Audio News for May 9th to May 15th
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from May 9th to May 15th.
Large burial ground in Portugal shows its Muslim past
Our first story is from Portugal where the remains of 35 people have surfaced from an excavation site, which archaeologists believe could be one of the largest medieval Muslim burial grounds in Europe. The bodies, found in vaults carved out of the rock face, were buried facing due west in the direction of the Muslim holy city, Mecca. The remains were unearthed at the Largo de Candido Dos Reis Park, near the northern Portuguese city of Santarem. Authorities believe the burial ground, discovered by Portuguese archaeologist Antonio Matias, could extend over an area of 3,400 square meters and that more graves will be discovered as work at the site continues. During almost 800 years of Islamic occupation in the Iberian Peninsula, which contains Spain and Portugal, Santarem was the capital of an independent Muslim kingdom. While numerous archaeological traces dating from the Islamic period have been found in Spain, where the style of many historical buildings display a Muslim influence, no such finds had been unearthed in Portugal. Beginning in AD 714, Santarém served as an important center of learning for Islamic culture until the city was occupied by a group of Knights Templar in AD 1147.
Archaeologists discover 2,000 year old show in Britain
In Britain, archaeologists excavating a quarry in Somerset claim to have found the country’s oldest shoe, believed to be 2,000 years old. The shoe, which was found at Whitehall Quarry, was the equivalent to a modern size 9 or 10, and was so well preserved that the stitching and lace holes were still visible in the leather. It was taken to a specialist conservation center in Salisbury and was expected to go on display at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. A team from Exeter Archaeology, led by Stephen Reed, came across the shoe while excavating close to a Saxon iron-smelting site that was discovered in1989. They found a Bronze Age industrial site consisting of two mounds and two water-filled troughs. Nearby were two timber-built wells, preserved by water logging and probably dating from the early part of the Iron Age (700 BC - AD 43). One of these wells had been constructed over a spring using a hollowed tree trunk set into the ground. According to Reed, these finds are of national importance due to the rarity of the survival of wood from this period and the presence of diagnostic tool marks on the sides of the timber, which suggest it dates from the Iron Age. The shoe found in one of the wells is reasonably well-preserved, with stitch and lace holes still visible in the leather. It measured approximately 30 cm, suggesting its owner was male, archaeologists said. Why the shoe was in the well is not known. It may have been left for symbolic reasons when the site was closed or simply lost in the mud within the spring. It is hoped that analysis of the shoe will reveal how it was made and the type of leather.
New information about America’s true founding grandfather
In the United States at Jamestown, Virginia, Bartholomew Gosnold might have been the founding father of what we now know as the United States, although his name and his place in history have been buried in the passage of time. Two years after stumbling across a gravesite holding the bones of a middle-aged man of high rank, archaeologists at the Jamestown settlement are about to learn whether the skeletal remains are Gosnold's. Early next month, they will travel to Britain in search of the answer. The Church of England has agreed, for the first time in its history, to allow excavation under the floor of a hamlet church where Gosnold's sister is buried, to extract a piece of her remains for DNA analysis. The scientists also might go to a second church, where Gosnold's niece is buried, and descend to the burial vaults to obtain another DNA sample, although permission is pending. If tests prove that the bones are Gosnold's, his story will be the centerpiece of a new exhibit planned for Jamestown, where Virginia is preparing to mark in 2007 the 400th anniversary of the first permanent English settlement in America. According to William Kelso, director of archaeology for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, Gosnold is the person without which Jamestown would not have happened. Gosnold was colonial America’s founding grandfather, but is a lost part of American history. Kelso never had heard of Gosnold in 2002, when archaeologists digging a trench in search of the fort's western wall came upon a gravesite. The bones were of a 5-foot-5 European man in his mid-thirties who had a robust chest and the beginning stages of arthritis. Although the coffin had disintegrated, its presence was detected because of numerous iron nails found in the grave. Researching the skeleton's identity, Kelso was reading Smith's diaries when a passage leapt out at him. Smith wrote that truth be told, "The prime mover of this plantation was Bartholomew Gosnold." Gosnold was a well-connected Englishman. A descendant of Francis Bacos, he first crossed the Atlantic in 1602 and landed on the coast of what is now Maine. On that trip, he discovered Cape Cod, named Martha's Vineyard after his daughter and gave his sister's name to Elizabeth Island, where the town of Gosnold now is. After overseeing the building of a fort in just 19 days, Gosnold was dead at age 37. It was recorded that he suffered a three-week illness and that when he was buried; all the ordnance in the fort was fired in his honor. Kelso and his staff narrowed the possible identity of the buried man to Gosnold and two others: Capt. Gabriel Archer, the colony's first secretary, and Sir Fernando Wehnman, master of the fort's ordnance. In a false show of strength to the Indians, the colonists chose to defy orders from England not to bury anyone outside the fort. That is why Kelso has intuited that it must be Gosnold. Proving the grave is Gosnold's is another matter. Researchers were unable to trace a direct matriarchal line of Gosnold's descendants to conduct mitochondrial DNA tests. But they did find the presumed burial site of his sister, Elizabeth Tilney. When Kelso met a neighbor who is one of six members of the church, he broached the subject of doing DNA tests on her remains. British archaeologists will conduct the excavation and Jamestown archaeologists, diocesan officials and members of the parish will observe. The remains will not be removed. Instead, the scientists will take a one-inch wedge from the bones or a tooth, from which the DNA can be extracted. Until then, the bones of the man presumed to be Bartholomew Gosnold lie in a glass case in a Jamestown laboratory.
Megalithic-era Kokino Observatory in Macedonia world’s fourth oldest
Our final story is from Macedonia where the Megalithic-era Kokino Observatory is located 1,030 meters above sea level on a summit near Kumanovo. Archaeological and astronomical analyses have shown that the observatory is more than 3,800 years old. NASA released a list ranking observatories by age, marking Kokino as the fourth oldest in the world, after Abu Simbel in Egypt, Stonehenge in Britain and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. According to physicist Gjore Cenev, the head of Macedonia's Youth Cultural Centre Planetarium, Kokino has incredible astronomical precision and has a central observation post and accessory observation posts. The observatory defines the four main positions of the Moon and three main positions of the Sun during a
year, the autumnal and vernal equinox and winter and summer solstice. One specially positioned marker shows that the observatory was also used to follow the movement of the star cluster The Pleiades. According to Cenev, the observatory was designed by the end of the Bronze Age and suggests a highly developed civilization. Archeologist Jovica Stankovksi discovered Kokino two and a half years ago and found lots of ceramic items on the site, but they were dated to a later period. He believes this means that another civilization came to the site, destroyed the civilization that had developed the observatory and built a settlement next to it. Exploration of the site is to resume next month, and the discovery of more details on the culture that built and used Kokino is expected. Archaeologists and astronomers assume that three or four more such observatories exist in this region.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I’m Laura Kelley and I’ll see you next week!