Navigation Links
University of Leicester archaeologist uncovers evidence of ancient chemical warfare
Date:1/14/2009

A researcher from the University of Leicester has identified what looks to be the oldest archaeological evidence for chemical warfare--from Roman times.

At the meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, University of Leicester archaeologist Simon James presented CSI-style arguments that about twenty Roman soldiers, found in a siege-mine at the city of Dura-Europos, Syria, met their deaths not as a result of sword or spear, but through asphyxiation.

Dura-Europos on the Euphrates was conquered by the Romans who installed a large garrison. Around AD 256, the city was subjected to a ferocious siege by an army from the powerful new Sasanian Persian empire. The dramatic story is told entirely from archaeological remains; no ancient text describes it. Excavations during the 1920s-30s, renewed in recent years, have resulted in spectacular and gruesome discoveries.

The Sasanians used the full range of ancient siege techniques to break into the city, including mining operations to breach the walls. Roman defenders responded with 'counter-mines' to thwart the attackers. In one of these narrow, low galleries, a pile of bodies, representing about twenty Roman soldiers still with their arms, was found in the 1930s. While also conducting new fieldwork at the site, James has recently reappraised this coldest of cold-case 'crime scenes', in an attempt to understand exactly how these Romans died, and came to be lying where they were found.

Dr James, Reader in the School of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Leicester, said: "It is evident that, when mine and countermine met, the Romans lost the ensuing struggle. Careful analysis of the disposition of the corpses shows they had been stacked at the mouth of the countermine by the Persians, using their victims to create a wall of bodies and shields, keeping Roman counterattack at bay while they set fire to the countermine, collapsing it, allowing the Persians to resume sapping the walls. This explains why the bodies were where they were found. But how did they die? For the Persians to kill twenty men in a space less than 2m high or wide, and about 11m long, required superhuman combat powersor something more insidious."

Finds from the Roman tunnel revealed that the Persians used bitumen and sulphur crystals to get it burning. These provided the vital clue. When ignited, such materials give off dense clouds of choking gases. "The Persians will have heard the Romans tunnelling," says James, "and prepared a nasty surprise for them. I think the Sasanians placed braziers and bellows in their gallery, and when the Romans broke through, added the chemicals and pumped choking clouds into the Roman tunnel. The Roman assault party were unconscious in seconds, dead in minutes. Use of such smoke generators in siege-mines is actually mentioned in classical texts, and it is clear from the archaeological evidence at Dura that the Sasanian Persians were as knowledgeable in siege warfare as the Romans; they surely knew of this grim tactic."

Ironically, this Persian mine failed to bring the walls down, but it is clear that the Sasanians somehow broke into the city. James recently excavated a 'machine-gun belt', a row of catapult bolts, ready to use by the wall of the Roman camp inside the city, representing the last stand of the garrison during the final street fighting. The defenders and inhabitants were slaughtered or deported to Persia, the city abandoned forever, leaving its gruesome secrets undisturbed until modern archaeological research began to reveal them.


'/>"/>

Contact: Dr. Simon James
stj3@le.ac.uk
01-162-522-535
University of Leicester
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology news :

1. Rice University psychologist finds womens brains recognize, encode smell of male sexual sweat
2. Avian flu becoming more resistant to antiviral drugs, says University of Colorado study
3. University of Oklahoma researcher named 2008 AAAS Fellow
4. Hebrew University scientists reveal mechanism that triggers differentiation of embryo cells
5. Tufts University Prof. Maria Flytzani-Stephanopoulos named as AAAS Fellow
6. University of Miami biomedical engineer
7. Hobbit fossils represent a new species, concludes University of Minnesota anthropologist
8. Columbia University scientist devises new way to more rapidly generate bone tissue
9. Queens University Belfast plays leading role in Europe-wide tests for safer food
10. Wii bit of fun at Rice University has serious intent
11. Rice University study finds possible clues to epilepsy, autism
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
University of Leicester archaeologist uncovers evidence of ancient chemical warfare
(Date:2/26/2017)... 2017  Securus Technologies, a leading provider of ... safety, investigation, corrections and monitoring, announces the appointment ... "Too often, too many offenders return to ... are trying to tackle this ongoing problem and ... family members. While significant steps are underway, Securus continues ...
(Date:2/22/2017)... 2017 With the biometrics market to ... four technologies that innovative and agile startups must ... in the changing competitive landscape: multifactor authentication (MFA), ... "Companies can no longer afford to ... Dimitrios Pavlakis , Industry Analyst at ABI ...
(Date:2/21/2017)... February 21, 2017 Der weltweite ... wachsen. Nach einem Gespräch mit mehr als 50 Vertretern aus ... zu überwinden gilt, um diese Prognose zu realisieren. ... ... Mobilisierung der finanziellen Mittel für die Biobank, die Implementierung ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:3/28/2017)... , ... March 28, 2017 , ... ... a Marketing Roundtable on March 22 in Philadelphia. The event was offered by ... The Marketing Roundtable featured breakout groups and interaction with speakers who ...
(Date:3/28/2017)... , March 28, 2017 Volition America, Inc., a ... announced the engagement of Deborah Vollmer Dahlke , DrPH, ... consultant. Dr. Vollmer Dahlke,s role will be to ... the State of Texas and elsewhere ... Vollmer Dahlke has significant experience over the past six ...
(Date:3/28/2017)... ... March 28, 2017 , ... LabKey and collaborator Just ... software solution, LabKey Biologics . Built in collaboration with Just and designed ... Biologics provides drug research teams tools for biological entity registration, assay data integration, ...
(Date:3/28/2017)... Research Triangle Park, NC (PRWEB) , ... March ... ... drug development company engaged in the development of a new orally administered treatment ... Company’s Advisory Board. , CEO John Didsbury states, “As we seek to uniquely ...
Breaking Biology Technology: