Audio News for December 17th to December 23rd, 2006.  

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for December 17th to December 23rd, 2006.

Mysterious rings located near Chinese empress’ tomb


Our first story is from China where archaeologists have discovered a group of gigantic rings at the 1,300-year-old tomb of Wu Zetian, China's only empress.  Researchers, however, are unable to explain their existence and the meaning of the 10 or more rings, which appeared on aerial photographs.  Most of the rings are 90 to 120 feet in diameter.   According to Qin Jianming, a researcher with the Xi'an Preservation and Restoration Center, the most eye-catching is the largest ring, with the diameter of 330 feet.   The foundation of the largest ring measures 9 feet thick, with coloration distinctly darker than the surrounding fields. Three quarters of the ring is clearly visible.  Experts first believed the rings were atmospheric phenomena caused by lights, but after analysis and comparison with previous aerial photos, they believe they are historic remains.  Located 50 miles northwest of the ancient city of Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province, Qianling is the joint tomb of Wu Zetian, who ruled for 50 years, and her husband, Emperor Li Zhi of the Tang Dynasty, which lasted from AD 618-907.   It is the only tomb in China that contains the bodies of two rulers. Qianling is also the best-preserved ancient tomb in China and has not been looted.  Despite searches of historical records, researchers still have no idea of the purpose of the rings or their relation with the tombs.

Egyptian high priest’s carving reveals information on Karnak Temple


In Egypt the discovery of a carving dating back to the 12th century BC may hold the key to important information on Karnak temple, the largest ancient religious site in the world.  The large quartzite stone, carved with 17 lines of hieroglyphics, highlights the achievements of high priest Bak En Khonso, and chronicles his contributions to the grand hall at Karnak.  Unearthed by a team of archeologists in the southern Nile city of Luxor, the carving, which measures 5.5 by 2.5 feet, also illustrates the high priest's family tree.   According to Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, this is very significant because it is the first information about Bak En Khonso, who, during his time, was the second most important man after the king.   Bak En Khonso lived during the reign of King Setnakhte, founder of Egypt's 20th Dynasty.  A high priest performed ritual duties on behalf of the king.  Karnak Temple in the southern city of Luxor is the largest ancient religious site in the world. Unfortunately, of its four main parts, only one is accessible to tourists.

Scientific tests cast doubt on claims about Joan of Arc relic


In France, tests are proving that a rib bone and a piece of cloth supposedly recovered after Joan of Arc was burned at the stake are probably not hers.   Eighteen experts trying to unravel one of the mysteries surrounding the 15th century French heroine began a series of tests six months ago on the fragments reportedly recovered from the pyre where the 19-year-old was burned for heresy.  According to Philippe Charlier, head of the team, although the tests have not been completed, findings so far indicate there is "relatively little chance" that the remnants are hers. Charlier continued reporting that the fragment of linen from the 15th century was likely not burned, but instead was dyed, and a blackened substance on the bone is not carbonized remains but vegetable and mineral debris that resembles an embalming substance.  Joan of Arc was burned to death on May 30, 1431, in the Normandy town of Rouen following a trial.  Legend has it that her ashes were scattered in the Seine River.  The rib bone and piece of cloth were purportedly recovered from the pyre by an unidentified person and conserved by an apothecary until 1867. They are currently kept at a museum in Chinon, about 150 miles southwest of Paris.  In 1909, scientists declared it highly probable that the remains were those of Joan of Arc.  Given developments in genetic technology in recent years, researchers decided to test the remains again to try to determine if they were definitely hers.  Charlier reported that the probability that the remains are those of Joan of Arc now is much reduced.  Researchers are moving toward the interpretation that the object is a fake relic or a relic that was modified.  Charlier stressed that results from other tests were still pending, including carbon-14 dating and genetic tests to determine the sex of the individual.  Joan of Arc was tried for heresy and witchcraft and burned at the stake after leading the French to several victories over the English during the Hundred Years War, notably in Orleans, south of Paris.  The illiterate farm girl from Lorraine, in eastern France, disguised herself as a man in her war campaigns and said she heard voices from a trio of saints telling her to deliver France from the English. Joan of Arc was beatified in 1909 and made a saint in 1920.

Accidental discovery may have turned up old bones in Pennslyvania


Our final story is from the United States, where crews renovating Point State Park in Pennsylvania have unearthed human bones, possibly dating to colonial times.  According to Brook Blades, principal investigator and archaeologist for the firm hired to oversee archaeological issues on the project, more than 30 bones have been found to date.  The park, situated where the Ohio River forks, is the site of the strategic Fort Pitt of the mid-1700s.  A crew digging a trench for temporary water lines uncovered bones about 40 yards behind the Fort Pitt Blockhouse, the only surviving building of the original stronghold. The first bone was found in the trench about 18 to 30 inches below the surface.   The Allegheny County medical examiner originally dismissed the fragments as nonhuman. In a reversal, an archaeologist with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission identified a skull fragment as human and very old.  The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which manages state parks, said the find was unlikely to hold up the project.  Because of plans to bury a section of the fort's original wall, preservationists oppose the renovation, which is designed to enable the historic area to be used as festival grounds.

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