Herodotus Returns

Archimedes used cannons, not mirrors, to set Roman fleet aflame
June 29, 2010, 11:49 am
Filed under: Greece | Tags: , ,

Image: Ships

New research suggests that Greek engineer Archimedes (287-212 BC) used steam cannons, not mirrors, to set fire to an approaching Roman fleet. During the Seige of Siracusa, Sicily by the Romans in 214-212 BC, legend had it that Archimedes constructed an elaborate mirror device that concentrated heat on approaching Roman ships, setting them aflame. A new paper, however, re-examines the engineering required to produce such a mirror and suggests alternate translations to the texts which tell these stories, claiming that his makeshift anti-watercraft weapon was – equally remarkably – a steam-powered cannon. 

Both engineering calculations and historical evidence support use of steam cannons as “much more reasonable than the use of burning mirrors,” said Cesare Rossi, a mechanical engineer at the University of Naples “Federico II,” in Naples, Italy, who along with colleagues analyzed evidence of both potential weapons.

The steam cannons could have fired hollow balls made of clay and filled with something similar to an incendiary chemical mixture known as Greek fire in order to set Roman ships ablaze. A heated cannon barrel would have converted barely more than a tenth of a cup of water (30 grams) into enough steam to hurl the projectiles.

Channeling steam power 
Italian inventor Leonardo da Vinci sketched a steam cannon in the late 15th century, which he credited to Archimedes, and several other historical accounts mention the device in connection with Archimedes.

Indirect evidence for the steam cannon also comes from the Greek-Roman historian Plutarch, who tells of a pole-shaped device that forced besieging Roman soldiers to flee at one point from the walls of Syracuse.

The Greek-Roman physician and philosopher Galen similarly mentioned a burning device used against the Roman ships, but used words that Rossi said cannot translate into “burning mirror.”

More on Archimedes’s cannon.


Further Evidence of Ancient Seafarers on Crete
February 17, 2010, 8:22 am
Filed under: Ancient Mariners, Greece

The recent evidence of Stone Age mariners on Crete has reached the New York Times. Stone tools found on the Greek island of Crete show that human ancestors were going to sea much earlier than anyone had realized. A series of stone axes has been tentatively dated at 130,000 years, but could be older than that.  The implications of the find dramatically change our perceptions of prehistoric man’s seafaring capabilities. I posted an earlier article about the find a few weeks ago and have to say I’m pleased that this reached mainstream news.

Crete has been an island for more than five million years, meaning that the toolmakers must have arrived by boat. So this seems to push the history of Mediterranean voyaging back more than 100,000 years, specialists in Stone Age archaeology say. Previous artifact discoveries had shown people reaching Cyprus, a few other Greek islands and possibly Sardinia no earlier than 10,000 to 12,000 years ago….

The standard hypothesis had been that Acheulean toolmakers reached Europe and Asia via the Middle East, passing mainly through what is now Turkey into the Balkans. The new finds suggest that their dispersals were not confined to land routes. They may lend credibility to proposals of migrations from Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain. Crete’s southern shore where the tools were found is 200 miles from North Africa.

See the rest of the article here.

Ancient Greek tombs uncovered by rainfall
February 15, 2010, 9:35 am
Filed under: Greece | Tags: ,

Mother Nature as master excavator in Greece. Haven’t heard anything more about this find yet.

Eight tombs dating to the Hellenist Period were partially revealed recently in the region of Gonous, Larissa prefecture, after flooding caused by heavy rainfall swept away a rural dirt road.

The Archaeological Service subsequently conducted an excavation, which brought to light the tombs which, according to initial assessment, date back to between the end of the 4th century BC and the beginning of the 3rd century BC.

Of the eight tombs, only one is intact.

Check the rest of the story here.

More recent finds in Greece:

Shrine to Zeus discovered on Mount Lykaion

Shrine to Zeus discovered on Mount Lykaion
January 17, 2010, 10:16 am
Filed under: Greece | Tags: , ,

Archaeologists working on Mount Lykaion in Greece, have unearthed an ancient shrine to Zeus. It may be the first recorded mountaintop shrine in the ancient Greek world.

Excavations at the Sanctuary of Zeus atop Greece’s Mount Lykaion have revealed that ritual activities occurred there for roughly 1,500 years, from the height of classic Greek civilization around 3,400 years ago until just before Roman conquest in 146.

“We may have the first documented mountaintop shrine from the ancient Greek world,” says project director David Romano of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

More on the shrine to Zeus.