Audio News for March 25th to March 31st, 2007.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for March 25th to March 31st, 2007.
Legendary Islamic Kingdom possibly discovered
Our first story is from Ethiopia, where archaeologists have uncovered the remains of three large towns that may have been the heart of a legendary Islamic kingdom. Ancient manuscripts have long told of the kingdom of Shoa, which between the 10th and 16th centuries included key trade routes between the Christian highlands and Muslim ports on the Red Sea. Shoa's precise location, however, has never been clear. According to the National Centre for Scientific Research, a team of archaeologists uncovered the remains of three medieval towns, Asbari, Masal and Nora, on a high slope of the Rift Valley. Shoa - also know to history as Shewa - was an autonomous state from about the 10th century until it was absorbed by the sultanate of Ifat during the end of the 13th century. Team leader Francois-Xavier Fauvelle suggests that the three towns may represent the heart of the Shoa Muslim kingdom before it came under Ifat's political control. Today the area is covered in thick brush and scrub, yet the area still preserves the remnants of ancient terraced farming methods. Mosques, residential areas, walls and various buildings are interspersed throughout the sites. For example, in Asbari the team found the remarkably well-preserved remains of a mosque that they believe to be one of the largest in Ethiopia. Its walls are adorned with inscriptions in Arabic. In Masal, they found a necropolis with a tomb emblazoned with stars and Arabic inscriptions that may have been a royal sepulcher. Lastly, Nora was clearly once a dense urban centre, with a network of streets and the remains of roads. The remaining walls of the main mosque are up to five yards high. The archaeologists found large numbers of tools made of obsidian, a rock that is a kind of naturally occurring glass. Further work is being planned for next year to map Nora and carry out a dig there.
Trinidad excavations shed light on early Amerindian life
Blanchisseuse is considered the largest pre-Columbian site in the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Located specifically in North Trinidad, radiocarbon dates from the site indicate that Amerindians inhabited the area 1,800 to 1,400 years ago. These findings, among others, were released by the University of the West Indies archaeology team led by Dr. Basil Reid. Excavations conducted at Marianne Estate in Blanchisseuse concluded in March. According to Reid, pottery found at the site is distinguished by white-on-red, red and black painting, signature pottery of the Saladoid people. The Saladoids are the first pottery-making Amerindians to arrive in Trinidad and Tobago. They settled the twin island republic between 250 BC and AD 600 after migrating from the Orinoco region of Venezuela as farmers, potters and villagers. Reid describes a Saladoid village as usually having a central plaza, which was the location of meetings and ritual activities, including cohaba rituals in which Saladoid men would inhale hallucinogens as part of their ritual displays. Previous surveys conducted in Blanchisseuse during the late 1990s suggested that areas where meager quantities of pottery were found might have been the site of a central plaza, while areas with the heavier quantities of pottery might have been the residential areas. This year’s excavation yielded an assortment of pottery, griddles and stone artifacts. The Saladoid pots were used for an array of functions such as cooking, food storage and ceremonial feasting. The griddles tend to be thicker and poorly fired and were used for baking cassava bread, a staple of the Amerindians in northeast South America and the Caribbean. An interesting find this year also included a unique stone artifact. The stone is polished and this could be interpreted as evidence of human manipulation. Since there is no such rock found in Trinidad, the stone was probably imported from the Lesser Antilles. For this reason, Reid believes the stone may be a vomit spatula, imported by the Saladoid inhabitants of Blanchisseuse and used in their cohaba rituals in the central plaza. The importation of precious stones, called the lapidary trade, is one of the defining characteristics of Saladoid culture throughout the Caribbean.
Links between Indian and Roman civilizations found underwater
In India, scientists from the National Institute of Oceanography have found artifacts near the island of Dwarka indicating links between ancient Indian and Roman civilizations. According to K H Vora, deputy director of marine archaeology and project leader, the excavation unveiled artifacts dating back to 3,500 BC, which indicates that India's maritime history is much older than previously thought. The team found amphora sherds of Mediterranean origin, which once were part of clay containers used by Romans to transport wine. Vora believes that this indicates that Indian and Roman civilizations had connections with each other through sea routes. The institute's marine archaeology department considered the find to be a milestone in maritime history. Dwarka, located in the Indian state of Gujarat, is believed to be the mythological summer palace of Lord Krishna. Scientists studying millennial shoreline changes in Gujarat's Gulf of Kutch have also discovered several stone anchors dating back 2,000 years.
Dung mites chronicle rise and fall of the Inca
In our final story, an international team of archaeologists has found a new way to trace the rise and fall of the Inca civilization — through the fossils of tiny soil-dwelling organisms called mites. According to the study's leader, paleoecologist Alex J. Chepstow-Lusty of the University of Montpellier in France, in the absence of written records, the mites may provide the most reliable way to document the Incas and other South American societies. The mites feed on the droppings of llamas in moist grasslands and pastures. Moreover, their fossilized shells are readily preserved in waterlogged sediments. The team concluded that the number of mite fossils in a soil sample is related to the number of llamas that used the pasture, and, by extension, to the size of the population. Analysis of layers of mud cored from the lake of Marcacocha, which is located close to a major Inca trading route, showed a marked increase in the abundance of mite fossils as the empire expanded. During the height of Inca civilization, Spanish records indicate that llama trains consisting of up to 1,000 animals used the trade route regularly, carrying coca leaves and other products. A later, but very sudden, drop in the number of mites reflects the collapse of the native population with the arrival of the Spanish and their own domesticated animals. Historical accounts demonstrate that two-thirds of the llamas in the Cuzco region died of skin diseases. When the Spanish introduced their own livestock onto the landscape in the 1600s, the frequency of fossils increased again. In the early 1700s, the mites underwent another decline when a plague was ravaging the area, killing as many as 600 people a day in Cuzco. Having validated the technique at Marcacocha, the team is preparing to employ it in areas where there is less historical documentation of settlement patterns
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!