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

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

Ancient false eye found in five-thousand-year old Iranian grave


Our first story is from Iran, where the discovery of an artificial eyeball dating back 4800 years ago at the Burnt City site has astonished archaeologists.  According to Mansour Sajadi , director of Burnt City archeology excavation team, the prosthesis belonged to an otherwise healthy and well-built woman who was 25 to 30 years old at the time of her death.  Skeletal remains of the woman were found in grave number 6705 of Burnt City’s cemetery.  The artificial eye is made of as yet unknown material and it has been sent for testing.  It appears that it could be natural tar mixed with animal fat.   Initial studies also suggest formation of an abscess in the eyelid due to long-term contact with the eyeball.  In addition, skin tissue is still evident on the artificial device.  According to Sajadi, even the most delicate capillaries were drawn on this eyeball using golden wires with a thickness measuring less than half a millimeter.  There are also some parallel lines around the pupil forming a diamond shape.  There are two holes on the sides, probably for wire or string to hold it in the eye socket.   Also found in the grave were a number of clay vessels, ornamental beads, a leather sack, and a bronze mirror.  Located 35 miles from the city of Zabol in southeast Iran, Burnt City is one of the most important prehistoric sites of the country.   The city experienced four stages of civilization and was burnt down three times, hence the name “Burnt City.”

Ancient trading port in India is threatened by construction


Our next story is from India, where state archeologists are preparing to finally uncover and preserve the mysteries of the white mounds of Ter, 250 miles southeast of Mumbai.  The first construction boom began about 2,000 years ago, during the time of the Kushana Kingdom, at the same time as Julius Caesar ruled Rome and traders from the Mediterranean were finding their way to what is now an obscure village.  Now, a different construction boom threatens the existence of an area that could reveal itself as "the Pompeii of India".  Workers driven by the sugarcane economy of this village are carving up the mounds, carting off the white mud and perhaps permanently damaging thousands of unknown artifacts.  Ter was first excavated in 1901, with minor digs continuing through the 1960s and 1970s.  A dusty village museum houses a treasure-trove of 23,852 pieces of stone and terracotta sculptures, coins and lamps copied after Roman originals, miniature inkpots, jewelry and household vessels and ivory.  There are uncounted thousands more in Ter’s layers upon layers of civilizations.  A highly skilled people lived here: bricks excavated from the site are light enough to float on water.   According to former state archaeological director A. Jamkhedkar, Ter is an exceptional site with evidence ranging from the 2nd century BC to the 15th – 16th centuries AD.  But there is little political backing to excavate and restore the site and with no overall plan in place, Ter’s legacy is being systematically destroyed.   Ter's ascent came after trade with the Roman Empire began under the Satavahana dynasty.  A first-century Greek navigational document called The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea is the earliest reference to Tagara or Ter.  It describes it as a great emporium where merchants brought goods like muslin and carnelian to trade to the Romans.  Experts call Ter a 'citadel city'. Limited excavations have revealed remains of a wooden rampart.  Jamkhedkar points to ivory figures comparable to those from Pompeii.  Later terra cottas that are cast in double moulds also suggest the influence of Western techniques on craftsmen.

Polynesian pottery portraits may be the great turtle ancestor of life


The strange faces drawn on the first pottery made in the South Pacific more than 3,000 years ago have always been a mystery to researchers.  Now two scientists at the Field Museum in Chicago have a solution the puzzle.   The prehistoric pottery known as "Lapita" has been found at more than 180 different places on islands located in a broad sweep from Papua New Guinea to Samoa.  Experts have long viewed the faces sometimes sketched by ancient potters as almost human in appearance, and considered them to be a sign that Islanders long ago possibly worshiped their ancestors.   John Terrell, Curator of Pacific Anthropology at The Field Museum, has been working out a new interpretation of the evidence with Esther M. Schechter, a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology at the museum.  The information they’ve pieced together points to a completely different understanding of the religious life of these people 3,000 years ago. They believe most of these mysterious faces may represent sea turtles. These portraits may be showing us ideas held by early Pacific Islanders about the origins of humankind.  According to Terrell and Schechter, the evidence shows that these religious ideas did not die when people in the Pacific stopped making Lapita pottery about 2,500 years ago.  The two researchers show that this symbolism continues on prehistoric pottery excavated on the Sepik Coast of northern New Guinea, and they have also found this type of iconography on wooden bowls and platters collected at present-day villages.  Terrell and Schechter's discovery suggests that folklore about a great sea turtle (the mother of all sea turtles) and the origins long ago of the first island, the first man, and the first woman on earth, might be thousands of years old.   They have been able to describe for the first time four kinds of prehistoric pottery from the Sepik coast that, when considered in series, fill the chronological gap between practices and beliefs in Lapita times and modern day.  Terrell and Schechter recognize that more work must be done to pin down their unexpected discovery.  However, for the moment it looks as though they have not only deciphered the ancient "Lapita code," but by so doing, they may have traced one of the oldest religious traditions of Pacific Islanders through a deep and visible history.

Northwest U.S. dig finds 8,000-year-old habitation in Spokane area


Our final story is from the United States, where a site has proved to be one of the oldest areas of continuous human habitation in the state of Washington.  Located in the northeastern part of the state, at the union of the Spokane River and Latah Creek, evidence verified by radiocarbon dating shows that human habitation there dates back 8,000 years.  Local Indian history handed down through oral tradition has long held that the delta at the confluence of the two waterways, just downstream from Spokane Falls, was a choice location for harvesting salmon and other foods.   During the excavation, archaeologists from Eastern Washington University uncovered 60,000 artifacts, including an obsidian arrow point made out of obsidian from Eastern Oregon, clothing needles made of bone and an adz blade cut from nephrite.  Spear tips known as “Cascade points,” used throughout the region from 4,000 to 8,000 years ago, were found in the oldest layers at the site. According to Stan Gough, Director of Archaeological and Historical services at the University, the finds confirm that regional trade was part of the indigenous culture.   Stone net weights dating back about 3,500 years found at the site indicate that people were seeking large amounts of fish, either to dry and store for winter or as a trade commodity. Arrow points of about 1,000 years old were found in shallower strata.  Three samples of charcoal recovered from four to seven or more feet in depth were tested for radiocarbon to establish the site’s age at 8,000 years.  A favorable pattern of river behavior may have contributed to preserving the artifacts.  A flood in many other places would tend to wash away campsite remains, but the two waterways at this location piled sand on top of the old campsites, burying them in a sterile layer of sediment that sealed and protected them.

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