Audio News for October 8th to October 14th, 2006.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for October 8th to October 14th, 2006.
Stonehenge dwellings discovered around the famous megalith
Our first story is from the Stonehenge world heritage site in Britain where nine Neolithic-era buildings have been excavated. The structures, which appear to have been once homes, date to 2,600-2,500 B.C. and are contemporaneous with the earliest stone settings at the site's megalith. These are the first house-like structures discovered there. Julian Thomas, chair of the archaeology department at Manchester University, said Stonehenge could have been an important gathering place at the Neolithic era's version of a housing development. All of the buildings had plaster floors and timber frames, and some had central hearths. Ringed ditches enclosed two dwellings, including a house possibly inhabited by a community chief or priest. Postholes indicate a wooden fence would have surrounded the smaller of the two structures. According to Thomas, if the structure inside the large ditch was indeed a chief's house, this individual would have been living rather humbly like the rest of the population, since the building itself wouldn't have been elaborate. Near the buildings were remnants of grooved pottery characteristic of the period, along with stone tools. The findings suggest that many people lived at the site around 4,600 years ago. In fact, Thomas believes the site may have contained scores of houses at one point. Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology and a leading expert on Stonehenge, stated that the two isolated buildings at the site may have been shrines and not residences, but he thinks it's also possible the buildings were home to Stone Age notables. Excavations are expected to continue over the next three summers.
Possibly the oldest canoe in Mesoamerica discovered
Our next story is from Belize where an ancient canoe, likely the oldest canoe ever uncovered in Mesoamerica, was discovered in a cliff-top cave. Wichita State University archaeologist Keith Prufer led the excavation team. Prufer estimates that the canoe dates between AD 200 and 800. Radiocarbon testing is currently being done to confirm that the canoe is indeed the oldest found in Mesoamerica, which is the geographical region covering central Mexico down through Belize, Honduras, Guatemala and part of El Salvador. According to Prufer, it's the first pre-Columbian canoe ever found in a Maya area. The cave that contained the canoe appeared to have been used as a royal burial crypt. Referring to a Maya myth involving "paddler gods," Prufer stated that Maya religious beliefs involve travels over water in the underworld. Canoes were also associated with celestial patterns. The team has been conducting archaeological research in the southern region for more than 13 years, but in recent years they have been concentrated at Uxbenka, an important but rarely studied ruin in the remote rainforest of southern Belize. According to Jaime Awe, director of the Belize Institute of Archaeology, the Uxbenka project is part of Belize's mandate to study previously uninvestigated areas. Prufer's interest in studying the political history of the rise and fall of smaller Maya cities and how they interacted with larger, more powerful urban centers is evident as he relates some of what has been uncovered at Uxbenka. Prufer maintains that ancient carved monuments at the site describe a relationship with the powerful state of Tikal, in Guatemala, when Uxbenka was first developing. The canoe will be packed in a snug cocoon of foam, lowered by a boom down the 200-foot cliff and walked out of the rainforest by laborers and then picked up by helicopter. In addition to the archaeological excavations, Prufer's team is also working with local Maya villages around Uxbenka to make sure that local people, who are descendants of the ancient Maya, benefit from the research.
Geologists’ efforts may contest popular belief and touch off new Homeric quest
A team of scientists is challenging Greek mythology by proposing an alternative site for Ithaca. The island is said to be the home of Odysseus, whose 10-year journey back from the Trojan War is chronicled in Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. Popular belief asserts that the modern-day Ionian island of Ithaki is ancient Ithaca. However, modern geologists will sink a borehole on nearby Kefalonia in an attempt to test whether its western peninsula of Paliki is the real site. They hope to find evidence that the peninsula once stood separated from Kefalonia by a narrow marine channel. The team argues that the channel has filled in after Homer’s time, specifically in the last 2,500-3,000 years. At issue are a few lines of fiercely debated text, in which Homer describes Odysseus' native land. He talks of low-lying terrain, furthest out to sea and facing dusk. The team, which includes geologists, classicists and archaeologists, argues that modern-day Ithaki does not fit this description. It is dominated by high ground and, located on the eastern side of the Ionian arc of islands, actually looks towards "dawn and sun." But to prove its hypothesis about Paliki, the team will have to show, at a minimum, that the sea once flowed through a tight channel that is now the Thinia isthmus joining Paliki to the main part of Kefalonia. To suggest the Mycenaean landscape could have changed so radically in so short a time seems extraordinary. The team's case is that the channel has been covered by a colossal infall of rock from the surrounding hills, particularly those on the eastern side of the Thinia valley. According to Professor John Underhill, Edinburgh University geologist, this happens in winter, and there are interesting news pictures taken after the devastating earthquake of 1953 which demonstrate that whole hillsides degraded significantly and huge volumes of rock came off the slopes. The investigation involves sinking a 300-foot borehole at the southern end of the valley. If the Paliki solution stands up, the research team should find a loose aggregation of rock and debris through the core's entire length. Assuming the test is successful, the team will apply for funding to carry out a more extensive program of drilling. Ground-penetrating radar, gravity and seismic surveys have already been conducted. In addition, carbon-14 and other dating techniques would need to be conducted to prove the infall occurred within the right time period. The team is encouraged by the writings of the 1st-century BC Greek geographer Strabo, who mentions the existence of a channel many years after Homer is presumed to have lived in the Ionian region. And, of course, this is by no means the first time that science has sought to match current features on the landscape with Homeric descriptions. The city of Troy in the Iliad is now widely recognized to have been in northwestern Turkey. A study of river sediments in the region seem to fit with details of the military campaign that Homer's story says eventually led to the destruction of the city. If the existence of a Bronze Age channel on Kefalonia is proven, it is likely to set off new heated arguments about specifics and meaning in the Odyssey.
Deep sea cores suggest that Bering Strait opened earlier than previously believed
In our final story, researchers in the United States proposed this week that the land bridge linking Siberia and Alaska flooded more than 1,000 years earlier than previously thought. This may have implications for the timing of the human migration to North America. The team consisted of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, and the University of Massachusetts. The researchers found places on the ocean floor where sediment deposits were deep enough to act as a kind of geologic clock. For the most part, previously collected sediment cores from the floor of the Arctic Ocean have been taken from places where sediment had accumulated less than half an inch. These samples were not adequate to calculate periods of just 1,000 years. Lloyd Keigwin of Woods Hole reported that they examined samples from new core sites north and west of Alaska in the Chukchi Sea. This area covers part of the continental shelf exposed when sea level fell during the last Ice Age, approximately 20,000 years ago. Keigwin emphasized the small number of cores, yet said that this is the first evidence of flooding of the Chukchi Sea by 11,000 radiocarbon years ago, at least 1,000 years before previously thought. The scientists sampled the cores to identify skeletons of animals that can be traced to specific water and atmospheric temperatures. The samples were also radiocarbon dated. For decades most scientists believed that the first humans to settle in the Americas were the Clovis people and that they came via the Bering land bridge around 11,000 radiocarbon years ago. But recent evidence, including these cores, suggests that humans may have come significantly earlier.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!