Audio News for June 11th to June 17th, 2006

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for June 11th to June 17th, 2006.

Tomb raider reveals oldest known frescoed tomb


Our first story is from Italy, where a suspected tomb raider turned police informant has led archaeologists to the oldest known frescoed burial chamber in Europe.  Located beneath a wheat field north of Rome, the underground tomb belonged to a warrior prince from the nearby Etruscan town of Veio.  The burial chamber dates from around 690 BC and is adorned with roaring lions and migratory birds.  Archaeologists are hailing it as the earliest example of the funerary decorations that would become common in Greece and Rome.  This past May, an Italian man on trial for trafficking in illegally excavated artifacts led authorities to the site. He revealed the location of the tomb in hopes of gaining leniency from the court.  Besides the frescoes, archaeologists have also uncovered decorated vases imported from Greece, a sword, as well as metal spits used to roast meat for the prince's table. A bronze chariot was found in front of the archway that leads to the chamber.   According to Francesca Boitani, the lead archaeologist on the dig, the recovery of elegant broaches, a wool spindle and other objects usually used by females suggests that at least one woman, possibly the prince's wife, was buried in the tomb.  Urns containing the cremated remains of the tomb's occupants are believed to have been pilfered by looters.  Although decorated prehistoric caves predate by millennia the Etruscan tomb, experts say it is the oldest example in the Western world of a specially built funerary chamber decorated with mural paintings.

Internet project to reassemble the works of Maimonides


Scientists at the University of Manchester are attempting to use digital technology to reassemble some 300,000 tiny pieces of an 800-year-old Jewish philosopher's work.  The University's Center for Jewish Studies is reconstructing the life works of Moses Maimonides, a scholar and writer whose conclusions were tremendously influential on modern Judaic thought.  A $670,000 government grant will fund the center's use of digital imaging software, a crucial aid in piecing the hundreds of documents back together.  According to project leader Philip Alexander, Maimonides worked as a physician, lawyer and scientist in the Middle Ages. His writings were obtained from a medieval document storeroom discovered in a Cairo synagogue.  Stella Butler, head of special collections at the Manchester's John Rylands University Library, stated that documents garnered from the Cairo storeroom, by Maimonides and other Jewish scholars, are in repositories all over the world.  More than 10,000 pieces from the ancient manuscripts are currently in the Manchester library.  Butler also noted that through Internet technology they can collaborate with colleagues around the world to solve some of the puzzles contained in the varied collections.  They hope to link together fragments from their collections with those held in other libraries, and achieve greater understanding as a whole.  The intent  of the project is to digitally reassemble the documents and to upload the resulting images to the Rylands library Web site, where they can be viewed for research purposes.

Oldest example of Mesoamerican dentistry found in Mexico


In Mexico, a 4,500-year-old grave in the state of Michoacan has revealed an example of ancient dentistry.  Archaeologists have uncovered the skull of a young man whose upper teeth had been modified to accept a denture made from the palate and teeth of a wolf or panther.  This unexpected modification is the oldest known dentistry discovered in the Americas, predating previously discovered filed teeth and jeweled inlays by at least 1,000 years.  The dentures themselves were not found, but the alterations to the teeth were typical of those associated with such dentures found in later periods, according to archaeologist Tricia Gabany-Guerrero of the University of Connecticut.  The body was found beneath a massive panel of rock art, suggesting the man was a prince or religious leader.  Bone evidence indicating that the young man did not work strenuously supports that speculation.  The 30-year-old man may have suffered severely from the dentures.  The filing exposed the pulp of his teeth, and two of them were badly infected. Although the cause of his death is unknown, the team speculates that he died of blood poisoning from the infections.  The burial site also contained obsidian flakes from a place called Cerro Varal in eastern Michoacan, quite distant from where he was buried.  This means people were mining and trading obsidian and transporting it very early in the history of this region.  The rock art panel, which contains stick figures apparently posed in dance positions, reportedly also contains a calendar and other symbols that tie the region to the rest of Mesoamerica.

Lost Indian trading port possibly found


Our final story is from India where archaeologists working on the southwest coast believe they may have solved the mystery of the location of Muziris.  Muziris was a major port vital to trade between India and the Roman Empire and supposedly lies in the modern-day state of Kerala.  For many years, people have been in search of the almost mythical port, known as Vanchi to locals.  Well documented in Roman times, Muziris appeared to have simply disappeared.  Archaeologists KP Shajan and V Selvakumar have placed the ancient port where the small town of Pattanam now stands, on India's Malabar Coast.  Pattanam is the only site in the region to produce architectural features and material comparable to the period.  According to Dr. Roberta Tomber, of the British Museum, no other site in India has yielded this much archaeological evidence.  Previous supposition for the location of Muziris centered on the mouth of the Periyar River at a place called Kodungallor. Drs Shajan and Selvakumar have recovered from locals hundreds of shards of Mediterranean amphora pottery.  These pieces of amphora are a key to establishing Pattanam as the place where Muziris once stood.   Muziris became important because of the Romans' interest in trading and their desire to have contact with regions beyond the reach of conquest and set up trading routes with these places.  Clues to its location are provided in ancient Indian texts.  Professor Rajan Gerta, from Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala, said that there are many references to ships coming with gold, and going back with 'black gold'" or pepper.   Merchants from a number of different cultures are believed to have operated in the port, and there are numerous Indian finds from the time as well as Roman ones.  In 1983, a large hoard of Roman coins was found at a site around six miles from Pattanam.   Even if Muziris has been found, however, one mystery remains - how it disappeared so completely in the first place.  According to Dr. Tomber, the flow of the trade between Rome and India previously was though to have lasted from the 1st Century BC through the end of the 1st Century AD, but now there is growing evidence that this trade continued much longer, into the 6th and early 7th Century.  Dr. Tomber further commented: "What is interesting is that in the 6th Century, a Greek writer, writing about the Indian Ocean, wrote that the Malabar coast was still a thriving centre for the export of pepper - but he doesn't mention Muziris."

And if you’d like to see more about the ancient cultures of south India, check out the latest video on The Archaeology Channel, called “UR: A Video Essay on Tamil.”

That wraps up the news for this week!
For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at , where all the news is history!
I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!