Audio News for December 27th, 2009 to January 2nd, 2010.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for December 27th, 2009 to January 2nd, 2010.
Chinese General’s Tomb Located
Our first story is from China, where archaeologists have found what could be the tomb of Cao Cao, (Tsou Tsou) a skilled general and ruler in the 3rd Century. Historians say Cao Cao's exceptional military and political talents enabled him to build the strongest and most prosperous state in northern China during the Three Kingdoms period of AD 208 to 280, when China had three separate rulers.
According to the official China Daily newspaper, Cao's 8,000-square feet tomb complex, with a 130-feet passage leading to an underground chamber, was found in Xigaoxue, (Shi Ga oh Shu ay) a village near the ancient capital of Anyang in central Henan province. Excavators have found the bones of three people and more than 250 artifacts in nearly one year of excavation work. The bones were identified as the remains of a man aged about 60 and two women, one in her 50s and the other between 20 and 25 years. Scientists believe the male was Cao, who died at age 65 in AD 220, the elder woman his empress and the younger woman her servant. According to the report, among the items found were stone paintings featuring the social life of Cao's time, stone tablets bearing inscriptions of sacrificial objects, and Cao's personal belongings. Tablets carrying the inscription "King Wu (Woo) of Wei (Way)," Cao's posthumous title, were seized from people who had stolen them from the tomb.
Archaeologist Liu Qingzhu, of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences notes the stone tablets bearing inscriptions of Cao's posthumous reference are the strongest evidence. No one would or could have so many artifacts inscribed with Cao's posthumous reference in the tomb unless it was Cao's.
Writers of traditional Chinese operas as well as the writer of one of China’s best-loved historical novels, “Romance of the Three Kingdoms,” depicted characters based on Cao as shrewd and devious villains. A common saying in Chinese "speak of Cao Cao and Cao Cao arrives" is the equivalent of the English idiom "speak of the devil.” Popular folklore depicted Cao as the archetypal cunning politician.
Hieroglyphs detail life of Mayan high priest
In Mexico, researchers are studying the first Mayan hieroglyphic script dealing with the life of a high priest, his blood sacrifices and acts of penance. The text comprises 260 glyphs carved into a series of seashell earrings and manta ray stingers found inside a burial urn.
According to a statement by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, researchers uncovered the urn, which also contained the remains of an important Maya priest wrapped in bright red cloth, during excavations 11 years ago in southeastern Tabasco. It is the longest Maya hieroglyphic script ever found to date in Tabasco and the first involving a high priest, instead of a Maya ruler and his wives.
The text spans 14 years in the life of a Maya priest who lived in the Eighth Century AD. It includes references to blood sacrifices and acts of penance before the spring solstice.
Maya priests used manta ray stingers to pierce their earlobes, tongue, forehead, and other parts of the anatomy, in painful bloodletting sacrifices to provoke a hallucinogenic state in which they believed they could talk to their gods. One of the glyphs refers to the equivalent modern date of January 31, 771.
The Maya dynasties flourished between AD 426 and 820 throughout much of Central America and southeastern Mexico. They excelled in architecture, astrology, mathematics and in keeping exceptionally accurate calendars.
Ancient monument found on English moors
Archaeologists in England have snapped the first picture of an ancient monument on the North York Moors near Scarborough that could date back more than 4,500 years. English Heritage recently flew two aerial surveys over the moorland after a wildfire in October swept across 62 acres revealing the full extent of a prehistoric stone enclosure and multiple stone cairns. It gave researchers their first view of the monument that measures about 485 ft by 246 ft. Although researches previously plotted the site on maps, remarkably little information existed about its date or purpose because a blanket of heather concealed it.
According to David MacLeod, senior investigator with English Heritage’s aerial survey team, they saw at least 20 cairns of varying size. Taking pictures from various angles allowed them to set the site in a wider landscape context. Establishing the use of the monument is a tricky question. The walls are low now but could have been much higher, so possibly it had an agricultural purpose, acting as a pen to keep cattle or sheep. Scientist also cannot rule out a ritual significance or possibly a graveyard.
Motivated by the aerial images, the National Park commissioned professionals from Wessex Archaeology to perform a ground survey to plot the various features of the monument; their report is due this year. Graham Lee, North York Moors National Park Authority archaeologist, added that dating the site is difficult, but it is just possible it could be 4,500 years old, or older.
The site shows signs of later activity also, notably in the Bronze Age. Scientists think that a similar site, recorded on Fylingdales Moor, revealed after a larger moorland fire in 2003, is also Neolithic in date. The Neolithic period lasted from around 4,000 BC to about 2,500 BC, during which the population increased and early forms of agriculture began. These early farmers grew crops, kept animals, made pottery and were highly skilled at making stone implements. However, researchers know little about their beliefs as no language or written evidence survives.
Tiny beads reveal Scandinavian forges
Our final story is from Norway, where archaeologist Ruth Iren Øien and her team found tiny iron beads, which led to the discovery of Scandinavia's oldest and most complex group of iron forges. The team first found iron beads in November 2008 at the end of a highly weather-dependent field season in Norway. With frost setting in, the team could not return to investigate further until the summer of 2009.
In July, Øien and her team from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Museum of Natural History and Archaeology returned to the site. The tiny iron beads that had piqued Øien's interest measure 1 to1.5 millimeters in diameter. Nevertheless, they were sufficient to make her realize they might be residue from a smithy. It turned out she was right, but the number of forges on the small field surprised everyone.
According to Øien, they found three different types of forges. Some were small and circular, some were indoors, and a third type was in the shape of a figure eight. Findings suggest the smiths used one half of the figure-eight shaped forges for the rough work before refining the iron in the other forges.
The excavations uncovered more than 200 construction-related features, including post holes, forges, fireplaces, and wall ditches. Preben Rønne, the museum's project manager for the site, noted that even though they have only uncovered half of the area, they have already found seven forges. This cluster suggests some kind of early industrial activity, in the sense that clearly they had large-scale production.
The forges are located at Forsetmoen, a rural area south of Trondheim in central Norway. The scientists believe the location is anything but coincidental. The local people probably produced the iron in the smaller side valleys, and transported it to Forsetmoen for refining. From there, they transported iron artifacts to the larger farms farther out. The forges date to AD 1-500 and the various building artifacts to AD 400-500.
The team also found postholes from a large house at least 30 meters long. Residents may have used one end for working the iron, since researchers found remains of elevated forges, an airing canal and a possible foundation for an anvil. The large quantities of burnt bark excavators found could be from a roof, and suggest the forge might have burnt down. The finds are the first clues that give an answer to the archaeological mystery of where and how Iron Age Scandinavians refined their iron.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!