Audio News for September 3rd to September 9th, 2006.  

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for September 3rd to September 9th, 2006.

Central shrine of the Etruscans found


Our first story is from Italy, where archaeologists believe they have found the mysterious sanctuary that was the religious and political centre of the Etruscan civilization. The Etruscans lived in the region between modern day Rome and Florence, beginning in the time before Rome existed.   The Etruscan culture flourished from the 8th century BC onward, but was eventually assimilated by Rome about 600 years later.   For centuries, the Etruscans dominated the fledgling republic on the Tiber.   Each spring the political and religious leaders from the 12 city-states of Etruria would meet at a holy place called the Fanum Voltumnae (FAH-num vol-TOOM-nee) to hold a council.  Here they would discuss civic affairs and military campaigns, and pray to their common gods.  Chief amongst these was Voltumna, god of the underworld.  Until now it has never been clear where the Fanum, or sanctuary, was located.  Historians have been looking for it for at least six centuries.  At a site 60 miles north of Rome, a team of archaeologists from Macerata University believes they have solved the mystery.  Their work has uncovered the walls of a central temple, two roads, which by their size and construction would have been important routes, and part of the perimeter wall of an extensive shrine.  All are built in the tufa stone used by the Etruscans.  Also uncovered were fragments of 6th century BC ceremonial vases used for religious rites.  According to Simonetta Stopponi, professor of Etruscan studies at Macerata, it has all the characteristics of a very important shrine, and of that shrine in particular.  Another clue this might be the Fanum Voltumnae is the fact that the area is known to have been used continuously for religious purposes from the 6th century BC to the 15th century AD.  So far the team has not found an inscription referring to the god Voltumna.  This would clinch the identity of the place as the famed Fanum Voltumnae.   In the meantime, excavations continue.  Stopponi thinks such an inscription could be found when digs resume next summer.

Ancient Chinese shoes carry history back 1,000 years


In northwest China, six leather shoes, dating back 2,000 years, have been discovered at a site in Dunhuang in the Gansu Province.   The leather shoes, from the Han Dynasty (dating from 205 BC to AD 220), are the oldest leather shoes found in China.  According to He Shuangquan, an archaeologist from Gansu, this places China's leather shoe-making history some 1,000 years longer than previously believed.  The newly found, well-preserved shoes were made for children, approximately three to six years old.   Yellow in color, the shoes were made from cattle hide, with a round toe and flat sole. One of the shoes was laced. The leather was not polished, and the threads can still be seen on the shoes.  Other precious relics found at this site in the desert of Dunhuang include books, letters, animal and plant remains as well as daily necessities.

Irish boat bears signs of Viking workmanship


In Ireland, archaeologists surveying a construction site uncovered a wooden boat, believed to be medieval, with a strong possibility that it could even be from the Viking period of around 1,100 years ago.  Measuring ten feet long and some six feet wide, the boat is in reasonably good condition, after being preserved in a blanket of peat that covered it when the Castlebar Lake receded.  A six-member team headed by archaeologist Joanna Nolan made the discovery.  The team is working on preservation and recording of the various parts of the boat.  Conservators from the National Museum of Ireland have taken samples for carbon 14 dating and a sample of the keel for a dendrochronology test, which will give it an even more accurate date than the carbon 14 result.  Joanna Nolan explained that the iron nails are a particularly diagnostic feature which gives the boat a very definite medieval date, perhaps as early as the Viking period.  The find was described as significant by Mr. Eamon Kelly, Head of Antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, who confirmed that the technology used for the boat was undoubtedly Viking.  But whether the boat itself is from the Viking period is still not certain.  The legendary pirate queen, Grainne Uaille O’Malley, used this style of boats for her famous galleys, which were copies of the earlier Viking models.  

New Mayan ruins discovered in Honduras


Our final story is from Honduras, where archaeologists are examining the ruins of a pre-Columbian Mayan culture in an area where there had been no previous evidence of major indigenous civilization.  The site, discovered earlier this year, comprises 14 mounds that form part of what is believed to be ceremonial grounds, according to the Honduran Institute of Anthropology.  Oscar Neils, the institute's head of research, explained that they are part of a very important site, a governing center of a pre-Columbian civilization.   Mayan occupation was not previously known to have included this particular area.  The findings from the site so far include an impressive carved stone monument as well as necklaces and grinding stones.  According to Neils, the monument is a sculpture of various human and animal forms and in an extremely fine state of preservation.   Measuring three feet high and more than four and 1/2 feet wide, the monument or stela is being displayed in the park of the nearby town of Moroceli, about 30 miles east of the capital of Tegucigalpa.   The site has been damaged by tractors involved in sugar cane growing, prompting the Honduran Culture Ministry to move it.  Honduras is home to some 14,000 archaeological sites, including world-famous Copan, which flourished between the fifth and ninth centuries and was one of the first Mayan sites ever excavated.

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