Audio News for August 27th to September 2nd, 2006.  

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for August 27th to September 2nd, 2006.

Exciting discoveries from the Aljezur coast, Portugal need support


Our first story is from Portugal, where the ruins of two mosques have been unearthed during the latest archaeological dig at Ponta da Atalaia.  Excavations along the Aljezur coast by Rosa and Mário Varela Gomes began on August 1st.   For the fifth successive year, remains have been uncovered from the mythical Rîbat da Arrifana, a fortified monastery built by Ibn Qasi, a Sufi master and Muslim monk-warrior who lived there with his community during the 12th century.  To date, archaeologists have discovered the remains of six mosques and their accompanying oratories.  In addition, archaeologists have uncovered the foundations of a circular minaret and an area thought to have once been a school.  This year, the dig has been subsidized by the Gulbenkian Foundation and has received support from Aljezur’s local government and the region’s Association for the Defense of the Patrimony.  Unfortunately the archaeologists have been working unpaid, and their excavation team comprises of students studying archaeology at Lisbon’s Universidade Nova.  The project, despite its historical importance, has failed to attract European Community funding, following several applications from Aljezur City.

New archaeological discoveries document military actions during Zulu siege

In South Africa, archaeologists are revealing details of a bloody siege in the Anglo-Zulu War.  Historians lacked detailed evidence of the troops' daily lives, but a team of experts from Glasgow, Scotland, has uncovered a forgotten British fort.  The site at KwaMondi, Eshowe, in what is now South Africa, has been hailed as a treasure trove of historical information shedding light on the valor and skill of the Royal Engineers.  A group from Glasgow University headed by Dr. Tony Pollard of The Centre for Battlefield Archaeology used metal detectors to survey the site.  The fort was built by the British army following the invasion of Zululand in January 1879.  It was besieged by a huge Zulu force for more than two months.  Dr. Pollard, Dr. Iain Banks and their team brought to light the actions of men such as Captain Warren Wynne, who built the fort and surrounding roads under the threat of a Zulu attack.  Researchers also discovered that heavy rains during the siege turned the fort into a polluted swamp leading to an outbreak of typhus that killed large number of men. According to Dr. Pollard, during the rains of January to March, the interior of the fort would have been very wet and prone to water logging.  The presence of 1,700 men and their horses would quickly turn the soil into a muddy mess. The artifacts provide insight into the lives of men who lived in the fort for the duration of the siege.  Dr. Pollard related that the story of the fort provides a testament to the skill of the Royal Engineers and particularly of Captain Warren Wynne.  Before arriving at Eshowe, a relief column under Lord Chelmsford fought off a 12,000-strong Zulu force.   The Centre for Battlefield Archaeology is actively engaged in a number of field projects, both within the UK and overseas.  Past and present projects include the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 in South Africa, the Jacobite rebellions in Scotland and an archaeological evaluation of British battlefields.

Amateur archaeologist discovers prehistoric skeleton along Lake Travis, Texas

In the United States, archaeologists say a prehistoric skeleton and campsite discovered on the muddy shore of Lake Travis, Texas, could be between 700 and 2,000 years old.  Amateur archaeology buff David Houston came across the skeleton when he pulled his personal watercraft onto the lakeshore.  He said he saw a jawbone, teeth and a forearm in the clay soil.  Houston related that he initially presumed that the skull dated back hundreds of years. The teeth are ground down, suggesting that the person ate food that was stone-ground and contained tiny rock fragments.  Houston called authorities and helped cover the burial with mud so it would not be vandalized.  Members of the archaeology team that then unearthed the skeleton, which appears to represent a woman about 40 years old, said they also found flat rocks that could have been used to grind food.  Andy Malof, an archaeologist with the Lower Colorado River Authority, reported that some of the rocks were arranged like a hearth.   He said that an on-site examination of the body indicated that it is less than 1,000 years old.  But projectile points collected at the site suggested a burial taking place between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago.  Evidence of the camp had been submerged by Lake Travis, which was created after Mansfield Dam was finished in 1941. The site was uncovered when the lake fell below its usual level.  The declining lake levels have led to a rash of unauthorized digs.  Unauthorized digging at historical sites on public land is illegal, as it results in the permanent loss of valuable information, and violators face fines.  The oldest known female remains discovered in Texas were those of an Ice Age woman discovered near Leander in 1982.  Known as the Leanderthal Lady, her skeleton was thought to have been buried between 11,000 and 8,000 B.C.  The nearly intact skeleton from Lake Travis will be submitted to the University of Texas for further study and appropriate disposition.

Radiocarbon dates point to late Polynesian migration

Our final story is from the South Pacific, where a new study that some say will dent the reputation of Polynesians as great seafarers, suggesting they had trouble reaching remote islands.  The new study shows they settled Rapa, an island southeast of Tahiti, later than previously thought.  Professor Atholl Anderson of the Australian National University, and his international colleagues including Douglas Kennett of the University of Oregon, dated charcoal from archaeological sites on the island that suggests that the first settlers arrived at Rapa as late as AD 1200.  According to Anderson, what these pieces of archaeological research show is that the more isolated islands were reached very late in the history of the settlement of the Pacific, indicating probably that the seafaring technology was not as good as once thought.  In his view, Polynesians actually had great difficulty finding these remote and isolated places, although others might argue that a delay in settlement does not demonstrate that the island was unknown.  Anderson reports that the Polynesians apparently radiated out from islands like Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to more remote islands like Rapa after a 1500-year nomadic respite, driven further out by population pressure and food shortages.   After Rapa was settled, the population rapidly increased and spread across the island.  Analysis of swamps shows signs of rapid deforestation and erosion along the coast, suggesting the population was running out of land to plant crops.  Anderson commented that the population appears to have splintered into competing groups that set up formidable forts, consisting of a central tower surrounded by domestic terraces.  It's always been a bit of a mystery as to why this very isolated island should have such a huge number of massive forts on it.  He feels that the forts represent the time when inhabitants became a highly competitive society and the people were constantly fighting.  Professor Kennett, who co-authored the paper, says the Rapa story is a compelling tale about population expansion, environmental degradation and increasing warfare.  Radiocarbon dating suggests Rapa’s population relocated from their coastal rock shelters to inland fortresses about 300 years after arriving and about 150 years before the first contact with Europeans in 1790.  The conclusions are based on 48 radiocarbon dates from a variety of sites, including five of the 16 known coastal shelters and four of the 15 fortifications.

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