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From the Trenches

Wrecks of the Pacific Theater

By SAMIR S. PATEL

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Trenches USS Independence

 

If there’s a single ship that reflects the changing nature of warfare in the mid-twentieth century, it might be USS Independence. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, working with technology partners Boeing and CodaOctopus, recently discovered and surveyed its wreck in 2,600 feet of water near California’s Farallon Islands. Independence began life as a light cruiser in 1941, and was converted to a light aircraft carrier before it was officially launched the next year. The ship saw heavy action all over the Pacific throughout World War II. After that, it became part of Operation Crossroads, the secret atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in 1946, as one of more than 90 ships that were a “target fleet” to assess the impact of the blasts. Two detonations later, Independence, damaged but in one piece, was towed back to San Francisco for decontamination and study, and then finally scuttled during weapons tests in 1951. The wreck is amazingly intact, with the openings for aircraft elevators—one of which may contain an aircraft—clearly identifiable.

 

Trenches USS Independence Atomic TestingIndependence and its aircraft had taken part in the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944, considered by some the largest naval battle in history. One engagement of that battle, the Battle of the Sibuyan Sea, resulted in the sinking of the Japanese super-battleship Musashi. Even as the wreck of Independence was found, billionaire cofounder of Microsoft Paul Allen successfully concluded his independent eight-year search for the wreck of Musashi in Philippine waters. It was one of the heaviest and most technologically advanced warships of its time—though not quite as advanced as M/Y Octopus, Allen’s yacht, which was used to launch the autonomous underwater vehicle that found the battleship and the remotely operated vehicle that beamed back the first pictures and videos.

Anglo-Saxon Jewelry Box

By JASON URBANUS

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Trenches Anglo Saxon BroochTom Lucking, a first-year university student and amateur metal detectorist in Norfolk, England, recently discovered one of the highest quality examples of Anglo-Saxon jewelry ever unearthed. “I’d been attempting to discover more about the area,” says Lucking, “but after I found a copper-alloy bowl, I called in professionals to excavate properly.” Lucking, it turns out, had located the mid-seventh-century A.D. grave of a high-status Anglo-Saxon woman. Her body was surrounded by grave goods, including gold and silver jewelry, the most notable piece of which is a three-inch-wide pendant inlaid with more than 400 red garnets, some cut to create an interwoven animal motif.

Off The Grid

By MALIN GRUNBERG BANYASZ

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Trenches Off the Grid Carnuntum HeidentorAlmost all of the Roman town of Carnuntum, 25 miles east of Vienna, Austria, is preserved under fields and vineyards. The town’s history began in A.D. 40, when Roman soldiers of the Legio XV Appollinaris established a fortress on a steep cliff above the Danube. The fort controlled the eastern border of the empire and had access to the Amber Road, an ancient trade route connecting the Baltic and the Mediterranean. Within a few decades, Carnuntum had become the capital of the Roman province of Upper Pannonia, with a population of 50,000, including soldiers’ families, veterans, and merchants, as well as wealthy Roman citizens who founded another town west of military territory. Amid constant political threats, economic stress, and the impact of a major earthquake, the fort was abandoned in A.D. 433. The fort and town have been the subject of archaeological investigation for more than 100 years, according to Markus Wachter, director of the Carnuntum Archaeological Park. The site is the largest archaeological landscape in central Europe, he adds, and the recent discovery of the site of a gladiator school there has further elevated its archaeological importance.

 

 

Trenches Off the Grid Carnuntum AmphitheaterThe site

 

Most of ancient Carnuntum remains buried, but there are a great many ruins—original and reconstructed—for visitors to see. In the modern village of Petronell-Carnuntum there is a huge monumental arch known as Heidentor (also called “Pagan’s Gate”), built in the mid-fourth century to commemorate the victories of the emperor Constantius I. Nearby are the remains of a civilian amphitheater and an open-air museum that features ruins of three ancient buildings that have been reassembled: a house, villa, and bath house. To the east, in the village of Bad Deutsch-Altenburg, are the military amphitheater and the original site museum, which opened in 1904 and contains a temple relief that depicts the god Mithras killing a bull. In 2011, researchers discovered the three-acre gladiator school compound, the first found outside of Rome and Pompeii. Visitors can see the school’s training area, advertisements announcing gladiatorial contests, and exhibitions of paraphernalia.

 

 

 While you’re there

 

The Austrian countryside holds many delights for tourists, including excellent wines. Among them is Rubin Carnuntum, with an image of the Heidentor printed on the label. Many who visit Carnuntum make day trips from Vienna, known as the City of Music for its association with composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, and others. The city has many theaters and opera houses, in addition to seemingly countless museums, including the Imperial Treasury and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which contain the treasures of the Habsburg dynasty. The latter also hosts collections of Egyptian, Near Eastern, Roman, and Greek antiquities.

The First Toolkit

By ZACH ZORICH

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Trenches First ToolsThe earliest known stone tools have been discovered at Lomekwi 3 in West Turkana, Kenya. They were made 3.3 million years ago, predating the earliest Oldowan stone tools by 700,000 years and the earliest fossils of the first member of the human genus—Homo habilis—by about 500,000 years. “The cores and flakes are clearly knapped,” says team member Sonia Harmand of Stony Brook University, but they are also very different from the Oldowan examples that were previously the earliest known stone tools. Many of the Lomekwian tools were made by striking a core against an anvil stone to produce sharp flakes, or by placing a core on a hard surface and striking the top of the core with a hammer stone. Harmand, whose team’s findings were published in the journal Nature, says that the arm and hand motions used to make these tools would have been similar to those used by apes to smash open nuts. Stone toolmaking has been considered one of the defining traits of the genus Homo, but the two known hominid species who lived in the region 3.3 million years ago and could have made the tools—Kenyanthropus platyops and Australopithecus afarensis—have not been considered members of the genus. According to Harmand, “The traditional view of the genus Homo surely needs to be revisited.”

A Spin through Augustan Rome

By JASON URBANUS

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Trenches Augustan RomeAccording to the Roman historian Suetonius, Augustus boasted that he had found Rome a city of mudbrick and left it a city of marble: “Marmoream se relinquere, quam latericiam accepisset,” in his words. It has become one of the first emperor’s better known quotes, and has seemingly been corroborated by historical and archaeological evidence. The Forum of Augustus, the Temple of Apollo Palatinus, the Theater of Marcellus, the Baths of Agrippa, and the Ara Pacis are just some of the religious buildings, monuments, and infrastructure that were completed under his reign. But just how accurate was his declaration that he transformed Rome into a city of marble? A recent project led by Diane Favro, of the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), has reinvestigated the topography of Augustan Rome using digital technology. “As an architectural historian, I wanted to examine the literal impact of Augustan interventions on Rome’s ancient residents,” she says. The results are surprising—Rome may not have been as visibly clad in marble as Augustus claimed.

 

Favro and her team from UCLA’s Experimental Technology Center re-created Rome using procedural modeling, a rule-based technique commonly employed by contemporary urban designers. Relying on archaeological, literary, and historical data, the project researchers created a dynamic database of architectural information that includes the construction dates, measurements, materials, and locations of 400 known Augustan-era buildings. They then added the hypothetical designs and distribution of more than 9,000 additional infill structures, such as houses and shops. The result is a 3-D, Google Earth–type map and model that also demonstrates changes over time. Marble buildings are depicted in red, brick buildings in brown, and buildings under construction in yellow. Users can also view how Rome changed between Augustus’ rise to power in 44 B.C. and his death in A.D. 14. The interactive experience allows users to view Augustan Rome from a variety of perspectives, from street level to high above, from the pyramid of Cestius to the Mausoleum of Augustus. A click of the mouse over an individual building reveals associated information and underlying metadata. It is even possible to assess how light and the angle of the sun affected Rome’s appearance at different times of day.

 

Trenches Augustus StatueThe digital model has led Favro to conclude that the marble structures of Augustus’ building program actually had little visual impact for Romans walking the streets of the ancient city. The hilly terrain and density of Rome’s urban topography interfered with sight lines and made many of Augustus’ new marble structures difficult to see. Rather, the sights and sounds of incessant construction, as opposed to the completed buildings themselves, may have given the illusion of a newly marble-clad city. “Marble blocks piled high at the city’s edges, showy processions of large building blocks, and the noise and dust raised by the continuous working of hard marble stones at building sites compelled urban residents to believe a pan-urban material transformation was, indeed, under way,” says Favro.

 

Some scholars have argued that Augustus’ statement was meant to be more metaphorical than literal, and refers to his political transformation of Rome and the foundation of the empire. But there is no doubt that he consciously initiated a building campaign to celebrate Rome’s rebirth. This new digital model provides a cutting-edge way to see, through the eyes of the average Roman citizen, the changing cityscape over which Augustus presided.

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