Audio News for February 18th to February 25th, 2006
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for February 18th to February 25th, 2006.
Greek hiker finds ancient gold pendant
Our first story is from Greece, where a 6,500-year-old gold pendant was found by a hiker in a field near the northern town of Ptolemaida. According to the head of the archaeological service for the area, the flat, ring-shaped Neolithic pendant is a rare find. Only three such artifacts have ever been discovered during organized digs. Very little is known about metal works of the Neolithic era, particularly gold. The newly discovered pendant measures almost 2 inches by 1-1/2 inches. It may have had religious significance and would been worn on a necklace, probably by an important member of the village. Similar finds have been excavated in Turkey and the Balkans, particularly in Bulgaria. Around 4,500 BC, Greece's early Neolithic farming settlements were consolidating into socially structured trading centers with a developed knowledge of metalworking. In November, archaeologists announced the discovery of two prehistoric farming settlements dating to 6,000 BC in the same region. The sites include human burials, clay and stone figurines of humans and animals, stone seals, pottery and stone tools.
New radiocarbon research changes Neanderthal dating
Radiocarbon research from Cambridge University is showing that the ancestors of modern man moved across Europe to replace the Neanderthals faster and earlier than previously thought. The reassessment is based on advances in eliminating modern carbon contamination from ancient bone fragments and recalibration of the earth's original carbon 14 content. According to Cambridge s Paul Mellars, the revised chronology shows a shorter overlap between Neanderthals and the new arrivals -- about 6,000 years in Central and Northern Europe, and perhaps only 1,000 to 2,000 years in regions like western France. The research casts new light on significant patterns of human migration into Central and Western Europe in the crucial period from 50,000 to 35,000 years ago. It suggests that the distribution of modern Homo sapiens into Europe was more rapid than previously thought. In turn, this would mean that their coexistence with Neanderthals was briefer and their introduction of cave art, symbolic artifacts and personal ornamentation much earlier. It was previously thought that this spread took place between 43,000 and 36,000 years ago, but the re-assessed data suggests that it actually happened between 46,000 and 41,000 years ago, starting earlier and moving faster. Mellars cautioned that even the revised dating based on new research must be viewed as provisional. The new information will require active and ongoing review of our interpretation of the human archaeological and evolutionary record.
Remains of gladiators illustrate strict rules of combat and death
Forensic testing of remains from a gladiator cemetery at Ephesus in Turkey reveals that real gladiators stuck to strict rules of combat and did not resort to the savage violence and mutilation typical of battlefields of the era. The forensic work may also confirm what historians had previously suspected -- that gladiators whom the crowd condemned to death were often still alive when dragged from the arena, and were in fact dispatched by a backstage executioner. Much of what we understand about gladiatorial combat comes from Roman artwork, which suggests that gladiators were well matched in their capabilities, and followed sets of rules enforced by two referees. Karl Grosschmidt of the Medical University of Vienna in Austria and Fabian Kanz of the Austrian Archaeological Institute used modern forensic techniques to determine the causes of death of the 67 gladiators discovered at Ephesus. The cemetery, uncovered by archaeologists in 1993, dates to the second century AD. CT scanning and microscopic analysis of bone injuries were used to identify whether the gladiators' injuries had occurred at the time of death or earlier in their lives. Consistency in injury patterns on the front of skulls suggests that each opponent used just one type of weapon per bout. The lack of multiple injuries and mutilation suggests strict combat rules for the face-to-face gladiatorial fights. However, even though most gladiators wore helmets, 10 had died of a square hammer-like injury to the side of the head. The most likely explanation is that these injuries were inflicted after the fight, by a backstage executioner who struck the victim's head. Artworks and literature back up this suggestion. Grosschmidt says his findings dismiss the theory that gladiatorial combat was a kind of multi-weapon martial-arts spectacular in which death was rare.
New Kennewick Man study reveals younger age, intentional burial
Our final story is an update to the Kennewick Man saga. The story his bones tell has no clear beginning yet. However, his end is getting clearer. It's now apparent the man Native Americans call the Ancient One was deliberately buried, not just covered over with sediment, according to Doug Owsley, a physical anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. Owsley led a forensic team that first examined the skeleton last summer, and returned for another round of study this month. He presented the researchers' first conclusions at a recent meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Meticulous examination of the bones shows the body was placed in a shallow grave about 400 yards from where scientists believe the Columbia River was at the time. Kennewick Man was laid parallel to the river, on his back. His legs were extended, arms at his sides. His palms rested on the earth. That picture contradicts some earlier studies that suggested he was in a fetal position, with knees drawn up to his chest. The scientists say the evidence also hints that Kennewick Man was probably in his 30s when he died. Previous estimates had him as old as 45. A spear point embedded in his right hip had healed over cleanly. Therefore, it likely did not cause a chronic infection, as some experts had suspected initially. The researchers made detailed diagrams of each of the 350 bone fragments, noting patterns of shading, mineral coloration, algae growth and calcium-carbonate deposits. All those indicators help reveal how the skeleton was oriented in the ground before the grave was eroded away by the river. And they show human hands had carefully positioned the body. Seattle archaeologist Jim Chatters, who was the first scientist to examine the bones in 1996, said being able to re-examine them in greater detail with more modern methods has changed some of his earlier impressions. For example, spots on the temple and elbow that he originally concluded were evidence of an infection from the spear point have been shown to be simple weathering. One of the most controversial issues is still being studied. The first measurements of the skull showed it didn't match existing Native American populations. And that led to suggestions that Kennewick Man's ancestors might not have originated in Northern Asia like those of most Native Americans, who are believed to have crossed from Asia to Alaska about 11,000 years ago. Owsley and his colleagues have made an extensive set of new skull measurements. They now are comparing them to a database of more than 7,000 modern and prehistoric people from around the world. Several other questions about Kennewick Man are still awaiting lab results, including a new round of carbon-dating and isotopic studies to show what his diet was like. The skeleton was discovered in 1996 in the Columbia River near the town of Kennewick, Washington. Carbon dating has shown that the bones are about 9,200 years old. After nine years of legal battles, the scientists won the right to study what has proved to be one of the oldest, most complete skeletons ever discovered in North America. Several Northwest tribes claimed the remains as an ancestor and insisted they be reburied. A federal judge finally concluded the bones were so old that it's impossible to establish a link with modern-day Native Americans.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!