Audio News for April 22nd to April 28th, 2007
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for April 22nd to April 28th, 2007.
Early man beneath the North Sea
Our first story is from the United Kingdom, where a lost landscape once roamed by early humans 12,000 years ago has been uncovered beneath the North Sea. A map of this underwater world reveals rivers, lakes and hills around which hunter-gatherers made their homes toward the end of the last ice age. The large plain disappeared below the water between 18,000 and 6,000 B.C.. As the waters slowly rose, the contours of the British Isles and the northwest European coastline were defined. The ancient landscape is preserved beneath one of the busiest seas in the world. Scientists have compiled 3D seismic records from oil-prospecting vessels working in the North Sea over an 18-month period. They’ve pieced together a landscape covering 9,000 square miles, stretching from the coast of East Anglia to the edge of northern Europe. They identified the scars left by ancient riverbeds, salt marshes, valleys, and lakes—some 15 miles across. A recreation of the landscape shows that the land beneath the North Sea was probably more than a mere land bridge. People moving north into Europe during the waning ice age could have lived comfortably on the land. According to Vince Gaffney, director of Birmingham University's Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity, it was believed this was a land bridge across which people roamed to get to Britain, but the truth is very different. The places you wanted to live were the big plains next to the water and the coastline was way beyond where it is now. This was probably a heartland of population at the time and it completely transforms how we understand the early history of northwestern Europe. The northernmost point of the map falls just short of the south coast of Norway, where rising water levels swamped the land around 18,000 B.C.. Professor Gaffney concludes that this is the best-preserved prehistoric landscape, certainly in the whole of Europe and possibly the world.
Rare Neolithic burial found in Hungary
In Hungary, archaeologists exploring a Neolithic burial site in the southern Tolna County have discovered what they believe to be the burial chamber of a tribal chieftain. According to Professor Istvan Zalai-Gaal, who has been leading the dig, it may easily be the most exciting tomb ever unearthed in Europe. Dating back seven thousand years, there is a heavy upright log in each corner, believed to have originally held an aboveground structure over the 6 foot by 6 foot tomb. Inside, researchers found polished stone axes and other stone tools typical of the late Stone Age, as well as the largest stone knife ever to be recovered from that period. They also discovered an adorned bullhorn, a marble war club and an axe head that, although stone, bears the shape of a Bronze Age weapon. Scientists believe the tribe was aware of metal tools but did not have the materials to make any items, thus they copied the shape. Also discovered was a necklace made of hundreds of bronze beads, combined with shells from the Mediterranean, believed to be traded goods. The find was made at a site where some 17,000 square yards have been excavated, probably the largest known Stone Age dig in Europe. Over one million artifacts have been uncovered, with the exploration ongoing.
Researchers study Canadian Inuit
In Canada, a curator hopes to further uncover the history of Canadian Inuit ancestors this summer by excavating Thule Inuit houses near Resolute, Nunavut, in northern Canada. This June, Robert McGhee, curator of Arctic archaeology at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and archeology doctoral student Sarah Hazell, plan to excavate two Thule-era houses about 2.5 mile west of the community. McGhee, who has written books on the Arctic that include “The Last Imaginary Place: A Human History of the Arctic,” has been excavating and restoring three other 800- to 1,000-year-old winter houses that belonged to the ancestors of present-day Canadian Inuit. According to McGhee, he is looking to hire four local high school students this summer to help with the effort. It is his hope that they will develop a greater interest in the Inuit past and give them a sense of where their people came from, what kind of people they are and how they fit into the larger world. One of the reconstructed houses has a roof made of large whalebones. McGhee cautioned that there won't be a similar reconstruction this summer, due to a lack of whale bones, but he hopes the new work will continue to educate and entertain Resolute residents and visitors. Local people are interested in what these ruins say about their ancestors, and it provides a bit of a heritage resource for the school kids to get in touch with the past. Sarah Hazell wants to put a more precise date on the Thule houses, helping to resolve debate on when the Thule Inuit came to Canada from Alaska. Experts have pegged their arrival from 800 to 1,000 years ago. Carbon-dating uncovered artifacts may determine which end of the range is more accurate. McGhee and Hazell will continue their work next summer. A total of four homes will be excavated and restored over the next two summers.
Ancient sites threatened by Bahrain modernism
Our final story is from Bahrain, where ancient burial mounds and other historical sites are threatened due to population needs and construction projects. According to Bahrain University Islamic History Professor Ali Al Shehab, developing countries need more land for infrastructure, so they demolish historical sites such as the graves in Saar and A'ali. Records show there are more than 800,000 graves in Bahrain and it has one of the biggest cemeteries in the world, but it's under pressure. Professor Al Shehab was speaking on the sidelines of a four-day scientific conference of the Gulf Cooperation Council Society for History and Archaeology Forum, which attracted 150 archaeologists and historians from the region. They are talking with Gulf governments to protect these sites important to their culture. Twenty-eight papers were being presented on various topics, including Oman's civilization, the history of the Arabian Peninsula, the role of statues in the Tylos era, the history of rituals during the Dilmun era, and commercial ties between the Arabian Gulf and East Asian countries. The majority of burial mounds in Bahrain date back to the second and third centuries A.D. and this country is considered to be the site of the largest prehistoric cemetery in the world. The sheer number of burial mounds has led archaeologists to speculate that inhabitants of the Arabian mainland used the island as a prehistoric burial ground. The oldest and largest burial mounds, named the Royal Tombs, are found at A'ali and measure up to 45 feet in height and 140 feet in diameter. Each of the tombs is composed of a central stone chamber that is enclosed by a low ring-wall and covered by earth and gravel. The size of the mounds varies, but the majority of them measure 15 by 30 feet in diameter and are 3 to 6 feet high. The smaller mounds usually contain only one chamber. Attempts to protect the burial mounds have run into opposition by religious fundamentalists who consider them non-Islamic and have called for them to be paved over for housing.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!