Shanks in Deep Water
Hoo, boy! Now you have jumped into deep water with the smiling sharks. Your editorial in the November/December 2003 issue (Hershel Shanks, “Why Not Work With Salvors?”) suggesting that nautical archaeologists work with salvors shows that you’ve been listening to the siren song of the treasure hunters.
As a close observer—and occasional participant—in the development of nautical archaeology for 42 years, permit me to make a few observations.
Your assumption that archaeologists don’t work with treasure hunters ignores history. Many salvage expeditions have employed archaeologists. In the great majority of these expeditions, however, the archaeologists soon found that they were mere window dressing—trotted out to provide legitimacy in front of officials, then ignored.
When treasure hunters’ finances run out, as they almost invariably do, they make sure their salary checks have been banked, write off their investors and go on to other projects. It would be instructive to make a list of the treasure hunts that made profits for their investors: It wouldn’t cover much paper.
The basic problem is that the archaeologists and the treasure hunters have completely different agendas. The treasure hunters want salable artifacts. They often destroy wrecks to get at artifacts, only to find that there were no treasures in the first place.
The archaeologists want to record the entire wreck site, including the hull, and they want to preserve all the artifacts and keep them together to create a history of the ship and its connections to the societies related to it. What is more valuable, a select group of artifacts scattered to the winds by auction or a ship’s story told in a museum through its artifacts for the benefit of future generations?
You deplore looting on land. Why encourage it at sea?
San Francisco, California
The Other Side
Once again, Hershel Shanks has got it right! Which means, of course, that the people who should listen to him won’t.
The Titanic would still be lost if Robert Ballard hadn’t gone out and found it.
Sebastián Celestino and Carolina López-Ruiz’s superb account of the sanctuary at Cancho Roano (“Sacred Precincts: A Tartessian Sanctuary in Ancient Spain,” November/December 2003) calls to mind another fascinating dimension of the Tartessos story.
In the first half of the 20th century, the German archaeologist Adolf Schulten, on the basis of his studies of Plato’s Timaeus and Critias, was convinced that legendary Atlantis was to be found in the vicinity of a 009city called Tartessos, not far from Cadiz. Schulten devoted 50 years of his life to historical and archaeological studies of Spain, and he was eventually awarded Spain’s highest award for cultural accomplishments—the Grand Cross of the Order of Alfonso X. Forced by old age finally to abandon his quest for Atlantis, Schulten remained convinced that Tartessos/Atlantis would ultimately be found west of the Pillars of Hercules, facing the Atlantic Ocean.
A Tartessian Capital?
Perhaps the authors of “Sacred Precincts” could answer this question: Have archaeologists found the remains of a site that might have been the capital city of Tartessos?
Little Neck, New York
Carolina López-Ruiz replies:
We have not found remains of a city that can be identified as the central city of Tartessos. Most scholars, in fact, believe that Tartessos consisted of a number of related settlements without any single capital.
I have a suggestion concerning the extinct, beheaded equids buried in the Cancho Roano moat. Obviously unicorns.
What’s in a Sign?
Thank you for the excellent article on the fascinating but unfairly neglected Tartessian civilization. The authors note that the circle-and-triangle-shaped altar resembles both the Phoenician sign of Tanit and the Egyptian shen, which signifies eternity or infinity. There is also a similar sign that represents the Egyptian funerary offering formula hetep-di-nesu (often translated, “An offering which the King gives”); this sign comprises a frond or plant (nesu) over a circle and a horizontal (hetep) over a triangle (di).
Stevens Point, Wisconsin
On Ancient Boxing Gloves
Your short article “Greco-Roman Sports in the Colosseum” (Judith Harris, Field Notes, November/December 2003) is a beauty. One question: the article refers to the “typical boxing gloves” as himantes, though I have always seen them referred to as caestus. Is this something new?
Elizabeth Lyding Will, Professor Emeritus of Classics at the University of Massachusetts, replies:
The two words mean the same thing. Himantes is Greek and caestus is Latin (a fourth declension noun, for readers who know Latin). Both words mean “thongs” or “straps” and refer to the long strips of leather that were wound around boxers’ hands in early times. In later times, after boxers began to wear leather pads on the backs of their hands, the thongs served to keep the pads in place. Judith Harris is correct to use the Greek term, since she is referring to the boxing gloves on a Greek statue. For more on such gloves, see H.A. Harris, Sport in Greece and Rome (1972).
Raising the Roof
What intrigues me most about Theoderic’s tomb (Harry Rand, “The Mystery of Theoderic’s Tomb Solved!” November/December 2003) is that no one knows how its massive domed roof was manufactured, transported or hoisted into place. I found myself returning again and again to the photo of the magnificent structure on page 46 and wondering, “How did they do that?”
I soon realized that it would have been a much less daunting task to put the structure under the dome rather than to put the dome on top of the structure. The latter would not only have involved raising the massive dome but somehow swinging it in place over the tomb.
Perhaps there was an easier way. Prior to building the tomb, the dome could have been elevated and suspended in place—using some sort of banding, possibly linked iron, attached just below the 12 buttresses. The dome could have been slowly and evenly 010elevated by a “round robin” coterie of levers. No severe or uneven stress would have developed as the height gradually increased. The tomb itself could have been built to within inches of the suspended dome, which would then have been lowered on top.
Of course, this is mere speculation, but I sure had fun thinking about it!
Kudos to Grenet
I have been a subscriber to Archaeology Odyssey since your very first issue, so I have become accustomed to the high standard of your articles. Nonetheless, Frantz Grenet’s article “Old Samarkand: Nexus of the Ancient World” (September/October 2003) was so excellent that I was finally moved to write and tell you how I felt!
Extend Your Reach
In response to your query (Hershel Shanks, Editors’ Page, May/June 2003) as to what readers would like to have covered in future issues of Archaeology Odyssey: How about some articles from Mesoamerica? They are making some remarkable discoveries there.
I do like your magazine, and I particularly appreciate the marvelous pictures. I am a reader for the blind, and I regularly use articles from both Biblical Archaeology Review and Archaeology Odyssey in the readings I do each month. They are just the right length and tone for my audience. I sometimes describe the pictures and wish my listeners could see them.
We’re thinking about your suggestion.—Ed.
Shanks in Deep Water