Audio news from July 18th to July 24th, 2010
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from July 18th to July 24th, 2010.
Non-destructive techniques reveals Stonehenge twin made of timber
Our first story is from England, where archaeologists have discovered that Stonehenge had a twin nearby, made of timber, and did it without turning a shovelful of soil. The high-tech dig was carried out using magnetometers, radar, and 3D video technology. For years, questions have hovered around Stonehenge, the immense Neolithic or Copper age site of circular stones erected in southwest England somewhere between 3,000 to 2,000 BC. Was Stonehenge a burial ground, a ritual site for human sacrifice, or an astronomy observatory? A team of scientists from universities across Europe are mapping the site this summer to get closer to the answers as part of a three-year mission. Just two weeks in, and without digging up a single rock, University of Birmingham professor Vince Gaffney and the other members of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project have uncovered an extraordinary find. A half-mile from the ancient stone structures lies a completely new henge, that is, a circular ditch enclosing a ring which could possibly be the remains of another monument. This one, however, was made of wood. According to Dr. Gaffney, if this buried structure is really a henge, it would indicate the ritual site was much larger than previously believed. The radar imaging that uncovered the new site is a way of virtually, but not actually, excavating the terrain. The team moves across the land with what look like big lawnmowers, taking a giant x-ray of the area. After the radar takes millions of measurements, video gaming technology compiles them into 3D images that make the find more clear. The entire discovery remains hidden in the landscape, with nothing seen by the naked eye. According to Gaffney, the buried structure must once have held posts, and while those posts have gone, the pits that held them remain to be seen through this ground-penetrating technology. Unlike traditional archeology, the shovel-less excavation does not destroy the site, which means that future archeologists can come back and re-survey again, using ever better technology. Imaging technology has long been used by archeologists, but it has become exponentially more effective over the years. Gaffney, one of the early adopters of the technology, used it in the late 1990s to map an ancient Roman city in Britain, a project hailed as a major achievement at the time. His team collected 2.5 million data points over the course of three years. At Stonehenge, they collected the same amount of data in a day. Although some landscapes are not ideal for the use of the technology, archaeologists around the world are increasingly using it for non-destructive investigation of the past.
Reconstruction of ancient Mexican woman complicates picture of New World origins
Westward across the Atlantic Ocean, a scientific reconstruction of one of the oldest sets of human remains found in the Americas appears to support propositions that the first people who came to the hemisphere migrated from a broader area than once thought. Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History released photos this week of the reconstructed image of a woman who lived on Mexico's Caribbean coast 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. The reconstructions show a short, sprightly woman with graying hair who resembles the peoples who currently populate southeast Asia. Anthropologists long believed that humans migrated to the Americas within a relatively short period, from a limited area in northeast Asia, using a temporary land corridor that opened across the Bering Strait during an ice age. However, archaeologist Alejandro Terrazas of the National Institute says the picture has now become more complicated, because of evidence like this reconstruction, which is more suggestive of Indonesia than northeast Asia. According to Terrazas, this reconstruction supports the tidea that several migratory movements populated the Americas, rather than just one or two waves from northern Asia. Some outside scientists, however, caution that the evidence is not conclusive. Ripan Malhi, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois, notes that facial reconstructions are a weaker method than DNA for assessing ancestry, because environment can influence the traits of the face, whereas a person’s DNA remains unaltered throughout their life. Current genetic evidence points to Northeast Asia as the main source for Native Americans. However, there have been limited opportunities to use DNA to identify origins of the first inhabitants, as only a handful of skeletons from 10,000 years ago have survived. The ancient Mexican woman, known as “La Mujer de las Palmas,” (la moo-HARE day las PAL-mas) or “The Woman of the Palms,” was found by divers in 2002 in a cave near the site of Tulum along the Caribbean coast. Because water had flooded the cave where she died or was interred, her skeleton was about 90 percent intact. Archaeologists and physical anthropologists calculate she was between 44 and 50 years old when she died. She was about 1.5 meters high, or just under five feet tall, and weighed about 58 kilograms, or a healthy 128 pounds. Researchers measured skull features to calculate the muscle and other tissue layers that once covered her face, which served as a guide for specialists in paleo-anthropological modeling at the Atelier Daynes (ah-tel-YAY dayne) in France to complete a model of the woman as she looked in life. The model shows a stocky woman with a broad face, prominent cheekbones, thin lips, and little trace of the epicanthic eye-folds that characterize many modern Asian populations. Her body structure, skin and eyes are similar to the population of Southeast Asia, according to an institute statement. Susan Gillespie, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida, noted that while the Bering land bridge hypothesis still has a lot of support, the situation is proving to be much messier than the older, straightforward scenario. Dates for peopling of the Americas have been pushed way back, and with the finding of very early skeletal remains, the genetic and skeletal linkages to peoples of northeast Asia has become cloudy. But Gillespie cautioned against comparing a reconstructed face from 10,000 years ago to modern populations in places like Indonesia, which have also probably changed over 10 millennia.
Bulgarian citadel was center of resistance against conquest by ancient Greece
In Bulgaria, archaeologists have uncovered a unique residence of the rulers of the Odrysian (oh-DREE-see-an) Kingdom, the largest state in ancient Thrace. The fortress complex is near the town of Hissar (hi-SAR) in central Bulgaria. According to excavation team leader Dr. Ivan Hristov (ee-VON CHREE-stoff, with hard “CH” as in German), Deputy Director of the Bulgarian National History Museum, the residence of the Odrysian kings is a monument unrivaled in scope in southeastern Europe, given the degree of preservation of this fortress-sanctuary that was occupied from the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Bulgarian archaeologists have dubbed the Thracian fortress a Bulgarian Machu Picchu because of the similarities in the organization and purpose of the two ancient sites. The construction of the Thracian residence is believed to have begun under a ruler named Cotys (COH-tees) I, who ruled from 384 to 359 BC. Other remains date to kings Amatokos (ah-mah-TOE-kos) II, from 359 to 351 BC, and Teres (TARE-ace) II, ruler from 351 to 342 BC. Teres II was the last Thracian king to fight against Philip II of Macedon, father of the famous Alexander the Great. The Greek statesman Demosthenes wrote that Philip II fought doggedly for eleven months spanning the winter of 342 BC to complete his conquest of the Thracian peoples who dwelt in the mountainous lands north of modern Greece. The newly excavated fortress-residence of the Thracian kings is located not far from the village of Starosel, the site of the largest tombs of Ancient Thracian rulers. The citadel at Hissar includes multiple levels of dwellings, as well as a sanctuary with an altar of sacrifice, thus inspiring the comparison to the Inca’s refuge city Machu Picchu. Dr. Hristov’s team has already excavated two of the towers of the citadel, measuring about 2 meters high. The Odrysian Kingdom was a union of Thracian tribes that existed between 5th and the 3rd century BC. The Romans conquered the last of the Thracian states in AD 46. The most famous Thracian in history is Spartacus, the noted leader of the slave uprising against the Roman Republic.
Hohokam project examines how sustainable manufacturing thrived without social inequality
Our final story is from the United States, where archaeologists from Southern Methodist University in Dallas have launched a unique research partnership with the Cultural Resource Management Program of the Gila (HEE-lah) River Indian Community in Arizona, to solve a longtime mystery. How did a prehistoric, egalitarian people like the Hohokam (ho-ho-KAHM) produce large quantities of decorated ceramic vessels without a hierarchy of managers? How did this manufacturing industry thrive without a system of social classes in which a few leaders directed the mass of workers? The co-operative effort between the Texan university and the modern tribe, the O’odham (OH-oh-DOM) is working to decipher the mechanics of the large-scale industry. Thousands of vessels were manufactured around AD 1000 by the culture that archaeologists call Hohokam, a word that means “those who are gone” in the modern Pima (PEE-mah) language. The Hohokam used the pottery for daily serving, storage, and social and religious gatherings. The Gila River residents of today, the O'odham, are descendants of the Hohokam. Under the landmark research partnership, the three-year project will examine artifacts and ceramic production materials from 12 sites in the Sonoran Desert just south of Phoenix, according to archaeologists and co-investigators Sunday Eiselt and J. Andrew Darling. The analysis focuses on a slice of time from AD 1000 to 1070, when production of the decorated ceramic pots, known as "red-on-buff," was at its peak. Pottery was critical to a complex system of irrigated farming and trade devised by the Hohokam. Hand-dug canals watered thousands of miles of desert to grow a wide variety of farm crops. Pottery specialists along the middle Gila River produced thousands of vessels that were apparently traded around the entire region in return for agricultural commodities. With production output at the high level suggested by the millions of sherds and vessel fragments recovered from sites of this period, archaeologists from a Euro-American background would expect to find political hierarchies, craft specialists, guilds and mass-production techniques. But years of Hohokam investigation show that this wasn’t the case. The Hohokam remained remarkably egalitarian.
The new project is testing two hypotheses to elucidate how highly productive industries can occur in the absence of managerial elites. The first proposes that a large number of villages worked independently to produce ceramics and trade them to outside consumers for agricultural products, such as cotton. The second hypothesis proposes that ceramic manufacturing was highly concentrated in one or a few villages supplied with raw materials by other villages. This implies a greater level of inter-village coordination to create economies of scale at the expense of emerging settlement hierarchies. The competing hypotheses will be tested through geochemical and petrographic examination of raw materials and ceramic artifacts. This will show whether ceramic manufacture for trade was concentrated at independent centers, or whether there was a division of labor in the production and distribution of raw materials that was part of a broader system for enhancing production efficiency. It will also show whether or how the productive system connected with regional exchange or emerging market systems. The National Science Foundation is funding the research with a grant.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!