Audio News for December 24th to December 30th, 2006.  

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for December 24th to December 30th, 2006.

Fish farming evidence swims to light at English abbey


Our first story is from the United Kingdom, where workmen preparing the site of new public toilets have unearthed a 600-year-old sandstone water conduit.  It is believed to have been an important feature of the Shrewsbury (SHROSE-bry) Abbey grounds in medieval times.  The existence of Victorian culverts was known and had been recorded some years ago.  It is believed that the tunnels were built by the Victorians to drain the Abbey pools in medieval times.  The remains of the pool are still seen as late as the 1880s on a map of Shrewsbury (SHROSE-bry), a city in western England.  The monks at the famous abbey are said to have farmed fish in the pools to supplement their diets.  According to Pat Frost of Castlering Archaeology, the area around the Abbey is rich in archaeology.  A more important discovery is the row of sandstone blocks that may have formed the outer edge of a watercourse leading to the pools.  The medieval watercourse was cut across in the late 19th century period in order to build what is a very impressive double-chambered culvert.  Fortunately some of the alignment of the medieval watercourse has survived, and experts have been able to record what is left.  A concrete base being laid for the new building will preserve the remains.

Mongolian cave mural may show funeral of Genghis Khan

Original Headline:  Ancient fresco may show Genghis Khan funeral ceremony: expert


In China, a painting of a Mongolian funeral ceremony found in the Arjai caves in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region may depict the funeral of Genghis Khan.  The painting, measuring only 20 by 14 inches, is located in one of the caves at the Arjai Grotto.  According to Pan Zhaodong, a researcher from the Social Science Academy of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the image illustrates a Mongolian funeral where a man is held above a funeral pit by the beaks of white cranes.   The four white cranes carrying the body to heaven convey the Mongolian aspiration towards spiritual release.  One of the well-dressed onlookers could very well be the prince who accompanied Genghis Khan to take over the Western Xia regime 780 years ago, while the other two are monks.  One of the monks reportedly  is on his knees and appears to be praying.  A woman crying in the palace at the left side of the picture could be his wife.  Not everyone agrees with this theory.  According to the Director of the Otog cultural relics protection center, the fresco accurately represents noble Mongolian funeral rites, but the body may not be Genghis Khan.  The picture is nevertheless a very valuable icon that shows Mongolian dress and beliefs about death.  Genghis Khan unified Mongol tribes and conquered most of Eurasia. He was given the title “Genghis Khan,” which means "universal ruler."

Arsenic and old DNA confirms rumors of Renaissance murder


In Rome, an Italian historian believes she has solved one of history's great crime mysteries with forensic evidence from burials beneath an abandoned Tuscan church.  For more than four centuries, researchers have puzzled over the fact that Francesco Medici, the son of the first Grand Duke of Florence, died within hours of his wife in October, 1587.  Legend has it they were poisoned by his brother and successor, a cardinal.  Modern historians are more inclined to believe that they both died of malaria.  But according to Donatella Lippi, an associate professor at the University of Florence, and fellow researchers, it is now confirmed that Francesco was poisoned and evidence from the debris underneath the deconsecrated church strongly suggests his wife was, too.  Prof Lippi is the historical adviser to a project in which the bodies of members of the Medici dynasty, including Francesco, have been dug up in search of new evidence on their lives and deaths.  A document she found while researching for the project indicated that a postmortem had been carried out on the embalmed bodies of the Grand Duke and his wife.  The document, from the diocesan archives of the city of Pistoia, showed that the organs extracted during the autopsy had been put into terracotta jars and placed under the church of Santa Maria.  After gaining permission to enter the old church, the researchers confronted a tunnel full of debris.  Their search through the jumble produced part of a human liver the size of a hazelnut and two other body parts that have yet to be identified.  Tests showed the liver was that of a man and its DNA matched that taken from remains in Francesco's tomb.  The other body parts belonged to a woman.  The body parts have revealed high concentrations of arsenic.  Francesco's brother, Cardinal Ferdinando, had been in danger of being excluded from the succession.  In letters to the papal court, he put the Grand Duke's illness down to his eating habits and said Bianca was sick with grief because of her husband's condition.  Research results are to be published in the British Medical Journal.

Empty holes at Ecbatana in search for Medes and Persians


Our final story is from Iran where, contrary to what archeologists and historians had previously believed about the existence of Medians at Ecbatana Hill, latest finds at this ancient mound have so far revealed no evidence from the Median Empire of 728-550 BC.  According to Masoud Azarnoush, head of the team of archeologists at Ecbatana Hill, strata studies and operations in five places on the hill have revealed evidence only of the Parthian civilization, a later culture that lasted from 248 BC to AD 224.  Last year, excavations were conducted in a single spot, which failed to yield any indications of the existence of the Medians.  New trenches were dug in five other areas this year, but the results are the same, showing no evidence of other civilizations besides the Parthians at the location.  Azarnoush cautioned that since Ecbatana Hill is spread over a 35-hectare area, it is still quite possible that other archeological strata beside the ones observed so far exist in other parts of the hill.  Ecbatana Hill is located in present-day Hamedan province, in western Iran. Prior to the start of archeological excavations on this ancient hill, Hamedan was commonly thought to have been a Median city.  However, latest archeological studies in Ebatana proved that the hill was inhabited during the Parthian period and was most probably constructed around the Parthian era.   In addition to remains of the Parthian period, there are several reports on the existence of Achaemenid constructions in Hamedan.  The Achaemenid dynasty overthrew the Medes in 550 BC and founded the vast Persian Empire, which was in turn conquered by Alexander the Great in the 330’s BC.  Ecbatana was the summer capital of the later Achaemenid, or Persian, kings, beginning with Artaxerxes II, who ruled from 404-358 BC.  According to the Greek historians Herodotus and Xenophon, however, Ecbatana already had several administrative buildings erected by the Medians before it became the summer palace of their successors and the main capital of the Parthians.  The Greek accounts suggest a sizable Median presence in Hamedan by the sixth century BC, but as yet, the archeological evidence cannot confirm any occupation older than the third century BC.

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