Audio News for November 5th to November 11th, 2006.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for November 5th to November 11th, 2006.
Viking-era monoliths excite Danish archaeologists
Our first story is from Denmark where archaeologists believe they may have found a third “Jellinge stone.” A 'Jellinge stone’ is a large, carved Viking-era monolith that is considered to be among the first examples of written language in the country. Researchers from the Vejle Museum recently found seven stones in all, which they believe date from the 10th century, but they haven’t yet turned them over to see if they have inscriptions.. The two known inscribed stones tell of the founding of Denmark and of Christianity's arrival in the region. Peter Mohr Christensen, one of Vejle Museum's archaeologists, reportedly has no doubts about the authenticity of the newly found artifacts. The seven stones, measuring up to two square meters in size, lay partially buried in the area surrounding Jellinge church on Jutland, the site of the original two stones. Christensen believes that the stones and the hill where they were found served as a ship launch for the Vikings or even later groups. The older of the two known Jellinge stones was raised by King Gorm the Old, around AD 950, identifying him as the first king of Denmark. His ancestry traces to the current monarch, Queen Margrethe II, making the Danish royal family the oldest ruling dynasty in Europe. Gorm’s son, Harald Bluetooth, raised the other larger stone in memory of his parents. Its runes tell of the Danes conversion to Christianity, or at least Harald's pronouncement of such, since it was unlikely many in Denmark were even aware of Christianity at that time. It is only rumor that there exists a third Jellinge stone, but Christensen is still enthusiastic about the find. He is also excited about the prospects of flipping the stones over to look for runes, and the information another “Jellinge stone” could shed on the Jellinge Hill shipping site.
Raiding for women suggested in the American Southwest
In the United States, an exciting new archaeological study is the first to document interregional movement of women in the pre-Hispanic Southwest. Through the analysis of gravesites, researchers found more female remains during periods of political influence, providing an out-of- the ordinary view into the ways warfare may contribute the local archaeological record. According to archaeologist Tim Kohler, of Washington State University, warfare is common in small and medium scale societies all over the world, now and in prehistory. Capturing women was often either a goal, or a by-product, of such conflict. Kohler authored the study with Kathryn Kramer Turner of the U.S. Forest Service. Evaluating data on 1,353 human remains, Kohler and Kramer Turner found unexpectedly high ratios of female-to-male remains in the 11th-century ruins in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, and a related 13th-century site to the north called Aztec. The researchers note that many sites from the same time period in the Mesa Verde region in Southwest Colorado, just north of the Aztec site, contain fewer women than they should. This disproportion may be the result of voluntary movement, such as women migrating toward elites, or the recruitment of women as specialized producers of prized items, such as jewelry or pottery. However, the apparent excesses of women coincide with a period of high young adult mortality, which indicates violence. According to the researchers, given the mirror symmetry of their sex ratios in the 1200s and the elevated death rates among young people in both areas, societies in the vicinity obtained these women from Northern San Juan societies to the northwest through raiding and abduction. Excavations near the site of Aztec also revealed that some women in the Aztec's region were not buried in the usual respectful manner. Many of the women's remains also bear marks of abuse.
Timbuktu libraries confirm Africa’s ancient written history
Researchers investigating Timbuktu in Mali are fighting to preserve tens of thousands of ancient texts that they say prove Africa has a written history at least as old as the European Renaissance. Private and public libraries have already collected 150,000 brittle manuscripts, some of them from the 13th century, and local historians believe many more lie buried under the sand. The texts were hidden under mud homes and in desert caves by proud Malian families whose many generations feared they would be stolen by Moroccan invaders, European explorers and then French colonialists. Ornately written, some were used to teach astrology or mathematics, while others tell tales of social and business life in Timbuktu when it was a seat of learning in the 16th century. According to Galla Dicko, director of the Ahmed Baba Institute, a library housing 25,000 of the texts, the manuscripts cover all fields of human knowledge, including law, the sciences, and medicine. Timbuktu's leading families have only recently started to give up what they see as ancestral heirlooms. Local officials are persuading them that the manuscripts should be part of the community's shared culture. Experts believe the 150,000 texts collected so far are just a very small fraction of what lies hidden under centuries of dust behind the ornate wooden doors of the mud-brick homes. Some academics say the texts will force the West to accept that Africa has an intellectual history as old as its own. This development draws comparisons with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. But as the fame of the manuscripts spreads, conservationists fear those that have survived centuries of termites and extreme heat will be sold to tourists or illegally trafficked out of the country. South Africa is spearheading "Operation Timbuktu" to protect the texts, funding a new library for the Ahmed Baba Institute, named after a Timbuktu-born contemporary of William Shakespeare. The United States and Norway are also assisting with the preservation efforts.
Caribbean burial ground sheds light on the lives of African slaves
Our final story is from the Caribbean, where a newly discovered burial ground promises to shed extensive new light on the lives and deaths of Africans in the area. Researchers from Denmark and the U.S. Virgin Islands want to unearth up to 50 skeletons, hoping to learn about their diet, illnesses and causes of death, and thus broaden knowledge of slave life in the one-time Danish colony. The slaves are buried in shallow graves beneath mounds of stones and conch shells, some marked by small, illegible headstones. They were found this year on a private 300-acre estate on the island of St. Croix. The scientists will examine teeth and bones and conduct chemical analysis in a mobile laboratory. One fingernail-sized shaving will be taken from each skeleton for a database of African DNA that could reveal links to other slave populations. David Brewer, an archaeologist with the U.S. Virgin Islands government and one of the team members, stressed that the bones will be disturbed as little as possible and reburied exactly as they were found. More than 100,000 enslaved Africans, mostly from what is now Ghana, arrived in the Danish West Indies from 1617 to 1807. Many were sold at slave markets and shipped to the American colonies while thousands remained as the property of Danish colonists. David Brion Davis, a Yale University historian, notes that Caribbean slaves died much faster than those on the mainland and had a lower birthrate because of the harsh environment and labor conditions. The Danes outlawed slavery in 1848. The United States bought the three-island territory from Denmark in 1917.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!