Audio News for October 1st to October 7th, 2006.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for October 1st to October 7th, 2006.
Peruvian mummies are mysterious pre-Inca Cloud People
Our first story is from Peru, where archaeologists discovered an underground cemetery that could unlock the mystery of a pre-Colombian tribe known as the "warriors of the clouds." The Chachapoyas ruled a huge kingdom that reached across the Andes to the edge of Peru's northern Amazon jungle until the Incas conquered them in the 15th century. The Incan Empire was overthrown soon after that by the Spanish invaders. Knowledge of the Chachapoyas and their way of life were lost or destroyed in the widespread pillaging that followed. Even their real name, their own name for themselves, is unknown. The word “Chachapoya” is thought to come from the Quechua for "cloud people," and was given to them by the Incas, because of the cloud forests where they lived in northern Peru. This year, though, a team of archaeologists, acting on a tip-off from a local farmer, uncovered a Chachapoya burial site in a cave 820 feet deep. There they have found five mummies so far. Two of the mummies are intact with skin and hair. The cave also contains ceramics objects, textiles and wall paintings. According to the expedition's leader, Herman Corbera, this discovery is already of great importance, with just five mummies found. There could be many more. This is the first time any kind of underground burial site this size has been found belonging to Chachapoyas or other cultures in the region. The walls of the limestone cave near the mummies were covered with paintings of faces and warrior-like figures, which may have been drawn to ward off intruders and evil spirits. The Cloud People were previously best known for their stone citadel, Kuelap. This city of more than 400 buildings and massive exterior stone walls has sometimes been called the Machu Picchu of the north.
Stronghold of infamous ancient order of Assassins found in Iran
Our next story is from Iran, where fragments of Kufic inscriptions have been discovered during the latest phase of excavations at the Seljuk era castle, Alamut. The castle, located near Qazvin was used by Hassan Sabbah, the founder of the order known as the Assassins. It was the headquarters for commanding a series of strongholds all over Iran and Iraq after he and his allies captured it in AD 1090. The fragments are from the castle’s facade, which was discovered during last year’s excavations. According to Hamideh Chubak, the director of the archaeological team working on Alamut, the facade dates back to the Seljuk era and the period Hassan Sabbah controlled the castle. The facade had brickwork similar to the Seljuk era Kharaqan Twin Towers near Qazvin. The inscriptions are shattered into numerous pieces, making them unreadable, but they still show the great skill and artistry of their workmanship. Archaeologists are trying to determine which dynasties controlled the castle over time through studying the site’s stratigraphy. The castle’s most notorious ruler was Hassan Sabbah, who led an Islamic sect called the Nizari Ismaelites. He led an ascetic life and imposed a puritanical regime at Alamut. For example, when one of his sons was accused of murder and the other of drunkenness, he had them both executed. He wrote a number of well-argued theological treatises, stressing, in particular, the need to accept absolute authority in matters of religious faith. There is a long-standing belief that the group who followed Hassan actually got their name, “Hassasins,” from using hashish, either in their religious rituals or to induce a trance-like fervor before carrying out the assassinations of their religious and political enemies. It is more likely, however, that Hassassins simply means “the followers of Hassan” and the words were confused by early European travelers.
New remains found at biggest Aztec temple
In Mexico City, archaeologists have discovered an altar and a monolith that date back more than 500 years. The finds may be one of the most significant Aztec discoveries in years. The altar depicts the feared Aztec rain god Tlaloc and was uncovered only last weekend at the Aztec main temple, Templo Mayor, near Mexico City's central Zocalo Square. The exceptional 11-foot monolith, which is still mostly buried, is potentially the more important part of the discovery. Some archaeologists speculate that this stone slab could be part of an entrance to an underground chamber. The Aztecs were a deeply religious people who built many monumental works such as Templo Mayor, or the Great Temple. This temple was the biggest pyramid of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, but was all but lost in the rubble after the Spanish conquest destroyed the city and built their own Christian monuments atop it. Excavation of he Templo Mayor did not begin until 1978, when workers found a massive carving of an Aztec goddess at the site. Remains of the lower portions of the temple complex have since been unearthed. A team led by Alvaro Barrera (AHL-vah-ro bar-RARE-ra) discovered the altar and monolith on the western side of the temple site. The altar, which dates back to the kingdom of Motecuhzoma I (1440-1469), is made of stone and earth and covered with stucco. It bears a frieze of the god Tlaloc and another figure depicting an agricultural deity. According to Susan Gillespie, an Aztec specialist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, what is significant about this find is the early date of the altar frieze, evidenced by the cruder style of the bas-relief compared to the many late Aztec sculptures that have been recovered. Such finds can help to more firmly trace the changes in religious practices at the Great Temple. The monolith corresponds to the last phase of the Aztec empire, A.D. 1487 to 1520. Best of all, it is believed to be standing in its original position. The rectangular piece is still partly buried, and archaeologists can only see one of its sides. Archaeologist Leonardo López Luján estimates that the stone could weigh as much as 12 tons. The upper face of the monolith has deep carvings and some archaeologists believe it could lead into an underground chamber.
Archaeologist proposes “Kelp Highway” route to the Americas
Our final story is from the Calpe Conference in Gibraltar, where an alternative model was presented on how humans spread across the ancient globe. Professor Jon Erlandson of the University of Oregon posits that after leaving Africa, humans probably followed coastal routes to South-East Asia, Australia and the Americas. His argument draws attention to the maritime capabilities of ancient humans, which Erlandson claims have been greatly underestimated. He points to evidence that early peoples in California pursued a sophisticated seafaring lifestyle 10,000 years ago. Anthropologists long have regarded the exploitation of marine resources as a recent development in human history and secondary to the development of civilization. This view has been reinforced by a relative lack of evidence of ancient occupation in coastal areas. But that impression is gradually changing with new finds and technology. For example, genetic studies suggest that a major early human expansion out of Africa led along the southern coastline of Asia and culminated in the colonization of Australia 50,000 years ago. Erlandson has carried out extensive excavations on San Miguel Island, California, known to have been inhabited at least 13,000 years ago. One of the digs, at Daisy Cave, has yielded scores of bone "gorges," a form of fishhook. These are between 8,600 and 9,600 years old and were found with more than 30,000 fish bones. They are the oldest examples of such artifacts in the New World. The researchers have also recovered fragments of knotted "cordage" or woven sea grass that might have been used to make fishing nets. At other sites, the researchers have found barbed points that were most likely used for hunting sea mammals - possibly otters. They also unearthed examples of 9,000-year-old basketry as well as 8,600-year-old shell bead jewelry. The findings from Daisy Cave are consistent with the idea that some of America's first colonists followed a coastal migration route from Asia. Conquering the cold waters of the northern Pacific would have required advanced seafaring skills as well as an ability to use marine resources. The traditional view is that the first Americans were big game hunters who marched from Siberia across the Bering Land Bridge to Alaska. They were thought to have traveled south through the Canadian Arctic via an "ice-free corridor" between two continental ice sheets to the central US. But the earliest signs of human occupation from the ice-free corridor date to 11,000 years ago, while California's Channel Islands were occupied at least 13,000 years ago. Erlandson’s alternative proposal is that maritime peoples from Asia followed underwater forests of kelp to the New World. Kelp forests hug the coastline from Japan up through Siberia to Alaska and down along the Pacific coast of North America, creating what has been called the Kelp Highway. This rich ecosystem provides habitats for seals, sea otters, hundreds of fish species, and shellfish, which would have been important sources of food, clothing and other human essentials. However, Erlandson says that actually proving such a migration took place is very difficult to do because of rising sea levels and coastal erosion. In his view, the peopling of the New World was much more complex than has traditionally been imagined, involving both coastal and terrestrial migrations.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!