Audio News for January 14th to January 20th, 2007.  

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for January 14th to January 20th, 2007.

Enigmatic ruins of the “Cloud People” discovered in Peru


Our first story is from Peru where a previously unknown pre-Columbian ruin may hold clues to the history of the Chachapoya people more commonly called "Cloud Warriors."  According to Keith Muscutt, a British-born researcher with the University of California Santa Cruz specializing in the Chachapoya, the site is highly unusual because of its size, shape and remote location in the dense forest.  The unfortified, possibly ceremonial structure is located in the upper Amazon region which had been previously considered on the border of the Chachapoya territory.  The Chachapoya civilization, which flourished between AD 800 and 1475, is known for its mountaintop citadels and well-preserved mummies such as those found in tombs at the Lake of the Condors.  Conquered by the Incas just before the Spanish conquest, they allied with the Spaniards after 1532, but fell victim to diseases brought from Europe.  The ruin, dubbed Huaca la Penitenciaria or Penitentiary Ruin, consists of a large ceremonial platform overlooking a plaza as well a number of rectangular and circular buildings.  The main building is a stepped, rectangular structure made up of three tiers. Measuring about two hundred feet long, a hundred feet wide, and twenty-four feet high, it is oriented to the cardinal points of the compass.  Last August, Muscutt took part in an expedition that made the preliminary survey of the site. Although additional research is needed to confirm that it is a Chachapoya location, the site had an ornamental frieze and dry masonry typical of the Chachapoyas.  The find will be featured in Discovery Channel's new series “Chasing Mummies” in January 2008.

Possible burial of Mona Lisa found in Florence


In Italy, a scholar says the Mona Lisa depicted in the celebrated painting by Leonardo da Vinci is buried in Florence.  Giuseppe Pallantini claims to have found the exact location of Mona Lisa's remains based on old documents from a Florentine archive.  Pallantini’s research shows that Lisa Gherardini, the woman thought by many to be the model for the Mona Lisa, was buried in the convent of Sant' Orsola in the heart of the city.  The building is now abandoned and in ruins.  Da Vinci's model, if she was the one, was the wife of Florentine tradesman Francesco del Giocondo and, according to the study; she died in 1542 at the age of 63.  Others dispute the identification of Gherardini as the Mona Lisa.  The oil painting, which measures 30 inches by 21 inches, is believed to have been created between 1503 and 1505.  It is considered one of the most famous portraits in the world and is exhibited at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Multinational team discovers remnants of West Africa’s early past


In Africa, archaeologists have discovered pieces of the oldest African pottery in central Mali, dating back to at least 9,400 BC.  The find, made by Geneva University's Eric Huysecom and his research team, is at Ounjougou near the Bandiagara cliffs.  The interdisciplinary team consists of 28 international researchers from Germany, Mali, Switzerland, France, and Britain who constitute the largest current archaeological research project in Africa.    The age of the sediment in which the ceramics were found suggests that the six fragments are at least 11,400 years old. Most ancient ceramics from the Middle East and the central and eastern Sahara regions are 10,000 years old.  The pieces reveal important information about human interaction with nature.  According to Huysecom, Ounjougou was selected as the location because everything led the team to believe that they could follow the evolution of humanity, the environment and the climate at that spot.  The site is an archaeologist's dream: a ravine made up of layers of easy-to-date sediment rich in West African history.  Since the start of the project in 1997, the team has made numerous discoveries that shed light on human development in the region.  But the unearthing of the ancient fragments of burnt clay is one of the most significant to date. Huysecom believes that pottery was invented in West Africa to enable people to adapt to climate change and the transformation of the region from desert into grassland.  Some 10,000 years ago, at the end of the ice age, the climate is thought to have fluctuated between warm and cold periods leading to the formation of a 500 mile-wide band of tropical vegetation extending northward.  This attracted people who slowly moved north from southern and central Africa.  Wild grasses and pearl millet started sprouting on the former desert land.  For early humans to have been able to eat and properly digest the new plants, they had to be stored and cooked in pots.  The invention of ceramics also coincided with that of small arrowheads also discovered by the team.  They were probably used to hunt hares, pheasants and other small game on the grassy plains.  East Asia, the area between Siberia, China and Japan, is the only other area where similar pottery and arrowheads have been found that are as old as those in West Africa.  Huysecom commented that this is important, as they both appear in the same way, at the same time and under similar climatic conditions, which indicates that people use certain modes of adaptation to cope with environmental changes.  Huysecom is returning to Ounjougou, rejoining his colleagues as they scour the region for caves and other settlement sites.  They hope to find out exactly where the pottery came from so as to determine more precisely the age of the fragments.

Online dig diary brings archaeology to the public


Our final story is from Egypt, where Johns Hopkins University, in a continuing effort to bring archaeology to the general public, has launched its dig diary.  This is the seventh year Egyptologist Betsy Bryan and her team will be detailing the day-to-day life at an archaeological dig.  Starting this week and through late February, visitors to the “Hopkins in Egypt Today” website will find photos of Bryan and her colleagues working on the University's 12th annual excavation at the Mut Temple Precinct in Luxor, Egypt. The research focuses on the New Kingdom era of 1567 to 1085 BC, known as the "golden age" of Egyptian temple building.  This year, Bryan and her team will be excavating the area behind the temple's sacred lake.  Previously, their finds have included industrial and food processing installations such as granaries and bakeries.  According to Bryan, the goal of the website is to educate visitors by showing them elements of archaeological work in progress.  The site will resume again in June when Bryan will be working with a larger team, including students from Johns Hopkins and several stone conservators.

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