Audio News for November 14th to November 20th, 2010.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from November 14th to November 20th, 2010.
Earliest Copper Age village found in Serbia
First we go to Serbia, where the discovery of 7,500-year-old copper tools is causing scientists to reconsider existing theories about where and when man began using metal. Researchers found axes, hammers, hooks and needles interspersed with other artifacts at a settlement that burned down some 7,000 years ago. The village existed for eight centuries before its ruin. After the fire, its unknown inhabitants moved away. However, what they left behind points to man's earliest known extraction and shaping of metal.
Researchers are calling the find sensational. Scientists had previously believed that the mining, extraction and manipulation of copper began in Asia Minor, spreading outward from there. With the find in Serbia, at a site about 200 km south of Belgrade, simultaneous development of those skills in several places now seems more likely. The tools are eight hundred years older than any previously found to date.
Several meters of soil cover the 120-hectare site. Serbian archaeologists have so far exposed three homes, the largest measuring eight by five meters. The layer of earth it stood on is still blackened from the blazing heat that destroyed the village. It is unclear what caused the fire, but none of the damage indicates an outside attack. Huts collapsed on their contents, with mud bricks and ashes burying the artifacts inside which include pottery, statues, tools and a worktable.
Scientists are debating whether the village led the world to the Copper Age in the sixth millennium BC, particularly because of the recently discovered remains of primitive copper smelters nearby. Researchers disregarded the area, discovered by railroad builders in 1927, until 1996 when serious excavations began. According to head archaeologist on site, Julka Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic, it remains unclear why excavators found comparatively large quantities of copper tools, but the village may have been a tool-making or trading center.
Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic pointed out the inhabitants were not uncultivated; they had finely combed hair and adorned themselves with necklaces. One statue of a woman shows her wearing some sort of a mini-skirt, while others wore long and broad scarves.
American Indian woman may have come to Europe with Viking
In Iceland, a study by Spanish and Icelandic researchers is suggesting the first Native American to arrive in Europe may have been a woman brought to Iceland by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago. The finding boosts widely accepted theories, based on Icelandic medieval texts and a reputed Viking settlement in Newfoundland in Canada, that the Vikings reached the American continent several centuries before Christopher Columbus travelled to the New World.
According to Spain's CSIC scientific research institute, genetic analysis of around 80 people from four families in Iceland showed they possess a type of DNA normally only found in Native Americans or East Asians. CSIC researcher Carles Lalueza-Fox noted researchers first believed that the DNA came from recently established Asian families in Iceland, but after studying the family genealogy, they discovered that the four families were descended from ancestors who lived between 1710 and 1740 from the same region of southern Iceland.
The lineage, named C1e (C-one-E), is mitochondrial and can only be passed on from women. Contrary to an initial assumption that this lineage was a recent arrival in Iceland, preliminary genealogical analyses revealed that the C1e lineage was present in the Icelandic mitochondrial DNA pool at least 300 years ago. As the island was virtually isolated from the 10th century, the most likely hypothesis is that the genes corresponded to an Amerindian woman brought from America by the Vikings around the year 1000.
The research team hopes to find more instances of the same Native American DNA in Iceland's population, starting in the same region in the south of the country near the massive Vatnajokull glacier. The report also said 75 to 80 percent of modern Icelanders can trace their lineage to Scandinavia and the rest to Scotland and Ireland. However, the C1e lineage is one of a handful that was involved in the settlement of the Americas around 14,000 years ago.
China may have been home to the world’s first bakers
Our third story comes from China, where researchers have unearthed noodles, cakes, porridge, and meat bones dating to around 2,500 years ago at a Chinese cemetery. The cakes, cooked in an oven-like hearth, suggest the Chinese may have been among the world's first bakers. Prior research determined the ancient Egyptians were also baking bread at around the same time, but this latest discovery indicates that individuals in northern China were skillful bakers who likely learned baking and other more complex cooking techniques much earlier.
Yiwen Gong, a researcher at the Graduate University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his team dug up the foods in the Turpan District of Xinjiang, China. The find included noodles piled in an earthenware bowl, sheep’s heads, another earthenware bowl full of porridge, elliptical-shaped cakes as well as round baked goods that resembled modern Chinese mooncakes. Chemical study of the starches revealed that both the noodles and cakes were made of common millet.
The scientists put new millet through a series of cooking experiments in effort to duplicate the microstructure of the ancient foods, revealing how the prehistoric chefs cooked the millet. They determined that boiling damages the appearance of individual millet grains, while baking leaves them more intact. The researchers therefore believe cooks boiled the millet grains in one bowl into porridge; they boiled the noodles and baked the cakes.
Baking technology was not a traditional cooking method in the ancient Chinese cuisine, and seldom reported to date, according to the authors, who nonetheless believe these latest food discoveries indicate baking must have been a widespread cooking practice in northwest China 2,500 years ago.
The discoveries add to the growing body of evidence that millet was the grain of choice for this part of China. Gong and his team point out that millet, domesticated about 10,000 years ago in northwest China, was probably a food staple because of its drought resistance and ability to grow in poor soils.
A second researcher, Houyuan Lu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Geology and Physics, unearthed millet-made noodles dating to 4,000 years ago at another northwest Chinese site. At that site, the noodles were thin and delicate, more than 19.7 inches in length and yellow in color, resembling a traditional Chinese noodle made by repeatedly pulling and stretching the dough by hand.
The area where the Gong and his team found the food has a desert climate. It is so dry that many mummies and plant remains preserve without decaying. Another interesting finding is that the human remains the team unearthed at the site looked more European than Asian. Of the 19 mummies examined, only three are Mongolian. The individuals may have been living in a semi-agricultural, rural artists' community, as excavators found a nearby pottery workshop, as well as pottery with each burial.
500-year-old graffiti deciphered
In our final story, historians in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia announced this week they have deciphered mysterious 500-year-old graffiti left in an old abbey attic. For years people working in the former St. Katherina Church near Langerwehe had noticed the mysterious drawings, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the regional authority for monument preservation began closely examining their origins.
They were surprised to find that the forty-by-two-meter plaster wall bore the tentative marks of young apprentices from the 15th century. According to Sabine Cornelius, spokesperson for the regional authorities, 42 different hammers etched into the wall, each variety clearly visible. Among them are stone-cutting, carpentry and slate hammers, in addition to repeated attempts at creating geometric shapes. However no words appear.
Cornelius notes that it is very possible that the young apprentices were using the hammers as a kind of signature because they could not write. The apprentices were likely at the nunnery near Aachen during late-Gothic renovations that happened under Abbess Margarete von Fleck between AD 1492 and 1506. During that time, the outer wall disappeared into an attic of a building addition, likely creating an ideal practice canvas. These etchings were something spontaneous, not meant for posterity and provide a look into the working conditions of the era. Some drawings, such as rosettes, are perfect and probably created by the master. Others are the clumsy attempts at imitation by students.
In a statement by the project’s lead historian, Dr. Ulrike Heckner, the drawings are an unusually personal and well-preserved testimony from people often overlooked by history. Only rarely does historic graffiti from handworkers survive, hence the plaster etchings are an especially prized and unique document of the everyday life and working world in the late Middle Ages.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!