Audio News for August 6th to August 12th, 2006

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for August 6th to August 12th, 2006.

Bulgarian  tomb yields trove of gold


Our first story is from Bulgaria, where a golden dagger dating to 3,000 BC is among the finds in a Thracian tomb in the central region of the country.  Bozhidar Dimitrov (BOH-zhi-dar di-MEET-roff), head of the Bulgarian national museum, called this a sensational discovery.  Along with the dagger, 500 gold ornaments were also found in the tomb.  According to Dimitrov, the dagger is made of gold and platinum.  Researchers believe that it belonged to a Thracian ruler or a priest.  The 6-inch long knife is in perfect condition and still extremely sharp.  The new information is part of the trove of knowledge yielded by a tomb discovered two years ago near the village of Dubovo (DOO-boh-vo) in central Bulgaria.   Working in the tomb last year, archaeologists found more than 15,000 artifacts, which restorers have re-assembled into numerous necklaces made by the Thracian culture that occupied this region for 4000 years before the current era.  Little is known about the Thracian culture, however.  These village farmers and horsemen lived on the periphery of the Greek and Roman civilizations and often clashed with these better known cultures.  Specialists believe the Thracians settled in a broad region of the lower Danube and Black Sea region, which now makes up Bulgaria, Romania, northern Greece and Turkey, as early as 4,000 BC.   The spread of Greek and later, Roman, domination led to their integration and assimilation by around AD 45.  Archaeologists have discovered many artifacts in Bulgaria's Thracian tombs in recent decades.  These tombs are the main record for our understanding of the Thracian culture, which had no written language, and therefore left no historical records to document its unique ancient lifeway.

Maltese tomb is relocated in good preservation


In Malta, after almost 50 years, one of the area’s most intriguing Roman catacombs has been re-discovered by cultural heritage workers within a traffic circle.  The Roman catacomb was originally excavated by Sir Temistocles Zammit in 1912.  However, since then its location became completely obliterated under debris and asphalt.   The tomb at Hal Resqun (HAUL res-KOON) has special interest because of the refined use of decoration within the tomb.  The burial chamber was carved to imitate architectural motifs from Roman buildings, such as fluted columns etched into the rock face of the tomb.  The site is also unique in that it includes two scenes cut in low relief into the rock-face of the catacomb.  These scenes include both human and animal figures and offer a very rare insight into Roman religious views on death and the afterlife.  Following the original discovery of the site, road surfacing covered up the catacomb.  The exact location was lost, although it was generally understood that it lay within a traffic roundabout in the village of Gudja (GOO-dja).  Various attempts to relocate the site had failed in the past and increasingly it was feared that the catacomb might have actually been destroyed or lost forever.  Officers from the country’s Cultural Heritage department have now confirmed that the catacomb and its decorations are in a good state of preservation despite its long abandonment.

Skull from Georgian coastal fort may document martyred missionaries


In the United States, a bioarchaeologist and a Catholic priest are working together to bring sainthood to Spanish missionaries killed on the Georgia coast in 1597.  Chris Stojanowski, a bioarchaeologist at Arizona State University's new School of Human Evolution and Social Change, recently began to test a brittle skull that had long been gathering dust in a Georgia laboratory.  As cold cases go, the cranium was a classic.  Markings showed that a long time ago, someone lost his head.  The Rev. Conrad Harkins was more curious about the identity of the victim.  For more than a decade, Harkins has worked tirelessly to see that the Roman Catholic Church recognizes five Spanish missionaries killed by Indians in 1597 as martyrs and, in time, he hopes, as saints.  Now, a half-century after the skull was unearthed at the site of a former Spanish mission, and 20 years after the Diocese of Savannah proposed beatification for the "Georgia martyrs," science and religion have joined their curiosity about the weathered remains.  According to Stojanowski, without any known living descendants of the Georgia missionaries, there is little chance of being very definitive about the identity, but a few tests can narrow the possibilities.  Rev. Hawkins will make the case for beatification of the Georgia martyrs on the basis of the historical record, always crucial to the Vatican’s decision.  The portfolio of Spanish records and the reports of Franciscan friars documenting the missionaries' martyrdom have now been assembled for submission to a Vatican tribunal this year.  The thread that ties science, history and religion together reaches back to a violent clash of cultures between the Franciscan missionaries and the Guale Indians they ministered to on the Georgia coast in the late 1500’s.  The Guale had a custom of bigamy.  Missionary Pedro de Corpa insisted that Church would not condone the decision by the local chief's eldest son, Juanillo, to take a second wife.  An angry Juanillo and a band of warriors attacked de Corpa at his morning prayers, beat him to death and then beheaded him, placing his head on a pike.  A Spanish military group, investigating at the time, reported that during the next few days, the Indians killed four other missionaries.  The remains of three of them were retrieved after their deaths, but the bodies of de Corpa and another, Francisco de Verascola, who was reportedly scalped, were never recovered.  Over four hundred years later, in the early 1950s, archaeologist Sheila Caldwell was excavating the state-owned Fort King George historical site and found the skull in question in a native trash pit.  The Fort was believed to be the site of the Guale village where de Corpa died.   She suspected it might be the skull of the beheaded Franciscan friar.  Moved by the story of the missionaries and renewed interest in Georgia's mission period, the bishop of Savannah, Raymond Lassard, launched the "cause of beatification" in 1984, a step that started the five missionaries on the Church's long and arduous road to sainthood.  Harkins explains that it's not enough to simply prove that they were killed; you have to prove that they died for the faith.  Stojanowski, the bioarchaeologist, quickly concluded that the skull was that of an adult male, of an age similar with either of the two missing friars.  Anatomically, it also didn't appear to be Native American.  Stojanowski stated that all of the physical evidence points to de Corpa, but the location is more suggestive of de Verascola.  It could, of course, be neither.  Over the next year, he hopes to more accurately date the skull, perform a number a chemical analyses of the bone that may suggest the person's diet and, perhaps — if donor contributions will support the expense — recover enough DNA to suggest its ancestral affiliation.  Harkins' principal objective is to see that the Church recognizes the missionaries as true martyrs.   But also, Harkins sees this as an opportunity to arouse public interest in a forgotten chapter of American history whose legacy is slowly being rediscovered in the archaeological record and in the dusty archives of America's first colonial power.

Hot weather in Wales reveals marks of ancient monuments


Our final story is from Wales, where summer droughts are proving to be an archaeological windfall.   The heat wave’s effects in vegetation have revealed a trove of finds for aerial archaeologists taking a birds eye view of the country.  The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales has made major discoveries using light aircraft to survey the landscape.  New finds include two early Neolithic causeway enclosures from 6,000 years ago, adding to only three that were previously known.  Other significant discoveries include Roman forts, a lost medieval church in the Conwy valley, a Bronze Age ritual enclosure, lines of Roman roads and scores of prehistoric hill forts from across the countryside.  The project manager for the aerial survey, Dr. Toby Driver, said the crop marks first began appearing from the air during June and intensified in July and August.  Scores of circles in fields mark round barrows from the Bronze Age, used for burials.  Sometimes the central grave pits are still visible.  At Goginan, a great circular enclosure was discovered with a barrow close by.  This site is likely to be a Bronze Age temple that may once have contained a circle of upright timber posts.  Dr. Driver added that previously unknown hill-forts and prehistoric farms have been found in considerable numbers across the southern peninsula, showing where pre-Roman Iron Age communities lived and farmed.  Two previously unknown small Roman forts have been discovered guarding strategic passes on the Roman road system in northern Powys, and in Gwynedd.  Dr. Driver ranks this an enormously successful year for aerial archaeology in Wales and commented that another like it may not occur for years.  Months of work are now needed to work through the discoveries, notifying local archaeologists and ensuring some of the most remarkable sites are visited and further studied.

That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!