Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Roman Sewn Ship Found in Croatia

From the description of the site, it sounds like a sewn ship will be the first of numerous discoveries in the former Roman city of Cissa.

Archaeologists have found an ancient sewn ship over 2000 years old in Novalia, Croatia. The ship, including body panels, ship skeleton and stitches, was found in the Caska Bay on the Island of Pag, near Novalja.

[Image - Reconstruction of a sewn boat. Courtesy of The Sewn Boat homepage.]

“In Roman times, Novalja was known for its port accommodation and was located on the old sea route from Greece to northern Italy and central Europe. The ships would wait in Novalja for suitable winds and because of that a town developed there that had various suitable services,” said professor Zdenko Brusic from Zadar University.

“Today, there are numerous remains of Roman architecture under the whole region, like water supply lines, well equipped basilicas, graves,” he added. - More: Sindh Today

I wonder if this new discovery exhibits the combination of construction techniques found in a Greek vessel raised off the coast of Sicily late last year? That 2500 year-old vessel was built with both sewing and mortise-and-tenon joints. According to National Geographic, other finds show that Egyptians and Phoenician-Punic people used this method of boat building as well.

On the Sewn Boat Homepage, Misha Naimark explains that the stitching material for sewn boats (at least those built in Northern Europe) was usually made from the roots of trees like spruce or pine.

Gathered roots must be cleaned from the bark (which is also loose and peels off quite easily) and immediately immersed into a bucket of tar; the roots are soft only while they are fresh and wet, but when they get dry they become quite crisp and stiff. So the roots are to be kept immersed in the tar, and taken out just before sewing. To protect them against rotting and deteriorating in the boat, the roots must be boiled in the tar until they are completely impregnated with it; this will make them softer, too.

Thus prepared, the spruce roots are flexible enough for sewing; but if a root is too thick and stiff, one can easily rip it lengthwise into two equal thong-like parts, which are very fit for sewing. Each part can further be ripped into halves to obtain thin and flexible enough yarns. Usually thick roots were split into yarns this way, and sometimes several such yarns were twisted together into strands and used for sewing instead of whole roots. - More: The Sewn Boat Homepage

Thursday, May 21, 2009

CT scans to "unroll" the scorched papyri from Herculaneum

I am always excited when someone tackles the challenge of trying to unroll the charred scrolls from Piso's library in Herculaneum. Although many scholars think the library mostly contains epicurean works, I keep hoping for copies of lost books written by Piso's son-in-law, Julius Caesar. According to ancient sources, Caesar dabbled in a variety of literary genres including poetry and even a joke book. I think it would be very revealing to discover what Caesar found humorous.

[Image - Brent Seales, a University of Kentucky computer science professor, specializes in reading ancient manuscripts using computer scans. On the screen behind him is a scan of the earliest complete copy of Homer's Illiad, from the 10th century A.D. On the screen at right is a carbonized scroll from ancient Herculaneum that Seales and his team will try to read using an X-ray CT scan. Photo by David Stephenson]

Brent Seales, the Gill professor of engineering in UK's computer science department, will use an X-Ray CT scanning system to collect interior images of the scrolls' [from the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum] rolled-up pages. Then, he and his colleagues hope to digitally "unroll" the scrolls on a computer screen so scholars can read them.

Seales admits that there are hurdles, the biggest being the carbon-based ink thought to have been used on the scrolls. He says that since the papyrus in the scrolls was turned to carbon by the fury of Vesuvius, it might be impossible to visually separate the writing from the pages, even with powerful computer programs.

"The open question is, will we be able to read the writing?" Seales said. "There is a chance that we won't be able to do it with our current machine, and that we'll have to re-engineer some things. But if that's the case, that's what we will do." - More: Lexington Herald-Leader

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

New Ceramics Dating Process Developed in UK

I thought this article in Chemistry World was quite interesting. I'm a little confused about one statement in the article that says the dating method can be applied regardless of whether the artifact is buried , exposed, etc. but at the end of the article it says results can be compromised by fluctuations in temperature and environmental conditions over a long timescale. Still, it sounds like a more definitive way to use potsherds to date a site than comparison with other potsherds. Proximity can be misleading with debris from occasional trade activities. Ancient peoples, like modern ones, liked to pick up souvenirs on their wanderings.
[Image -Roman Terracotta Lamp with Reclining Comic Actor 100-200 CE in the permanent collection of the Getty Villa, Malibu, California. Photo by Mary Harrsch.]

A new way to find the age of ceramic objects, such as ancient pottery, has been developed by scientists in the UK. The technique measures how much water the items have absorbed since they were fired - simply and accurately revealing when they were made.

Broken pottery, brickwork or tiles are unearthed at almost every archaeological dig site, but they are often of little use to archaeologists as determining how old they are is difficult. Carbon dating cannot be used because ceramics are made from finely-grained mineral clay, and alternative dating methods are complex and costly.

Now, UK scientists have found a way to date these artefacts and thus give fresh insight into the history and construction of excavated ruins or items. Key to the process is the knowledge that there is an ultra-slow recombination of moisture in fired-clay ceramic objects as they absorb moisture from the air, and that this 'rehydroxylation' process occurs at a predictable rate once an object is fired.

The researchers indicate that the technique may also find uses in spotting fake objects or uncovering whether buildings have been re-built or experienced a fire. For example, while testing a variety of bricks and tiles provided by the Museum of London - including Roman, medieval and modern samples - all but one of the samples were accurately dated.

The sample that threw the results was a clay brick from a medieval priory in Canterbury, UK, which was dated at only 66 years old instead of several hundred. On further investigation, the team found that the priory had been bombed during World War II, resulting in the clay bricks being heated over 500°C, which would have dried them out and thus affected the results. - More: Chemistry World

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Dipity tool creates Roman Archaeology Timeline effortlessly

Today when I was searching for a particular video I had watched on YouTube several months ago (I had forgotten to favorite it), I came across a video that demonstrated how to create a timeline with multimedia links using a new tool called Dipity. I created my first "category" timeline by simply inputing the keywords "Roman Archaeology" the references Dipity found on the web appear to be very relevant. Impressive!

Of course Dipity includes Web 2.0 sharing utilities so you can share your timelines with Facebook, etc. Dipity is still in alpha release and has a few glitches but I'm quite impressed with what I have seen so far and it appears to represent a useful instructional tool.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Roman era catacombs found in Bethlehem

It seems catacombs are in the news everywhere today. It's especially exciting when such finds include inscriptions.

Roman-era catacombs were unearthed in Bethlehem Saturday during construction in an empty lot beside Bethlehem University.

The small underground cave system opens facing north, and held four stone coffins with engravings on each, housed in two separate dug out burial areas.

Head of Antiquities department in Jericho Wael Hamamrah estimated the artifacts, complete with skeletal remains and some pottery are between 1,800 and 1,900 years old.

The underground hall leads to two rooms, one 70x28 centimeters and the other 40x24 centimeters. - More: Ma'an News Agency