Audio News for February 18th to February 24th, 2007.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for February 18th to February 24th, 2007.
Dominican Republic site was early Spanish mining effort
Our first story is from the Dominican Republic, where a new study provides evidence that silver-bearing ore found at the settlement founded by Christopher Columbus's second expedition was not mined in the Americas. The ore that researchers excavated from the settlement, La Isabela, came from Spain. According to David Killick, Associate Professor of Anthropology of the University of Arizona, what appeared to be the earliest evidence of European finds of precious metals in the New World turned out not to be that at all. The researchers theorize that the explorers brought the ore to La Isabela to use for comparison when assaying the new ores they expected to find. By 1497, La Isabela's remaining settlers, having found no gold or silver, were desperate to salvage something of value from the failed settlement. They were reduced to extracting silver from the galena they brought from Spain. Galena is a silver-bearing lead ore. La Isabela, the first European town in the New World, was established by Columbus's second expedition in 1494 on the northern coast of the present Dominican Republic. The approximately 1500 members of the expedition expected to make their fortunes by finding precious metals, but instead found hurricanes, hunger and disease. Columbus was recalled to Spain in 1496, and the few hundred remaining inhabitants abandoned the town in 1498. Archaeologists excavating the site in the late 1980s and early 1990s found about 100 pounds of galena and more than 200 pounds of metallurgical slag. The ore and slag were associated with a small furnace near a building for the storage and protection of royal property. Killick and graduate student Ward Lyman examined the slag under a microscope and saw specks of silver, suggesting that Columbus's followers were trying to extract silver from the galena by removing all the lead. Geosciences graduate student Alyson Thibodeau used lead isotope analysis to determine where La Isabela's galena originated. This provides a kind of fingerprint that can indicate the source. Figuring out that the galena came from Spain led to the question, why bring ore? Documents report that the expedition also brought lead. The scientists learned that a common practice of the time was mixing galena with powdered ores suspected of having gold or silver. The process provided an assay of the gold or silver in the newly discovered hunk of ore by comparing it with galena containing a known, small quantity of silver. Given that the expedition’s purpose was discovering new sources of precious metals, it makes sense that the members toted along materials to assess their discoveries.
Iranian “goldeneye” was powerful priestess
Our next story is from Iran, where the body of an unusually tall 5,000-year-old woman with an artificial golden eye has been discovered by a joint Iranian-Italian excavation team. Mansour Sajjadi, leader of the Iranian team, made the discovery. The team has been excavating an ancient necropolis at Shahr-i-Sokhta in the Sistan Desert on the Iranian-Afghan border for nine years. According to Italian Archaeologist Lorenzo Costantini, the woman was a female soothsayer or priestess and the artificial eye was clearly not intended to mimic a real eye. The 25 to 30-year old Persian woman was almost 6 feet tall. Her height coupled with the golden eye would have made a striking and mysterious impression. The prophetess had also been buried with an ornate bronze hand mirror, which she presumably used to check her unique appearance. The golden eye was meticulously engraved with a pattern comprising a central circle for the iris and gold lines radiating from the center. It is a half-sphere measuring just over an inch in diameter and made from lightweight material believed to be derived from bitumen paste and then painted gold. Two tiny holes are drilled on each side, through which a fine thread held it in place. The researchers report that an imprint on the woman's eye socket proved she wore the golden eye in life, rather than having it placed in her eye at burial.
New study casts doubt on Clovis dating
A new study from Texas A&M University is challenging the belief that the Clovis People were the first to populate North America some 11,500 years ago. Michael Waters, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M, has found new evidence that could be the final nail in the coffin for the Clovis-first model. Waters’ research revises the original dates for the Clovis time period, suggesting that humans likely inhabited the Americas before Clovis. The new analysis indicates that the dating of the Clovis Complex ranges from 11,050 to 10,900 radiocarbon years before the present. To properly understand the age of Clovis, Waters and co-author Thomas Stafford of Stafford Research Laboratories in Colorado tested samples from various Clovis sites in an effort to re-date some of what Waters believes were poorly dated sites. Because of technological advances, Waters and Stafford were able to more accurately identify the dates for some of the more than 25 dated Clovis sites that were excavated in North America. According to Waters, many of the dates previously obtained from these sites had ranges of plus or minus 250 years. With today’s technology we get to plus or minus 30 years. The new testing returned radiocarbon dates that showed the Clovis time range wasn’t as long as had been previously thought. The new dates appear to show that Clovis Culture lasted no more than 200 to 400 calendar years, convincing Waters that it is almost impossible for the Clovis people to spread as far as previously thought in such a short time span. If the Clovis Complex dates are much younger than previously thought, and Clovis has a much shorter duration than previously thought, Waters asks, how could people, in such a short period of time, reach the tip of South America? That is an important question that now must be answered. The revised ages that Waters and Stafford obtained overlap dates from a number of North American sites that are technologically and culturally not Clovis sites, which creates a further question of whether the Clovis People were the first humans in the Americas.
Egytian oasis yields evidence of Persian temple
Our final story is from Egypt, where French archaeologists have found a Persian temple dating from the 1st millennium BC in Kharga oasis in the Western Desert. The temple is located at Dush in the southernmost edge of the oasis. When they controlled Egypt between 525 and 404 BC, the Persians were active in the Kharga region; they rebuilt another well-known temple that survives near the main town of Kharga. Reports give no details of the condition of the new temple. According to the website of the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology, a settlement dating from the Persian period revealed a temple, some important documents in the demotic script, and traces of the irrigation system which made it possible to settle there. The local director of antiquities confirmed that the irrigation works date back to about 500 BC. The French expedition has also found statues and gold coins from the period. Dush lies about 360 miles south of Cairo and 120 miles west of the Nile valley.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!