Audio News for February 8th to February 14th, 2009
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news February 8th to February 14th, 2009.
Budget cuts affect South Dakota archaeology
Our first story is from the United States, where the Governor of South Dakota has decided to close the South Dakota State Archaeology Research Center as part of a series of proposed State budget cuts to counter a projected $134 million shortfall during the next 18 months. The Archaeological Research Center helps excavate, catalog and store artifacts, but Gov. Mike Rounds' budget proposal has the little-known agency on the brink of extinction. Archaeologists say closing the agency, which gets about $308,000 from the state, would jeopardize economic development while risking the care and protection of the state's archaeological resources and research.
State funding covers only just the statutory work that the agency does. Cutting money for the Research Center would do more than just affect the state's history, heritage and culture, archaeologists say. While the agency's budget is only 24 thousandths of one percent of the state's general fund, more than $1.5 million in revenue is generated annually from grant- and contract-funded projects.
The ARC is responsible for all compliance work for the state Department of Transportation to build roads. Most construction projects require approval from the Center to ensure that the projects do not disturb important archeological sites or move Native American gravesites.
The Center maintains 8,000 archaeological collections in its repository and houses records on 19,500 archaeological sites. Staff completed 322 record searches in 2008, with another 263 done by visiting consultants and scholars. What concerns Troy Kogel of Sioux Falls, an archaeologist who owns Kogel & Stanfill Associates, a cultural resource management company, is that much background work for research projects required by law comes from the Archaeological Research Center in the form of record searches. Without that information in the impact reports, power lines, water lines, sewer lines, roads, and highways won’t get built. Eliminating the Center also would leave the state with a massive and expensive undertaking to move thousands of artifacts, documents, field notes and photos to some other location.
If the funding is not restored, the Center will close on June 30.
Egyptians recycled pyramid for later burials
Our second story takes us from the Great Plains of America to the desert of Egypt, where archaeologists have found 30 mummies in a burial chamber dating from the 26th Dynasty. The burial chamber is located in an early type of pyramid which was constructed during the 6th Dynasty, nearly 2,000 years earlier than the chamber itself.
The 26th Dynasty ran from 685 to 525 BC and was the last native dynasty to rule Egypt before the Persian conquest in 525 BC. The 6th Dynasty (circa 2345 to 2183 BC) pyramid is actually a mastaba tomb, a predecessor to a pyramid, which was constructed for a man named Sennedjem.
The wooden and stone sarcophagi of the 30 mummies were discovered during the excavations at Saqqara, 12 miles south of Cairo. Saqqara is the final resting place of most of the Egyptian rulers who lived in the Old Kingdom capital of Memphis.
According to Zahi Hawass, Egypt's chief archaeologist and upcoming Keynote Speaker for The Archaeology Channel International Film and Video Festival, the team found 24 mummies in niches along the walls of the chamber and on shelves. Some of the mummies were of children and one was of a dog. All were badly decomposed, indicating that they had not been adequately prepared for burial. The team also found two sarcophagi of fine white limestone and four wooden coffins.
One limestone sarcophagus sealed with plaster is thought to be more than 4,000 years old. When Hawass opened it, he found a body mummified in the style typical of the 26th Dynasty, covered in linen and resin. He noted the mummy would be temporarily removed for a CT scan because there may be funerary amulets hidden among the wrappings.
An inscription on the coffin identified the occupant as Padi-Heri, son of Djehuty-sesh-nub and grandson of Iru-ru. It gave no information about his position in life, but the fact that he was buried in a coffin made of limestone from Thebes suggested he was very wealthy.
Despite decades of excavations at the Saqqara necropolis south of Cairo, new finds are frequently made, although it is rare for such an intact burial site to be unearthed.
Mass grave in Mexico may hold Aztecs who opposed Cortes
Our next story takes us to another pyramid grave site, this time back in the Americas, where archaeologists digging in a ruined pyramid in downtown Mexico City have found a mass grave that may hold the skeletal remains of the Aztec holdouts that fought conquistador Hernan Cortes.
The atypical burial contains the carefully arranged skeletons of at least 49 adult Indians who were interred in the remains of a pyramid leveled by the Spaniards during the 1521 conquest of the Aztec capital. The pyramid complex was the site of the last Indian resistance against the Spaniards during an extended battle for the city.
According to archaeologist Salvador Guilliem, the leader of the excavation for Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, the Indians might have been killed during Cortes' war or during one of the uprisings that continued after the conquest. Guilliem noted that many burials have been found at the site with the remains of Indians who died during epidemics that swept the Aztec capital in the years after the conquest and killed off much of the Indian population. However, those burials were mostly rushed, disorganized affairs in which remains were muddled together in pits regardless of age or sex.
This burial is different. The dead had many of the characteristics of warriors. All were young men, most were tall, and several showed broken bones that had mended. The men also were buried Christian-style, lying on their backs with arms crossed over their chests, though many appear to have been wrapped up in large cactus leaves, rather than placed in European coffins. The mass grave also contained evidence of an Aztec-like ritual in which offerings such as incense and animals were set alight in an incense burner, but Spanish elements including buttons and a bit of glass also were present.
Susan Gillespie, an archaeologist at the University of Florida, also noted the grave was unusual, both because it was unlikely the Spanish would have bothered with such careful burial of Aztec warriors, and because the Indians themselves would have been more likely to cremate any honored dead. But Gillespie, who was not involved in the excavation, notes that little is known about the period immediately following the fall of the city, when Cortes flattened most pyramids and temples, then abandoned the largely destroyed metropolis. Guilliem speculates it may have been in that interim period after Cortes left that the Aztecs returned to bury their dead. Gillespie agreed the burials could be those of disease victims or rebellious Indians from later years, rather than warriors who fell in the 1521 battle, and said more research was needed, such as a skeletal analysis to show cause of death. Another possibility is that the men were held by the Spanish for some time and killed later. That was the fate suffered by the leader of the Aztec resistance, Emperor Cuauhtemoc.
Iranian “salt men” mummies deteriorating
Our final story is from Iran, where the ancient “salt men,” known as Iranian mummies, are in critical condition. All six were discovered at the Chehrabad Salt Mine over the past decade. Studies on the Fourth Salt Man, kept at the Zanjan Province Zolfaqari Museum, indicate that the body is 2000 years old and he was 15 or 16 years old at the time of death. Three other mummies are also kept at the museum. It is still not clear when the other salt men lived, but archaeologists estimate that the First Salt Man lived about 1700 years ago and died sometime between the ages of 35 and 40. He is currently on display in a glass case at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran. The Sixth Salt Man was left in-situ due to a deficiency of necessary equipment for its preservation.
Difficulties in preservation are arising because the acrylic glass cases designed for the remains are not hermetically sealed. Changes in air temperature and pressure have created cracks in the cases, allowing access for bacteria and insects that damage the mummies. According to Abolfazl Aali, director of the archaeological excavations at the Chehrabad Salt Mine, the cases designed for the salt men are not standard at all.
A number of valves were installed in the Fourth Salt Man’s case to control air humidity inside the covering. However, the cracks in the case made them useless. Aali explained that no external change in the salt men has been observed since they were unearthed, but major damage, not visible to the naked eye, is caused by bacteria that invade the internal organs. The plexiglass cases were designed and made under the supervision of Manijeh Hadian, a specialist with the Iranian Center for Archaeological Research. Hadian noted that the best-equipped case was the one made for the Fourth Salt Man, but it was meant only to be used as a temporary covering. She believes that the cracks have been created as result of numerous moves between museums.
Studies have been completed for making permanent cases for the salt men, but funding needs to be found to make the containers. Meanwhile, Aali commented that these mummies do not decay easily. By controlling the air properties, the salt men will remain intact, but the current procedures will not be effective over the long haul.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!