Audio News for May 18th to May 24th, 2008
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for May 18th to May 24th, 2008.
After 900 years, Danish king’s face recreated
Our first story is from Denmark, where a Danish scientist and sculptor used a terracotta facial reconstruction technique to recreate the faces of King Svend Estridsen and Queen Sofie, who ruled in the 12th century. Both monarchs are interred at Roskilde Cathedral.
The King has been dead for over 900 years, but Danes can finally get a realistic view of his appearance thanks to a coroner and a sculptor. A cast of the king's skull was taken in the early 1900s and has been used to create a vivid likeness of the ruler's face using the terracotta technique.
The two men behind the facial reconstructions are coroner Niels Lynnerup and sculptor Bjørn Skaarup. Since 2001 they have used the technique to put faces to many long-deceased individuals. These included the 17th century nobleman Kaj Lykke and Denmark's oldest known citizen, the Koelbjerg woman of Funen, who lived around 10,000 years ago.
The likeness the terracotta method produces is a fairly accurate representation of the deceased, even in the ancient specimens. It has been used to recreate the faces of unidentified deceased persons and then shown publicly in the hopes of identification. According to Lynnerup, the method results in a nearly 70 percent success rate of unidentified bodies being identified, but he admits that the terracotta process is subjective in some respects. For example, it cannot accurately portray how a person's ears, hairstyle, superficial scars, wrinkles or facial hair may have appeared.
Both Lynnerup and archaeologist Else Roesdahl of Aarhus University believe the reconstructions add life to Danish history. Roesdahl plans to use the constructed faces as illustrations in her coming book about the Danish Viking and Middle Ages periods.
Spanish galleon found near river in Chile
In Chile, the remains of a 238-year-old shipwrecked Spanish galleon named “Our Lady of the Good Council and San Leopoldo” have come to light on the coast. Most archaeologists expected to find the remains of the ship deep on the ocean floor, but investigators have found fragments of the ship embedded in the sand under shallow waters near where the Huenchullami River flows into the ocean. The discovery has touched off yet another dispute between a private for-profit company and authorities of a national government.
The French built the once ornate vessel in the mid 1700s and loaded it with 56 canons for use by their military until the ship fell into Spanish hands. The Spaniards revamped the ship into a merchant vessel and set it sailing to “New Spain.” After several trips to the New World, the ship sank after five months at sea when it was nearing the end of a journey from Cadiz, Spain, to El Callao, Peru. The ship was carrying precious glassware from the Spanish royal family to be sold to Peru’s Spanish noble class, along with garments decorated with gold, gold coins, furniture, and over 50 canons.
According to the private archaeological excavation firm that discovered the galleon, when the ship went down, the crew was so malnourished and sick they could not raise all of the ship’s sails. They were caught in a terrible storm and could not be rescued. Twelve bodies and pieces of the ship washed ashore the day after the storm, but no treasure.
The excavation firm, Oriflama S.A., was formed in 2001, bringing together a scientific team from Cuba with the sponsorship of several Chilean universities. Later, several local museums joined the effort. The goal was to find the galleon and recover the treasure. The firm’s scientific team found the ship through the use of magnetometry, a method that uses a machine that detects materials with magnetic properties, like iron. The firm is now in a dispute with Chilean authorities for permission to continue their excavation efforts. The Chilean National Monuments Council insists the ship and its treasures are state property under terms spelled out in Chile’s national monuments law. The Chilean government has offered the company 25 percent of the cargo for its work, but plans to retain the rest. The local city government is deciding whether to join forces with the company or the national government.
Paleolithic cave discovered in Israel
Original Headline: Prehistoric cave uncovered in Western Galilee
Our third story comes from Israel, where a large stalactite cave was broken through during construction of a sewage line. The discoverers found an abundance of prehistoric artifacts. The initial impression of those who first examined the cave is that it dates to the Upper Paleolithic period, 40,000 to 20,000 years ago. According to the head of the Prehistory Branch of the Israel Antiquities Authority, no cave has been found with such a bounty of prehistoric finds during the past 40 to 50 years.
The cave includes a number of chambers. The main chamber measures 60 by 80 yards. Inside are numerous flint tools and a variety of zoological remains of animals no longer present in the country’s landscape, such as the red deer, fallow deer, buffalo, and bears.
The Israel Antiquities Authority is inspecting the finds. At a later stage, researchers will begin a study to examine the animal population, climate and geology of the region during the periods when the cave was being used. They also will date the cave to establish an absolute chronological range. At this point the cave is sealed and access to it is not possible.
Bold new hypothesis: humans colonized the world in boats
Accumulating evidence is fueling researchers’ interest in the seafaring potential of early humans. In fact, a small group of archaeologists, led by Dr. Jon Erlandson of the University of Oregon, is developing the hypothesis that the quick spread of humans out of Africa and around the world within the last 70,000 years is due largely to the use of boats, including rafts and canoes. In an article in last week’s Discover Magazine, Erlandson listed some of the evidence he has been compiling to examine the capacity of early humans to cross the open ocean from one point of land to another. He suggests that, through a combination of island-hopping and coastwise migration, humans were able to traverse the world from East Africa to South Asia to East Asia and Australia, and then on what he calls the Kelp Highway of the North Pacific Ocean to the Americas.
Erlandson, who spent a good deal of his youth on the beaches of Southern California, cites key points of evidence in support of his hypothesis. Although he has yet to publish a formal paper on the subject, he has pointed out in interviews and public presentations that humans were able to colonize Australia by 50,000 years ago, even though such migration required early people to cross several ocean straits, including one that is 44 miles wide. During most such crossings, land would have been visible on the other side, but in some cases land would have been deduced only from cloud formations, bird migrations or other indirect evidence. Humans reached the Pacific island of Okinawa by 32,000 years ago, but in the process needed to cross 46 miles of open ocean. By 21,000 years ago, people were crossing 32 miles of choppy water from the Japanese island of Honshu to a nearby island to obtain obsidian for toolstone. And the undersea kelp forest of the north Pacific coastline, complete with a richly energetic ecosystem that supported well known and dense human populations on the north Asian and North American coastlines in recent centuries, is continuous along the coastline from Japan to California. Erlandson calls this route the Kelp Highway. Recently dated sites in Chile and Oregon demonstrate the human presence by 14,000 years ago and DNA evidence also supports the idea of a Pacific coastal route for the earliest human population.
But plenty of archaeologists are preparing to poke holes in Erlandson’s hypothesis, so the coming years are likely to witness a lively debate involving archaeologists from all over the world on this hot subject that involves the origins of most of us on the planet.
That wraps up the news for this week!
For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at www.archaeologica.org , where all the news is history!
I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!