Audio News for October 29th to November 4th, 2006.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for October 29th to November 4th, 2006.
French skull shows early North American autopsy
Our first story is from the United States, where the earliest confirmed autopsy in North America was conducted more than 400 years ago. It was performed by French colonists who were desperate to find out what was killing them during the harsh winter on St. Croix Island, off the coast of Maine. A team of forensic anthropologists from the United States and Canada confirmed that the skull of a man buried on the island over the winter of 1604-05 showed evidence of having undergone an autopsy. The National Park Service discovered the skull during excavations in June 2003. The top of the skull had been removed to expose the brain; the skullcap was replaced before the body was buried. According to team leader, Thomas Crist from Utica College in New York, this is the same procedure that forensic pathologists use to conduct autopsies today. The findings confirm comments of settlement leader Samuel Champlain, whose memoirs were published in 1613. He wrote that his barber-surgeon was ordered to open several of the men to determine the cause of their illness. Nearly half of the 79 settlers led by explorers Pierre Dugua and Champlain died over that winter. Dugua chose the small island in the St. Croix River that divides what are now Maine and New Brunswick. The settlers cleared a site, planted gardens and erected dwellings including a kitchen, storehouse, blacksmith shop, and chapel. But the winter was harsh, with the first snow falling in October, not long after Champlain returned from a historic voyage to Mount Desert Island. Thirty-five of the settlers died and were buried on the island. Scientists using modern techniques have concluded that the French settlers died from scurvy, which is caused by a lack of vitamin C. A ship arrived in June with supplies. Dugua then moved the settlement to Nova Scotia at a spot Champlain named Port Royal. The St. Croix settlement turned out to be short-lived but it gave the French credit for beating the English to establish a permanent presence in the New World. Marcella Sorg, Maine state forensic anthropologist and part of the team, commented that there have been written references suggesting earlier autopsies as Jacques Cartier explored Quebec in the 1500s, but this is the first skeletal evidence. The autopsies would not have discovered that scurvy was the culprit.
Archaeology students find Viking hoard
In Sweden, two young men on the island of Gotland have found a Viking cache dating to the 10th century. The find consists of silver coins and weighs almost 7 pounds. 20-year-old Edvin Svanborg and his 17-year-old brother Arvid unearthed a coin while working on the grounds of their neighbor. Svanborg says he is studying history and recognized the coin as one that is commonly found on Gotland. He said he had seen pictures of similar coins in the past. The brothers started looking for more coins and realized that they had found something exceptionally valuable. In a small space they found around 1,100 coins and a few bracelets. Most of the pieces were in good condition, although rabbits had damaged some of the coins. Edvin, who plans to study to become an archaeologist, said he hoped to find more artifacts more in the future. Majvor Őstergren at Gotland county administrative board praised the brothers for handing in the find. Gotland is an archaeologist's paradise, where there have been discoveries of a large number of Viking treasures. The world's largest Viking find was on the northeastern part of the island a few years ago. It included coins, necklaces and other jewelry, which altogether contained 430 pounds of silver and 130 pounds of bronze.
U.S. government convicts Oregon looters
Our next story takes us back to the United States, where a man was sentenced in federal court to two and a half years in prison for trafficking in an American Indian skeleton. Michael Orf, 30, also was ordered to pay a $20,000 fine to the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon. Orf pleaded guilty in June to conspiring to violate the Archaeological Resource Protection Act after selling the skeleton to a government informant in 2004. The sentencing hearing completed a six-year investigation into the looting of Indian artifacts and remains. Warm Springs tribal leaders testified before sentencing about how grave robbers undo the prayers, songs and ceremonies that go with their ancestors to the next life, causing spiritual damage for money. The federal investigation began in 2000 and has produced 13 convictions to date, with sentences ranging from probation to three years in prison. According to Karin Immergut, the U.S. attorney for Oregon, it is the largest investigation in U.S. history targeting illegal artifact excavation and trafficking in Indian remains. Investigators discovered more than 100 looted sites in Oregon, mostly in southern and central regions. Damage to the sites is estimated at more than $1 million. Orf was 17 when he and two siblings stumbled upon a skeleton poking out from a riverbank in 1994. He ignored his mother's advice to rebury the bones. Orf testified that he once considered selling the skeleton for $15,000, but declined when he learned it would be in a private collection where no one could see it. After an acquaintance told him of a potential museum buyer, Orf sold the skeleton for $1,000 in early 2004. The buyer was working undercover for the investigation. Prosecutors said the next phase of the investigation would target buyers of the artifacts.
Berkeley begins study of Egyptian papyri 100 years late
In our final story, ancient papyri excavated in Egypt more than a century ago have finally arrived on the University of California, Berkeley, campus after a journey worthy of a spy novel. Following their discovery in Egypt, the papyri were sent to a German conservator, who hid them in Berlin during World War II. They were then concealed from East Germans intent on seizing them, smuggled to West Berlin and stashed in a shop, and stored in Switzerland. One roll was shipped to Boston in the 1930s, but the others remained hidden until the 1960s, when they, too, were shipped to Boston. The four large rolls of papyri were found atop an Egyptian coffin during archaeologist George A. Reisner's 1901-1904 dig at Naga ed-Deir. Now, over a hundred years later, the Reisner papyri have arrived at Berkeley’s Center for the Tebtunis Papyri for full study. Some of the papyri are more than 4,000 years old. Collectively, they are some of the most significant administrative documents of the Middle Kingdom of Egypt. According to Cathleen Keller, associate professor of Egyptology, they contain a wealth of information about religion and the "nuts and bolts of how ancient Egypt worked". Center director and Melpomene Professor of Classics Donald Mastronarde noted that there is little of this kind available from that time, and these papyri have not been matched by other excavations since. The Reisner papyri are interesting because they contain documentary records of wages, contracts, and projects. Some of the documents are from a royal dockyard workshop and detail the organization of manpower in ancient Egypt. These are of interest to engineers still puzzling over construction of the pyramids. Other materials Reisner collected at Naga ed-Deir include short "letters to the dead," in which troubled Egyptians appeal to deceased relatives to plead on their behalf with higher-ranking deceased. Reisner collected the papyri and other materials in Egypt under the auspices of the University of California Expedition, supported by philanthropist Phoebe Apperson Hearst. Together with Hearst, he amassed a collection of more than 17,000 catalogued Egyptian objects between 1899 and 1905, ranking among the largest in North America. The Tebtunis Center includes more than 30,000 pieces of ancient papyri from various times, including Greek literature such as part of Homer's "Iliad" and a lost play by Sophocles, along with Egyptian census records, medical prescriptions for relieving hippopotamus or pig bites, and the records of a prophetess of a crocodile god.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!