Category: owenjarus - Part 13

Wanted: Homes for Ontario’s Artefacts

This past a week I interviewed two archaeologists, Dr. Ron Williamson and Professor Neal Ferris, who are at the forefront of trying to solve a problem which has seen artefacts quite literally being tossed into landfills.

Ontario, a province larger than the UK and France put together, has a rich archaeological history going back about 12,000 years.

Its a history that includes early hunters who lived alongside mastodons, an agricultural revolution that started 1,500 years ago, and the construction of five hectare villages with 100 meter longhouses.

What its recent history has not seen is an archaeological system capable of storing all the artefacts that have come out of the ground. Unlike its neighbours to the south, Ontario lacks a large system of public repositories.

This lack of storehouses has meant that artefacts end up being kept in terrible conditions, such as basements and private residences. Dr. Williamson writes in an article in The Mark, that, in at least two instances, artefacts have actually been thrown in a landfill.

The Source of the Artefact Baby Boom

The problem started about 30 years ago, when archaeological protection laws were enacted. The legislation said that, before development can take place, a licensed archaeologist must review a site and excavate archaeological remains. Its purpose was to prevent Ontarios history from being mowed over by construction projects. This has meant that there has been an explosion in the amount of excavation done over the past three decades.

Professor Ferris said that, before this legislation was enacted, there were a small number of archaeologists working with museums or universities. Today there is many more, working in a cultural resource management sector, which has sprung up to provide these assessments.

“Theres been very poor follow-through on the management and care of the collections and data”

However, there is a problem with this arrangement. Ontario has never built adequate storage facilities and museum space to accommodate these finds. This has meant that archaeologists are being forced to hang onto these artefacts themselves sometimes for decades on end.

Its appalling that the ministry which set up a program wheres theres close to $10 million of archaeology occurring (but) no one has taken any responsibility provincially for the results of that, Dr. Williamson told me.

Theres been very poor follow-through on the management and care of the collections and data, said Professor Ferris.

The ministry in question is the Ontario Ministry of Culture, a junior ministry that oversees archaeology in Ontario. Dr. Williamson said that its status as a junior ministry is a problem as it hinders its ability to get staff and resources. He also says that it appears to hinder decision making.

They dont want to make decisions and take responsibility thats a big-time responsibility, he said.

Dr. Ron Williamson has been pressuring the province, for many years, to open up new repositories that, will not only store artefacts, but make them accessible to researchers and First Nations. He is the founder of Archaeological Services Inc, one of the largest CRM firms in Ontario. He holds a PhD in archaeology and is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto. Hes given media interviews, written articles, talked to government officials and has even testified before a public inquiry about this problem.

Professor Neal Ferris, of the University of Western Ontario, worked for the Ministry of Culture before becoming a professor. He agrees with Williamson that the situation has reached a crisis point.

He told me how artefacts can be so hard to find – after they come out of the ground – that just tracking them down will qualify as a graduate research project. Their graduate student research project ultimately being something along the lines of well Ive contacted a bunch of archaeologists and Ive found where they found these distinctive artefacts and heres an inventory of them.

Cause for Hope?

Professor Ferris brings a piece of good news. Last Spring he won approval from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, a non-profit corporation funded by the federal government, to build new facilities in London and Hamilton.
These repositories will not only house artefacts but will digitize them and make them available online.

Were not interested in just being a warehouse for stuff, he said. What we want to actually do is convert these objects into digital information to facilitate research…. All these collections, the report, the catalogues will all be digitized into an information platform.

This, he hopes, will bring an end to the Easter egg hunting grad projects. It wont be about tracking down these things anymore. It will be about value added research on these distinctive artefacts.

Virtual reality will be part of this solution. Well have immersive environment capabilities, he said. We can have you as a researcher put on a pair of glasses and spatially figure out where artefact types are on a site, – an invaluable tool in helping to reconstruct a site.

He said that it wont have enough space for all of Ontarios homeless artefacts, but it will be pretty darn close.
Williamson said that Ontario needs to add funding to this project, or build repositories elsewhere, so that all of Ontarios artefacts have a proper home.

Did Hunter Gatherers Produce Pottery? You bet!

Its an idea that has become conventional thinking.

Pottery is a child of agriculture. There is no advantage for a society to produce ceramic technology unless it is at least partly agricultural.

Hunter gatherers, who move around the landscape, wont produce it in any quantity because it is simply too much to lug around. Besides, if youre living this kind of lifestyle youre not storing more food than you can carry.

Whats the problem with this idea? Quite simply, its not true!

Research in the Great Lakes area of North America has confirmed that people were using pottery for nearly 1,500 years until they adopted an agricultural way of life. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Japan, archaeologists know that people from the Jomon culture were producing pottery as far back as 10,000 years ago, even though their way of life was based on hunting and gathering.

So to me its no surprise to hear that Chinese hunters and gatherers were making it as far back as 18,000 years ago according to this Nature report.

Lets take a look at the North America example.

In the start of a period called the Early Woodland, about 900 BC, people across the Great Lakes region began making cord pottery.

Pottery was likely formed around a basket or bag while being made (hence the cord decoration). It was thick, poorly fired and not what you would see a modern ceramic master make… but it was pottery.

While domesticated sunflower had made its way north, society was still based on hunting and gathering. Horticulture didnt play a significant role.

Why they started producing pottery, even though they were hunter gatherers, is a bit of a mystery

The people are still living a hunting and gathering way of life,Professor Peter Timmins told me.

Timmins is a University of Western Ontario professor who has done extensive research on Great Lakes archaeology through the university and the cultural resource management firm he co-leads.

Society, in the Great Lakes, didnt adopt agricultureon a large scale until1000 AD,when year-round villages came into existence and peoplebecame dependenton agriculture for their livelihood.In northern Ontario, where the terrain was rocky, people were never able to adopt farming. However, they produced pottery as well.

Why these groupsstarted producing pottery, even though they were hunter gatherers, is a bit of a mystery. Some events leading up to its development were a population increase in the millennia before, a climate shift from sub-arctic to moderate (by 4,000 BC) that made plant foods more widely available, and of course the use of domesticated sunflower.

Dr. Timmins said that, in the case of the Great Lakes, he believes that pottery making likely diffused from the American southeast, where it had been developed earlier.

I think it was a process of diffusion really and probably involved trade as well, said Dr. Timmins. He noted that pottery developed in the American Southeast earlier, and that trade tended to bring objects from south to north.

Today in pseudoscience

A few years ago, a well-meaning person, who knew that I had an interest in archaeology, gave me a copy of a magazine called Ancient America.

The magazine carries articles that, needless to say, I havent seen in any scholarly journals.Heres a sample from their last issue.

Roman coins found along the Ohio River
Minoan pendent found in Ohio
Chinese treasure in California

My first thought wow ancient Mediterranean civs really had a thing going for Ohio!

Im not going to get into these claims except to say that I wouldnt put money on any of them standing up to scientific scrutiny.

But the thing that strikes me about these sorts of far-fetched ideas is how pervasive they are. A book, 1421, has appeared that makes the claim that the Chinese beat Columbus to North America.

The Canadian author Farley Mowat, a very well known writer, has also put out the idea that the Albans made a crossing into North America.

Yet, there is not a single Alban or Chinese artefact, of undisputable origin, found in the New World, which dates before Columbus.

Not a single one.

Also despite thousands and thousands of digs archaeologists have not foundany Roman coins in the New World that date before Columbus.

In fact there is a total ofexactly one possible Roman artefact, found in the New World, which may be of pre-Columbian origin.

That is the Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca head found in Mexico. An apparently Roman head found in a pre-Columbian layer in the pre-Hispanic settlement of Tecaxic-Calixtlahuaca in central Mexico. Its possible that somebody planted it as a hoax or that it was brought in by an early Spanish settler and got mixed into this layer.

The head was found in 1933 and its excavator has long since died so its unlikely a definite answer will be found on whether its genuine.

Im not saying that we should close the book on the idea that someone from Europe, Chinaor the Middle East, (other than the Vikings) got to the New World before Columbus. But I am saying that an extraordinary claim like that requires evidence that can withstand scientific scrutiny.

And to date the only archaeological evidence, in the New World, of someone coming over from one of these areas, who are not Viking, is a head dug up in 1933. Thats a difficult position from which to launch a credible argument, much less a book or magazine.

Ground-breaking Discovery or Old News?

In September of 2008 a paper came out in the Journal of Applied Geophysics, which reported on a Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey of the site of Le Pozze in Lonato, Northern Italy. Most of the findings were from the Roman period and include the discovery of a large villa and public building. The researchers estimate that the two structures combined extended over nearly 10,000 square meters of space.

Here is the stopper the survey was done in 2004. It took four years until it appeared in a journal.

A little known fact about archaeology is that the time period between the completion of field and lab work, and publication in a peer-reviewed journal or book, can be vast. In fact, except in cases where the findings are truly exceptional (ie- Homo floresiensis) multi-year wait times are common.

Sometimes archaeological investigations dont get published at all and remain stuck in the so-called grey literature, of unpublished, and hard to access, government reports and personal documents.

There are many reasons why these delays occur. Academics working in penny-pinched environments dont have a lot of time on their hands and may simply not get around to writing a paper as fast as they should.

Journals face difficulties. They tend to get large numbers of submissions but only have a limited number of editors and peer-reviewers to work their way through them. In some instances they may have to reject a paper for the reason that they dont have enough resources to properly edit it.

The end result of this is that the journals are often not the best place to get the very latest information on archaeology. Ive found that conferences and informal lectures often present information that will not be published for some time to come. Local news reporters will sometimes get news of discoveries in their area out before most scientists know of it. Government agencies, such as the SCA in Egypt, will occasionally make announcements ahead of publication.

Its a big change from the early 20th century when travel times made conferences impractical and the inexistence of computer and telecommunications technology limited the informal spread of information. At the time journals, and books, were the only way to get the latest news of archaeological discoveries out.

Pass the Grouper but spare the fish sauce! Lunch time in Roman Tunisia!

Residents of Leptiminus, a city in Roman occupied Tunisia, ate a diet heavy in vegetables and marine life (including Grouper). However they avoided millet and legumes, dietary staples in other parts of the Empire.

They also avoided eating large amounts of the local fish sauce which they were trying to sell to other people. These are the findings of a Canadian science team that analyzed skeletons from the cemetery of Leptiminus.

The scientists were led by Professor Anne Keenleyside of Trent University in Peterborough.

The skeletons they analyzed date from the 2nd century A.D. to 5th century A.D. To determine the societys diet, the team used a method called stable carbon isotope analysis. Simply put this form of analysis measures the amount of different isotopes of carbon in the bone. Depending on the diet a person eats during their life, these amountswill be different.

So, how much did they like their fish at Leptiminus? A lot!

In fact the analysis says that people in the settlement ate a significantly higher proportion of marine animals than those in Portus, a harbour just south of Rome. They alsohad a bigger portion thanthe residents ofPoundbury camp inDorchester England. A fact that is not terribly surprising considering that raisingand hunting animals in Italy or England was likely a bit easier than in North Africa.

But what kind of fish were they eating?

Lentil, pea, and grass pea were well represented.

It definitely wasnt the food they were trying to sell to other people.

Fish Sauce (Garum) was exported from North Africa, including Leptiminus. However, the local fish sauce has an isotope value that is different than those found in the skeletons, so that isnt the culprit.

The scientists think that people were eating a variety of high trophic fish including sea bream and grouper. They may also have also been eating octopus, squid, anglerfish, mackerel and mullet.

Fish bones representing primarily gilthead sea bream and grouper have been recovered from Leptiminus, the scientists say in their research report.

Two things the residents didnt consume were millet and legumes. The scientists found no evidence in their analysis that the residents consumed a significant amount of those.

Instead, the residents appear to havestuck to their vegetables. The scientists finish offthe discussionchapter, in their research report,by noting that archaeologists have found that in the Roman-era farms of the Libyan pre-desert, lentil, pea, and grass pea were well represented.

Moving in on Madaba’s Iron Age Squatters

As this blog is being written a Canadian team is renewing excavations at the site of Madaba, a modern day Jordanian city that has at least 5,000 years of history behind it.

The city is well known for its Byzantine mosaics including the 6th century AD ‘Madaba Map’, which is considered to be the oldest known map of the holy land.

The Canadian excavations areled by Dr. Debra Foran and Professor Tim Harrison, both of the University of Toronto. Theyhave been taking place, off and on, for more than a decade. The theme of prosperity and collapse runs through the citys history, as it does with many sites in the Middle East.

There are stretches in the archaeological record when Madaba is a prosperous urban polity (for example, during the Byzantine period when its famous map was made), but there are also stretches when it was in decline andeven abandoned (as during the medieval period).

Perhaps no timeframe inthe city’s history illustrates these challenges better thanthat of theIron Age. The Canadianteamis still uncovering and analyzing artefacts from this era. The picture that these finds are painting is a dramatic one.

During the start of a period that archaeologists call Iron Age IIB, about 2,800 years ago, Madaba was a major city, occupying nearly 16 hectares of land.This madeit one of the largest sites in Jordan at the time. It was surrounded by a five metre high wall, which, at its strongest point, was seven meters thick.

When the Canadian team dug down into these layers they found pillared buildings along with pottery. Evidence, they said in a 2007 report, (which) clearly indicate that Madaba had become a substantial urban center.

The bible also hints at Madabas importance, saying that the Israeli King David defeated two ancient groups, the Ammonites and Aramaeans, near the city.

But, this great settlement wasnt the only thing the team found.

The Iron Age town – with its monumental architecture – appears to have been violently destroyed and then subsequently resettled by a small number of people.

In a period called the late Iron IIB, the team found evidence that hints at a tragic end to this ancient settlement. They found badly constructed structures, made of rocks, in such as a shape that some scholars have used the term “squatters” occupation to describe them.

Professor Harrison told me, in an email last autumn, that the Iron Age town, with its monumental architecture… appears to have been violently destroyed and then subsequently resettled by a small number of people.

The team doesnt know who destroyed it or the identity of the people from the squatters occupation. They may have been survivors from the destroyed town, or newcomers altogether. In any event, one of the largest cities in Iron Age Jordan suffered a great fall, one from which it would not recover for hundreds of years.

A story all too common in the ancient, and even modern, Middle East.

INTERVIEW- Artist Joshua Neustein on responding to the Dead Sea Scrolls

The Institute for Contemporary Culture (ICC) at the Royal Ontario Museum, the Koffler Centre for the Arts and the Julie M Gallery are presenting works by New York based abstract artist Joshua Neustein. His exhibition of works explores the themes and ideas mentioned in the scrolls.

There was a time when biblical themes dominated western art. Indeed modern day galleries are full of renaissance and medieval European art that focussed on the stories presented in the Old and New Testaments.

With a rich cultural context of religious art behind us, how do modern artists respond to a biblical brief? I sat down with artist Joshua Neustein (JN)to find out.

OJ: What do the Dead Sea Scrolls mean for you personally?

JN: Before I answer that question – I want to say if we’re going to have a conversation I want you hear what Im saying rather than memorize the questions that you have prepared, so we can have a real conversation, so lets include what i said now in your blog.

What the Dead Sea Scrolls meant to me is I wasnt there as a spectator butI was part of the packaging of the Dead Sea Scrolls. If you went to the shop downstairs you saw they had dolls from the Dead Sea Scrolls, they had t-shirts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, they had many, many books on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

I reacted to my agenda. I was asked to respond to the Dead Sea Scrolls; instead I responded to the Dead Sea Scrolls show.

Did you ever see the Truman show?

OJ: Quite a few years back, its a little vague.

JN: Okay its about a guy who lives a normal life and slowly it dawns on him that he is actually living in a television show. What was the name of this actor?

Most art that relates to the bible today is kitsch – it’s schlock, it’s tourist art.

OJ: Jim Carey?

JN: Yeah, Jim Carey, hes beginning to try to get behind the scenes, trying to find out what the production crew is, where is it? How did they manage to film him? He lives his whole life (but) at some point he realizes hes a TV show – hes not living a life.

I was responding to the Dead Sea Scroll show not to the Dead Sea Scrolls which is very much in line with what you said that we want to look at the contemporary perspective on antiquities. Not what they might have thought then, we dont know what they thought then anyway.

OJ: You have a lot of experience doing a lot of artwork in Israel. Do you find that other artists, when they do their work, that they relate to things like the Dead Sea Scrolls or do they relate to more contemporary sort of things?

JN: Israeli artists relate to contemporary art as much as Canadian artists or Lebanese artists or Spanish or French or German artists today.

I was asked to relate to the Dead Sea Scrolls – its not whatI do normally. In fact I think most art that relates to the bible today is kitsch, it’s schlock, it’s tourist art.

Artists today dont relate to biblical stories. That was done wonderfully and unsurpassed in the era of the Renaissance. I dont think we can do better than Piero della Francesca. I dont think we can do better than Michelangelo in illustrating the bible. So I think we have to let that one go and relate to our own era.

OJ: When I was at the media preview, I was looking at the letters (in the scrolls). When I looked at the art (the) first thing that came to mind was those letters. I was kind of imagining them in different kinds of shapes.

JN: The letters of the scrolls themselves?

OJ: Yeah, my mind was on the Aramaic and Hebrew – is that something that should come to mind?

JN: Whatever should come to your mind should come to mind. Yours is as an authentic a response as anybody else’s. Youre not an archaeologist – neither am I. We respond to our environment in a major reflex. The text themselves are in Hebrew. I can read it. There isnt much there – its all smoke and mirrors. Its architectural instruction; big jukeboxes.

Its a tiny little scrap of fragment from the scroll. I like fragment. If you look at the drawings here you see a lot of fragmenting; taking it out of context; putting it into context. I guess they invited me to do the show vis a vis the Dead Sea Scrolls because of the way I work. Not because I relate to the bible. This is the first time Ive ever related to the bible.

Joshua Neustein’s work will be exhibited in two exhibitions: Margins, at the ROM, and Drawings from Qumran at the Julie M. gallery.

Later in July another exhibition will open at the ICC, called Read, which will show artist Hamra Abbas response to the biblical texts.

Protesters Take to the Streets (and youtube) in Dead Sea Scrolls Dispute

There are few ancient history exhibitions that actually lead people to take to the streets in protest – but the Dead Sea Scrolls is one of them.

Last Friday a few dozen protesters took to the streets outside the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto to protest against the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit.

At the same timea group of supporters of the exhibit staged a counter-protest right across the street.

Videos, from both sides of the protests, have recently migrated onto youtube.

Its the latest chapter in a series of events that have been playing out in the city since the exhibit was announced last autumn.

So What’s Their Beef?

To understand the protests you have to examine the context of the scrolls’ discovery. The scrolls were discovered at the site of Qumran between 1947 and 1956, although it’s not certain why they were there. Now, Qumran is actually in the West Bank, not Israel proper. At the time of the scrolls’ discovery, the area was controlled by Jordan and many of the scrolls were housed in the Rockefeller Museum in East Jerusalem.

The fact that Israel has the scrolls is, needless to say, a sticking point with the Palestinians.

A video from the main protest

Avideo from the “counter-protest” across the street

A second video from the “counter-protest”

After the Six Days War in 1967, Israel took over the West Bank. The scrolls in the Museum, and the site of Qumran, came under the auspices of Israel.

Today the West Bank is controlled by Mahmoud Abbas Palestinian Authority. The fact that Israel has the scrolls is, needless to say, a sticking point with the Palestinians.

So, when the Toronto exhibit was announced the Palestinian Authority objected. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and demanded that the exhibit be cancelled.

Harper refused and the museum got a legal opinion saying that the exhibit they were showing was in keeping with international law.

But thats not the end of it.

Toronto based Palestinian groups objected. Palestine House, a major GTA cultural centre, sent out a press release denouncing the ROMs position.

The protests racheted up a notch last Friday when a small band of protesters converged on the ROM to protest against the exhibit. In response to the protest a group of supporters of the Dead Sea Scrolls, waving Israeli flags,took to the streets at the same time as the Palestinian protesters to wage what is known as a counter-protest. (Yes, a protest to protest a protest)

Dueling videos of the protests can be seen on youtube and we have embedded them here in this blog.

But, perhaps the strangest turn of events came when the owner of a local restaurant, Le Select Bistro, published a call for a boycott of the scrolls exhibit on his website.

The principle of free speech is more important than anything else, owner Frederic Geisweiller told The National Post, adding that his staff has been harassed and threatened over his words. An effect on my business doesnt have me shaking in my sandals.

The protests have started to receive attention media attention in Israel with the Jerusalem Post publishing a lengthy article just yesterday.

In the end its not likely that the protests will result in any changes to the exhibit. The museum believes that the exhibition is legal. Prime Minister Harper supports it, as does the Premier of Ontario (a position similar to a U.S. governor) Dalton McGuinty, who actually took part in the opening of the exhibit.

But, without a doubt, the protests (and counter-protests) have brought the issue of artefact repatriation a little closer to home for the citizens of Toronto.

Why Hadrian Should be Obama’s Military Advisor in Iraq

As US President Barack Obamasorts out theforeign policy mess made by his now infamous predecessor he would be well advised to brush up on his ancient history. More than 1,800 years ago, a Roman emperor, Hadrian, faced a problem that was eerily similar. He inherited a great foreign policy mess from his own predecessor Trajan.

For as long as Rome had occupied territory in the Middle East (1st century BC) there had been tensions along the eastern border. The main problem they had was with an empire called the Parthians who occupied modern day Iraq and Iran.

The tensions had boiled over into war before. Ironically Nero, an infamous emperor himself, helped negotiate a peace deal that allowed for a buffer state, Armenia, to exist between the two empires.

However Trajan was not interested in negotiation. When a conflict erupted in 113 AD over whom the king of Armenia would be – Trajan did something no emperor had done before he didnt just fight the Parthians, he sought to annex their territory in Iraq.

His Parthian War therefore marks a deliberate change of policy and a shift of emphasis in the grand strategy of the Roman Empire, wrote New York Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Christopher Lightfoot in an article.

In a sweeping campaign that lasted from 114 AD to 116 AD, Trajan used seven legions to sweep away the Parthian King Osroes and occupy his capital Ctesiphon, a city near the Persian Gulf.

Back at home the Roman senate was enthusiastic and awarded him the title Parthicus which translates to Victorious in Parthia.

His accolades were short lived. The territory he now controlled, which he organized into three new provinces called Armenia, Assyria and Mesopotamia, lacked natural defensive barriers. This meant that he had to keep a large force present to protect it.

Making matters worse he had failed to capture Osroes. Rather than take on Trajans army directly the Parthian king had snuck away and was helping to instigate revolts against the Romans.

Trajan tried to solve these problem by installing a Parthian King of his own choosing, Parthamaspates, to rule over the new territories as a sort of client state.

But, things only got worse for Trajan.

Parthamaspates proved unable to stop revolts in Assyria and Mesopotamia, and in Judaea a new revolt broke out. With many of the eastern legions off in Iraq, the Romans lacked the military manpower necessary to put it down.
Faced with two revolts Trajan headed for home and died in Cilicia in August 117 AD.

Enter Hadrian

When Hadrian assumed power, following the death of Trajan, he was faced with an overstretched military and two revolts. He quickly came to the conclusion that he couldnt hold onto the new conquests in Parthia. In fact he couldnt even try to support the client king, Parthamaspates.

So he made a decision by 118 AD to abandon him and withdraw his forces from Armenia, Assyria and Mesopotamia.
Parthamaspates was quickly defeated by Osroes, who returned from his guerrilla role to become king again.

Rome had suffered a humiliating loss.

But Hadrian had learned from his predecessors failures. Over the course of his rule he travelled broadly across the empire seeing first-hand the problems and inefficiencies. In 122 AD he was in Great Britain and realized that a defensive barrier was needed to hold land south of Scotland.

He ordered the construction of Hadrians Wall, a fortification system across a narrow channel of land in Northern England, which is still with us today. Indeed Hadrian spent his ruler-ship not acquiring new territory, but putting down rebellions in Judaea and Anatolia, re-organizing the administration of Italy and organizing new defences.

In Greece he placated the population with a building program that saw the temple of Olympian Zeus, in Athens, completed.

When he died in 138 AD, he left behind an empire that was smaller but with a military that was fully intact and would continue to act as a superpower in the years ahead.

Now, Im not claiming that Hadrians personality reflects Obama’s. Indeed Hadrian’s brutal persecution of the Jews suggests that it was anything but.

But the situation in present-day Iraq almost mirrors that faced by Obama.

Do you try and support a ruler that was forcibly brought in by your predecessor? Or do you pull up stakes and leave?Turning your attention tomaking your land more defensible and your administration more efficient?

Reconstructing Thermopylae

Thermopylae is the site where a group of a few thousand Greeks held off a Persian army for three days (including a desperate last stand made on Kolonos Hill, led by the Spartans,on the third day of battle).

Historians still debate whether the battle was necessary, but in any event the Greeks were eventually successful in repelling the Persian invasion after a naval victory at the Battle of Salamis.

This past weekend a team of Greek scientists, at a conference in Australia, announced preliminary results ofan attempt to reconstruct the landscape of the ancient battlefield. The lead investigator, Professor Konstantinos Vouvalidis of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, kindly emailed me asummary oftheir findings.

The findings are early results and no drawings of the battlefield has been made yet.

In the email he explained that his team, used geomorphological, stratigraphical, sedimentological, and palaeontological data derived from 20 drillings with depths ranging from 5 to 35m. Furthermore, the results were supported by geoelectrical sections up to a depth of 40m.

Certainly sounds rigorous!

The team writes that,the morphology in the ‘Central Gate’ of the pass and the battle terrain have changed significantly since 480 B.C.

The rapid sediment accumulation on the Sperchios delta plain westwards and the resultantprogradation of the Malian Gulf shoreline to the east, in response to Holocene sea level rise, have drastically changed the coastal morphology of the Thermopylae pass over the past 2,500 years.

So a modern day re-creation of the battle at Thermopylae, at the site itself,wouldnt be very accurate.

But what was the ancient battlefield like?

Professor Vouvalidis isexpecting carbon-14 dates in September that will help with the reconstruction. With the findings they have so far the team believes that a mix of travertine rock and marshy sediments existed at the time the battle was carried out.

He adds that, The geomorphological and palaeogeographical results of this research are in good agreement with the description by Herodotus of the battlefield of Thermopylae in his book Polymnia (7, 176),

He quoted the relevant text in the email:

As for the entrance into Greece by Trachis, it is, at its narrowest point, about fifty feet wide. This however is not the place where the passage is most contracted; for it is still narrower a little above and a little below Thermopylae. ..

West of Thermopylae rises a lofty and precipitous hill, impossible to climb, which runs up into the chain of Oeta; while to the east the road is shut in by the sea and by marshes…

As the Thessalians strove to reduce Phocis, the Phocians raised the wall to protect themselves, and likewise turned the hot springs upon the pass, that so the ground might be broken up by watercourses, using thus all possible means to hinder the Thessalians from invading their country.

Looks like Herodotus got his geography right.