Audio news from July 10th to July 16th, 2011.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from July 10th to July 16th, 2011.
500-year-old canoe discovered in Alaskan rain forest
Our first story is from a southeast Alaska rain forest, where five centuries ago, builders abandoned an unfinished Indian canoe. A surveyor who was checking potential timber-harvest sites first spotted the cedar artifact last winter, but kept the discovery and exact site near the Haida and Tlingit village of Kasaan on Alaska's Prince of Wales Island confidential.
Preliminary examination shows that ancient hand tools, not modern saws introduced by Europeans, cut the wood and hollowed out the 33-foot-by-11-inch canoe. This, and the fact that the canoe is surrounded by trees that are hundreds of years old, leads researchers believe the canoe is approximately 500 years old.
Rosita Worl, an anthropologist and president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, notes researchers have found only one other canoe in the rain forest of southeast Alaska. The Canoe, which most likely predates any others in museums, is an exceptional find.
The canoe was almost completed but not yet steamed, the traditional process that gives wooden watercraft their final shapes. Worl speculates that disease may have swept through the carver's village preventing the artisan from finishing the work. Worl hopes a replica will be made so modern canoe-makers will be able to study ancient techniques.
Those who knew about the find delayed public announcement until after the snow melted and an archeological and tribal team examined the canoe and the site. Teams also needed time to ensure it was not a burial site. Eventually the tribal government in Kasaan will decide what to do with the canoe and the discovery site. For now, the canoe remains at the forest site, still covered in moss.
Afghan artifacts threatened by Chinese copper mining
Our second story comes from Afghanistan, where a French-Afghan team is working feverishly to save ancient Mes Aynak artifacts before copper mining destroys them. The site exposes the Afghanistan of more than 1,400 years ago, when Buddhist monasteries dotted the landscape. At the site an ancient citadel juts from a tall cliff, over what once was a flourishing settlement. A monastery stands largely preserved, as do a series of reliquaries decorated with metamorphic rock arches and shelves.
However, few people today will have a chance to see these ruins. In perhaps as little as 14 months, the expansive, 9,800-acre site will be crushed by Chinese bulldozers hunting for copper in a clear choice of economic development over historic preservation for a country trying to overcome decades of war, religious extremism and occupation. The promise of mining wealth overshadows the treasured ruins of Mes Aynak since one of the world’s largest reserves of copper deposits is located beneath them.
According to Nicolas Engel, French archaeologist, the researchers do not know exactly how much time they have to excavate the site. Sometimes the Chinese say the deadline is 14 months, and sometimes it's two years. The Chinese want to do open pit mining, which means the whole area will be destroyed. Looters stole many of the precious artifacts long ago, and the archaeologists will not be able to save the ancient edifices from the mining company. Nevertheless, they can remove the statues, gold and silver coins, and pottery still buried within the buildings.
Khair Muhammad Khairzada, a researcher at the Afghan Institute of Archaeology, which is overseeing the dig, is worried. As an archaeologist, he wants all of the archaeological sites saved. But at the same time, he realizes that Afghanistan's economy is very important. Afghan archaeologists say they recognize the potential that mining has for their country's economy. However, they also feel the need to preserve a heritage that encompasses conquests by Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, and periods when Buddhism was the dominant religion.
The race to salvage Afghanistan's past is the latest in a long line of ordeals that Afghan historians and archeologists have had to face. The country was torn by an insurgent war against Soviet occupation in the 1980s and a civil war that followed the Soviets' departure. Statues and other depictions of the human form were anathema to the Taliban regime. During its rule in Afghanistan, the regime systematically defaced or destroyed anything deemed un-Islamic. The Taliban's most notorious act of vandalism occurred in 2001, when it blew up the two towering, 1,500-year-old Buddha statues of Bamian valley.
Giant Mexican stone features Aztec rain god
We travel now to Mexico, where archaeologists uncovered an 8th century monolith featuring an Aztec God weighing in at 60 tons. Because the engraved signs on the rock are fundamentally associated with agriculture and water, archaeologist Raul Gonzalez believes that the Aztecs used the monolith during rituals to ask for rain. He notes that researchers have numbered the hieroglyphics and have been able to decipher a corn figure and other anthropomorphic and amorphic figures. The ritual stone also bears the image of the Aztec god Tlaloc, leading scientists to connect the massive monolith to the nearby archaeological site of Xochicalco. The team has been unable to define other symbols on the rock.
The Aztecs, a warlike and deeply religious people who built monumental works, ruled an empire stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean, encompassing much of modern day central Mexico. Their often bloody reign ended when they were subjugated in 1521 by the Spanish, led by Hernando Cortes.
Reforma newspaper reports that construction workers building a shopping centre in the area first encountered the priceless artifact and notified authorities. Further investigations by Mexico's Institute of Anthropology and History unearthed the massive monolith near a highway connecting to the nearby city Cuautla. The scientists hope the 60-tonne monolith will have its final resting place at the UNESCO-listed Xochicalco zone.
Amulet dedicated to Odin found in Bulgaria
This week's final story is from Bulgaria, where archaeologists at the ancient holy site of Perperikon have discovered a Gothic amulet with a swastika dedicated to Odin, supreme god of the Germanic tribes. The site, a settlement in the Rhodope Mountains, is estimated to date back 7000 years. According to expedition leader Professor Nikolai Ovcharov, a warrior who participated in the capture of the rock city 17 centuries ago may have been the owner of the amulet. Archaeologists also discovered a bronze cross estimated to date from the 11th century.
The end of the fourth century AD was a dramatic period in the history of Perperikon, as stated by Ovcharov. At the time, the barbarians took on Roman legions near Edirne, killing the emperor Valens and going on to devastate the Balkan peninsula, including capturing and burning Perperikon.
These two finds were the first of this year’s digging season. In their 12th year of excavations, the research team is close to its goal of completing a study of the acropolis at Perperikon.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!