Audio News for September 10th to September 16th, 2006.  

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for September 10th to September 16th, 2006.

Oldest known writing from the New World surfaces in Mexico


Our first story is from Veracruz, Mexico, where researchers have revealed a stone block containing a previously unknown writing system thought to be the earliest in the New World.  An international team of archaeologists, including Brown University’s Stephen D. Houston, determined that the slab dates to the early first millennium BC, and may likely be attributed to the Olmec civilization. Archaeologists claim that the block and its ancient script link the Olmec civilization to literacy, document an unsuspected writing system, and reveal a new complexity to this civilization.  Road builders first discovered the block in a pile of debris in the late 1990s. Mexican archaeologists Carmen Rodríguez and Ponciano Ortíz, were the first to recognize the importance of the find.  Surrounding the piece were ceramic sherds, clay figurine fragments, and broken artifacts of ground stone.  These objects have helped the team date the block and its text to an era ending about 900 BC.   If true, the writing dates to approximately 400 years before writing was thought to have first appeared in the Western hemisphere.  The block weighs about 26 pounds and measures 14 inches long, 8 inches wide, and 5 inches thick. The carved text consists of 62 signs, some of which are repeated up to four times. Five sides on the block are convex, while the remaining surface containing the text appears concave. The team believes the block has been carved repeatedly and erased.  Several paired sequences of signs also lead the researchers to believe the text contains poetic couplets, which would be the earliest known examples of this expression in Mesoamerica.

Evidence of long-lost Viking trading center possibly found in Russia


Our next story is from Russia, where Russian and German archaeologists believe they may have found traces of human settlement near Kaliningrad that could lead to the legendary Viking trading centre of Wiskiauten.  The newly discovered stone structures are the remains of a well and several houses dating to the 12th century and possibly marking the location of the Viking settlement founded centuries earlier.  Ibsen and fellow archaeologists, Vladimir Kulakov and Konstantin Skvorzov, have been looking for the lost site of Wiskiauten for years.  Wiskiauten was a major settlement at the dawn of Baltic culture, similar to other sites in the region.  The Viking trading network along the Baltic coast is well researched.  Only Wiskiauten is missing.  Archaeologists have found a cemetery, however.  The site’s location has been known since 1865, when amateur local archaeologists began retrieving precious funeral items from more than 500 graves.  They found items unmistakably of Scandinavian design.  The oldest Viking graves date back to the 9th century.  Scientists from Kiel University in northern Germany used a tractor to drag geo-radar machines around the hilltop graves.  By the time they were finished, they had scanned more than 60 hectares.  The researchers had good fortune almost immediately, finding a Byzantine coin at the first structures.  This is good evidence for long-distance trade, in which the settlement was an important link.  The driving force behind trade links with the Orient was amber, the gold of the Baltic.   Work at the dig is coming to an end for this year.  The results are to be evaluated at the Archaeological Museum in Gottorf Castle in Schleswig, Germany, in the months ahead.

Skeletons narrate a bloody 15th century English battle

In England, victims of a medieval battle were discovered beneath the floor of the dining room of Towton Hall, North Yorkshire.  The finds date from the Battle of Towton in 1461.  The discovery was made as part of a ten-year investigation into the longest and bloodiest battle ever fought in England.  Taking place on Palm Sunday, March 29, 1461, the Lancastrian army was handed an enormous blow as its leader, King Henry VI was defeated by Edward IV.  After ten hours of combat at the battle, 28,000 men lay dead. The latest find was brought about following the unearthing of a mass grave at the hall in 1996, which contained 37 battle victims.  The Battle of Towton took place in a snowstorm, between the villages of Towton and Saxton, about two miles south of Tadcaster.  The project, the first multidisciplinary investigation of a medieval battlefield in the UK, has also discovered large numbers of arrowheads and further mass graves, making it possible to accurately locate the site of the battle.  Further work in the area of Towton Hall has also led to the unearthing of several single graves of combatants.  These are possibly the remains of high-ranking combatants buried on what was later to become the site of King Richard III's chantry chapel built to commemorate the conflict.

Rare Neolithic female figurine discovered in Italy

Our final story is from Italy, where archaeologists have unearthed the largest Neolithic female figurine ever found in the country.  The 7,000-year-old stone statuette, discovered during excavations of a burial site near the northern city of Parma, is over 8 inches tall and depicts a woman with an oval face, slit eyes, a prominent nose and long hair. Her arms are bent at her elbows, sticking out at right angles to her body.   Although such statuettes are fairly common, it is rare to find figurines this old in Europe, and the majority represent a mother earth divinity with a swelling belly symbolizing fertility.  Archaeologists in this case have linked the figure to the goddess of death and rebirth, who is usually represented as slender, with a large, beak-like nose and rigid posture.  The statuette has a small cut-out triangle between her breasts. The lower half of her body is much larger, with no distinction between her feet and her legs.   Her back is perfectly vertical, leading experts to conclude that she was probably originally carved to sit on some kind of throne or support made of a material that has disintegrated over the centuries.   The grave, which belonged to a middle-aged woman, contained a number of pottery bowls in addition to the statuette, which was placed in front of the deceased's head on top of her raised left arm.   The burial site dates between 5,000 and 4,300 BC.   Neither the containers nor the statuette in the grave were properly fired, suggesting the items were not in everyday use prior to the burial.

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