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Reconstructing an Ancient Earthquake
November 20, 2013
THE DAY THE WORLD EN DED AT KOURION
THEY WERE in their bedroom. The mother, a young woman of 19, still clutched her one-and-a-half-yearold baby to her breast. The child, its teeth still coming in, grasped its mother’s elbow. Over them lay a man of about 28, presumably the father, who had tried to shield the pair from a deadly rain of limestone building blocks weighing as much as 300 pounds.
The woman, whose neck had been snapped by one of the blocks, had a bone hairpin on her skull. The man wore a Christian ring inscribed with the Chi-Rho, the first two letters of “Christ” in Greek (above). Bald skeletons now, they had been a family of three, clinging together for life as their home exploded and crumbled in an earthquake that devastated the city of Kourion on Cyprus 16 centuries ago. That’s how we reconstruct their final moments.
On the other side of this once stately house, we found a laborer of about 55 years who had taken refuge in the doorway of his quarters, a tiny room decorated with frescoes. The wall collapsed against his skull, scattering his teeth like shot, while falling blocks pinioned his torso. His legs had jutted from the debris, and at some point wild animals, possibly dogs looking for food, may have torn them away, because we found no trace of them.
Death came with little warning—certainly to hundreds and likely to thousands in Kourion and southwest Cyprus on that fateful day. We now know that a massive quake, whose epicenter lay under the seafloor about 30 miles to the southwest, dealt a series of punishing shocks to the city, accompanied by a tsunami whose great wave thrashed the coast of Greece to the west and Alexandria, Egypt, to the south.
Most witnesses of the event were almost certainly killed, and the city faded from historical record. Though a new urban center was begun 18 years later, ancient Kourion became in effect a lost city.
For a young archaeologist like me, teaching at the University of Missouri in 2000 and counting on loan consolidation student loans, the fate of this major seaport became a matter of intense curiosity. What was the character of its inhabitants? What were the circumstances of their demise? What might we learn about their art, architecture, commerce, and family life?
Founded in the Late Bronze Age by Greek seafarers, the port of Kourion was coveted by conquerors. In the eighth century B.C. the island was captured by Assyrians, who were displaced by Egyptians and later by Persians. By 450 B.C. influences from the mainland put Greek customs and traditions in the ascent, and many Cypriot Greeks left the island to fight in the army of Alexander the Great.
After the death of Alexander and the division of his empire, Cyprus came under the rule of the Ptolemies of Egypt. In 58 B.C. Rome annexed the island as part of the province of Cilicia and placed it under such governors as Cicero and Cato the Younger. By the second century A.D. Kourion may have grown to 20,000 and covered four square miles.
Growing Up in Montana
October 19, 2013
MONTANA may be going the way of high-technology mining and agribusiness, but at a ranch up against the Highwood Mountains, Frank Urick and his family are going the other way. “We’re switching from propane to wood; the wood will always be here,” says Frank. The woodpile teaches a plain lesson. “It’s a matter of survival; that’s no lie. And the kids got on to that real quick.”
For the seven Urick children, fun and chores and livelihood are all saddled up to the care of animals. At 15, Francie, frisking with a colt (left), to the amusement of “Gramma” Urick, has already caught rodeo fever. Pat, at 18 (right), has the experience, the slouch—and the snuff—of an old hand.
DRIVING some strays back to the herd, Frank Urick keeps an eye on the fencing while son Pat carries a wire stretcher for repairs (above). They constantly scout for broken wire, pulled staples, and downed posts, “the details that keep your cattle at home and your neighbors’ out.” The Uricks raise 50 head of Herefords and Hereford-Angus crosses on 500 acres, hardly a ranch by Montana standards. Wife Vivian and son Dave have been working part time of the ranch to help with income, since raising calves has cost more lately than selling them brings in.
Chores like cultivating potatoes (facing page) never seem to end, but Frank and daughter Francie take time to glance at the day’s paper (right) after tending the cattle, hogs, horses, and garden. NO BUSES call to take Matt Urick to the sixth grade. He mounts one of his ponies, rides to a newly reopened rural school, shuts the gate behind him (left), and joins teacher Vickie Johnson and the entire student body of five (below). While Matt does his lessons, his faithful mount just grazes and waits, placid even in early-autumn sleet (right).
Frank Urick does not believe in “people educating their kids off the farm as fast as they can.” As he sees it: “We’ve become such a push-button civilization, the kids don’t learn anything unless it’s in school. But I have a situation where I can give them quite a schooling right here on this ranch.”
He hopes his children can stay on the land, mastering trades like horsebreaking. The basic rule there is to be “firm but kind”—not a bad way to raise a family either.
From Graveyard to Garden,
CRADLES IN THE RUINS: Relentlessly, marine life conquers the sunken Japanese fleet, turning the floor of the Pacific lagoon into an undersea nursery. On the aircraft transport Fujikawa Marrs, a damselfish builds a cozy nest (above) in the jaws of an oyster shell. Like an incubator of crimson velvet (right), a huge sea anemone protects a clutch of clownfish eggs laid atop a truck tire on Sankisan Maru. Prodded by the author, the anemone revealed the nest beneath it. The anxious parents, impervious to the anemone’s sting, nipped frantically at its side to cause it to cover the eggs again. The next day they hatched.
NEPTUNE’S GALLERY crowds every cranny of the battered hulks. From one ship’s funnel an alcyonarian coral spreads its feathery polyps (left). Like a cluster of ivory grapes, “bubble” coral (below, far left) grows on a vessel’s bow. A ventilation pipe hosts a “sea serpent” (below, left) made of orange and white sponges, with sea squirts for eyes and plumed hydroids for a tail. Sinuous ruffles of a calcified brown alga envelop another pipe (below), while a “tube” coral with budding polyps rises like a Christmas tree with chartreuse ornaments (right).
PROTECTED BY DANGER: Young jacks seek tidbits of plankton within the shelter of a two-inch-long jellyfish’s stinging tentacles (below), to which the fish are immune. Likewise, a cleaner shrimp leads a charmed life on the equally perilous tenta¬cles of an anemone (bottom). Here 21 shrimp maintained valet parlors where they groomed food particles from passing fish. Of all the phenomena of the lagoon and the battleground it shrouds, none surpassed the eerie beauty of what Dr. Earle (right) and her colleagues will always remember as the day of the jellyfish.
“Suddenly, while we were exploring the Yamagiri Maru, they swept over us in a bil¬lowing cloud, millions of them,” she recalls. “Then, just as suddenly, they were gone.”