Audio News for May 15th to May 21st, 2011.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from May 15th to May 21st, 2011.
Temple to Greek goddess Demeter found in Bulgaria
Our first story is from Bulgaria, where a team of archaeologists has discovered a temple of the ancient Greek goddess Demeter and her daughter near the town of Sozopol on the Black Sea. The team, led by Prof. Krastina Panayotova, found the temple during excavations of a fortress wall and a church that were part of a Byzantine imperial monastery.
According to Panayotova, they found figurines and ceramics in a concentrated spot, which provide clear evidence of the cult for Demeter and Persephone. She notes that her team has come across similar pieces before, but this time the finding is concentrated in the wall of the tower built above it and is connected with the cult for Demeter and Persephone. Because there is a church at the location, excavators expected a sanctuary from the Antiquity period, not an ancient temple.
In Greek mythology, Demeter is the goddess of the harvest, who presided over grains, the fertility of the earth, and the seasons as well as the sanctity of marriage, the sacred law, and the cycle of life and death. She and her daughter Persephone were the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries that predated the Olympian pantheon.The Greek sanctuary is near the monastery complex "St. Apostles and 20,000 Martyrs" built in the first half of the 14th century.
Chile is site of oldest mine in the Americas
Now travel with us to Chile where archaeologists have discovered the oldest evidence of organized mining ever found in the Americas in the form of a 12,000-year-old iron oxide mine. A team of researchers led by Diego Salazar of the Universidad de Chile found the 40-meter trench near the coastal town of Taltal in the northern region of the country. The Huentelauquen people, the first settlers in the region, dug the mine and used the iron oxide as pigment for painted stone and bone instruments, and probably also for clothing and body paint. The find extends by several millennia the mining sites yet recorded in the Americas. Before this find, a North American copper mine, dated to between 4,500 and 2,600 years ago, was the oldest known in the Americas.
The extraordinary duration and extent of the operation illustrate the surprising cultural complexity of these ancient people. The operation shows that mining was a labor-intensive activity demanding specific technical skills and some level of social cooperation transmitted through generations, Salazar and his team writes.
Carbon dating for charcoal and shells found in the mine suggest it was used continuously from around 12,000 years ago to 10,500 years ago, and then again around 4,300 years ago. The researchers also found more than 500 hammer stones dating back to the earliest use of the mine. The study states that the regular exploitation of the site for more than a millennium indicates knowledge about the location of the mine, the properties of its iron oxides, and the techniques required to exploit and process these minerals were transmitted over generations within the Huentelauquen Cultural Complex, thereby consolidating the first mining tradition yet known in America.
Roman cemetery found in North Africa
In Tunisia, archeologists south of the capital of Tunis have uncovered an ancient Roman cemetery. The cemetery, found in Lamta, near the coastal town of Monastir, located 160 km south of the capital, is believed to be the only one of its kind discovered in the North African country.
Tunisia has a rich history that dates back to the 12th century BC. Tourists from all over the world visited the country's ancient ruins from the Punic era and the Roman Empire until recent political unrest has rendered the area unstable.
Researchers found the cemetery near funerary rooms linked to the Punic civilization, which was based in the Tunisian city of Carthage. The Romans conquered Carthage in the Punic Wars that ended in 146 BC. The find confirmed previous studies that showed that Romans preferred cremation until the third century AD and preserved the ashes in terracotta urns.
Tunisia has a number of ancient Roman sites including Dougga in the country's north. In 1997, UNESCO named Dougga a World Heritage Site, describing it as the best-preserved small Roman town in North Africa.
Great Dismal Swamp home to escaped slaves
Original Headline: Freedom in the Swamp: Unearthing the Secret History of the Great Dismal Swamp
Our final story is from the United States, where, since 2001, Dan Sayers, assistant professor of anthropology and historical archaeologist at American University has been researching and exploring the presence of maroons–African-Americans who permanently escaped enslavement—in the Great Dismal Swamp. Aside from maroons, Sayers says the swamp was also home to Indigenous Americans, enslaved canal laborers, free African-Americans, and outcast Europeans, such as criminals.
The swamp covers approximately 200 square miles of undeveloped, densely wooded wetlands in southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina. According to Sayers, if you were an escaped slave in southeast Virginia in the 1800s, this was the place where you could have gone for immediate sanctuary. The current swamp is only 10 percent of the 2,000 square miles it was before the Civil War.
Sayers' research project, called the Great Dismal Swamp Landscape, began when he decided to research the history of the Swamp from the 1600s through 1860 for his doctoral dissertation. From the beginning, Sayers discovered this was no easy path, for practically no field research had been done in the Great Dismal Swamp Refuge. Historic documents only offered hints alluding to the communities. The absence of information was so great that Sayers had to design his own landscape models, carefully researched plans archeologists use to predict where a community might have been located, how big it might have been, and what elements would have been involved, depending on who lived there and when.
To create his models, Sayers examined historic documentation and research about other, similar swamp communities in the Western Hemisphere, including those in Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana. Sayers notes that in other areas, local militias were often hired to capture maroons and destroy their settlements. When the militia found these communities, they would document the location of settlements, the sizes, shapes, and number of houses and other structures before destroying them. The other swamps were nowhere near as dense or expansive as the Great Dismal Swamp, which is likely why so little documentation on the Dismal Swamp communities existed. Sayers says the items unearthed during the past decade have been mundane, everyday items, part of a broken bowl, a gunflint, a stone tool, but they help tell the story of the people who lived there and how they interacted with each other and the outside world.
The communities largely formed in three areas: the swamp's outskirts, the swamp's secluded interior, away from the canals, or along the canals. Each type of community existed for different reasons. People in the interior communities, wanting to be as isolated as possible, would have relied more on items they made by hand. Canal laborers, who lived in the communities along the canals, would have used more mass-produced items as they regularly interacted with the outside world.
Sayers says this summer's swamp field school site has the markings of a large community and that overall, possibly thousands of people lived in the swamp between the 1600s and 1860. He states that many of these began as communities of Indigenous Americans around the 1600s, and when maroons started taking refuge in the swamp around the1700s, they began joining existing communities and likely formed their own. According to Sayers, the artifacts indicate that the swamp communities began to dwindle around the 1860s close to the Civil War.
That wraps up the news for this week!
For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at www.archaeologica.org, where all the news is history!
I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!