Audio News for November 16th to November 22nd, 2008
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news November 16th to November 22nd, 2008.
Nuclear families date back at least 4600 years
Our first story is from Germany, where archaeologists have found evidence of the earliest known nuclear family. Archaeologists have long supposed that people lived in nuclear families at least as far back as the Stone Age. However, the evidence for Stone Age nuclear families has been thin, based mainly on projecting from how we live now, and speculations about relationships between adults and children found buried together. According to Wolfgang Haak, who formerly led the team at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, we have been assuming past relationships were like present ones. Now, we have tested the hypothesis and found that at least one Stone Age nuclear family existed.
The new evidence comes from an extensive analysis of the remains of 13 people who were buried in four German gravesites in Eulau that date back to the later Stone Age of 4600 years ago. Analysis of DNA in the bones and teeth in one grave found that an adult male and female, and two boys, were the classic nuclear family. The two children have her mitochondrial DNA, and his Y-chromosome.
It appears that all the people died violent deaths. One female had an arrowhead embedded in her spine, and the head and forearms of several other adults and children had stone-axe marks.
Examination of the skeletons indicate that the adults were aged between 25 and 60 years old and the children younger than 13 years old. Several of the adults had partially healed injuries. Haak, now at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at Adelaide University, noted that these people were the old and the injured, children and women. Whatever violence happened that day, they were not able to defend themselves.
Evidence of our ancestors in the middle Stone Age is rare, and Haak points out that it is still unknown when nuclear families became widespread. Prehistorically, people would have died young in childbirth or from disease, potentially making nuclear families unsustainable. In fact, in a second grave, the one adult, a woman, was not related to two children, who were a brother and a sister. The team was not able to extract DNA from the remains of a third child, an infant facing the woman.
The new findings also suggest an explanation for the varying ways later Stone Age people in central Europe were buried. Characteristically, males rest on their right side, facing south, and women on their left side facing south, but sometimes there are exceptions to this rule. This was the case with the nuclear family, where each child faced north, towards one of the adults. They had their hands entwined. Haak hypothesizes the arrangement may represent blood ties.
Ancient Middle Eastern culture believed in separation of body of and soul
Our second story comes from southeastern Turkey, where archaeologists have discovered an Iron Age chiseled stone slab providing the first written evidence that people in the region believed the soul was separate from the body.
The stela measures 3 feet tall by 2 feet wide, and is the first of its kind found intact and in its original location, which allows scholars to learn about funerary customs and life in the eighth century BC.
At that time, massive empires emerged in the ancient Middle East, along with influential cultures such as the Israelites and Phoenicians. The man featured on the stela was most likely cremated, a practice that Jewish and other cultures reject because of a belief in the unity of body and soul.
According to the inscription, the soul of the deceased resides in the stela. It was discovered last summer in a small room that had been converted into a mortuary shrine for the royal official Kuttamuwa, self-described as a “servant” of King Panamuwa of the eighth century BC.
Written in a script derived from the Phoenician alphabet and in a local West Semitic dialect similar to Aramaic and Hebrew, the inscription is of interest to linguists as well as biblical scholars and religious historians because it comes from a kingdom contemporary with ancient Israel that shared a similar language and cultural features.
The finding sheds a remarkable new light on Iron Age beliefs about the afterlife. In this case, it was the belief that the enduring identity or “soul” of the deceased inhabited the monument on which his image was carved and on which his final words were recorded.
According to David Schloen, Associate Professor at the Oriental Institute and Director of the University of Chicago’s Neubauer Expedition, the stela is in almost pristine condition. It is unique in its combination of pictorial and textual features and thus provides an important addition to our knowledge of ancient language and culture. The Neubauer Expedition found the 800-pound basalt stela at Zincirli (Zin-CHEER-lee), the site of the ancient city of Sam’al. Founded by the Hittites and then under Assyrian control, Sam’al then became the capital of a prosperous independent kingdom and is now one of the most important Iron Age sites under excavation.
German archaeologists first excavated the 100-acre site in the 1890s and unearthed massive city walls, gates and palaces. A number of royal inscriptions and other finds are now on display in museums in Istanbul and Berlin. Schloen and his team have excavated Zincirli for two months annually since 2006.
Impressive Native North American village excavated in Ontario
In Canada, excavations on very big Native American village recently finished up in Tillsonburg, Ontario. Taking earlier findings from 2001 into consideration, the area once held 15 longhouse structures. It is the largest Iroquoian settlement so far recorded from the period and dates back to AD 1300 to 1400. According to Jim Wilson, president of Archaeologix Inc., the company that carried out the excavation, these people were ancestors of people the Jesuits encountered in the Hamilton and Niagara Peninsula area. The village would have once housed 600 to 700 people. Inhabitants would have been part-time farmers, growing corn beans, squash and sunflowers to augment their hunted meat diet. Wilson notes that by this point, people were living in a farming village, and probably 50 per cent of their annual food intake would have come from material grown as opposed to animals they hunted. The village was permanent and occupied year-round. After 15 to 20 years, the location of such villages would move as the supply of firewood diminished and soil nutrients depleted.
During the six-week excavation of the current site, excavators unearthed five new longhouses. Two of the structures were almost 90 yards in length and seven and half yards in width. A house of such length may have contained 50 to 60 people. Removal of the topsoil exposed circular stains in the subsoil where posts once stood. The latest excavation is presenting a much more complete picture of the village. With the soil was removed in a controlled fashion, 100 per cent of artifacts were recovered. Some include: arrowheads, carbonized corn, fragments of smoking pipes, pottery, and bone tools. Bones from animals, mostly deer, were also found on the site. However, the people were opportunistic and bones of everything from small animals such as turtles, fish, birds, and raccoons to groundhog and fox and bear were also discovered. Human remains occurred in the portion that was recently excavated. The remains were moved and interred in an unmarked grave earlier this week. Members of Six Nations of Grand River took part in the ceremony.
Now that the excavation is complete, Wilson said it would take six weeks to wash and catalogue the materials. The investigors then will prepare a final report for the Ministry of Culture, which will hold the artifacts in a London, Ontario, facility.
King Herod’s grave located at Herodium
Our final story is from Israel, where analysis of newly revealed items found at the site of the mausoleum of King Herod the Great at Herodium have provided further reassurance that this was indeed the site of the Roman-appointed ruler’s grave. Herod, King of Judea from 37 to 4 BC, was known for his numerous monumental building projects, including the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the palace at Masada, the harbor and city of Caesarea, as well as the palatial complex at Herodium.
Based on a study of the architectural components uncovered at the site, the researchers have determined that the mausoleum was a extravagant two-story structure with a concave roof. The remains of Herod's sarcophagus turned up in the ruins. The excavations also yielded several fragments of two additional sarcophagi that the researchers believe once contained members of Herod's family. Also found are the remains of a small theater, with seating for 650 to 750. Additionally, a VIP viewing room was located at the top of the theater seats and decorated with wall paintings and plaster moldings in a style that has not previously been seen in Israel. The style is known to exist in Rome and Campania in Italy and is dated to between 15 and 10 BC.
Prof. Netzer assumes, based on the dating of the wall paintings, that the construction of the theater might be linked to the visit of Roman general and politician Marcus Agrippa to Herodium in 15 BC. The extensive site, which probably will not be fully excavated for many years to come, includes a huge palatial complex, the theater, and a "country club" of sorts, including a large pool, baths and gardens, in addition to Herod's burial installations and mausoleum.
A description of Herodium, as well as of Herod's funeral procession there, can be found in the writings of the ancient Roman-era historian, Flavius Josephus.
According to Professor Ehud Netzer, director of the excavations, the mausoleum was intentionally destroyed by the Jewish rebels who occupied the site during the First Jewish Revolt against the Romans in about AD 66.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!