Audio News for July 8th to July 14th, 2007.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for July 8th to July 14th, 2007.
New Mexico skeletons show evidence of prehistoric massacre
Our first story is from the United States, where an isolated New Mexico canyon has revealed skeletons of the victims of a massacre that may have been part of an campaign of genocide. The group comprises five adults, one child, and one infant. They were members of a little-known prehistoric culture known as the Gallina. This ancient culture occupied a small region of northwestern New Mexico starting around AD 1100, and suddenly vanished around 1275. According to Tony Largaespada, an archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service who made the discovery, the newfound skeletons could provide crucial clues to the mysterious fate of this people. Scarcely more than a hundred Gallina remains have ever been found and almost all of them show evidence of murder. Greg Nelson is a physical anthropologist at the University of Oregon who studied the new skeletons and concurs with the evidence that these people were also killed. One has a fractured skull, forearm, jaw, thighbone, pelvis, and several broken ribs. Another bears cut marks on the upper arm that suggest blows from an ax. Among the other peculiarities of the site is the arrangement of two of the bodies. These victims, an adult male and female, were doubled over, but with their heads snapped back so far, their skulls resting between their shoulder blades. The bodies may have been intentionally posed after death or the victims may have been crouching in defense when their necks were broken. Nevertheless, none of the seven dead appears to have been buried, suggesting that the group was struck down and left by their attackers. Although the findings are consistent with previous reports from other Gallina sites, the new skeletons offer evidence of why such violence may have been inflicted on these people. In particular, the skulls of two of the victims have an unusual flattened shape that has never been seen in the Southwest. Such signs of a distinctive culture suggest the group may have been in conflict with neighboring peoples of a different culture. However, the scientists stress that their research is ongoing and the ancient murders remain unsolved for now. Largaespada discovered the gruesome scene when he and a team were reburying a Gallina skeleton that had been kept at his Forest Service office. Upon arrival at the site where that skeleton had originally been excavated, he saw the signs of the other bodies eroding out of the road cut. The massacre site is only a few miles from where the Gallina culture was first discovered in the 1930s. Scientists at the time excavated a 25-foot-tall circular stone tower that held the remains of 16 people. All of them bore signs of gruesome deaths. Since then, several Gallina sites have been excavated, but scholarship on the culture's origins and demise have been limited.
New East African hominid finds are nearly 4 million years old
In Ethiopia, scientists have discovered hominid fossil fragments dating between 3.5 and 3.8 million years ago. According to Ethiopian archaeologist Yohannes Haile Selassie, the find included several complete jaws and one partial skeleton. They were unearthed in the Afar desert at Woranso-Mille, near where the fossil skeleton known as Lucy was found in 1974. Selassie confirmed that this is a major finding, which could fill a gap in human evolution. The fossils sample a time period that is poorly known. The Woranso-Mille area, about 140 miles northeast of Addis Ababa, is well known to paleoanthropologists for having the most continuous record of human evolution of any place known, having produced hominid fossils that span the last 6 million years. Last year, an international team of scientists unveiled the discovery of 4.1 million-year-old fossils in the region. Lucy, the best-known find from the region, lived between 3.3 and 3.6 million years ago.
Early occupation of Dead Sea Scrolls complex is revealed by 3-D re-creation
In our next story, new research techniques have suggested that fierce warriors once occupied the famous complex where the Dead Sea Scrolls were written. The Qumran area of Israel became world famous when a shepherd boy discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls in nearby caves in 1947. Ruins of the Qumran site resemble a monastery, but scholars disagree about how it might have been used before the religious sect that penned the scrolls moved in between 130 and 100 BC. After painstakingly assembling the first virtual 3-D reconstruction of the site, historians have now identified evidence of a fortress that preceded the monastery. William Schniedewind, chair of Ancient Eastern Mediterranean Studies at UCLA and the project’s principal investigator, said that the answer almost literally jumped out once the archaeological evidence was displayed in three dimensions. Numerous investigations of the 20,000-square-foot residential complex where most of the scrolls are believed to have been written had led archaeologists to question the function of its jumbled buildings and spaces. Many, such as a defensive four-story tower, did not seem to belong to a setting used for religious worship and study. Other areas, such as a communal dining hall, appeared to be renovations. But with the 3-D model, the UCLA researchers could deconstruct the tangled complex piece by piece. That allowed them to see architectural elements invisible to the naked eye, such as the different sizes of the walls and their ability to support weight. Such features are necessary for multi-story construction or reinforcement. Bob Cargill, a UCLA graduate student and the project’s co-author, noted that once they put the dining hall into the model, they realized it had to be an addition to the original structure. The dining hall, and other additions, were all rooms meant for communal living, whereas the underbelly of the structure -- built first, as the virtual model revealed -- had more militaristic functions. The UCLA historians believe that during its period as a fort, the first extensive occupation of Qumran was probably by a band of mighty warriors called the Hasmoneans, whose victory over Greek occupiers is celebrated during Hanukkah. The new findings support the theory that the building had only a few occupants after the Hasmonean warriors and prior to the Essenes, among them an aristocratic family from Jerusalem who used the building as a vacation home. Qumran then became a peaceful place of worship when the Essenes, a strict religious group, moved there from Jerusalem. It was the Essenes who painstakingly copied and inscribed the now famous Dead Sea Scrolls, which are the only surviving texts of the Hebrew Bible written before AD 100. It is believed that the scrolls were secretly taken out from the Qumran compound and hidden in the caves during an advance of Roman troops in AD 66.
Unusual Bulgarian figurines reveal ties to cult of Dionysus
Our final story is from Bulgaria, where archaeologists have found two unique ceramic figurines as they continue excavation at the rock sanctuary of Perperikon, near Kardzhali in the southeastern region. According to archaeologist Nikolai Ovcharov, the two figurines are modeled in the shape of cobra and dragon heads and were ornaments of a clay altar dating approximately between the 3rd and 1st centuries BC. Ovcharov believes the finds are probably part of the Tsepina culture, named after one of the key Thracian fortresses in the Rodopi Mountains, which played an important strategic role deep into the medieval era. The finds are considered more important than later, Roman era materials because of the insight they offer into the distinctive traits of the local culture. Snakes were considered guardians of the deep and, as such, were closely associated with the cult of Dionysus, whose shrine the Bulgarian archaeologists are currently excavating. The next stage of the dig, which is staffed by close to 150 excavators, will examine the southern quarter of the city, where the archaeologists hope to explore the remains of a palace that dates back to the Thracian era. The city of Perperikon has been inhabited since around 5000 BC. Even older dates are associated with the nearby shrine dedicated to Orpheus, near the village of Tatul. That early Thracian site dates back to 6000 BC.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!