Audio News for September 24th to September 30th, 2006.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for September 17th to September 23rd, 2006.
Teenager finds rare ancient bowl on New Mexico hike
Our first story is from New Mexico, where a teenager has found what one archaeologist at the Gila Cliff Dwellings in southwestern New Mexico describes as a "pretty big deal." Andrew Connell is a 15-year-old who was hiking with his classmates in the Gila (HEE-lah) Wilderness this spring when they heard what sounded like an owl. While he was looking for the bird, he spotted something among the rocks and oak leaves. It turned out to be an almost intact prehistoric bowl that dates back around a thousand years and was made by the Mogollon (MUG-ee-YOHN) people. Gila (HEE-lah) archaeologist Carol Telles said it is very unusual to find something intact like this resting on the ground surface where it’s been for a thousand years. Fellow archaeologist Gail Firebaugh-Smith said it has taken some time to announce the find, which sheds some light on the lives of the Mogollon (MUG-ee-YOHN) people. It is very important that the bowl is so complete, she said. The location of the bowl also tells archaeologists how far the Mogollon (MUG-ee-YOHN) would travel from the cliff dwellings for daily work. After Connell spotted the bowl under a rock wall, trip leaders suggested they return the bowl to the niche and report the find to the visitor center. The group took GPS coordinates, sketched a map and took photos. Telles was happy with their care. According to her, people frequently come into the visitor center carrying an artifact they have come across, which eliminates any chance for archaeologists to interpret the artifact in its original setting. The bowl is now at the Gila (HEE-lah) National Forest office in Silver City, New Mexico. It will be researched, reconstructed and probably displayed in a museum exhibit.
High-tech analysis reveals traces of ancient Judea’s wealth in its broken pottery
Scientists with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Bar-Ilan University of Israel have discovered a new way to identify patterns in ancient potsherd distributions. Using a new combination of techniques, the researchers found unusually high concentrations of silver in samples of many different types of pottery from 38 sites across Israel, from the late Second Temple period, which lasted from the first century BC through AD 70. This was the first study ever conducted on silver in archaeological ceramics. The lead scientists were Professor David Adan-Bayewitz from Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and his American colleagues Frank Asaro and Robert D. Giauque of the Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division. They tested 1,200 pottery vessels using high-precision X-ray fluorescence and instrumental neutron activation analysis, including a new type of that analysis developed especially for measuring silver concentrations in archaeological materials. The new technique provided a cross-check on the results of the other tests used. The results confirmed a clear difference in samples from sites across the country, which cannot be completely accounted for by natural causes such as groundwater contamination. Pottery from Jerusalem had higher silver content than all other cities, and cities had higher silver concentration than rural areas. This pattern is a striking mirror for historical knowledge that Jerusalem, the most famous city of the eastern Mediterranean during this time, was very wealthy, in part because of rich donations to its temple. The strength of the results suggest the new test could be a good tool for examining ancient patterns of differences in wealth and urbanization.
Abundant rock art in Egypt’s desert raises new mystery of its origin
Deep in the Egyptian desert, University of Illinois professor Douglas Brewer hoped to find perhaps 100 examples of rock art. What he actually found were well over 1,000 examples. The desert art, which was pecked or sometimes incised into large rock faces, depicted elephants, ostriches, giraffes, and many hunting scenes. But perhaps strangest of all was the abundance of boats depicted in the art. After all, this area was far from any body of water, says Brewer, who teaches archaeology and is director of the University’s Spurlock Museum. The find has raised more questions for Brewer than it answered. While his team went out into the desert to demonstrate the existence of a desert culture in ancient Egypt, the wealth of rock art found raises the question of whether this culture was independent, or just Nile Valley pastoralists seeking new grazing lands. Brewer says the desert people of ancient Egypt lived in the shadow of the great culture that developed in the famed Nile Valley. The remote desert culture was in some ways a pariah, looked down upon by the lush culture of the Valley. Even today many people do not believe a complex culture existed in the eastern desert of ancient Egypt. The rock art shatters this impression, especially with its depictions of domesticated animals and crops. However, it is so strikingly similar to art seen on the earliest pottery and tombs in the Nile Valley, Brewer says they will now have to study it in much more detail to solve this new mystery of its origin. The Egyptian Antiquities Service will keep the location of the art secret to prevent thieves and vandals from destroying the work.
Neolithic burial in Syria produces skulls, with faces added in clay
A joint team of French and Syrian archaeologists announced an unusual discovery of five decorated human skulls up to 9,500 years old from a burial site near the Syrian capital, Damascus. The skulls were used as the base for lifelike faces modeled with clay and then colored to accentuate the features, according to the archaeologists who made the discovery. The work was carried out by a joint French-Syrian archaeological mission led by Danielle Stordeur of France’s National Center for Scientific Research and Bassam Jamous, the chief of antiquities of Syria’s National Museum. The skulls were found at a burial site near a prehistoric village earlier this month. The pit that contained them also held the remains of an infant, said Stordeur. The site is from the Neolithic period, and is only 22 miles outside of Damascus. This is not the first discovery of this kind in the Middle East, but several of these decorated skulls are strikingly realistic in their effect, said Stordeur. The features are regular and smooth. The eyes are shown as closed, underlined by black bitumen. The nose is straight and fine, with a pinched base to portray the nostrils. The mouth is reduced to a slit. The archaeologists believe that the decorated skulls were devoted only to important individuals, chosen according to social or religious criteria.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!