Friday, April 28, 2006

Athens' Pandemic!

There was a virulent pandemic in ancient Athens in 430 BC. In four years it killed about a third of the Athenian population, contributing to Athens' downfall. Thucydides, who caught it and recovered, told of its symptons: fever, rash and diarrhea.

For years historians have wondered exactly what it was. Now, Manolis J. Papagrigorakis, a research dentist at the University of Athens has diagnosed the disease from victims unearthed in a cemetery of Athens. His team found bacterium Salmonella Typhi, the germ that causes typhoid fever.

It makes sense. During the time of the plague, Athens was in the middle of the Peloponnesian War with Sparta. Besieged and overcrowded, this certainly would have led to unsanitary water supplies which could have caused the disease to spread .. a plague or the current 21st century term -- a pandemic! See Natural History Magazine, p. 13. 5/06.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Good news! The Antiquities Inspectorate in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf has retrieved more than 200 archaeological pieces that were stolen mainly from the Iraq Museum in Baghdad.

Mohammed Hadi, inspectorate chief, attributed the success in finding the missing artifacts to a ruling by the city's high-ranking clerics banning trade in antiquties and demanding the return of the stolen items.

The ruling says antiquities are part "of national wealth and belong to the public" therefore collecting them for personal or commercial reason is illegal.

Hadi said that the pieces were brought to his office voluntarily. "There are jars of different shapes and sizes, gold and silver ornaments, statues, coins, cylinder seals, among others," he said.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


A treasure trove of ancient stone tablets has been found not far from ancient Ur by a team of Italian archaeologists. The tablets bear about 500 engravings of a literary and historical nature, according to team leader Silvia Chiodi. "An exceptional find," she said, "I was looking for a wall structure spotted by an airborne photo when I spotted a small inscription on bitumen and then realized it wasn't the only one."

Commenting on the find, Giovanni Pettinato, an archaeologist famed for his work at Ebla in Syria, said "The most surprising thing is the time span the tablets cover, ranging from 2700 BCE, the First Dynasty of Ur, to 2100 BCE, the Third Dynasty...The place where the tablets were found, not far from the surface, leads one to suppose they contain information from a library... There could be thousands of them down there."

Chiodi said the tablets would probably occupy a prominent place in a new Virtual Museum of Iraq which Italy is building to show people what Baghdad's celebrated museum of antiquities looked like before it was looted in the wake of the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.

Know how Italy got its Name?

The Enotrians were villagers who lived in the hills above Palinuro, south of Naples. They were the earliest known inhabitants of Calabria and southern Campania. The Greeks, when they arrived there c. 700 BC, had an idealised vision of the Enotrians
(meaning wine lovers) as coming from an Eden-like land of Arcadia.

In reality, they probably came from eastern Europe and moved down into a large area of southern Italy about 1000 BCE. And actually, the Greeks owed their wealth to exploiting proserous native villages such as Molpa that has recently been excavated. It is a very rare example of surviving pre-Greek settlements in Southern Italy. This site had a large necropolis and a monumental sanctuary.

One of the last kings of the Enotrians called Italo or Italos, is said to have changed his kingdom's name from Enotria to Italia. Ah Ha! That's how Italy got its name.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

True Source of the Nile Discovered

Three explorers from Britain and New Zealand claim to be the first to have traveled the Nile from its mouth to its "true source" deep in Rwanda's lush Nyungwe rainforest.

The expedition called "Ascend the Nile" traveled over 4,163 miles in three boats, tracing the Nile from the Mediterranean through 5 countries to what they claim is its origin.

Neil McGrigor from Scotland and Cam McLeay and Garth MacIntyre from New Zealand suffered a rebel attack in northern Uganda which killed one of the team and overcame massive rapids, crocodile charges and incredible heat and humidity before reaching their final destination. McGrigor told reporters "This is the end of an 80 day amazing and exhausting journey."

They abandoned their tiny boats on the last leg of the journey and trekked some 43 miles for seven days through thick forest, sometimes forced to wade in the fast-running Nile waters. The team believes the Nile is at least 66 miles longer than preiously thought.

U.S. Accused of Damaging Kish

An Iraqi ministry has accused American forces of damaging Kish, a 5,000 year old site 60 miles south of Baghdad. As the U.S. forces set up a camp, near Hillah, they prevented anyone from entering the important archaeological site to assess the damage (which was not specified). This reminds us of the problem of U.S. troops using the ancient city of Babylon as a base last year. The U.S. Military has responded that all earth moving has been halted and that all engineering work was discussed with the head of the Babylon museum.


The Bad News: If you're visiting Rome, Nero's Golden House has been closed. Flooding and subsidence make it impossible to visit. It was only open for a couple of years but it will take a while to rehabilitate it.
The Good News: Mosaic experts have recreated the wonderful "Alexander vs Darius" picture mosaic and put it in place in the House of the Fawn in Pompeii. The original is still in the Naples Museum.