Audio News for June 6th to June 12th, 2010.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news June 6th to June 12th, 2010.
Armenian cave produces world’s oldest leather shoe
Our first story is from Armenia, where an unusual find is giving archaeologists a new footing on the details of Copper Age life. Excavations of a cave have uncovered the oldest known leather shoe, a slip-on, lace-up style from 5,500 years ago. A team led by archaeologist Ron Pinhasi, of University College Cork in Ireland, found the shoe under a broken pottery jar at the bottom of a shallow, plastered pit in the Areni-1 (ah-RAIN-ee One) Cave. Also found were bones of deer and fish and two wild goat horns. Two years ago, parts of a 6,000-year-old human brain were recovered from the cave, whose deep, dry layers provide outstanding preservation. Cool dry weather helped preserve ancient artifacts, including storage jars holding wheat, barley, apricots and other foods. A layer of sheep dung covering the cave floor also aided preservation in the lower layers. Writing in a report published online in PLoS One, the team describes the shoe as consisting of a single piece of cowhide that wrapped around the right foot. A leather lace running through eyelets pulled the hide together on top of the foot, and another connected flaps at the wearer’s heel. Grass stuffed into the shoe was probably to maintain its shape during storage, the researchers suggest. Approximately the size of a woman’s size 7 today, the show may have been worn by either a man or a woman. Radiocarbon testing of pieces of the shoe and the grass stuffing provided the age estimate. Other cowhide footwear from the Copper Age includes sandals from a grave in Israel, which are believed to be as old as the Areni-1 shoe but have not been radiocarbon dated. Other one-piece cowhide shoes with laces found at European sites are later, ranging in age from 3,600 to 1,500 years ago. According to Pinhasi, this is a shoe in the modern sense, in that the same technology and manufacturing method utilized by the Areni-1 people prevailed until the 1950s in Ireland and other parts of Europe. The U.S. has produced older footwear in the form of sandals, including the 9,000 to 10,000 year old sandals from Oregon’s Fort Rock Cave and other caves in eastern Oregon’s high desert. These early Oregon sandals, the first pair of which were found in 1938, are woven from tightly twisted twine made from sagebrush bark. In Missouri, excavations in the 1970s at Arnold Cave produced 7,000 to 9,000 year old sandals made from fiber or possibly leather, as well as leather slip-on shoes and tied shoes of younger date. Sandals, which include woven straps, involve more steps in manufacture than shoes like the one from Areni-1. Nevertheless, Areni-1 shoemakers show an equal ability to tailor their materials and technology to make a rugged piece of footwear that was perfectly suited for their environment. At the time, the area would have been mainly flat grassland with a cool, dry climate. A different style of shoes was worn by Ötzi the Iceman, a 5,300-year-old frozen mummy discovered in 1991 in the Italian Alps. Otzi’s shoes, preserved as remnants of deer and bear leather, had a vamp, an upper part attached to the sole by straps. The differences between the shoes from Areni-1 and on Ötzi, as well as the ancient Israeli sandals, reflect regional differences in shoe styles and manufacturing techniques during the fourth millennium BC. Pinhasi feels, however, that the evidence is not sufficient to indicate whether similar leather footwear was invented at different European and Asian sites or if it originated in one place and was swiftly adopted by other groups. Researchers know little about when people first started sporting shoes, mainly because even tanned leather survives poorly in ancient sites, and shoes, especially, have always tended to be worn until they fall apart. Indirect evidence comes from studies by physical anthropologist Eric Trinkaus, published in 2005 and 2008. Trinkaus found that Paleolithic human skeletons from Europe show thinner bones in the small toes, similar to modern people. Whereas barefoot walking leads to spread out toes that strongly grip the ground, shoes take the strain off the toes and thus lead to less muscle and bone development in these small bones. Trinkaus’s work suggests that footwear was coming into use by 40,000 years ago. The shoe from Areni-1 adds significantly to our few actual examples of footwear ancient people developed as they spread out around the globe.
Early beekeeping in Israel shows ties with Turkey
Heading south into Israel, a 3,000-year-old apiary, a collection of beehives, confirms long-distance trade in domesticated bees at the Iron Age city of Tel Rehov in the Jordan Valley. Researchers found the apiary three years ago. The baked clay hives are the oldest known commercial beekeeping facility in the world. Now the same researchers have gotten an even bigger revelation, with the determination that the bees in the hives most likely were brought from Turkey, hundreds of miles away. According to archaeologist Amihai Mazar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, lead author of a report published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this is a very special discovery. No previous evidence existed for bringing any kind of animals from such a distance, especially bees. The effort shows a sophisticated approach to agriculture, which throws new light on the economy of the period. According to noted bee researcher Gene Kritsky, of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, and the editor of American Entomologist, the findings imply an incredible amount of commodity trading of bees. The lack of previous archaeological evidence about beekeeping is not surprising. The hives are constructed of straw-based unbaked clay, much like hives used in the region today, and even in the arid desert of Israel, such unbaked clays do not survive for long. Previously, the oldest known hives were made of wicker and dated from about AD 200, although Egyptian wall paintings and reliefs dating to about 2500 BC illustrate the beekeeping process. The Tel Rehov hives were preserved by a fire that destroyed large parts of the city, and in the process baked the clay hives. The clay hives were cylinders, nearly three feet long and half that in diameter, with a small hole at one end for bees to enter and exit and a lid at the other end. The cylinders were arranged side by side and stacked three deep. Mazar estimated that there were 100 to 200 hives in the central part of the city, holding up to 2 million bees if all hives were in use. Entomologists in Germany and Brazil studied the bee remains found in the ancient hives, and established that the bees were not native to Israel. The bees were most closely related to Anatolian bees found commonly now in Turkey. Such bees generally require a cooler, wetter climate than that of Israel, suggesting they were imported deliberately rather than arriving on their own and being captured in the wild. Researchers are not sure what caused the fire that burned the apiary. However, historical records indicate that an Egyptian pharaoh conquered the city and destroyed its heavy industry in about 920 BC, corresponding to the date of the fire.
Roman burials in Britain appear to be gladiators
In Britain, forensic work on 80 ancient skeletons of young men found in Yorkshire points to world's best-preserved gladiator graveyard. The mystery of Britain's headless Romans may be solved at last, thanks to scars from a lion's bite and hammer marks on decapitated skulls. Many of the 1,800-year-old remains have heavy bone growth that indicates much stronger muscles in the right arm, corresponding to what Roman writers noted for slaves trained from their teens to fight in the arena. Advanced mineral testing of tooth enamel also links the men to a wide variety of Roman provinces, including North Africa, a famous location for gladiator recruitment. The widespread origin of the men is consistent with York's importance in the ancient Roman world as a provincial capital and major military base for years of campaigning north of Hadrian's Wall. Many senior generals and politicians held posts in the city, and Constantine appointed himself emperor there in AD 306. Such distinguished residents would have required social events typical for the times. According to Kurt Mann of the York Archaeological Trust, the buildup of evidence now points to a gladiator graveyard rather than a military suppression of aristocratic rebels by Caracalla, another emperor who visited York, as suggested in earlier explanations. Signs of respect to the remains, including piles of grave goods for use in the afterlife, had appeared to support the earlier notion. The initial finds of some 60 skeletons also turned up evidence suggesting lavish funeral feasts, with beef, pork and horsemeat on the menu. However, accounts of gladiator burials make it clear that similar ceremony accompanied the rites for many long-serving gladiators. Decapitation was a regular conclusion to contests, or a deathblow delivered with a hammer to the head. The theory that the burials were gladiators become part of the debate three years ago, when the discovery of burials of arena combatants at Ephesus in Turkey showed a similar combination of hammer blows to the skull and decapitation as at York. Evidence on one skeleton of a large carnivore bite, from a lion, tiger or bear, also supports the notion. The great majority of the skeletons are male, very robust although mostly average in height. York appears to have held major arena events until as late as the Fourth Century AD.
Massachusetts teacher finds Revolutionary era document
Our final story is from the United States, where a Colonial era pay stub turned up in a stack of papers on a classroom shelf. Michelle Eugenio, a fourth-grade social studies teacher in Peabody, Massachusetts, found the small piece of parchment while leafing through piles of papers accumulated over the years on her classroom’s bookshelf. She had noted several replicas of Colonial period documents that were obviously modern manufactures, but one document she found caused quite a different reaction. The single sheet of linen paper was contained in a rigid, clear-plastic sheath, and had torn and browned edges. It looked very old and it looked original. According to Eugenio as she held it in her hands and looked at the date printed on the lower right corner, April 1792, her heart raced. The letter appeared to be a record of a payment to Continental Army soldier Jonathan Bates and the discharge of a debt Bates owed. Eugenio asked Ed Blaus, the fifth-grade social studies teacher, to look at it. Blaus thought it was real. They then called Bill Power, president of Peabody’s Historical Society, who scrutinized the document and, based on his experience evaluating other Colonial-era letters, authenticated it. According to Powers, the document bears typical details such as the words and letters used, such as the long form of the letter S, resembling the letter F, instead of the more familiar and recent form of S in words such as assigns and said. The Revolutionary era soldier, Jonathan Bates, remains largely unknown beyond the details of this document. He was probably a farmer who answered the call of 1780 for militia. A resident of Shaftsbury, Vermont, he joined a company led by Captain Bigelow Lawrence. According to the document, Bates traveled 55 miles and received a payment of 1 pound, 18 shillings, 4 pence for 15 days of service in the Continental Army, and he paid a debt of 19 pounds, 19 shillings, 11 pence. The location of his service is unknown. Bates died on Aug. 23, 1808, at the age of 63, according to his headstone in a cemetery in Williamstown, Vermont. It is also unknown how the document made its way from Vermont to Massachusetts. In addition, there are only guesses now as to how Bates’s receipt landed on the shelves of the classroom. Eugenio, who found the document while preparing to move her classroom to the second floor, will hold onto it for now and plans to use it as a teaching tool.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!