Audio News for July 7th to July 13th, 2013.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from July 7th to July 13th, 2013.
Potential pre-Clovis site found off Carolina coast
Original Headline: Scientists want to study Bulls Scarp, ocean-bottom archaeological site that was Ice Age coast
In our first story we go to South Carolina, where Bulls Scarp could be a fascinating and important archaeological site. There’s just one little problem: The Ice Age rock ledge is under about 140 feet of seawater. Bulls Scarp, located east of Bulls Bay, about 60 miles from Charleston, is a nose of rock rising from a scarp face that drops more than 500 feet. Some 18,000 years ago, this was the shoreline. A team of scientists recently studied and mapped it from the ocean surface. These include Scott Harris, Geology professor from the College of Charleston, George Sedberry, Science Coordinator for the National Marine Sanctuaries, and John Leader, South Carolina state archaeologist. Now the team would like to go underwater to look for artifacts.
When researchers began mapping the promontory and the remains of the delta, they saw what looked a lot like submerged sites in other places where excavators have found prehistoric animal bones and evidence of human tools.
The almost surreal possibility of prehistoric life on Bulls Scarp has some very modern significance in determining who were the first peoples in North America. Archaeologists used to think that the Clovis people, who lived some 13,000 years ago, were the first Americans. Researchers know they lived in South Carolina, but more recent research on the mainland, such as at the Topper Site, suggests that people might have lived here even earlier. If so, pre-Clovis artifacts might remain under water at the Bulls Scarp site.
Finding artifacts on Bulls Scarp, though, is a little tougher than grabbing a trowel. The ledge sits below scuba depth, down where divers must use a gas mix and have only a small amount of time on the dark bottom. Even submersibles would have to cover miles searching for pieces that would look a lot like natural rocks.
Fortunately for the research team, underwater research off the Carolinas is ongoing; members of the team are bidding for grants to take part in another multi-specialty expedition like the mapping cruise.
Only known Sphinx from Egyptian pyramid builder discovered in Israel
Original headline: Ancient Egyptian Leader Makes Surprise Appearance at Archaeological Dig in Israel
Now we go to a site in Israel at Tel Hazor [hah-ZOR] National Park, north of the Sea of Galilee, where archeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have unearthed part of a unique Sphinx belonging to one of the ancient pyramid-building pharaohs.
The excavation leaders are Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor, professor at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology, and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman, a lecturer at the Institute.
Working with a team from the Institute of Archaeology, they discovered part of a Sphinx imported from Egypt, with a hieroglyphic inscription between its front legs. The inscription bears the name of the Egyptian king Mycerinus [MISS -er-EYE-nus], who ruled in the third millennium BC, more than 4,000 years ago. The king was one of the builders of the famous Giza pyramids.
As the only known Sphinx of this king discovered anywhere in the world -- including in Egypt -- the find at Hazor is an unexpected and important discovery. Moreover, it is only piece of a royal Sphinx sculpture discovered in the entire Levant area.
Along with the king's name, the hieroglyphic inscription includes the descriptor "Beloved by the divine manifestation… that gave him eternal life." According to Prof. Ben-Tor and Dr. Zuckerman, this text indicates that the Sphinx probably originated in the ancient city of Heliopolis (the city of 'On' in the Bible), north of modern Cairo.
Excavators discovered the Sphinx in the destruction layer of Hazor dating back to the 13th century BC. According to the archaeologists, it is highly unlikely that anyone brought the Sphinx to Hazor during the time of Mycerinus [MISS -er-EYE-nus], since no record exists for any relationship between Egypt and Israel in the third millennium BC.
More likely, someone brought the statue to Israel in the second millennium BC during the dynasty of the kings known as the Hyksos, who originated in Canaan. It could have arrived during the period from the 15th to the 13th centuries BC, when Canaan was under Egyptian rule, as a gift from an Egyptian king to the king of Hazor, which was the most important city in the southern Levant at the time.
Hazor is the largest biblical-era site in Israel, covering some 200 acres. UNESCO recognizes it as a World Heritage Site. Researchers estimate the population of Hazor in the second millennium BC to have been about 20,000, making it the largest and most important city in the entire region. Its size and strategic location on the route connecting Egypt and Babylon made it "the head of all those kingdoms" according to the biblical book of Joshua. Hazor's conquest by the Israelites opened the way to the conquest and settlement of the Israelites in Canaan. King Solomon rebuilt and fortified the city, which prospered in the days of Ahab and Jeroboam II, until its final destruction by the Assyrians in 732 BC.
Documents discovered at Hazor and at sites in Egypt and Iraq attest that Hazor maintained cultural and trade relations with both Egypt and Babylon.
Researchers in Veracruz, Mexico, excavate pre-Columbian graves and pyramid
Original headline: 2,000-Year Old Pyramid and Multiple Pre-Columbian Burial Sites Found in Veracruz, Mexico
Now we cross the Atlantic Ocean to Mexico. The Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH, has announced the discovery of 30 pre-Columbian burials and a pyramid in an ancient settlement in eastern Mexico that could be up to 2,000 years old.
Offerings, animal remains and fossils accompanied the graves. Researchers also found a brick structure with characteristics similar to one at the Maya site of Comalcalco in the state of Tabasco. Preliminary hypotheses indicate the structure could have been a sanctuary where people of the region buried their dead, or perhaps a kind of market or a center of government where different cultures merged. Its use could date back to AD 700.
Among the objects found and removed for future study were jade beads, mirrors and figurines of Teotihuacan, Maya, Nahua, and Popoluca origin, and from the Remojadas culture that flourished in central Veracruz.
In addition, excavators found very large bones and teeth that could be from prehistoric camelids and dwarf rhinos, fossilized shark’s teeth most certainly of the Megalodon type - extinct for more than 10,000 years - and of the tiger shark that still swims the seas.
The discovery of the pyramid, which is 12 meters high, 60 meters deep and 25 meters wide, on a nearby hill is particularly important because this is the first time a stone structure has turned up in this part of Mexico.
Viking-age trading center mentioned in Norse sage possibly located
Original headline: A tantalizing hint of an ancient trading town
For our last story we cross the Atlantic again and go to Norway. Archaeologists there realized they had intriguing evidence of a Viking-age trading area mentioned in the Norse Sagas when they excavated two separate boat graves at a place in central Norway called Lø, a farm in the municipality of Steinkjer.
The Sagas describe Steinkjer as a trading place and say that it was briefly even more important than Nidaros, Norway’s capital during Viking times and the country’s religious center and now the city of Trondheim. But until archaeologists started the dig in Lø, they had few clues as to where this Viking-age commercial powerhouse might be found.
Archaeologists seeking to find a 1000-year-old trading place have precious few leads to pursue.
Almost certainly the place had no permanent buildings, which would be the easiest to find, and many items that would have been traded would be made of organic materials that might not survive the ravages of the centuries.
One such hint that a location might be a trading place is the geography of the place itself.
Steinjker is located in a natural trading location, at the mouth of a river at the innermost part of Trondheim fjord. It is also in a place where farmers have been working flat fields for centuries.
Another clue that archaeologists use to locate the possible trading place is a detailed map of the archaeological find locations of different artifacts that might suggest trade. So the researchers plotted all relevant finds from this part of central Norway. The results suggested a major trading area in Steinkjer.
The area around Steinkjer was rich with beads made of amber and glass. While nearby Stjørdal had a higher number of bead finds – 485 beads, all told – the researchers noted that most of those beads came from two large finds, which makes it less likely that the beads were linked directly to a trading place.
Twenty-two examples of a special kind of Viking-age sword, called the H sword based on the design of its hilt and one that is associated with trade, were also found in Steinkjer, the most of any area in central Norway.
Five of six pieces of imported jewelry found in the region were found in Steinkjer, while six of 10 imported brooches also came from Steinkjer.
While beads, swords and imported jewelry help suggest that Steinkjer was home to a major trading place, two specific finds, in boat graves in Lø, were among the most persuasive finds.
One, a silver button made of braided silver threads that appears to have originated in the British Isles, suggests that the person in the grave had a high status.
The second is a set of balance scales found in another boat grave. The construction of the balance scales led the archaeologists to believe it came from the west – not from Norway.
If all of these concentrations of finds support the location of a major trading place in Steinkjer as mentioned in the Norse sagas, then where is it?
Here, the archaeologists can only make an educated guess. Based on the fact that sea levels were four or five meters higher in this area 1000 years ago, the location of the existing church in Steinkjer is the most logical place for the trading place to have been, the researchers say. But much more research will be needed to explain why the major trading center shifted ferom Steinkjer to Trondheim.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Pettigrew and I'll see you next week!