Audio News for December 16th to December 22nd, 2007
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news December 16th to December 22nd, 2007.
4000 Year Old Murder Discovered
Our first story is from Australia where gas line construction has revealed a 4000 year old murder. The victim, a tall, sturdy man in his mid-30s, was killed by spear-wielding attackers, who then set his body on fire and left it unburied on the ridge of a sand dune.
According to Peter Veth, an archeologist with the National Centre of Indigenous Studies at the Australian National University in Canberra, this is the first example of death by spearing in Australia.
The skeleton was found by Energy Australia staff while installing gas mains in a beachside area. Working with Australian and US experts, archeologist and historical consultant Dr. Josephine McDonald found 17 stone artifacts, or microliths, around or embedded in the limbs and back of the skeleton. The presence of microliths and the evidence for trauma in the bones showed the victim had been killed with stone-tipped spears.
Professor Veth noted the association of the skeletal remains and the microliths confirmed ritual punishment was exacted long before the first Europeans documented the use of "death spears" for such acts. Discovering the remains and the microliths together solved the long-running question of how the points had been used. These tools are generally thought to date back to as early as 8000 years ago although their exact function has been very difficult to pin down until now.
The find is highly significant for Australian and global archeology, as it reflects on social practice and customary law.
Pre-Roman Fortune Uncovered in France
Our next story is from France, where the largest collection of pre-Roman, Gaulish money ever to be found has been discovered in central Brittany. The 545 coins are each worth thousands to collectors but are priceless to historians and archaeologists. Their discovery could overturn current knowledge of the complexity, and wealth, of pre-Roman Celtic society in France.
Like all Gaulish coins, the 58 "stateres" and 487 quarter "stateres" are copies of early Greek money. Gauls served as mercenaries in the armies of Alexander the Great. The money that they brought home served as the model for home-minted coins. Some of the new-found pieces have the familiar Celtic monetary pattern of a horse on one side and a man's head on the reverse. Other coins have previously unknown designs, such as horses with human heads. Also found are images of riders and wild boars.
Smaller stashes of Gaulish coins have turned up in the past, but rarely of such quality and never in such numbers, since most transactions for goods in Gaulish times were conducted through barter. According to Yves Menez, an archaeologist specializing in Iron Age Brittany, money on this scale would only have been used for transactions between aristocratic families. Coins were for the super-rich and this find represents a colossal fortune for the period.
The coins are believed to have been minted between 75 and 5 BC. They probably were buried just before, or during, the first Roman invasions of what is now northern and western France. The dig also unearthed the remains of a large manor house or farm, which is thought to have belonged to the "Osisme" people – a Celtic tribe living in the far west of the Breton peninsula. The coins were probably buried in the farm's boundary embankment, possibly to hide the wealth from the Romans. The farm was occupied for several centuries after the cache was buried but the coins were never recovered.
Ancient Bishops Identified with Modern Methods
In Scotland, the bones of six bishops who were buried more than 600 years ago have been identified using new hi-tech methods. The medieval bishops were discovered during an excavation at Whithorn Priory in Galloway between 1957 and 1967. It was known the remains were of powerful churchmen of the Middle Ages, but their identities remained a mystery.
New research has shown when the men died, who several of them were and even what they ate. Radiocarbon dating techniques helped identify the graves of Bishop Walter who died in 1235, Bishop Henry who died in 1293, Bishop Michael who died in 1359, Bishop Thomas who died in 1362, and Bishop Gilbert who died in 1253, A central grave had originally been the burial place of Bishop John who died in 1209.
The bishops had all probably come from southern Scotland or maybe Cumbria.. Dietary evidence shows the bishops enjoyed quality meat and fish. In what has now been identified as the grave of Bishop Simon who died in 1355, one of the most impressive finds was a gilded and enameled crozier head, or stylized staff of office, that dates from about 1175. The grave also contained brocade threads from vestments, gilded sequins from a headdress and silver altar vessels.
Peter Yeoman, senior archaeologist with Historic Scotland, calls this a rare opportunity to build up a picture of life and death among Scotland's rich and powerful churchmen of the Middle Ages.
Professor Puts His Money Where His Dig Site Is
Our final story is from the United States, where a University of Texas professor cashed out his personal savings to purchase the site of an archaeological dig. He then donated the land to the Archaeological Conservancy.
The 33-acre Gault site in Southwestern Bell County was one of the major areas of activity for the Clovis people in North America and contains relics that are 13,500 years old. The Clovis people were nomadic hunters whose distinctive fluted projectile points are found throughout North America and into Central America and until recently were widely believed to have been the first humans in the Americas.
Michael Collins, associate researcher at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, explained that the University System leased the Gault site from 1999 to 2002. After the lease was up, Collins led an effort to raise money to purchase the land but was unable to meet the owner's asking price. When that failed, he decided to use his savings to purchase the land. He declined to specify how much he paid for the land, but said he finished paying for the land last month. The Archaeological Conservancy, which will manage the site and preserve it for future research, is a New Mexico-based nonprofit group with 380 archaeological preserves in the United States, including 15 in Texas.
Since the early 20th century, University of Texas archaeology professors have been visiting the site off and on. After local residents began digging for artifacts to collect or sell, researchers thought the land had been stripped of any archaeological value. However, researchers returned in the early 1990s after a local resident uncovered some relics that caught their attention.
Collins continued with the excavations that followed, turning up artifacts that challenge major theories about the Clovis people. For instance, some finds suggest that the Clovis people were more domestic than originally believed and that they built structures to live in. In addition, in 2002, the team uncovered artifacts that predate the Clovis.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!