Audio News for October 25th to October 31st, 2009
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for October 25th to October 31st, 2009.
Steppe bison may offer clue to early American migration
Our first story is from Canada, where the remains of an extinct steppe bison are shedding new light on the Ice Age species. Discovered on a cliff a short distance east of the Yukon- North West Territories border near the Mackenzie River Delta, the bison could rewrite the history of human migration.
The partially mummified skull and wide horns were largely intact, but more exciting were portions of preserved limbs, hide and intestines. This soft tissue that permitted detailed genetic analysis allowing scientists to accurately position the specimen in the evolutionary history of North America's bison populations.
According to Yukon government paleontologist Grant Zazula, the massive animal, which was larger than both the plains and wood bison, was one of the last of its kind in ancient Beringia, the ice-free, northwest corner of the continent that once linked to eastern Siberia. Shortly afterwards, steppe Bison populations in the North were completely replaced by bison that evolved in the mid-continent.
The find also shows that the post-glacial ecosystem inhabited by the steppe bison must have supported a large mammal population earlier than previously thought. This, according to the scientists, suggests human hunters may well have entered the area around this time and potentially left traces of their own at yet undiscovered sites.
The bison find follows a Yukon museum's unveiling earlier this year of the partial remains of an extinct Ice Age horse, a discovery unique because of the animal's excellent state of preservation.
The study of the bison, documented by a team of Canadian, British and American scientists, has wider inferences for dating the retreat of the glaciers in northern Canada and the possible entry of human hunters from Asia, the ancestors of today's aboriginal Canadians, into the continental interior.
Stone Age wooden artifacts found in Sweden
Now we go to Sweden, where archaeologists have unearthed a collection of 9,000-year-old artifacts at an excavation site in the central region of the country. Parts of a bow, a paddle, and the wooden shaft of an axe are among the discoveries recently unearthed from the Stone Age settlement Kanaljorden, only 500 meters from the train station in the city of Motala. The discovery is unique for central Sweden, and the bow is the first of its kind ever discovered in Sweden. However, similar bows have been uncovered in Denmark.
Most astonishing about the find is that all of the artifacts, except for the axe blade, are made of wood. A layer of peat covering the mud preserved the objects for thousands of years. Archaeologists working at the site had previously unearthed a femur from a human who lived in this period, known as the Mesolithic. According to the researchers, the wooden artifacts found near the femur are evidence of a burial ritual.
The Kanaljorden settlement site was an almost perfect place to live during this time. Agriculture had not yet arrived in the area, and settlers instead lived by fishing, hunting, and gathering.
West Indian site may rewrite history
Just off the coast of South America, in Trinidad and Tobago, an archaeological team has found evidence on a site at South Oropouche, that people lived there 7,000 years ago. The site is as old as that of the famed Banwari Man, discovered 40 years ago. Researchers consider his remains as the oldest skeleton in the West Indies.
The two sites are about five kilometers apart. It means that the site, among the oldest in the Caribbean, may be rewriting history. According to Dr. Basil Reid, senior lecturer with the Department of History at the University of the West Indies, radiocarbon testing done in 1994 suggested that the Banwari man site dated to approximately 5,000 BC. The results from the new site confirmed the finding that the site is ancient. The people who lived there, known as the Ortoiroids, likely migrated from South America and settled near the Oropouche River.
Reid reported that the field team found a large stone pestle 60 centimeters inside one of the pits on a hilltop location. The pestle was probably used to crush edible roots, palm starch and seeds and may have been used to grind red ochre, a mineral oxide that is naturally occurring used as body paint during rituals. In addition, excavators found crab claws, oysters, nerite shells and bird and mammal bones which lend insight into the diet of the people. The team also unearthed a sandstone adze, a tool used for smoothing rough wood, along with quartz and flint flakes and red ochre. Some of the stone flakes may have been used by the Ortoiroid natives as scrapers for food preparation, such as scaling fish, prying meat from shells and removing the hides of animals they ate, including tree rats, red howler monkeys, large rodents, agoutis, deer and collared peccaries, pig-like animal.
Reid commented that the first two groups of migrants to the Caribbean were the Ortoiroids and Casimiroids. The Ortoiroids probably migrated from the Guianas in South America while the Casimiroids may have come from Belize in Central America. Named after the Ortoire River in eastern Trinidad, the Ortoiroids came to the Caribbean around 5,000 BC and settled in the Lesser Antilles as far north as Puerto Rico until 200 BC.
Beer bottle used as 17th Century talisman
Our final story is from England, where researchers have found a beer-bottle-turned-talisman against malicious spirits near a former pub. Discovered during a dig in the county of Staffordshire, the 17th-Century witch bottle, made in Germany, originally held other kinds of spirits.
According to excavation manager Andrew Norton of Oxford Archaeology, it is not an everyday find. Usually, excavation reveals broken bits of pots and people's rubbish. In the 17th and 18th centuries in Britain, those people who were supposedly cursed often put their toenails and fingernails, urine, and hair into the witch bottles. The alleged victims buried the jugs near a house or building to keep evildoers at bay.
An x-ray of the new artifact revealed no bodily bits, but it is possible that whatever was stored inside had long since decayed. The salt-glazed stone bottle, stamped with the face of a grimacing man, is possibly a likeness of the strongly anti-Protestant Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine, circa 1542 to 1621. Legend holds that Protestants smashed the jugs to besmirch the Catholic leader. An engraving of a crowned lion, toward the base of the bottle, is likely the bottle maker’s signature. Despite their name, witch bottles were intended as lucky charms against bad luck.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!