Friday, September 23, 2011

Massive Roman shipyard found

Like the look of this one. Archaeologists think they have found an ancient shipyard about 20 miles (32km) from Rome, at Portus. Ships for the Roman empire were built or repaired and maintained there, they think. This is definitely a story to keep an eye on, as I presume excavations are ongoing, and more finds will come to light.

It's in a press release dated yesterday. So far archaeologists have excavated the remains of a building five storeys high. It’s said to date from about 117 AD, The illustration is a computer graphic reconstruction imagining this as a shipyard building, with ships under construction. They think it was used for ships that traversed the Mediterranean. A tiny figure of a workman gives the scale. (Image credit: University of Southampton.)

The archaeologists believe it had some form of imperial connection and might have been used for a base for galleys that transported emperors, such as Hadrian, across the empire. But so far as I can tell there's no direct evidence ships were actually built there. Professor Simon Keay of the University of Southampton is quoted as saying "We need to stress there is no evidence yet of ramps which may have been needed to launch newly constructed ships."

Portus was a crucial trade gateway linking Rome to the Mediterranean throughout the Roman period.

Tacks have been found which would have been used to nail lead on to the hulls of ships inside one of the bays. They hope to dig down and find more evidence of the shipbuilding use of the site.

Afterlife - and a note of caution

Whist the hypothetical reconstruction is fascinating, what I find even more fascinating about ancient structures is their after-life. The Southampton University press release says the building underwent many changes since its construction in the time of the Emperor Trajan, AD 98-117. Excavation within one of the bays has revealed that its use changed, once 90 years into its life with the construction of a series of inner partition walls, and then again in the late 5th century AD when changes were made to allow the storage of grain. In the early to mid-6th century AD, parts of the building were systematically demolished, probably as a defensive measure during wars between the Byzantines and Ostrogoths, AD 535-553.

A note of caution though – whilst we may like to read history forwards, archaeologists have to read it backwards. First they found the grain store, then they surmised an earlier use as a shipyard. Prof Keay says, and note his words carefully:

“At first we thought this large rectangular building was used as a warehouse, but our latest excavation has uncovered evidence that there may have been another, earlier use, connected to the building and maintenance of ships. Few Roman Imperial shipyards have been discovered and, if our identification is correct, this would be the largest of its kind in Italy or the Mediterranean.”

A good reason to do reconstructions on a computer rather than on the ground. See my post on the Bamiyan Buddhas and whether they should they be left as rubble.

(Incidentally, does this imply even larger Roman shipyards have been found elsewhere I wonder?)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Eating from supermarket waste bins – disgusting!

What a freegan eats. Image credit: Tristram Stuart
I was musing on food waste. Well actually I was musing on Al Capone, and that led me to food waste. And now to Tristram Stuart, who's a fregan, he takes food out of waste bins. The giant bins that lurk in the loading bays behind supermarkets. Some people find this disgusting. But, he says, the really disgusting thing is that good food is put there in the first place. He's written a book Waste, and in July 2009 he talked to Andrew Marr about it on BBC Radio 4's Start the Week.

If you're in the UK, it's here on BBC iPlayer. You’ll find Tristram 21 minutes into the programme. If that doesn’t work for you, here’s a clip I've made. The whole clip is 20 minutes, of which the first half is Tristram, and the rest is David Haslam on his book Fat, Gluttony and Sloth.

Or you can see Tristram on this Youtube clip, interviewed by David Frost on Al-Jazeera's Frost over the World, 2 Oct 2009 (9.30 minutes into the programme).

A couple more links may be of interest. Jonathan Bloom is an American who writes about food waste. This is his blog. He is the author of American Wasteland - how America throws away nearly half of its food, and what we can do about it.

He welcomes the new UK regulations, see next post on Al Capone (though my understanding is that they are not regulations, just unenforceable guidance.)

Finally here's
Wikipedia on food waste

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Did Al Capone invent sell-by dates and was that a good or bad thing?

A flurry in social media about Al Capone pioneering sell-by dates. On milk. It seems Billy Connolly revealed this fact a few days ago on his new Route 66 programme on ITV.

There's a move in the UK to dispense with sell-by dates, and I imagine this is what prompted Billy Connolly to look into the subject. Studies have shown that sell-buy and eat-by dates contribute to the horrendous waste of food in the West. 

I used to suspect them to be the invention of corporate lawyers rather than nutritionists. However it seems it was neither, but actually Al Capone in good guy mode.

Here's a story discussing food expiration dates and crediting Capone with introducing them. It’s the website of something called Times News Inc. I can't vouch for it. It says that whilst the Federal government viewed Capone as a gangster, to many people in his adopted city of Chicago, he was a modern-day Robin Hood. He was the first person to open a soup kitchen to feed the poor during the Depression, the article claims. At a time of 25% unemployment, Capone's kitchens served three meals a day to ensure that everyone who had lost a job could get a meal. And he even served the food out himself.

The Time Magazine cover depicting Alphonse “Scarface” Capone was March 24, 1930, and the story was his release from prison under a special Governor’s order.

As to eat-by dates, treat these as a rough guide only. Nature supplied us with noses, we should use them. For more see this story in the London Independent, 16th September. It says supermarkets oppose a new date labelling regime and claim it will increase and not reduce food wastage.