Audio News for October 19th to Octber 25th, 2008.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news October 19th to October 25th, 2008.
Evidence of African spirit worship found in US
Our first story is from the United States, where archaeologists in Annapolis, Maryland, have discovered what they believe to be one of the earliest examples of African spirit practices in the United States.
University of Maryland researchers say the clay bundle filled with small pieces of common metal is the only object of its kind ever found in North America. It appears to be a direct transplant of African religion, distinct from voodo and other later practices blending African and European traditions.
The bundle measures about 10 inches high, six inches wide and four inches thick. It remains intact, held together by the sand and clay. Originally, some kind of cloth or animal hide probably wound around the bundle forming a pouch that held the metal objects, but the pouch has long since decomposed. The bundle originally sat in clear public view at the front of a house. X-rays show it served as a container holding hundreds of pieces of lead shot, pins and nails intended to ward off or redirect spirits. A prehistoric stone axe extends upward from the top.
According to University of Maryland anthropologist Mark Leone, the bundle is African in design, not African-American. The people who made it used local material, but their knowledge of charms and the spirit world probably came with them directly from Africa.
Leone dates the object to about 1700, plus or minus 20 years, from a period when English beliefs in witchcraft could mix more openly with the African, suggesting an unexpected level of public toleration. After consulting with authorities on West and Central-West African culture, Leone says the bundle might have origins in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea among Yoruba or Mande speakers.
The Maryland team discovered the bundle in the gutter of a much earlier unpaved street on a hill overlooking an inlet. Water would have run down the gutter, making it a vital conduit for spirits and a strategic spot to place a powerful charm.
6000 year-old household discovered in Greece
Our second story comes from Greece, where a 6,000 year-old set of household gear, including clay pots, stone tools and two wood-fired ovens, has been found in the buried ruins of a prehistoric farmhouse in the northern region of Pella.
According to a statement issued by the Greek Culture Ministry, this is a very rare case where the remains have stayed undisturbed by farming or other external intervention for about 6,000 years. The items are in excellent condition and will provide invaluable, unique information on late Neolithic domestic architecture and household organization.
The rectangular building, which covers some 624 square feet, was discovered during a construction project at a village about 360 miles north of Athens. Separated into three rooms, the house had walls made of branches and reeds covered with clay, supported by sturdy wooden posts. The building was destroyed by fire, which baked the clay, preserving impressions of the wooden building elements, as well as the post holes. Archaeologists believe the inhabitants managed to escape the fire, taking with them their valued stone blades and axes. The finding shows us farming was an integral part of life and society of the area at the time.
Instant breakfast is thousands of years old
In our next story, a new study is showing that European diners around 8,000 years ago could enjoy a bowl of instant wheat cereal that, aside from uneven cooking and maybe a few extra lumps, wasn't very different from hot wheat cereals served today.
Dating from around 5920 to 5730 B.C., the ancient cereal consisted of parboiled bulgur wheat that Early Neolithic Bulgarians could refresh in minutes with hot water. According to Soultana-Maria Valamoti, assistant professor of archaeology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, people boiled the grain, dried it, removed the bran and ground it into coarse particles. In this form, the cereal grain can be stored throughout the year and consumed easily just by soaking in hot water. Valamoti and her colleagues studied the Bulgarian grain, as well as 4,000-year-old grains of barley and wheat from northern Greece. Very high magnification revealed exact details about the individual cereal grains, including their composition. The analysis showed that starch within the Bulgarian grains was swollen, twisted and, at times, fused together, consistent with grains that had been penetrated by boiling water. The scientists also cooked and processed modern wheat and hulled barley, putting the results through the same analysis. The fine details and internal structure of the modern boiled, dried and ground cereals matched what the researchers saw in the ancient Bulgarian grains.
Valamoti explained that the early southeastern Europeans must have gathered it in the summer, when they could have dried it under the hot sun. Such early, simple preparations were passed down through the generations, leading to dishes still enjoyed in the region and other parts of the world today. Valamoti is currently working on a book that will describe early cooking methods and recipes, all of which are coming to light thanks to high-tech equipment and analysis methods. The findings are published in the latest issue of the journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany.
Neo-Assyrian palace excavated in Turkey
Our final story is from Turkey, where an international excavation project has discovered parts of a Neo-Assyrian governor's palace dating back to 900-700 BC. Parts of the private residential area and a courtyard have already been uncovered. The findings include colorful wall paintings and a facility for an oven on wheels. Tiled bathrooms complete with proper sanitary fittings are proof of the high living standards in the first half of the first pre-Christian millennium. But the most unusual discovery was the excavation of cremation sites within the extensive courtyard area. Five have been found to date, two of which were undisturbed and contained lavish burial objects. A considerable layer of ash and burned bones as well as numerous bronze vessels, sumptuous stone and ivory receptacles, carved ivory inlays, seals, and pearls were found in the rectangular graves. These objects are very similar to those found in the Assyrian towns of Assur and Nimrud in modern day Iraq.
In addition to the cremation remains found, a rare cache of more than 20 bronze vessels was discovered under the paving stones in the courtyard. These include a jug, a wine ladle, a sieve, several bowls and cups, mostly made from embossed bronze.
The Upper Tigris region, where the dig is located, came under the influence of the Assyrians in the middle of the second millennium BC. They established their provincial capital in Tuschan which is identified today as Ziyaret Tepe. According to historical inscriptions by the Assyrian ruler Assurnasirpal II, it is certain that the construction of the administration palace dates back to the year 882 BC.
For several years now, the site has been investigated by teams from the universities of Akron, Ohio; Cambridge; Munich; and Istanbul in a joint project. It is at risk from the construction of the Ilisu Dam, but plans are in place to continue the project for another three years.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!