Audio News for November 15th to November 21st.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from November 15th to November 21st.
Canadian excavations gain insight into Old Kingdom demise
Our first story is from Egypt where a Canadian team has uncovered the remains of a 4,200-year-old fortress near the Red Sea coast in the Sinai Desert. The discovery may shed some light on life during the last years of the period in Egypt called the Old Kingdom (2700-2200 BC), when the Great Pyramids were built. The team first learned of the site two years ago while mapping archeological sites in the Sinai. Led by a brief report of ruins in the area and information from local Bedouin people, they went south along the Red Sea coast to the remains of the fort. They did not have time to conduct a formal excavation and left after only completing a survey of the surface remains with the belief that the ruins dated from no earlier than 1500 B.C. But this past summer, the team excavated the site. They found that the fortress walls were 21 feet thick and had an unusual circular shape that gave the fort a diameter of 130 feet. And the walls were built with limestone blocks instead of the more commonly used mud brick. Geo-archeologist Dr. Lawrence Pavlish, who was part of the survey team in the summer of 2003, said it made a "good checkpoint'' for anyone traveling down the Red Sea coast of the Sinai Peninsula in the ancient world. The pottery found at the site indicated that it was older than originally thought, dating to around 2250 BC, in the sixth dynasty of Old Kingdom Egypt. Project Leader Gregory Mumford believes that the construction of the fort was likely an act of defensive desperation by ancient Egypt, which was in a state of war with people who lived in the Sinai at the time called the Bedwin -- direct ancestors of the modern Bedouin. Archeological evidence reveals that the fort was occupied for maybe a year before it was abandoned. According to Mumford, surveys of the Sinai Peninsula have produced evidence of numerous ancient campsites made by the Bedwin. The existence of the fort, and its short-term occupation, supports a theory popular among Egyptologists that ancient Egypt's war in the Sinai, as well as with the Nubians of modern Sudan, was a deciding factor in the collapse of Egyptian civilization by 2200 BC. Egypt didn't recover for more than 200 years, and even then never built pyramids or undertook building projects as large as those in the Old Kingdom. The team that excavated the site is one of only two active Canadian archeological expeditions in Egypt.
Tudor ship reveals secret past
In Britain, marine archaeologists have found in the mud of the Thames the remains of an Elizabethan ship that may have been on a secret trading mission. The 100 ft-long vessel, one of the few Tudor merchant vessels ever found around Britain's coast, is of immense archaeological and historical importance. The ship was built of East Anglian oak at an eastern coast shipbuilding center around 1575. Its cargo and weaponry suggest it may have been illegally trading with England's archenemy, Spain. When it sank, in the 1580s or 1590s, the ship was armed with at least four 3-inch-bore cannon. It was carrying cargo of more than 100 24 foot-long folded iron bars, a few tin and lead ingots and a small number of Spanish jars, probably containing olive oil. No one knows the ship’s destination or where it was coming from when it was lost some six miles off the coast of northeast Kent. Northern Spain was one of Western Europe's major sources of iron. The presence of the cannon suggests that it had been active in the pirate-ridden Bay of Biscay or beyond. According to Dr. Wendy Childs, an expert in late medieval and early modern trade at the University of Leeds, our current knowledge of late 16th century maritime trade patterns and the armament of the ship would suggest that the iron bars probably came from Spain; and the presence of some Spanish olive jar ceramic material on the ship would be consistent with that. Throughout the period of hostility between Spain and England, even at the time of the Armada, English ships would often be disguised as Scottish or Irish vessels and continue to trade with Spain. The English government permitted Anglo-Spanish trade for a limited time, but between 1585 and 1603 it was illegal under Spanish law. Scores of English merchant vessels were confiscated when they illegally entered Spanish ports to trade. Among the guns found is a cast iron cannon made in the 1560s or 70s by Thomas Gresham, a well-known Elizabethan entrepreneur, at his foundry in East Sussex. The ship itself had been repaired many times - and is likely therefore to have been at least 10 to 15 years old. Archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology working in conjunction with the Port of London Authority discovered the wreck buried in silt in around 24 feet of water while investigating a shipping lane in preparation for essential Port of London Authority dredging work. Over the past 18 months 15 to 20 per cent of the original vessel has been recovered.
Topper Site dates may blow away our notion of human origins in the New World
In the United States, archaeologists may have found evidence that humans lived in North America at least 50,000 years ago, far earlier than has been thought. If humans migrated to the Western Hemisphere that early, it would cause a rethink of the early migration patterns of the species and the role of Homo sapiens at such an early date in this hemisphere. The report has met with some skepticism by other scientists because the evidence has not yet gone through the usual process of review. But Albert Goodyear, the University of South Carolina archaeologist who led the team that made the discovery, said he was confident the findings would hold up under scrutiny. The findings are pieces of charcoal and shards of stone Goodyear and his colleagues unearthed at the Topper archaeological site along the Savannah River in Allendale County, South Carolina. Modern humans are believed to have evolved in Africa between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago. Archaeologists have found evidence modern Homo sapiens migrated to Australia and central Asia by 50,000 years ago, and to Europe perhaps 10,000 years later. But modern humans are believed to have migrated to the Western Hemisphere much later. For decades, the earliest signs of modern humans in the Western Hemisphere dated back about only 13,000 years to the culture known as Clovis. Archaeologists have, however, begun to challenge the idea that the Clovis people were the earliest human inhabitants in the area, citing findings that might push back that date back to about 20,000 years ago. In the new findings, Goodyear said his team dug down deeper than ever before at the Topper site and found tiny shards of flint that he believes are clearly the remains of ancient tool making. Also, the researchers found pieces of charcoal nearby in what could have been an ancient hearth, and sent the samples to the University of California for radiocarbon dating. The results concluded the charcoal is at least 50,000 years old. The researchers plan to submit the findings to a scientific journal for publication but decided to release the results before that because of intense media interest, Goodyear said. Other scientists said they respected Goodyear's work but found it difficult to evaluate the findings without seeing details.
Precious artifacts rediscovered in Afghanistan
Our final story is from Afghanistan where more than 22,000 ancient cultural treasures, feared lost or destroyed after decades of war and Taliban rule, have been taken out of dusty crates and safes in Kabul and inventoried for safekeeping. The objects, including 2,500 years' worth of gold and silver coins and ancient sculptures, represent goods once traded from China, India, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and ancient Afghanistan. According to Fred Hiebert, archaeologist and National Geographic fellow, by the end of the Taliban's reign, most thought there was nothing left but destruction and despair. Hiebert, who led an inventory of the items, stated that the original inventory cards were lost by fire and neglect, making it difficult to track down any of the items. Many of the treasures were once on display in the Kabul Museum, which was shelled several times and lost its roof and door. The bulk of the newly inventoried items were found in April 2003 when a presidential palace vault in Kabul was cracked open to reveal a trove of famed, intact Bactrian gold pieces. But many more artifacts, including giant Buddhist sculptures and ancient ivory statues, have been found in recent months in unmarked boxes and safes stashed for safekeeping during the Soviet-led coup and then during the years of Taliban rule. After doing a first inventory of the Bactrian gold pieces, Hiebert was surprised when he was asked to look at 20 other boxes found to contain precious objects that Silk Road camels once carried between China and Rome and elsewhere. Later, more trunks of precious artifacts were found in another location. Fearing they would find only objects smashed by the Taliban, who had destroyed many pre-Islamic objects, these trunks were filled with hundreds and hundreds of sculptures and carvings from Buddhist religious structures. The old Kabul Museum is on the edge of the city and there are hopes a new museum will be built in a central location. One option being contemplated is to stage an international tour of these objects until a new museum space is built. Hiebert told reporters in a conference call he hoped the detailed inventory would make it easier for international law enforcement groups to track down precious items still missing.
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!