Audio News for March 7th to March 13th, 2010.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for March 7th to March 13th, 2010.
Ancient Aboriginal site uncovered in Tasmania
Our first story is from Australia, where archaeologists have uncovered an ancient tribal meeting ground, which may be the world's southernmost site of early human life. The find came during a survey ahead of roadwork near Tasmania's Derwent River. The archaeological report showed that the site dated back earlier than any other recorded place in Tasmania.
Thermoluminescence readings that measure the age of the artifacts based on how long it has been since they were last subjected to the heat of a fire suggests a top reading of 28,000 years old and it seems likely the artifacts may date back at least another 10,000 years. The age of the items surprised chief archaeologist Rob Paton. He had been expecting 17,000 years for the base of the trench and about four or 5,000 years for the top. He commented that they have not done a reading on the bottom sample yet. The readings indicated the oldest date anywhere in the world for a site this far south, Paton concluded.
Excavation uncovered up to three million artifacts, including stone tools, shellfish fragments and food scraps in an area that appears to have been a meeting ground for three local tribes. The local tribes literally were exterminated after white settlers arrived in the late 18th Century. This site may have been the last place of refuge for Aboriginal tribes, Australia's original inhabitants. With cultures stretching back tens of thousands of years, Aboriginal tribes may have numbered around one million at the time of white settlement. There are now Australia's most impoverished minority, numbering just 470,000 out of a population of 21 million.
Michael Mansell of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre notes that in terms of culture and history, this region now represents Tasmania's equivalent to the “Valley of the Kings,” referring to the world heritage listed Egyptian tombs. Mansell hopes the discovery will halt road construction at the site.
Pottery and tools found in northern Cuba indicate early agricultural settlement
On the other side of the world, in Cuba, the discovery of primitive tools in the area surrounding the Cedro Lagoon is inspiring new ideas about pottery-using agricultural settlements in the northern region of Villa Clara.
Archaeologist Rául Villavicencio, from the Provincial Center for Environmental Studies and Services, said researchers found five polished axes, 25 chisels made from seashells, and various fragments of pottery. Villavicencio notes that previously the area had only produced evidence of hunter-gatherer cultures. Hunting and gathering was the lifestyle of all human beings until the invention of agriculture about 10,000 years ago and had been thought to have persisted in Cuba until European contact.
The new find, made 600 meters from the coast, is leading investigators to believe that the area might have been a settlement with houses built on piles very close to the water, with agricultural fields inland on more fertile land.
Researchers have still not determined if the objects are the result of cultural exchanges with pottery-making people in neighboring areas or if the inhabitants of the site produced them. A group of archaeologists led by Villavicencio will try to address this and other unknowns such as the controversy over the location of the Carahate aboriginal peoples described in the Indian Chronicles written by Father Bartolomé de las Casas in 1514.
Archaeologists find prehistoric stone tools in Kurdish region of Iraq
Moving now to Iraq, an expedition of Czech archaeologists has found remains of the oldest settlement in the Kurdish area of northern Mesopotamia. According to team leader Karel Novacek from the University of West Bohemia in Plzen, who announced the discovery to the press, the site is an approximately 150,000-year-old prehistoric settlement.
Archaeologists unearthed a number of items, mainly prehistoric stone tools, about nine meters under the ground in Arbil, capital of the Kurdish autonomous region. No information is available yet on the method used to estimate the age of the tools, although we suspect it is stratigraphic. Analysis of the stone tool technology may suggest whether they were made by modern humans or by more ancient relatives such as neanderthals. The expedition mainly focused on the town of Arbil as a royal residential center of ancient Assyria. Unlike other more known ancient centers in this area, Arbil did not cease to exist and has remained an active town to the present day. It is one of the longest permanently populated sites in the world with urban life dating back to at least the Twenty-third Century BC. Despite this, it has not attracted many archaeologists so far. The eight-member Czech expedition comprises experts from the University of West Bohemia, academic and university institutions in Prague and two companies. The project, supported by the Czech Science Foundation (or GACR), has been the first professional Czech expedition to Mesopotamia, a cradle of human civilization. The expedition has focused its research on geophysical exploration, historical buildings documentation and the assessment of aerial and satellite photos.
Possible pipeline route reveals 12 shipwrecks in Baltic Sea
Our final story is from the Baltic Sea, where a probe by a Russian-led consortium looking for a gas pipeline route from Russia to the European Union revealed a dozen previously unknown shipwrecks. According to Peter Norman, a senior advisor with the Swedish National Heritage Board, the discovery is outside Sweden's territorial waters, but is within its economic zone. Researchers have managed to identify 12 shipwrecks, some up to 1,000 years old. Because many of the ships are from the 17th and 18th centuries and some could even be from the Middle Ages, the discovery offers enormous culture-historical value.
Initially using sonar equipment, the consortium discovered some unevenness along the sea bottom. They started filming some of the uneven areas, and could see the wrecks, which lie at a depth of more than 100 meters. These wrecks have their hulls fully intact, Norman said, adding there were no plans to raise them.
None of the wrecks are in the actual path the pipeline is set to take, but they were in its so-called anchor zone, meaning they are in the area where ships laying the pipeline might anchor. One of the reasons for this probe is to avoid damaging wrecks on the seabed. The consortium assured the Swedish National Heritage Board that they will take the positioning of the wrecks into account when they lay the pipeline.
Due to its low temperatures and oxygen levels, the Baltic Sea is an ideal environment for conserving shipwrecks, which can remain virtually unblemished for hundreds and even thousands of years. Over the years, researchers have discovered and mapped some 3,000 shipwrecks, and some believe more than 100,000 whole and partial wrecks litter the Baltic Sea floor.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!