Audio News for July 29th to August 4th, 2007.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for July 29th to August 4th, 2007.
Maritime archaeology reveals 8000 year old stone age settlement
Our first story is from England, where excavations of a Stone Age settlement dating back 8000 years are taking place underwater. Maritime archaeologists from the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology have been working at the site just off the Isle of Wight coast. Divers working at depths of 33 feet have raised sections of the seabed, which have been taken to the National Oceanography Centre laboratories for excavation. According to Garry Momber, Director of the Trust, this is a site of international importance. It reveals a time, before the English Channel existed, when mainland Europe and Britain were linked. Earlier excavations have produced flint tools, pristine 8,000-year-old organic material such as acorns, charcoal and worked pieces of wood showing evidence of extensive human activity. This is the only site of its kind in Britain and is extremely important to understanding Stone Age ancestors from the lesser-known Mesolithic period. At first, researchers had no idea of the size of the site, but now they are finding evidence of hearths and ovens giving the appearance of an extensive settlement. They are hoping that this excavation will reveal more artifacts and clues to life in the Stone Age. The team of archaeologists will take the sections to the laboratories where they will meticulously excavate through the layers of sediment, revealing materials that have lain unseen beneath the seabed for over 8000 years. Momber has recruited University of Southampton students to help with the work.
Cooperative Cuban-US study focuses on native village in eastern Cuba
In our next story, researchers in a joint U.S.-Cuban archaeological expedition are attempting to learn more about the native people Christopher Columbus encountered on his first voyage to the New World. The University of Alabama Department of Anthropology and the Central-Eastern Department of Archaeology of the science ministry in Cuba are collaborating in the effort, funded by the National Geographic Society. The study focuses on a former large native village, El Chorro de Maita, in eastern Cuba. According to Dr. Jim Knight, professor of anthropology at UA who set up the project, the team is mapping the site and determining the size and location of the residential areas within it. They hope to find evidence of how the residents of this large Indian town were affected by the Spanish conquest of Cuba. Roberto Valcarcel is leading the Cuban group. The people Columbus encountered during his first voyage to northeastern Cuba in 1492 were Arawakan (ar’-a-wah’kan) Indians. There is no evidence that Columbus visited El Chorro de Maita, but Arawakans also occupied this large village. The Arawakans of that day were of a similar level of sophistication, although different culturally, to the Moundville Mississippian Indians, who were their contemporaries. Each had the social order of a chiefdom, and they were agriculturalists. Chiefdom is the name given to hierarchical societies of the period that were headed by a chief, who would have unusual ritual, political, or entrepreneurial skills. As part of the project, Dr. John Worth will travel to Spain to search the archives for documents relating to the early history of the Indians of Cuba. The project is a part of the UA Cuba Initiative, which provides opportunities for UA students to pursue their education under a special academic license granted by the U.S. government.
Colony founded by Alexander the Great near Kuwait City reexamined
In Kuwait, Greek archaeologists plan to excavate an ancient colony founded by Alexander the Great in the fourth century BC. On his way back west from India, Alexander the Great’s Admiral Nearchos reached the island of Failaka, about 12 miles from what is now Kuwait City, and founded a town there called Icaros. Twenty-five centuries later, that Hellenistic city is slowly coming to light again on a small island that was deserted during the Gulf War in 1991. This fall, Greek archaeologists will go to the island to continue the excavations, organize the site, and restore the finds from that ancient Greek colony in the heart of the East. An agreement to that effect was signed by Culture Ministry general secretary Christos Zachopoulos and the Kuwait National Council Secretary-General for Culture. According to Zachopoulos, the island has been previously excavated and has revealed part of a Hellenistic town and a temple to Artemis, the ancient Greek goddess of hunting. Previous excavations revealed Greek coins and inscriptions, along with figurines and ceramic vessels. The most significant artifact found so far is the Icaros inscription, consisting of 42 verses in Greek. This find was crucial to identifying the island with the city of Icaros referred to by ancient historians Strabo and Arrian. Teams of archaeologists from Denmark, the USA, Italy, France, and Kuwait carried out previous excavations. Zachopoulos emphasized that the agreement signed is part of a broader cooperation program between the Culture Ministry and the Arab world that includes archaeological missions to Jordan, Oman, and Syria. As the ruler of the ancient kingdom of Macedon, now modern-day northern Greece, Alexander the Great created an empire stretching into modern-day India and Egypt.
Unique funeral chamber of Aztec ruler detected using ground penetrating radar
Our final story is from Mexico, where an Aztec ruler's funeral chamber has never been found. However, archaeologists believe that has finally changed. The emperor at the pinnacle of the Aztec civilization, Ahuizotl (ah-WEE-zoh-tuhl) was the last to complete his rule before the Spanish Conquest. Using ground-penetrating radar, researchers have detected underground chambers that could contain the remains of Ahuizotl. The find could provide extraordinary information of the Aztec civilization at its peak. Ahuizotl was an empire-builder who extended the Aztecs' reach as far as Guatemala. Historical documents written by Spanish priests suggest the area was used by the Aztecs to cremate and bury their rulers. Nevertheless, no tomb of an Aztec ruler has been found, in part because the Spanish conquerors built their own city atop the Aztec's ceremonial center, leaving behind colonial structures too historically valuable to remove for excavations. One of those colonial buildings was so damaged in a 1985 earthquake that it had to be torn down, giving experts their first chance to examine the site between the Metropolitan Cathedral and the ruins of the Templo Mayor pyramid. Archaeologists have located what appears to be a six-foot-by-six-foot entryway into the tomb about 15 feet below ground. The passage is filled with water, rocks, and mud, forcing workers to dig delicately while suspended from slings. According to Leonardo Lopez Lujan, the lead government archaeologist, they are moving slowly and carefully, recording everything. As early as this fall, they hope to enter the inner chambers and discover the ashes of Ahuizotl, who probably was cremated on a funeral pyre in 1502. The Aztecs' first contact with Europeans came in 1519, when Cortez and his conquistadors marched into the Valley of Mexico and took hostage Ahuizotl's successor, his nephew Montezuma. Ahuizotl's son Cuauhtemoc (kwow-TAY-mock) took over from Montezuma and led the last resistance to the Spaniards in the battle for Mexico City in 1521. He was later taken prisoner and killed. Like Montezuma, his burial place is unknown. Because no Aztec royal tomb has ever been found, the archaeologists are literally digging into the unknown. Ground penetrating radar indicates the tomb has up to four chambers, and scientists think they will find a constellation of elaborate offerings to the gods on the floor. The constant temperature of the pH-neutral water in the flooded chambers, together with the lack of oxygen, discourages decomposition of materials like wood and bone.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!