Auido news November 29th to December 5th, 2009.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news November 29th to December 5th, 2009.
Submerged city discovered off Libyan coast
Our first story is from Libya, where Italian archaeologists have discovered the submerged remains of an ancient Roman city. Archaeologists and researchers from Sicily Sea Superintendence and the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples found the remains of the city, dating back to the 2nd century AD, on the Cape of Ras Eteen on the western side of Libya's Gulf of Bumbah.
The archaeologists were searching the area for shipwrecks and the remains of ancient ports. Instead, archaeologists found walls, streets, and the remains of buildings and ancient tombs. After a careful investigation, the scientists realized the area extended for over a hectare.
The city’s location was of strategic importance, because the area was an excellent shelter for ancient fleets and a zone of safe harbor along the treacherous coastline of Cyrenaica. Strong winds usually battered the area and small and large islets were a great danger to coastal shipping.
According to the researchers, a strong tsunami after an earthquake that struck the eastern coastal region in AD 365 may have destroyed the city. According to a statement released by Sicilian authorities, the city flourished through the manufacture of imperial dye, a purple pigment used to color the clothing of the Roman elite.
Vikings may have recycled iron in England
Our next stop is England, where historians and metal detector enthusiasts believe they have found York’s first metal recycling center dating back back to 1066.
A ten-year project aimed at discovering the site of the Battle of Fulford, which preceded the battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings, has uncovered more than 1,000 pieces of iron. According to Historian Chas Jones, who led the research, the items included arrowheads and axe heads. However, strong evidence of metal working points to the reprocessing of weapons used in the battle. Researchers found several “smithing hearth bottoms,” marked by the remains of molten metal that drips during the reprocessing of ironwork.
The iron finds support the idea that metal was gathered and recycled in the area just behind where the fighting took place, after the battle was over. Scandinavian scientists suggest what has been found are items that the Norse victors at Fulford were in the process of manufacturing into other pieces when the Battle of Stamford Bridge took place, and the site was abandoned. According to Chas Jones, the finds currently are undergoing X-ray fluorescence analysis at the University of York’s Department of Archaeology. This technique will allow the precise metal composition to be determined and will help eliminate modern iron alloys and match related pieces of metal. A detailed report on the project’s results is due for completion in February 2010.
Stressed-out lives nothing new
Moving the stage to Peru, a new study suggests we aren’t the only people to be stressed out. Researchers have found high amounts of the stress hormone cortisol in the hair of Peruvian individuals who lived between AD 550 and 1532. The study, to be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, is the first to detect the stress hormone in ancient hair.
Cortisol production is a response to real and perceived threats. After release, the hormone travels to nearly every part of the body, including blood, saliva, urine, and hair. This makes it possible to determine not only how ancient people behaved, but also how they felt.
Emily Webb, a University of Western Ontario anthropologist, and her team measured cortisol in hair from ten individuals buried at five different sites in Peru: Cajamarquilla, Leymebamba, Puruchuco, Tucume and Nasca. The researchers also found the stress hormone in hair from early Ontario residents, ancient Nubians and early Egyptians, but the Peru residents were the focus of this study. Hair grows at a rate of about one centimeter per month, so, depending upon the individual's hair length, the researchers were able to trace stress levels up to 27 months before the Peruvian people died. Cortisol levels showed abrupt rises and declines and tended to peak shortly before death.
While the stress levels of the ancient Peruvians were higher on average than levels measured for today's individuals, Webb indicates that the comforts of modern living may not be able to erase human stress, which has many possible causes. While Peruvians may have faced stress from food availability, drought or nutritional factors, modern people face other very real causes of anxiety. Her team's findings may help to explain why 3,500-year-old Egyptian mummies show hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis, associated with stress and other risk factors. In one instance, University of California at San Diego School of Medicine researcher Michael Miyamoto discovered the highest amount of atherosclerosis in Lady Rai, a nursemaid to Queen Nefertiti. Lady Rai died around 1530 BC between the ages of 30 and 40.
Webb and her colleagues now are hoping to pinpoint what might have caused the stress in the early Peruvians. This may be possible, as nitrogen and carbon isotopes present in hair permit reconstruction of ancient diets and certain physiological and metabolic states. According to Webb, research like this will significantly enrich our ability to reconstruct ancient life and let us explore individualized experiences of people who died hundreds or even thousands of years ago.
Chinese bronze dates back at least 3700 years
In our final story, research from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization is showing that an area of desert in northwestern China was once a thriving Bronze Age manufacturing and agricultural site. The new findings may help shed light on the origins and development of the earliest applications of Bronze Age technology. Research indicates that seeds, slag, copper ore, and charcoal at two sites are up to 3700 years old, and that smelting was still going on as recently as 1300 years ago. Bronze production in the region may have begun as early as 2135 BC, possibly using the modern mine location of Baishantang at Dingxin as its ancient source of copper ore for manufacturing. However, the beginning of the Bronze Age in China is a matter of some controversy.
ANSTO’s Professor John Dodson conducted the research in concurrence with scientists from the State Key Laboratory of Loess [löss] and Quaternary Geology in China. According to Professor Dodson, this research takes us a step closer to discovering the origins and development of bronze manufacturing in China. Further research will look at whether ancient peoples invented bronze technology in several places around the world independently, or whether they transferred the technology from a single center of origin. Bronze production in Egypt and Mesopotamia began around 5000 years ago, about 900 to 1300 years before its estimated beginning in China. The intent of the study was to determine probable sources of ore and evidence of bronze production through analysis of artifacts with copper and arsenic content, including analyzing samples of slag and copper ore from two archaeological sites known as Ganggangwa and Huoshiliang in northwestern Gansu Province.
The research used lead and strontium isotopic analysis to identify and age knives, rings, dome shaped objects, and spearheads. The team discovered that substantial areas of woody vegetation once existed around the sites now dominated by sand dunes. The Bronze Age people of the Gansu area were farmers who planted wheat and practiced animal husbandry. Horse and sheep bones are common. Researchers believe they may have abandoned the region when wood was exhausted and desertification took over.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!