Audio News September 7th to September 13th, 2008
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news September 7th to September 13th, 2008.
Sleeping Buddha discovered in Afghanistan
Our first story is from Afghanistan, where archaeologists have discovered a 62-foot Buddha statue near the ruins of giant statues destroyed by the Islamist Taliban seven years ago. The statue and 89 other artifacts, such as coins and ceramics, were found in the central province of Bamiyan. The statue, in a sleeping posture, is badly damaged.
Located on the old Silk Road, Bamiyan was once a thriving Buddhist hub, where the monks lived in caves. Despite worldwide appeals, in 2001, the Taliban blew up two giant standing Buddha statues carved into a cliff face, claiming they were offensive to Islam. Work has begun to restore the biggest of the two destroyed statues, which were once the tallest standing Buddhas in the world. The immense task is expected to take a decade. The latest discovery has raised hopes of finding a 300-yard-long Buddha statue that, according to an ancient Chinese pilgrim, is in the area.
Bamiyan contains many unique artistic treasures. In April of this year, scientist found conclusive evidence that the world's first oil paintings were created in caves near the two destroyed giant statues of Buddha. Samples from the paintings date to the 7th century AD. According to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, the paintings were created using oil paints, possibly from walnut or poppy. Oil paint was not widely used in Europe till the early 15th century.
Fur yarn and tally sticks may indicate early contact between Europeans and Inuit
Hare fur yarn and wooden tally sticks in Canada may mean visitors, Vikings or possibly other Europeans, arrived 1,000 years ago. The group may have set up housekeeping and traded with Inuit near today's community of Kimmirut (kim-mi-root). Ancient artifacts found in the southern part of Baffin Island, in the indigenous Canadian province of Nunavut (noon-a-voot), indicate someone collected Arctic hare fur and spun the fur into yarn, and someone else carved notches into a wooden stick to record trading transactions.
According to Patricia Sutherland, an archeologist with the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Dorset Inuit probably didn't make the yarn and tally sticks because yarn and wood weren't part of Inuit culture at that time. Other artifacts from the area, such as a small wooden carving of a mask, which is missing its nose, also provide evidence of face-to-face contacts with Europeans. The mask is carved in a Dorset Inuit style. However, it shows a long and possibly bearded face with straight and heavy eyebrows, wearing something similar to Viking headgear.
Sutherland believes these artifacts point to prolonged contact between Inuit and Vikings, or some other mariners, from AD1000 to AD 1450 or possibly earlier. The dating of microscopically identified rat droppings may hold the key to learning more about the timing and origin of contact with Europeans. If there were rats in the area, it shows European ships were also present because rats aren't found in the Arctic. Further analysis of the rat droppings is expected to provide even more information about the originating ports of the ships.
Various scholars believe Baffin Island was Helluland, the name the Vikings' stories gave to the land of rocks and glaciers they found west of Greenland. But uncertainty about the age and origin of artifacts attributed to Vikings continues to raise questions about the nature of the contact between Inuit and mariners. Dating of some yarn and other artifacts, presumed to be left by Vikings, have produced an age that predates the Vikings by several hundred years. If spinning was not an indigenous technique that was used in Arctic North America, then it is possible these finds may represent evidence of contact with Europeans prior to the Vikings' arrival in Greenland.
Ancient burials shed new light on Macedonian empire
Now we go to Greece, where archaeologists have unearthed gold jewelry, weapons and pottery at an ancient burial site near Pella, the birthplace of Alexander the Great. The excavations at the immense cemetery uncovered 43 graves dating from 650 to 279 BC. The artifacts shed light on the early growth of the Macedonian kingdom, an empire that ultimately stretched as far as India under Alexander's conquests.
The most remarkable discoveries were the graves of 20 warriors dating to the late Archaic period, between 580 and 460 BC. Buried in bronze helmets alongside iron swords and knives, their eyes, mouths and chests were covered in gold foil which was richly decorated with drawings of lions and other animals symbolizing royal power. The eight-year project has investigated a total of 900 graves which confirm evidence of an ancient Macedonian society organized along militaristic lines and involved with overseas trade as early as the second half of the seventh century BC.
Among the excavated graves, the team also found 11 women from the same period, with gold and bronze necklaces, earrings and broaches. Another nine date to the late classical or early Hellenistic period, around the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC.
Alexander, whose father Philip II unified the city states of mainland Greece, conquered most of the world known to the ancient Greeks before dying at the age of 32 in Babylon. Educated by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, Alexander was never defeated in battle.
Neolithic events drew pilgrims from hundreds of miles
In our final story, from the United Kingdom, new research suggests that Neolithic people traveled farther than archaeologists had previously realized in order to attend cultural events.
According to Dr. Jane Evans at the British Geological Survey in Nottingham, communication networks and rituals brought people from a large area of southern England to the Stonehenge area before the Stonehenge stones were in place. Archaeologists believe the stones that make up Stonehenge came from Wales. However, new evidence suggests that people were traveling long distances to visit the site much earlier.
Durrington Walls is a stone-age village containing the remains of numerous cattle and pigs which are believed to have been buried there after successive ritual feasts. The site is two miles northeast of the monolithic monument and dates from around 3000 BC, 500 years before the first stones were erected. No farms existed in and around Durrington Walls at the time, so travelers brought their own animals for eating at feasts.
The team analyzed the strontium content in the teeth from the cattle remains. The ratio of different atomic forms or isotopes of the element gives a clue of where the animals were raised. What you eat has a strontium isotope structure dependent on where it was grown. Only one animal was raised on the chalk-lands around Stonehenge. The rest came from much farther away, indicating that Stone Age people drove animals hundreds of miles to be slaughtered for ritual feasts.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!