Audio News for October 18th to October 24th.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from October 18th to October 24th.
Startling New Chronology and Uses for Ethiopian Medieval Churches
Our first story is from Ethiopia where investigations are revealing that Africa's most important historical Christian site is older than previously thought. To date, scholars have regarded the magnificent complex of 11 rock-cut churches as dating from around A.D. 1200. New survey work carried out by a British archaeologist suggests that three of the churches may have originally
been built 500 years earlier as fortifications or other structures in the declining days of the Axumite (AK-soom-ite) Empire. According to David Phillipson, "the discovery will completely change the way historians perceive the origins of Africa's most famous indigenous Christian site." Phillipson is a professor of African archaeology at Cambridge University. His research,
fully published next year, suggests that two of the churches, those of Merkurios and the archangel Gabriel, were initially carved out of the rock as some sort of elite palace or fortress complex. A third structure created in that same early period later became the church of the Virgin Martyrs. The Merkurios and Gabriel structures were built in highly defensible positions and may well have been the core of a fortified complex created during the politically unstable period that saw the disintegration of the Axumite (AK-soom-ite) Empire in the mid-seventh century A.D. At its peak in the third to sixth centuries A.D., the empire controlled much of northern Ethiopia and
Eritrea, and at times Yemen and even part of the Nile Valley. Phillipson bases his new chronology on the monuments' architectural styles, their complex structural interrelationships, and comparisons with other monuments in Ethiopia. He believes that at least four of the site's 11 churches were constructed specifically as places of worship in the tenth or eleventh century, with an additional three or four built by the mid-thirteenth century. This new research also demonstrates a substantial continuity between the Axumite (AK-soom-ite) civilization, which adopted Christianity in the fourth century, and that of medieval Ethiopia.
Ceramic Portrait of Bearded Man Possible First Pacific Settler
In Fiji, the mysterious face of a bearded man on a piece of ancient pottery has given scientists a unique glimpse of what the first settlers of Fiji may have looked like. Researchers say the "extraordinary discovery" is a critical clue in mapping out how the South Pacific became inhabited some 3,000 years ago. The piece may be the first direct link to islands some thousands of miles away. Thought to be the work of the Lapita people, a lost race which originated near modern-day Taiwan then migrated to Polynesia, the fragment is also at least 200 years older than any other piece found in Fiji. Statement from the University of the South Pacific, based in the archipelago, said this is the first time that a clearly recognizable face design made in three
dimensions on a piece of Lapita pottery has been found in Fiji. Preliminary analysis shows that the face consists of a prominent raised nose, the left eye and what might be eyelashes. There are also designs that suggest what might be head-hair, and crescent shapes on the base, which were possibly intended to represent beard-hair. The find gives researchers an opportunity to gaze on
the countenance of Fiji's first inhabitants, from whom modern Polynesians are believed to be descended. The find made it possible to conclude that the early people of Fiji had at some stage come from the far-off island chain, named the Bismarck Archipelago. It could go some way towards settling the long archaeological debate on settling of Polynesia - a vast triangle of islands from Hawaii in the north, to New Zealand in the southeast and Rapanui or Easter Island in the east. The new face fragment was found near Natadola Beach, west of the Fijian capital Suva, in the tourist area of Viti Levu Island.
Rio Grande Artifacts Provide Glimpses Into Lives of Paleo-Indians
In the United States, archaeologists have discovered a collection of artifacts near South Padre Island in Texas they say could be up to 5,000 years old. According to Robert Ricklis, the items, found in a clay dune about 6 feet underground, appear to be part of a fishing camp for a nomadic group of hunter-gatherers. They include fragments of shell tools, chipped flint projectile points, and a fish earbone, or otolith, which can be analyzed for information about the bay environment of the time. The find is considered significant because so little is known about the ancient Rio Grande Valley. Most early manmade items would have been eroded by sand and sea air, or washed out by the ever-changing course of the waterways of the Rio Grande basin near the Mexican border. Geologists say the Gulf of Mexico once reached as far west as Starr County and the Mexican state of Coahuila. Paleo-Indians may have seen the Gulf's final rise and retreat about 10,000 years ago. Ricklis said he believes the artifacts come from a later group of peoples who belonged to the archaic period, 7,500 B.C to 750 A.D., which is characterized by grinding tools and certain types of projectile points. The artifacts have not yet been carbon dated, so Ricklis bases his estimate on the shape of the projectile point and what's known about the Laguna Madre, the bay between South Padre Island and the mainland. He said the items were at least 1,000 years old, and he believes more study will possibly determine that they are even older than that. He has
recommended further and more extensive excavation. Anthropologists know roaming groups such as the Coahuiltecans regularly visited the area to hunt, fish and gather fruits and berries, and that by the time Spanish explorers arrived, there were thriving villages. But scientists know little about earlier peoples.
Clay Kiln in Greece May Bridge Technological Gap
Our final story is from Greece, where the oldest clay fireplace made by humans was found in the country’s southern region. The hearths are between 34,000 and 23,000 years old and were probably used for cooking by prehistoric inhabitants of the area. Researchers found remnants of wood ash and phytoliths, a type of plant cell, in the hearths. Lab tests show the clay was burnt. The discovery helps to bridge the gap between the stone hearths built by earlier people and the clay kilns known to have been used 28,000-26,000 years ago at the site of Dolni Vestonice in the Czech Republic. The clay hearths were excavated by a European-Israeli team at Klisoura Cave 1 located in a gorge in the Peloponnese. Over 70 hearths built using clay were unearthed in ground layers associated with a prehistoric culture known as the Aurignacian. At Dolni Vestonice, archaeologists have found evidence of prehistoric hunter-gatherers using kilns to fire clay figurines. Researchers also found burnt animal bones associated with the clay structures, which
include the remains of fallow deer, hare, and partridge. They also found burnt seeds from edible plants such as goosefoot and the fruit of knotgrass, although it was not possible to tell if these were deliberately cooked or if they were burnt in natural fires. Until now, there had been precious little evidence of the transition from the stone hearths in the Middle Palaeolithic to the advanced technology used in Central Europe by 28,000 years ago.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I’m Laura Kelley and I’ll see you next week!