Audio News for August 20th to August 26th, 2006
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for August 20th to August 26th, 2006.
Frozen tomb in Mongolia holds Scythian warrior, with horses and gear
Our first story is from Mongolia, where an international team of archaeologists has unearthed a well-preserved, 2,500-year-old mummy frozen in the mountains, complete with blond hair, tattoos, and a felt hat. According to Hermann Parzinger, President of the German Archaeological Institute, the Scythian warrior was found in June at a height of 8,500 feet in the Altai Mountains in a practically untouched burial mound. Researchers said the most unusual feature about this man is his light blond hair, but they cautioned that the yellowing might have occurred after his death and his long burial. Whoever this warrior was, he was very well off. He was cloaked in a beaver-skin coat with sable trim and a sheep's wool lining that was in extraordinarily good condition. The still intact skin on his upper body revealed tattoos. Two horses with ornately decorated saddles and bridles, weapons and other vessels were placed in the tomb alongside, to accompany him into the next life. The recovered items are currently in Ulan Bator. Parzinger said the contents of the horses' stomachs would be analyzed to learn more about the region's vegetation two and half millennia ago. The style of burial and the goods and clothing identify the dead warrior as a Scythian. However, this location marks new territory for that ancient, nomadic group. Parzinger said that until now remains of the Scythians had only been found on the Russian side of the Altais. This new find, across the Altai on the Mongolian side, showed that the Scythians were more widespread than previously thought.
Single ceramic fragment reveals long-lost early French Canadian fort
In Canada, one of the greatest archeological mysteries is the exact location of French explorer Jacques Cartier's (CAR-tee-yeh’s) 1541 settlement near present-day Quebec City. The fort was built during Cartier's third and last voyage to Canada near where the Cap Rouge River runs into the St. Lawrence. Now, a single piece of ceramics helped solve the mystery when experts matched the shard of a broken plate found at suburban Cap Rouge with an identical, 465-year-old porcelain treasure in the famed Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. The startling discovery of Cartier's short-lived Fort Charlesbourg-Royal (CHAR-le-bourg roy-AHL) is considered the most important find in Canadian history since the 1,000-year-old Viking village was found in Newfoundland. Depending on the nature of its contents, the fort could shed light on many questions about what exactly happened to North America's earliest French settlement. After Cartier (CAR-tee-yay) returned to France in 1542, the French nobleman Sieur de Roberval (sy-OOR duh ro-bear-VAHL) took command at Charlesbourg-Royal, but abandoned it in 1543 after disease, foul weather and hostile natives drove the would-be settlers to despair. Documents detailing the fort's two-year existence are sparse, and historians have long sought further information about this formative period of Canada’s history. The discovery of the remains, including native pottery, may also offer clues to the fate of the St. Lawrence Iroquois who disappeared by the end of the 1500s. According to Yves Chretien (EAVE cre-tee-YEN) , provincial archeologist, the site is very extensive. Pieces of charred wood found about 12 inches below the surface were the first signs that Chretien and his team had found traces of a historic building. An Internet search after the pottery shard was found led first to a scholarly inventory of historic ceramics, then to the Hermitage and one decorated plate in its collection. The plate was made in Italy between 1540 and 1550. The same pattern found on the plate appeared on the fragment from the dig at Cap Rouge. A member of the French nobility would have owned this quality of plate. Chretien suspects it might have belonged to Roberval himself. Radiocarbon tests on six wood samples confirmed that the site dates from the mid-16th century. Archeological evidence of a European presence in North America prior to 1600 is extremely rare. Despite the failure of the Charlesbourg-Royal settlement, Cartier's explorations along the St. Lawrence River opened the interior of Canada to French control. In 1608, the legendary Samuel de Champlain established France's first enduring settlement Quebec City, at a site not far from Cartier's abandoned fort.
Ancient Judean palace watered the desert with complex irrigation system
In Israel, archaeologists have unearthed an ancient water system that was modified by the conquering Persians to turn the desert into a paradise. The system of reservoirs, drainpipes and underground tunnels served one of the grandest palaces in the biblical kingdom of Judea. Recent excavations unearthed nearly 750 square feet of a unique water structure. Oded Lipschits, a Tel Aviv University archaeologist, said that back in 1954, they found the huge palace dating from the late Iron Age. It sat on a six-acre site and was remodeled many times through the centuries to fit the needs of the Babylonians, Persians, Romans and Hasmoneans who ruled the Holy Land. It was the Persians, around 539 BC, who took control of the region from the Babylonians, renovated the water system, and turned it into a thing of beauty complete with small waterfalls to turn the desert into a paradise. Yuval Gadot is a biblical archaeology expert from Tel Aviv University who is taking part in the excavation. He said it was unclear exactly how the water system worked. He theorized that rainwater probably came down on the roof of the houses and was collected by drains into pools or to the underground reservoir and taken to nearby fields for crops or gardens.
Phoenician burial ground found in Sicily
Our final story is from Sicily, where researchers have unearthed 40 sarcophagi at what had been sacred Phoenician burial grounds near the ancient colony of Motya. Construction workers excavating the foundations of a house discovered the tombs accidentally. Archaeologists said the sarcophagi were simple stone slabs and were of different dimensions, including several used to bury children. They were also spread apart in irregular order. Although the excavators failed to find much inside the sarcophagi, several vases of different sizes and shapes were found. These were likely used during atonement rites just before burial. According to the researchers, tomb raiders had ransacked the tombs. Motya was founded in the 8th century BC, about a century after the founding of the Phoenician colony of Carthage in Tunisia. Various Greek cities also colonized Sicily at the same time as Motya began, and conflicts were common between Greek and Phoenician settlements. The Greek ruler of Syracuse, Dionysius I, destroyed Motya in 397 BC. Half a century later, Rome's intervention in the Greek-Carthaginian conflicts led to the Roman conquest of Sicily, which became Rome's first province. The Phoenicians were a trading people who formed a massive commercial empire across the Mediterranean from their original base in what is now Lebanon.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!