Audio News for August 8th to August 14th
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from August 8th to August 14th.
Radar search system explores historic village site below New York's Central Park
Original Headline: Archaeologists Seek Buried NYC Settlement
Our first story is from the United States, where archaeologists are using ground-penetrating radar to look into the soil of Central Park and learn more about Seneca Village. Seneca Village was a 19th-century settlement of blacks, Irish immigrants and others that existed before the park landscapers arrived in the 1850s. A team of scientists from Barnard College and City College of New York launched the two-day effort to probe selected areas of the site that once covered roughly two blocks and was home to as many as 260 people. Ground-penetrating radar works by transmitting ultra high-frequency radio impulses into the ground, as deep as 15 feet. They are reflected back by buried objects to form a digital image on a screen. There is no physical disturbance of the site. The five-acre site that was the heart of Seneca Village was probed last fall, when 100 core-samples recovered pieces of ceramics, glass, pipe stems and other items reflective of daily life of the time, and narrowed the area to be examined further. Any decisions to physically excavate the site would be based on what the radar discovered. The "noninvasive" GPR technology has been used in recent years in many archaeological explorations around the globe, including Port Royal, Jamaica, destroyed by a 1692 earthquake, as well as to find lost cemeteries and battlefields of various wars. The U.S. military uses it in MIA crash site searches in Indochina, and ground-penetrating radar also has been used to locate buried land mines. Senecas Village was often described as one of several "squatters camps" of huts and shacks that were displaced by the building of Central Park, but it was actually a more permanent and well-ordered community than that. It had three churches, a school and some inhabitants who owned their property, experts now say. Although founded by free blacks, it later became a multiethnic settlement that included Irish and German immigrants and possibly some Native Americans, according to various historical sources. In 1856, the city, through eminent domain, displaced some 1,600 people from the 843-acre area destined to become Central Park, including Seneca Village. Property owners were paid but did not re-establish the village elsewhere.
Roman temple excavation continues
Original Headline: Ancient Roman Temple Found
In Rome, an ancient temple dating to the first or second century AD has been unearthed in the southern island of Pantelleria (pan-tell-eh-REE-ah). Archaeologists have already dug up a nine-foot portion of one of the walls of the temple, situated on a hill known as Cossyria (co-SEER-ee-ah). In ancient times Pantelleria (pan-tell-eh-REE-ah) was a major crossroads, trading and culturally, between Italy, Africa, Greece and Asia Minor. It had a prosperous Roman settlement whose wealth and style have produced rich finds for researchers. In the same area, over the course of two years, archaeologists brought to light the marble busts of Caesar, the emperor Titus and a highborn court lady. The busts were in an extraordinary state of preservation, which allowed the two portraits of emperors to be identified immediately. There are still some doubts about whether the woman's head is that of Antonia Minor or her daughter-in-law Agrippina Major, since female sculpture in the early imperial age differed from the lifelike images produced for men. Instead, models of ideal beauty were preferred, topped with the elaborate and trendy hairstyles that were in vogue among the aristocratic women of the time. The woman's head is therefore without doubt that of an important member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty that ruled from AD 14 to 68, but there is still a slight question mark as to whether it is Agrippina (a-gri-PINE-ah), daughter of the Emperor Claudius.
30: Research continues on accounting system of the Incas
Original Headline: Researchers Think They've Got the Incas' Numbers
At Harvard University, two researchers believe they have unlocked the meaning of a group of Incan khipus (KEE-poos), mysterious devices of string and knots that were used for record-keeping and perhaps even as a written language. Researchers have long known that some knot patterns represented a specific number. According to archaeologist Gary Urton and mathematician Carrie Brezine, a computer analysis of 21 khipus showed how individual strings were combined into multi-layered collections used as a kind of ledger. Urton and Brezine believe they may have identified the first "word" inscribed in khipus, the name of the city where a group of them were found; a potential first step in deciphering a language. Archaeologists have been fascinated by the khipus for decades because the Inca, unlike the Maya, Egyptian, Aztec and other powerful cultures, had no written language. The complexity of the khipus, also called quipus, has made them a potential candidate to fill such a role. But interpreting them has proved particularly difficult. Investigators have searched in vain for the Incan equivalent of the Rosetta stone. Only about 700 or so khipus are known to exist in museums around the world. The Spanish conquistadors destroyed tens of thousands of them as they forced conquered natives to adopt the Spanish writing system. The oldest of the khipus in museums date to the late 8th century BC, but earlier this year, Peruvian archeologist Ruth Shady (SHAH-dee) said she had discovered a khipu that is at least 4,500 years old in the ancient pre-Incan city of Caral. The basic structure of the khipu is simple. Knots are tied into the strings to give each string a numerical value using the decimal system. At the bottom of the string, a single figure-eight knot represents one. A longer knot with the string wound around it two to nine times represents the integers two through nine. Higher up the string, one to nine knots represent the number of tens. Higher still, each knot represents 100, and so on. Individual strings may have different colors, but researchers do not know what the colors mean. Urton said the arrangement suggested a hierarchical accounting system. Bookkeeping may not be the only role of khipus. Researchers know that about one-third of the known khipus do not follow the numerical pattern. There are also instances of long knots that have more than nine turns, and other knot combinations "that don't make any sense in a decimal system," Urton said. These khipus, he and some other experts believe, represent a written language, a form of phonetic shorthand for the Quechua language still used in the Andes. Unfortunately we don't have any convincing attempts to decode them. Why the early South Americans adopted an accounting and writing technique totally different from that of any other society remains a mystery.
Red Sea site is model for early monasteries
Original Headline: Renovators in Egypt say they find oldest monk cell
Our final story is from the Red Sea coast in Egypt, where renovation work in an ancient Egyptian monastery have unearthed the oldest example of housing for Christian monks. The cell, a building that served as the living quarters for the monks, dates from between the fourth and fifth centuries and will help shed light on the early days of monastic life, said Father Maximous, a monk who works on restoring Coptic monuments. According to Maximous, it is the oldest physical evidence of a cell from that age, the oldest in the Christian world. The renovators had been repairing paintings inside a 15th century church on the site of St. Anthony's Monastery. The monastery was founded in the mid-fourth century by disciples of one of Christianity's most influential hermits. St. Anthony, who lived between the third and fourth centuries, is credited with developing regulated monastic life. Before him, individual hermits lived solitary lives dedicated to prayer and contemplation. The workers also found an eighth century church on the same site. Historical texts make mention of the early monks living at the site, but no archeological evidence had previously been found from before the sixth century. The cell is a collection of rooms with private living areas and a central communal room, where the team found cooking implements. St. Anthony's Monastery, 155 km (100 miles) southwest of Cairo, is one of the Christian world's oldest monasteries.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I’m Laura Kelley and I’ll see you next week!