Audio News for August 5th to August 11th, 2007
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for August 5th to August 11th, 2007.
Fragments of giant statue reveal Roman Emperor Hadrian
Our first story is from Turkey, where parts of a huge statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian have been unearthed. Found at the archaeological site of Sagalassos, an ancient Greco-Roman city in south-central region, the original statue would have stood 12 to 15 feet in height. So far, researchers have unearthed an elegantly carved head, foot, and part of a leg. The foot, shod in an elaborately decorated sandal, is three times the size of an average adult’s foot, at 31.5 inches long. The fragment of leg represents the area from just above the knee down to the ankle. The head, which aside from a broken nose is almost intact, is over two feet tall. The statue dates to the early part of Hadrian's reign. The intricate decoration on the sandal suggests he was portrayed in military garb. According to Marc Waelkens, director of the excavation, this is one of the most beautiful depictions of the emperor ever found. Born in AD 76 into a well-to-do family, Hadrian was adopted by the Emperor Trajan and in his turn, extended an era of relative peace and prosperity in the Roman Empire. To consolidate the Pax Romanum, Hadrian built permanent fortifications along the empire's borders such as the wall across its northernmost extent that still runs across the width of northern Britain and is known as Hadrian's Wall. It was built to repel attacks by Caledonian tribes. At the Turkish site of Sagalassos where this fragmentary statue was found, archaeologists from the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium have been carrying out investigations since 1990. They discovered the pieces 15 feet below ground, in the buried remnants of a bathhouse. A major earthquake sometime between the late sixth and early seventh centuries AD had destroyed the bathhouse. Other marble statue fragments found include toes with dowel holes in them that would be used to attach them to a long dress on an equally large statue of a woman. It is thought that this could have been Hadrian's wife Sabina. The city of Sagalassos had a special affection for Hadrian. He officially recognized it as the first city of the Roman province of Pisidia and made it the center for an official cult in the region that worshipped the emperor. These marks of favor attracted thousands of visitors during imperial festivals, boosted trade and, in turn, the city’s prosperity. The team is hopeful other parts of the statues may be uncovered in coming weeks.
Kenyan paleoanthropologists report strange bedfellows in human evolution
Our next story is from northern Kenya, where paleontologists working near Lake Turkana have uncovered fossil evidence which is helping to redraw our conception of the human family tree. Writing in this week’s issue of the journal Nature [no. 448, pages 688-691], anthropologist Fred Spoor of University College London and members of his scientific team describe two fossil finds made in 2000 at Ileret, near Lake Turkana’s eastern shore. One, the well-preserved cranium of a young adult Homo erectus, dates to 1.55 million years ago; the other, an upper jawbone from the species Homo habilis, dates to 1.44 million years. Taken separately, the fossils are interesting, but not nearly as revealing as when taken together. According to mainstream scientific views of hominid evolution, these two fossil forms should never have existed so closely in time as their discovery in the same geological stratum in Kenya indicates that they did. Now, after nearly seven years of intensive scientific scrutiny by paleoanthropologists Meave and Louise Leakey and others at Kenya’s Koobi Fora Research Project, the geological and fossil evidence has been confirmed, thus shifting scientific views of the line of descent leading to ourselves. Now, one fossil form, Homo habilis, believed to have been ancestral to the other, Home erectus, turns out to have lived side-by-side for nearly a half-million years with the other, making it much less likely that the one has developed from the other. To paraphrase one incredulous anthropologist, It is as if your mother and grandmother suddenly discover they are sisters! For many years, uneasy scientific consensus has held that the human line stemmed directly from Homo erectus–whether in East Africa or in separate regions outside of Africa–and that Homo erectus in turn stemmed directly from Homo habilis, an earlier form. Simple, convenient and compelling was this “unilineal” view of human descent. And wrong: as the two fossils described in the Nature essay now show, the virtual coexistence of Homo erectus and Homo habilis in time and place at Turkana defies the simple, straightforward view of human development. Through the millennia, various species of diverse, human-like creatures at times lived side by side in what is now East Africa, making it most difficult indeed to sort out and identify genetic relationships and so-called lines of descent. As these and other recent fossil finds are demonstrating, the real story of the human lineage is vastly more complex than previously imagined. The story is still being uncovered–painstakingly, bit by fossil bit–by dedicated scientific practitioners like those at the Koobi Fora Research Project. As old scientific explanations continue to unravel, new and better ones–views based on state-of-the-art technologies and constantly-improving scientific methodologies–are taking their place. Far from disappointing, then, fossil discoveries like those at Turkana are part of an emerging view of ourselves and our own origins which can only improve with age.
Remains found in Bolivian pyramid may indicate a time of troubles
In Bolivia, a 1,300-year-old skeleton buried with a collection of artifacts has been found in the Akapana pyramid. Researchers believe that the remains belong to man who was an elite member of the ancient Tiwanaku culture, which thrived on the shores of Lake Titicaca from about AD 400 to 1200. Scientists found the bones and offerings in the upper reaches of the pyramid rather than at the base, where bones are typically found. The bones, unlike others found in the pyramid, bear no physical markings of being ritually sacrificed. Akapana is one of the largest pre-Hispanic structures in South America. The condition of the artifacts and the skeleton's location inside the pyramid indicate the man’s high status. Danilo Villamor Encinas, an official with Bolivia’s Department of Archaeology, said the individual was likely a priest or a government figure in the Tiwanaku civilization. According to Bolivian archaeologists, the man’s corpse had been buried with a llama, believed to aid in passage to the afterlife, as well as a gold headband and a fist-size gold pendant. Villamor noted that the individual, a very small 25-year-old male, had suffered from malnutrition, perhaps as a child. This is unusual, given that high status people nearly always enjoy a higher quality of food. Researchers speculate that the man lived during a time of cultural stress, where there would have been widespread shortages of resources. The Tiwanaku civilization arose on the high plateaus of Bolivia's Altiplano region. During its height from AD 500 to 900, the culture expanded beyond its capital city-state to parts of modern-day Argentina, Chile, and Peru. For reasons not fully understood by scientists, the civilization disappeared before the rise of the Inca and the appearance of Spanish conquistadors. Some scientists have suggested that a drought in AD 1200 may have caused the decline. However, others dispute that proposition. What is not disputed is the rarity of finding a complete skeleton and golden artifacts in a 1,200-year-old pyramid that has been heavily ransacked by looters.
Famous Philippines site is under threat from construction
Our final story is from the Philippines, where a hillside that has produced artifacts dating back to AD 377 was recently converted into a quarry site. Anthropologists are angered because this threatens the destruction of what could be one of the most important archeological sites in the country. Known among archaeologists as the Huluga open site, the area has been the subject of major archaeological study since the 1970s, under a team led by renowned anthropologist Dr. Erlinda Burton of Xavier University. The team has revealed that a prehistoric village once existed on the site, as evidenced by stone tools and ornaments and a female skull they have recovered. Several pieces of obsidian and a whale harpoon tip found at the site also prompted Burton's team to call for the site's preservation, citing the need for a wider scientific study. In 1991, the National Museum declared that the site has cultural and archeological significance and it has been discussed in international archaeological texts on the region. However, a government-sponsored bridge project was approved for the area about two years ago, despite opposition from anthropologists and other groups backing its preservation. They report now that the destruction of the Huluga open site has begun through the activities of a construction company that they claim is operating without a required environmental compliance certificate. During a recent visit, journalists from the Philippine Daily Inquirer found the site already partly destroyed. Louis Eustique, assistant curator of the Museo de Oro, who was on the site visit, picked up shards of pottery and old coins from the bulldozed area. In a statement of concern, the Heritage Conservation Advocates chaired by Dr. Burton said the National Museum, which has the authority to stop the quarrying, has not replied yet to their requests for intervention. Dr. Antonio Montalvan II, an anthropologist and historian, said that if the site is destroyed, this destruction of an important historical site will result in the loss of information not only on the history and identity of the province of Cagayan, but the Philippines more broadly.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!