Audio News for December 31st , 2006, to January 6th, 2007.  

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for December  31st, 2006, to January 6th, 2007.

Remnants of ancient Roman road discovered in Holland


Our first story is from The Netherlands, where archaeologists have uncovered what they believe is part of a military road patrolled by Roman soldiers nearly 2,000 years ago.  About 30 miles southeast of Amsterdam, the road was in use from roughly A.D. 50 to 350, before it fell into disrepair and eventually disappeared underground.  The stretch of road discovered in Houten is believed to have connected two forts: Traiectum, which gives its name to the modern city of Utrecht, and Fectio, also known as modern Vechten.  Discovered at the site were wooden poles that were used to protect the roadsides from erosion.  Experts hope to use dendrochronology to determine the date when the poles were cut.  According to lead archaeologist Wilfried Hessing, the road comprised a sloping mound of sand and clay, intermingled with layers of gravel and smashed seashells.  The top layer of hard-packed gravel is unusually well preserved.  Romans first entered this part of The Netherlands under Julius Caesar in the year 53 BC.  According to the Roman historian Tacitus, an uprising began in A.D. 69, when a local Germanic tribe captured two coastal forts.  Roman soldiers may have retreated eastward along the road to more heavily protected forts in present-day Germany.  In the coming weeks, research will carry out exploratory digs to determine the road's route farther to the east.  Excavations of other parts of the route are also being conducted in other European countries, and the United Nations is considering declaring it a world heritage site.

Ancient Vishnu idol found in surprisingly ancient Russian city


In Russia a Vishnu idol has been found near a village in the Volga region that is raising questions about a commonly held view on the origins of ancient Russia.  Vishnu is a major god in Hunduism and the mythology of India.  The idol, discovered in Staraya Maina village dates between the 7th and 10th centuries AD.  Staraya Maina, a village in Ulyanovsk region, was a highly populated city 1700 years ago and may be one of Russia’s first cities.  According to Dr Alexander Kozhevin of Ulyanovsk State University’s archaeology department, though incredible, this is evidence suggesting that the Middle-Volga region was the original land of Ancient Russia.  Dr. Kozhevin, who has been conducting excavation in Staraya Maina for the last seven years, commented that every single square meter of this ancient town near the Volga River is studded with antiquities.  Prior to unearthing the Vishnu idol, Dr Kozhevin had already unearthed ancient coins, pendants, rings and fragments of weapons.  It is his belief that today’s Staraya Maina, a town of eight thousand, was ten times more populated long ago.   According to his hypothesis, from this town people started moving to the Don and Dneiper rivers around the Fifth-Century founding of the city of Kiev, long thought to be the first Russian city.  An international conference is being organized later this year to study the legacy of Staraya Maina

CU-Boulder and NASA track ancient Central Americans across a volcanic landscape


In the United States, satellite imagery combined with video-game technology is allowing University of Colorado at Boulder and NASA researchers to virtually fly along footpaths used by Central Americans 2,000 years ago.  The effort has allowed researchers to trace the movements of ancient people in the Arenal region of Costa Rica, who used single-file paths to navigate rugged terrain between small villages and cemeteries over the centuries.  The evidence now indicates people re-used the same processional routes for more than 1,000 years, returning to them despite periodic abandonment of villages caused by recurring violent eruptions of the nearby Arenal Volcano.  The researchers have traced one processional path from a village on the Caribbean side of northern Costa Rica over the Continental Divide to a cemetery about 10 miles away using infrared satellite images that indicated a particular signature of plant growth.  Professor Payson Sheets from the University of Colorado notes that modern technology has allowed for the discovery and study of 2,000-year-old footpaths in the tropics where the ground is covered by thick vegetation and multiple layers of ash from prehistoric volcanic eruptions.  Software originally developed for video games has let researchers fly along the footpaths at various altitudes, directions, tilt angles and zoom magnifications in order to document particular landscape features.  The team has been able to pinpoint sources of stone used to construct intricate graves and to confirm springs used for water during ritualistic ceremonies that lasted for days on end at the cemeteries.  The footpaths leading to the cemeteries seem to have been viewed by the ancient villagers as "living entities" and may have been a primary reason they reoccupied the same villages time after time following devastating eruptions of Arenal.  Sheets has been collaborating with NASA archaeologist Tom Sever.  In addition, primary support for the project has come from the National Science Foundation and NASA.  Images of the footpaths were made by various NASA satellites and aircraft as well as by a commercial satellite known as IKONOS.

Climate change led to the demise of the ancient Maya and Chinese Tang Dynasty


In our final story, a new study suggests that climate change led to the collapse of the imperial Tang dynasty of China and to the collapse of Mayan rulers in Central America more than 1,000 years ago.  There has never been a reasonable explanation for the fall of the Tang emperors, and the disappearance of the Maya world still challenges scholars.  A team of scientists has found evidence that a shift in monsoon patterns led to drought and famine in the final stages of Tang power and may have also spelt doom for the Maya at about the same time. At the start of the 10th century, both ruling hierarchies were victims of meager rainfall and starvation among their peoples when harvests failed.  The new study argues that the cause was to be found in the movement of a band of heavy tropical rain, which moves in response to phenomena such as El Nino.  The effect was to end two golden ages that were unaware of one another and on opposite sides of the world.  The Maya practiced human sacrifices to please the gods of rain, while Chinese soothsayers were employed by the court to divine the seasons.  Nevertheless, neither could have predicted the devastation that would result from changing weather patterns.  According to the team, led by Gerald Haug of Germany's national geosciences research center, an immense movement in tropical rainfall took place in early AD 900s in both regions.  On the basis of their data, Chinese dynastic changes tended to occur when the summer monsoon was weak and rainfall was reduced.  Titanium sediment and deposits of magnetic minerals in a lake in southeast China suggest that the period was one of intense climate change that left northern China a desolate wasteland.  The researchers reported a remarkable similarity between those deposits from the Huangyan Lake, in Guangdong province, and titanium deposits in the Cariaco basin of Venezuela.  According to the scientists, the 8th and 9th centuries saw a worldwide drought in many other regions as well.  Researchers suggest that it ruined entire societies.  Chinese historians recorded the decay that set in during the late Tang dynasty, which ended in 907, thus documenting some historical support for this new scientific evidence.  This new proposal no doubt will prompt comment and debate from other scientists.

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