, especially on weeks like this in which there are a lot of news items.

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