Audio News for September 28th to October 4th, 2008
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from September 28th to October 4th, 2008.
Satellite underground sensing skills reveal new Peruvian pyramid
Our first story is from Peru, where new remote sensing technology has probed through layers of mud and rock to reveal an ancient adobe pyramid. Nicola Masini (nee-CO-la mah-SEE-nee) and Rosa Lasaponara (RO-sa la-sa-po-NAH-ra) of Italy's National Research Council discovered the pyramid by analyzing images from the satellite Quickbird for an area along the river Nazca (NOSS-ca). Covered by plants and grass, it was about a mile away from Peru’s Cahuachi (ca-WAH-chee) archaeological site, which contains the remains of what is believed to be the world's biggest city built of mud. The researchers optimized the high-resolution infrared and multi-spectral images, and the result was a detailed image of a pyramid extending over a 9,000 square meter area, a little over 2 acres. The discovery isn’t a total surprise, since archaeologists already knew that some 40 low mounds at Cahuachi probably contain the remains of important structures. The problem is that it is almost impossible to pinpoint the exact shape and location of the former structures using only the aerial photos that were available, because the air photos provide too little contrast between the sun-dried earth blocks of the buildings, and the natural soil of the background. Now Masini and her team have shown that with the deeper-penetrating satellite photos, precise locations and sizes can be seen. Cahuachi is the best-known site from the Nazca civilization, which flourished from the first century BC to the fifth century AD, but vanished by the time of the Incas. Famous for their giant desert drawings of animals and birds, the Nazca people also built Cahuachi as a ceremonial center, molding the pyramids, temples and plazas from the soil of the desert itself. Between 300 and 350 AD, two natural disasters hit Cahuachi -- a powerful flood and a devastating earthquake. The Nazca abandoned the area, perhaps because the site seemed to have lost its power. But before they left, they sealed all their monuments and buried them under the desert sand. After decades of excavation, one huge pyramid, known as the Grand Pyramid, has been uncovered and restored. A terraced temple and a smaller pyramid are still being excavated. The pyramid revealed by the satellite research has a base measuring 300 by 328 feet and at least four terraces, and thus is similar to the Grand Pyramid, only smaller. It may contain the remains of human sacrifices like the Grand Pyramid, which turned up some 20 severed heads at various locations within. Masini and Lasaponara are now investigating other buried structures next to the newly discovered pyramid.
Fishy data serves up solid information on season of Pompeii’s demise
A new study shows that remains of rotten fish can help confirm a precise date for Pompeii's destruction. Italian researchers came to this conclusion based on analysis of the town's final batch of garum (GAH-rum), a pungent seasoning sauce made from fish. Dehydrated garum remains were found at the bottom of seven jars, suspended in time by the catastrophic eruption of Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, which covered Pompeii and nearby towns with up to 20 feet of hot ash and pumice. The find showed that the last garum in Pompeii was made entirely with bogues (rhymes with “rogues”), a small Mediterranean fish in the bream family that is most abundant from July to early August. According to Annamaria Ciarallo (chee-a-RAH-lo), director of Pompeii's Applied Research Laboratory, this is excellent confirmation for the eruption date of August 24, AD 79, as reported by the Roman historian Pliny (PLINN-ee) the Younger. The garum-making vessels were unearthed several years ago in the house of Aulus Umbricius Scaurus (AH-lus um-BREE-see-us SCOUR-us), Pompeii's most famous garum producer. Garum was the all-purpose condiment of ancient Rome. It is made by fermenting fish to produce a highly appreciated sweet and sour taste that was added to almost every dish, often as a substitute for the more expensive salt. Making garum took several weeks, but was very simple. First a bed of dried, aromatic herbs was laid down, such as coriander, fennel, celery, mint and oregano. Then a layer of fish entrails was placed on it, and covered with a thin layer of salt. The fish innards were a good use of material left over from the fish themselves, which were usually fried or cooked in soup for Roman meals. The garum layers of herbs, fish and salt was repeated until the container was filled. It was left in the sun to steep for a week or so, and then the concoction was mixed daily for about 20 days. The eruption of Vesuvius halted Scaurus’s garum batch right at the point where the fish were beginning to soften. According to Ciarallo, since bogues abound from July to early August, and Roman recipes recommended letting the fish macerate for no longer than a month, this puts the date of the mix at late August to early September. This also correlates with the biological data from pollen found in Pompeii, which comes from 350 species that all bloom in summer. Ciarallo noted that people in the region still make a modern version of garum, called "colatura di alici" (co-la-TOOR-a d’ah-LEE-chee) or anchovy juice, in July, when the bogue is plentiful and cheap.
Isotope analysis identifies origins of Machu Picchu’s people
In the high Andes, skeletons of people buried at the famous Inca site of Machu Picchu are telling a tale of dedicated service that took them far from home. A new chemical analysis of the bones supports a previously suggested hypothesis that Inca kings used members of a special class of royal retainers from different parts of the empire to maintain and operate the city. According to anthropologist Bethany Turner of Georgia State University in Atlanta and her colleagues, differences in the ratios of certain chemical isotopes that collect in bone indicate that Machu Picchu’s permanent residents spent their early lives in varied regions east or southeast of the site. Some came from spots along the central South American coast, others from valleys high in the Andes. The Inca Empire ruled from 1438 to 1532, reaching from its home in the Peruvian highlands into modern Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Colombia. Machu Picchu was built around 1450 and was inhabited until 1570, after the Spanish conquest but amid ongoing conflicts with the newcomers. In their forthcoming report in the Journal of Archaeological Science, Turner’s team says that widely distributed geographic origins for Machu Picchu’s population fits with the notion that retainers, known as yanacona (YAH-na-CO-na), were sent to the royal estate from all corners of the empire. Most researchers believe their duties included agricultural work on royal estates, attending to nobles on expeditions and military campaigns, and administrative work, which could include service as provincial officials. Most yanacona were men, but about half the Machu Picchu skeletons were females. According to Turner, these women may have been spouses of yanacona or perhaps women who were selected by Inca nobility to weave cloth, brew beer from maize and serve as wives in arranged marriages, which is described in Spanish historical accounts. Turner’s team analyzed oxygen, strontium and lead isotopes in 74 of the skeletons, and extracted isotopes from tooth enamel layers that develop during childhood. Wide variations in isotopic composition suggest that they grew up in many geologically different locations, with distinct water sources and foods. As Turner notes, this result argues against other hypotheses that Machu Picchu’s servants were drawn from a local peasant population, or were groups sent from only one or two outside areas. People raised locally would share an isotopic signature similar to that of local animals, and imported servants would have clustered into only one or two isotopic categories. Inca royalty, who regularly visited the site, were not buried at Machu Picchu, but rather at Cuzco, the capital.
Armenian mausoleum is unique Iron Age grave
Our final story is from Armenia, where archaeologists at work in the Gogaran village of the Lori province have recently discovered a mausoleum unlike others in the country. The round structure, 14 meters across, is made of hewn stone instead of clay bricks. The research team from the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia believe that the mausoleum was constructed for a local prince between the 9th and 7th centuries BC. It is surrounded with partly dressed and curved large stones, with smaller ones surrounding them in turn. According to Hrachik Marukyan (HRAW-chik mah-ROO-kyon) at the Lori provincial service for historic environment conservation of Armenia, the age of the mausoleum was determined by the materials found within. The family of the ruler buried him in a special funeral ritual, accompanied by his dagger, small and large ceramic vessels, a ceramic plate, a necklace believed to be onyx, cattle, and other animals that have not yet been analyzed. Features characteristic of the time period include the blade of the dagger. Unique features include the architectural structure of the mausoleum, as well as the variety of geometric drawings on one of the large stones of the circle, with a row of triangles, and an equal-armed cross inside a circle. Remnants of the buried nobleman’s little finger and several teeth were found and have been sent for genetic identification. The finds have been moved to Yerevan, the Armenian capital, for further studies.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!