Audio News for November 6th to November 12th, 2011.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from November 6th to November 12th, 2011.
New signs of older civilizations flower in Libya
Our first story is from Libya, where satellite imaging in the country's southwestern desert has uncovered new evidence of a lost civilization of the Sahara that will re-write the history of the country. The fall of Muammar Gaddafi has opened the way for archaeologists to explore the country's pre-Islamic heritage, which was ignored for decades under his long regime. Using satellites and air-photographs to identify the remains in one of the most inhospitable parts of the desert, a British team immediately discovered more than 100 fortified farming villages with castle-like structures and several towns, all dating from AD 1 to 500. These lost towns were built by a little-known civilization called the Garamantes, whose lifestyle and culture was far more advanced and historically significant than the ancient sources suggested. The team from the University of Leicester has identified the mud brick remains of the castle-like complexes, with walls still standing up to four meters high, along with traces of houses, cairn cemeteries, associated field systems, wells and sophisticated irrigation systems. Follow-up ground survey earlier this year confirmed the pre-Islamic date and extraordinary preservation. According to project leader David Mattingly, professor of Roman Archaeology at Leicester, these settlements had been unremarked and unrecorded under the Gaddafi regime. Satellite imagery gave researchers the ability to cover a large region. The evidence suggests that the climate has not changed over the years and they can see that the inhospitable landscape with zero rainfall was once very densely built up and cultivated. The findings challenge a view dating back to Roman accounts that the Garamantes consisted of barbaric nomads and troublemakers on the edge of the Roman Empire. Instead, they appear to be highly civilized, living in large-scale fortified settlements, predominantly as oasis farmers. It was an organized state with towns and villages, a written language and state of the art technologies. The Garamantes were pioneers in establishing oases and opening up trans-Saharan trade, noted Professor Mattingly. The professor and his team were forced to evacuate Libya in February when the anti-Gaddafi revolt started, but hope to be able to return to the field as soon as security is fully restored. The Libyan antiquities department, badly under-resourced under Gaddafi, is closely involved in the project.
New cave art from Germany shows central Europe was different, even in the Stone Age
Next, we travel to Germany, where recent excavations conducted by the University of Tübingen at Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Alps have produced new evidence of the earliest painting tradition in Central Europe, dating back 15,000 years ago. This period, known as the Magdalenian, is named after the site of La Madeleine in France. The new paintings are on cave rocks, with three showing double rows of red dots on small pieces of limestone, while a fourth painted fragment may originally have been from the wall of the cave itself. These are the first examples of painted rocks recovered in Germany since 1998, when Professor Nicholas Conard’s team working at Hohle Fels discovered a single painted stone. In addition to the painted rocks, the excavation has also recovered bits of ochre and hematite used to make pigments. Ice Age cave paintings are well documented in Western Europe, particularly in France and Spain, but wall paintings are unknown in central Europe. The lack of wall paintings at Hohle Fels in particular as well as in Central Europe may in part be a direct relationship of the harsh climate of the region, which continually caused erosion and damage to the walls of the caves. The paintings from Hohle Fels Cave, in addition to using chunks of rock as a canvas instead of the walls themselves, also take a far more abstract approach to their subject. Both the new and previously found painted limestone cobbles all show very similar motifs, and these rows of painted red dots must have had a particular meaning to the inhabitants of the region. Unlike the many examples of painting of animals in the Paleolithic art, these abstract depictions remain difficult to interpret. Nevertheless, these enigmatic objects document the oldest tradition of painting in central Europe. The new finds from Hohle Fels are the focus of a special exhibit currently on display in the Museum of Schloss Hohentübigen.
Legendary birthplace of Augustus reveals his roots in Rome’s traditional past
In Italy, archaeologists digging in Rome's Palatine Hill have found the remains of a large house that they believe might be the birthplace of Rome's first emperor, Augustus. The announcement came at the end of a 10-year excavation. The finding was partly uncovered in 2006, when a team led by Clementina Panella, a professor at the University of Rome La Sapienza, unearthed part of a corridor and other fragments of a very ancient aristocratic house near the Arch of Titus on the northeastern side of the Palatine. Extensive excavation in the past five years and historical cross-checks have provided further weight to support the hypothesis that the house belonged to Gaius Octavius, Augustus' father. Researchers unearthed more than 10 rooms, striking mosaic floors and frescoed walls. According to Panella, the two-story house looks like it almost climbed up the Palatine, the most aristocratic of all the Roman hills. Built around an atrium, the residence had views overlooking both the Roman Forum and the Esquiline (ESS-kil-een) Hill. Beyond a travertine wall, the archaeologists found the remains of a sanctuary. Archaeologists identified this area as the Curiae Veteres (CURE-ee-eye VET-eh-rays), the earliest shrine of the curies (CURE-ees) of Rome, the most ancient groups of citizens. According to Rome’s myths about its founding, it was Romulus, one of the legendary twins, who divided the Romans into 30 parts or curiae. These in turn made up three sets of 10, called tribes. The Roman historian Tacitus mentioned the Curiae Veteres as falling at a certain point along the Palatine wall, which according to legend was the original line ploughed by Romulus to mark Rome's boundaries. At this sacred and foundational place, on certain days of the year, representatives of the 30 curiae assembled in the communal building and carried out rites and obligations to reaffirm their membership. Thousands of votive offerings and cult objects unearthed at the site indicate that the Curiae Veteres sanctuary was active for about 11 centuries, from the 7th century BC to the AD 400’s. As to Augustus, his birth was recorded by the Roman historian and biographer Suetonius as taking place in the part of the Palatine called Ad Capita Bubula or Ox Heads, which many scholars believe indicates a location in the Curiae Veteres. However, some doubts remain. Augustus could have even made up his birth in the Curiae Veteres. He might have wanted to be born in that place, as it was strongly symbolic. It represented Romulus' founding and Augustus' re-founding of Rome, Panella notes. Born Gaius Octavius, on September 23, in what is now 63 BC, the future emperor was named adoptive son and heir of his great-uncle Julius Caesar when he was 18 years old. After the civil wars that followed Caesar's assassination, Gaius Octavius became emperor in 29 B.C., taking the name Augustus. Combining respect for Rome’s ancient traditions with a clear vision of the changing world, Augustus became the architect of the Pax Romana or Roman Peace, a 200-year era of unequalled peace and prosperity in the Mediterranean, after years of war.
Historic bridge in Missouri produces new links to prehistoric past
Our final story is from the United States, where what started as a routine survey around an historic bridge in Missouri ended up unearthing two sites with great significance for the state’s Native American history. According to Larry Grantham, an archaeologist with the Missouri Department of Transportation's Environmental Studies and Historic Preservation department, his team has discovered a pair of Native American sites on either end of the bridge over the North River, just west of the town of Palmyra. On one side of the bridge is a 1,200- to 1,500-year-old site from the late Woodland period. The site on the other side is even older, 3,000 to 5,000 years, which places it in the late Archaic period. The researchers found the sites while conducting an archaeological survey around the 79-year-old North River Bridge, due to be replaced next year. The bridge itself has historic significance as the longest bridge of its type still in existence, and the State Historic Preservation Office is working to document its history and find ways for the bridge components to be adapted for reuse at a new location. Archaeologists, however, are more concerned with the ground itself, which will be significantly altered as crews remove four feet of earth in the vicinity of the bridge for the new surface grade. Just three feet below the present surface, they found evidence of the area's older history. Given the differing time periods of the sites, their findings at each have been dramatically different. At the late Woodland site, dating roughly AD 650 to 900, the group is looking for evidence of structures on the site. According to Grantham, the Native Americans who inhabited that site were more sedentary than earlier peoples. He said cooking pits and storage pits also are likely to turn up. The late Archaic site, which dates to roughly 3000 to 1000 BC, is yielding more projectile points, drills and other tools, all made from chert, a type of rock found along the Mississippi River. According to Grantham, the findings suggest that the late Archaic inhabitants moved around the northern half of Missouri in a seasonal cycle, returning to Northeast Missouri for new tool materials because chert wouldn't have been found in most of the interior of northern Missouri. Grantham said there is also evidence to indicate that the late Archaic people in the region were heat-treating the chert to improve its flaking quality. Grantham and his team are currently analyzing the artifacts and will return to the area to continue their excavation.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!