Technology helps tourists to visualize ancient Rome

Touring ancient sites in Rome? Maybe a virtual reality headset will help you imagine things as they were thousands of years ago. From CBS News: Cutting-edge technology is helping bring ancient Rome back to life.

The cavernous space was once above ground, the grand home of Emperor Nero, and considered one of the most magnificent palaces ever built. Its name, “Domus Aurea,” means “golden house.” It’s hard to believe it was once colorful and flooded with light. But now, modern technology is letting tourists peek into the past.

Two thousand years ago, this labyrinth, now underneath the city of Rome, was the sprawling home of Emperor Nero, stretching the size of three football fields. Today, tourists can explore it, but the colors, light and opulence of this ancient Roman villa were unimaginable until this month, when visitors could start using virtual reality headsets.

“You always try to imagine in your mind what it must’ve been like, and this helps tremendously,” said Tom Papa, a tourist from New York.

Virtual reality brings to life this important piece of history. Alessandro D’Alessio, the chief archaeologist here, explained how this place was buried following Emperor Nero’s death. [continue]

The church that transformed Norway

If you didn’t already have Trondheim on your ‘must visit’ list, perhaps this discovery will change your mind. From archaeology.org: The Church that Transformed Norway.

When King Olaf Haraldsson gave up the old Viking gods to become Norway’s first Christian ruler, he fundamentally changed his society. Part of that legacy is the church he built in his capital city of Nidaros (now known as Trondheim), which was recently discovered at the construction site of a new office building. The church’s stone foundation is remarkably intact. According to Anna Petersén of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, the nave, choir, entrances, and foundation of the altar are still in place. The church was dedicated to Saint Clements the patron of slaves and seafarers and a popular figure among observant Norse raiders. A series of radiocarbon dates shows that the church was built in the early eleventh century, which affirms historical descriptions. [continue, see photo of dig]

Searching for California’s lost Viking ship

From Newsweek: Searching for California’s Lost Viking Treasure Ship.

In the rugged Colorado Desert of California, there lies buried a treasure ship sailed there hundreds of years ago by either Viking or Spanish explorers. Some say this is legend; others insist it is fact. A few have even claimed to have seen the ship, its wooden remains poking through the sand like the skeleton of a prehistoric beast.

Among those who say they’ve come close to the ship is small-town librarian Myrtle Botts. In 1933, she was hiking with her husband in the Anza-Borrego Desert, not far from the border with Mexico. It was early March, so the desert would have been in bloom, its washed-out yellows and grays beaten back by the riotous invasion of wildflowers. Those wildflowers were what brought the Bottses to the desert, and they ended up near a tiny settlement called Agua Caliente. Surrounding place names reflected the strangeness and severity of the land: Moonlight Canyon, Hellhole Canyon, Indian Gorge.

To enter the desert is to succumb to the unknowable. One morning, a prospector appeared in the couple’s camp with news far more astonishing than a new species of desert flora: He’d found a ship lodged in the rocky face of Canebrake Canyon. The vessel was made of wood, and there was a serpentine figure carved into its prow. There were also impressions on its flanks where shields had been attached—all the hallmarks of a Viking craft. Recounting the episode later, Botts said she and her husband saw the ship but couldn’t reach it, so they vowed to return the following day, better prepared for a rugged hike. [continue]

The discovery of medieval Trellech and the plucky amateurs of archaeology

From The Conversation: The discovery of medieval Trellech and the plucky amateurs of archaeology .

The tale of how an amateur archaeologist’s hunch led him to uncover a lost medieval town and spend £32,000 of his own money to buy the land, would stand to be the archaeological discovery of any year. On the border between England and Wales, the site of the medieval town of Trellech reveals much about a tumultuous period of history – and how the town came to be lost.

The story begins in 2004, when archaeology graduate Stuart Wilson began his search for this lost medieval town in Monmouthshire, south-east Wales, near where now only a small village bears the name. In the face of scepticism from academic archaeologists, Wilson’s years of work have been vindicated with the discovery of a moated manor house, a round stone tower, ancillary buildings, and a wealth of smaller finds including pottery from the 1200s. [continue]

What fun!

The caves that prove Neanderthals were cannibals

From phys.org: The caves that prove Neanderthals were cannibals.

Deep in the caves of Goyet in Belgium researchers have found the grisly evidence that the Neanderthals did not just feast on horses or reindeer, but also on each other.

Human bones from a newborn, a child and four adults or teenagers who lived around 40,000 years ago show clear signs of cutting and of fractures to extract the marrow within, they say.

“It is irrefutable, cannibalism was practised here,” says Belgian archaeologist Christian Casseyas as he looks inside a cave halfway up a valley in this site in the Ardennes forest.

The bones in Goyet date from when Neanderthals were nearing the end of their time on earth before being replaced by Homo sapiens, with whom they also interbred. [continue]

Ancient underwater garden discovered in Canada

From sciencemag.org: Ancient underwater garden discovered in Canada.

Archaeologists have discovered the earliest known garden in the Pacific Northwest—and it was underwater. The site, about 30 kilometers east of Vancouver, Canada, on land belonging to the Native American group Katzie First Nation, was once part of an ecologically rich wetland. It was divided into two parts: one on dry land, where people lived and built their homes, and one that was underwater. In the underwater section, people had arranged small stones into a [continue]

Finding North America’s lost medieval city

Medieval city? In North America?? Yet another thing I didn’t know about. From Ars Technica: Finding North America’s lost medieval city.

A thousand years ago, huge pyramids and earthen mounds stood where East St. Louis sprawls today in Southern Illinois. This majestic urban architecture towered over the swampy Mississippi River floodplains, blotting out the region’s tiny villages. Beginning in the late 900s, word about the city spread throughout the southeast. Thousands of people visited for feasts and rituals, lured by the promise of a new kind of civilization. Many decided to stay.

At the city’s apex in 1100, the population exploded to as many as 30 thousand people. It was the largest pre-Columbian city in North America, bigger than London or Paris at the time. Its colorful wooden homes and monuments rose along the eastern side of the Mississippi, eventually spreading across the river to St. Louis. One particularly magnificent structure, known today as Monk’s Mound, marked the center of downtown. It towered 30 meters over an enormous central plaza and had three dramatic ascending levels, each covered in ceremonial buildings. Standing on the highest level, a person speaking loudly could be heard all the way across the Grand Plaza below. Flanking Monk’s Mound to the west was a circle of tall wooden poles, dubbed Woodhenge, that marked the solstices. (…)

To find out what happened to Cahokia, I joined an archaeological dig there in July. [continue]

For more on Cahokia, start at CahokiaMounds.org And of course there’s a Cahokia page on Wikipedia, too.

Jersey was a must-see tourist destination for Neanderthals for over 100,000 years

From Science Daily: Jersey was a must-see tourist destination for Neanderthals for over 100,000 years.

New research led by the University of Southampton shows Neanderthals kept coming back to a coastal cave site in Jersey from at least 180,000 years ago until around 40,000 years ago.

Wow. Now there’s a place I’d love to visit.

As part of a re-examination of La Cotte de St Brelade and its surrounding landscape, archaeologists from Southampton, together with experts from three other universities and the British Museum, have taken a fresh look at artefacts and mammoth bones originally excavated from within the site’s granite cliffs in the 1970s. Their findings are published in the journal Antiquity.

The researchers matched types of stone raw material used to make tools to detailed mapping of the geology of the sea bed, and studied in detail how they were made, carried and modified. This helped reconstruct a picture of what resources were available to Neanderthals over tens of thousands of years — and where they were travelling from. [continue]

Jerseyheritage.org has some photos on their: La Cotte de St.Brelade page, and Wikipedia’s La Cotte de St.Brelade page has more info and photos.

Up for a video? Youtube has the Natural Hisory Musuem’s Neanderthal hunters and the mammoths of La Cotte de St Brelade, which is less than 5 minutes long.

Archeologists are planning to sink this ship dozens of times

From nautil.us: Archeologists are planning to sink this ship dozens of times.

Taking stock of the ship’s cargo and figuring out how it sank has been arduous. “Unlike a lot of underwater excavations, we didn’t start out being able to use digital imaging because we started in 1968-69,” says Susan Katzev, wife of Michael Katzev (who died in 2001). “We did it photograph by photograph, many hours of our photographer diving every morning, every afternoon to record the thing two-dimensionally.”

Using this research, full-scale replicas of the ship were built, starting in 1985. These vessels helped test ideas about ancient maritime activity and about the wreck itself—how its cargo was packed, for instance. (Katzev’s team learned that linen soaked in melted beeswax became too brittle to be an effective cover over the ceramic amphorae, which were used to store wine. Goatskins soaked in water overnight and tied with twine around the neck of the amphorae, though, were more effective: The skins didn’t leak.) But replicating ships and amphorae is expensive, and even with the physical replicas, there were still hypotheses about how the ship sank that proved impossible to test. What the researchers really needed was a virtual, 3D model that could be loaded with cargo and sunk repeatedly in the safe waters of a digital simulation. [continue]