Audio News for April 30th to May 6th, 2006
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for April 30th to May 6th, 2006.
Ancient Maya royal tomb discovered at the Waká site in Guatemala
Our first story is from Guatemala, where archaeologists may have uncovered the remains of an ancient Maya king's tomb buried deep in the rain forest. Dr. Héctor Escobedo, co-director of the Waká Archaeological Project with Southern Methodist University 's Dr. David Freidel, have unearthed a royal tomb beneath the principal pyramid in the western center of the archaeological site. This marks the second royal tomb discovered at Waká. Two years ago, Dr. Freidel and his students discovered a queen's tomb that was more than 1,200 years old and dated to the Late Classic period of Maya civilization. This new tomb was discovered within a different pyramid and dates to the Early Classic period between the second and fourth centuries AD. According to Dr. Frediel, the researchers are trying to identify the remains, which appear to be in good condition despite the collapse of the tomb's roof. The tomb may be the resting place of either the dynasty founder, a historically unaccounted-for individual, or K'inich B'alam the First, the Maya king who allied with the conqueror of Tikal, Siyaj K'ak', in AD 378. Waká was discovered by oil prospectors in the 1960s, and it contains 672 monumental structures and countless smaller houses. Harvard researcher Ian Graham recorded the site's monuments in the early 1970s, but the SMU project is the first to undertake scientific excavations. The national park is under pressure from vandals and cattle ranchers who burn the forest for grazing. The Guatemalan government has collaborated with Dr. Freidel and a team of 20 archaeologists, along with conservationists and residents, to protect the park. Known as Waká in Maya inscriptions, the site is referred to as El Perú today. The city possibly supported tens of thousands due to its location on a crucial river route west of the famous Maya site of Tikal. Over the course of 700 years, 22 kings ruled at Waká. You can see more about Waká in our video K’ante ‘el–Precious Forest, right here on The Archaeology Channel.
Excavations on the Greek island Keros hope reveal origins of ancient art inspiration
In Greece, researchers are hoping that excavations on the tiny isle of Keros will answer why the remote outcrop produced so many of the flat-faced marble figurines that went on to inspire Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore. Greek and British archaeologists hope their work will determine if the area was a major sanctuary for the mysterious Cycladic civilization 4,500 years ago. Nowhere in the Cyclades have the remains of so many marble figurines been found; specifically figurines that were intentionally broken in quite unusual places, like the pelvis and chest, in antiquity. Until its discovery by the modern art movement, Cycladic art was looked down on by followers of the classical period as barbaric works by a primitive race. But their influence on artists such as Picasso triggered a demand for early Bronze Age sites and promoted extensive looting. Plunderers fixed on finding the elongated figures targeted Keros, perhaps more than any other island in the island chain. The looting, and the trail of destruction it left behind, made the task of unraveling the enigmatic civilization much more difficult. By the second millennium BC the mariner-race was superseded by Crete and Mycenaean Greece; its graceful art and seafaring supremacy soon forgotten. Subsequent digs at Kavos Daskaleio, where a cave was also found, failed to reveal the secrets of the site or the purpose of the figurines, which could have depicted gods or may simply have been children's toys. But archaeologists hope their dig, which includes an area of untouched ground, will explain why it was so much more important than its bigger, less rugged neighbors. Some have proposed the idea that the finds not only filled graves but were removed with bones from cemeteries elsewhere and reburied in Keros in front of the cave's mouth. British archaeologist Lord Colin Renfrew, who will be co-leading the team, reports that it's still unclear whether it was an exceptionally rich cemetery or ritual site. He hopes to clarify the real nature of the site by finding a settlement. It is possible, but not yet certain, that the breaking of the figurines were ritual actions relating to ceremonies in honor of the dead.
Archaeologists near completion of project to restore Angkor Wat panels
In Cambodia, archaeologists working at the Angkor Wat temples have nearly completed what has been hailed as the world's largest and most complicated jigsaw puzzle. After spending decades in hundreds of thousands of fragments, the Baphuon, one of the most ancient temples at the complex, was revealed to the public this week. Restoring the three-story structure, one of the most fragile monuments at the renowned complex, was not easy. Some 300,000 pieces of the 11th-century temple, with complex sandstone panels depicting Hindu legends, lay scattered across 25 acres of jungle after French academics dismantled the collapsing ruins in the 1960s so they could be strengthened. But the Khmer Rouge, who ransacked the Phnom Penh office of the Ecole Française d’Extrême-Orient in 1975, destroyed their notes. The French archaeologist Pascal Royère returned to the site in 1995, only to see it had become a pile of ancient sandstone. His team first reinforced the base with concrete. A computer program was unable to make sense of the numbered stones, so the crew of 202 scientists and specialists relied on their own hunches, and the memories of 30 Cambodian stonemasons who had worked on the original project in the sixties. It will be take another two years to finish the top tiers.
Roman history in Paris revealed
Our final story is from France, where deep beneath pavement on the Left Bank of Paris lies an ancient 2,000-year-old Roman road recently excavated during construction work. The discovery was made during construction work on the Pierre and Marie Curie University. The Convent of the Visitation covered the 4,400-square-foot plot from the early 17th century until 1910, when the building was demolished. One long-buried wall of the convent has been uncovered. Now quite visible is a road 20 feet wide, as well as remnants of private houses. In one house, archaeologists have been able to identify an under-the-floor heating system. Across the site, coins and ceramic shards have also been found. The impact of such finds is what they reveal about earlier times. It is known that early settlers around the Île de la Cité burned their houses before they were conquered by a Roman legion under Labienus in 52 BC. But in the decades that followed, a new town was built on the Left Bank, which eventually had a population of 12,000 to 20,000. Then, after the first barbarian incursions in AD 253, the population apparently withdrew from the hill of Sainte-Geneviève and sought refuge behind new walls on the Île de la Cité, which was called Paris, borrowing the name of the ancient Gallic Parisii tribe. Because archaeologists have found no traces of occupation of the site between the 4th and 17th centuries, they have been able to confirm that the area was long considered insecure for habitation. According to Didier Busson, the architect in charge of the dig, this was a neighborhood of the Augustan period. The area may have been settled by Gauls in the Roman army who brought with them their construction experience. Archaeologists said it was the first such site discovered in the city, known as Lutetia in pre-Roman and Roman Gaul, from the reign of Roman emperor Augustus (63 BC-AD 14). The National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) has been watching out for construction work in the neighborhood since they realized some 25 years ago that the Roman city of Lutetia was much larger than earlier believed. Whenever construction work in central Paris is planned, archaeologists review the building permits and ask for INRAP's opinion in regard to archaeological significance. An excavation permit is then issued. Busson's INRAP team started digging at the beginning of March and must be finished by June 30, when the construction work on a new research building starts again.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!