Audio News for January 28th to February 3rd, 2007.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for January28th to February 3rd, 2007.
Viking ship likely discovered in Irish river
Our first story is from Ireland, where an ancient boat discovered in a riverbed north of Dublin may be the first Viking longship found in the country. According to Environment and Heritage Minister Dick Roche, the wreck is currently located in the River Boyne. The vessel measures 30 feet wide by 48 feet long. It was accidentally discovered during dredging operations last November, but the find was not made public until now. It is described as clinker-built, a shipbuilding technology first used in the Viking era that continued to be used centuries later. Experts are waiting to evaluate the wreck’s condition before it is dated. Results of carbon dating analysis on some of the vessel's timbers will take a number of weeks. Archaeologists in the heritage ministry are carrying out an inventory of wrecks in the country's rivers and lakes, as well as around the coastline. There are thought to be as many as 12,000 wrecks. Usually, ancient wrecks are preserved in their original location, but because the newly discovered Boyne wreck is in mid-stream, it must be moved. Roche reported that the wreck will be completely excavated and, if recoverable, it will be preserved and conserved for further investigation and ultimately for public display, or reburied at a more suitable location on the river. Between AD 795, when they first raided Rathlin Island off Northern Ireland, and AD 1169 when the Normans invaded from Wales, Vikings were a mighty presence in Ireland. Most of the main coastal cities, including the capital Dublin, began as Viking settlements. Before setting up trading bases, Viking raiders were attracted by Ireland's early Christian monasteries. Poorly defended, these places were not only centers of learning but of wealth. The investigation and excavation operation of the ancient shipwreck will be completed by the end of March.
Pollen analysis sheds light on terracotta army
In China, the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shihuang has mystified scholars for many years. The 8,099 clay warriors and horses were first discovered in the Emperor’s mausoleum in 1974. The figures, meant to protect the emperor in the afterlife, were buried with him around 210-209 B.C. Fortunately, one of its mysteries has recently been solved. Based on analysis of pollen found in fragments of terracotta collected from the clay figures, it is now known that the horses and warriors were constructed in different locations. According to Ya-Qin Hu, a scientist in the Institute of Botany at Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Sciences, the researchers identified and recovered 32 different types of pollen. The pollen found in the terracotta warrior sample was mostly from herbaceous plants, such as members of the mustard and cabbage family, the genus of plants that includes sagebrush and wormwood, and the family of flowering plants that includes quinoa, spinach, beets and chard. The pollen found in the terracotta horse sample came mostly from trees, such as pine, kamala and ginkgo. Based on the pollen differences, the researchers conclude that the horses were produced near the mausoleum, while the warriors were made at an unknown site away from the region. The horses are over 6 feet long and weigh nearly 441 pounds, compared to the warriors, which weigh around 330 pounds. The horses also are more delicate, given their relatively fragile legs. The scientists therefore theorize that whoever planned the Terracotta Army’s construction determined it would be easier to have the horses built closer to the destination site to minimize transport. Pollen analysis in recent years has led to some remarkable discoveries, including solving murder cases and determining the origins of other artwork. According to Hu, this research might open a new window for archaeologists, as the pollen may tell us some stories that we want to know, but that are still unknown.
Village uncovered near Stonehenge describes lives of its builders
In Britain, archaeologists have discovered a huge ancient settlement in Wiltshire used by the builders of Stonehenge and their descendants to celebrate life and death. Excavations at Durrington Walls, located to the northeast of Stonehenge, have uncovered the largest Neolithic village in Britain. Excavators have found enormous amounts of pig and cattle bones along with broken pottery. Archaeologists believe that the complex probably held up to 100 houses. The site is next to a wooden monument mirroring Stonehenge. The dwellings, which measure about 16 by 16 feet, contained built-in beds and wooden dressers. This is the first evidence of human habitation close to the stones on Salisbury Plain. The team also excavated an imposing 90-foot avenue between Durrington Walls and the River Avon where Ancient Britons may have deposited their dead. The new avenue mirrors another, discovered in the 18th century, which leads from the famous stones to the river. According to Professor Mike Parker Pearson from Sheffield University, co-leader of the excavations, researchers believe Durrington was a complementary site to Stonehenge. It was a place for the living to come to celebrate and bring the ashes and bones of ancestors to be deposited into the river. The houses, which contained a separate wooden timber circle similar in design to Stonehenge, have been radiocarbon-dated to 2600 to 2500BC, the period in which the stone circle was built. Evidence also suggests that the site was much more than a builders' dormitory. The avenue leading from Durrington is aligned with the sunset for the midsummer solstice while that from Stonehenge would have given a perfect view of the sunset. The result, according the archaeologists, is evidence that the Durrington village attracted Neolithic tribesmen from across the region for vast midwinter festivals. Enormous piles of pig and cattle bones were found along with shards of pottery that contain chemical traces of a milk and meat stew consumed by the pilgrims.
Preserving past ways of life in the face of modernity
Our final story is from Alaska where a team of researchers has discovered a prehistoric village on a tiny island in the Bering Sea. The archaeological site, shown by carbon dating to be 800 to 900 years old, indicates that King Island was inhabited by Inupiaq walrus hunters for at least a millennium. Led by Oregon State University anthropologist Deanna Kingston, the research is part of a four-year study of the plants, birds, place names, dialect, and culture of King Island. Supported by two grants from the National Science Foundation, the team includes an archaeologist, an ornithologist, a botanist, a linguist, and 30 elder King Island volunteers. The group is working to preserve the traditional ecological knowledge of King Islanders, who today use their homeland only as a seasonal hunting camp. According to Kingston, the native Islanders possess deep and unique knowledge about the natural world upon which they have depended on for centuries. Unfortunately, their culture is now threatened by a rapidly changing climate that is melting the ice and pushing walruses farther and farther offshore. Kingston, with Inupiaq elder Teddy Mayac and others, have mapped almost all 150 place names on the island to date. Noting that only about 100 native speakers are still living today, the team has made audiotapes of the elders pronouncing some of the names of all the places to keep some aspect of the language alive. Kingston plans to release a DVD for King Island community members in late 2007 documenting the data and knowledge gathered by the team. One of Kingston’s biggest rewards was bringing elder community members back to the island to assist with the research. King Island has not been inhabited since 1966. The key, says Kingston, is to document as much of the knowledge of the King Islanders as possible before it is lost.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!