Audio News for January 21st to January 27th, 2007.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for January 21st to January 27th, 2007.

Eastern Mediterranean shipwreck is from early Islamic Period


Our first story is from Israel, where a shipwreck from the 8th Century A.D. is being excavated by researchers from the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies of the University of Haifa.  It is believed to be the only boat from this period discovered in the entire Mediterranean region.  According to Dr. Ya'acov Kahanov from the Institute, no other historical or archaeological evidence is known for economic activity and commerce in this region during this era.  The shipwreck now being excavated will provide a wealth of information about social and economic activities in this area.   The wreck itself was found about a decade ago, during a joint survey by the Institute for Maritime Archaeology from the University of Texas A & M and the Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies.  Carbon dating techniques show that the wreck is from the early 8th century, the early Islamic Period.  Because of evidence gathered during the latest excavation season, details of the shipwreck are becoming clearer.  Measuring 45 feet long and 15 feet wide, the small ship was built for local commerce.  It sailed along the coast of the Levant between ports on the Mediterranean Sea.  It was actually found less than 3 feet beneath the surface of the water.  According to Institute Director Dr. Kahanov, this ship is a rare find because of the amount of wood, which is in a very good state of preservation.  Additionally, much of the boat's contents also were preserved.  Among them are 30 vessels of pottery of different sizes and designs containing fish bones, ropes, mats, a bone needle, a wooden spoon, woodcarvings, and food remains of carob and olives.

Olmec influence seen in newly excavated site near Mexico City


In Mexico City, a 2,500-year-old city influenced by the Olmecs has been discovered hundreds of miles away from the Olmecs' Gulf coast territory.  The remains of Zazacatla are offering insight into the initial arrival of advanced civilizations in central Mexico.  It’s also providing lessons about the risks posed to ruins by contemporary development that now covers most of the ancient city.  According to archaeologist Giselle Canto, two statues and architectural details at the site indicate that the people of Zazacatla embraced Olmec styles when they changed from a simple, classless society to a more complex, hierarchical one.  Zazacatla covered less than one square mile between 800 BC and 500 BC.  Much of it is covered by housing and commercial development extending from the city of Cuernavaca.  Since the start of excavations at Zazacatla last year, archaeologists have unearthed six buildings, and two sculptures of what seem to be Olmec-style priests.  The sculptures have headdresses portraying the jaguar, revered by the Olmecs, and other symbols of status and authority.  Some theorize that signs of Olmec influence found at Zazacatla and other areas far from the Gulf coast might represent Olmec settlements, conquests or missionary sites.  Canto disagrees, since the Olmecs' most famous ceremonial center, about 250 miles east, is too far for direct contact, though trade links may have existed.  The Olmecs dominated the region around the Gulf coast states of Veracruz and Tabasco from 1,200 to about 400 BC.

Mass grave in Roman-era Normandy presents a mystery


In France, a 1,700-year-old mass grave of people and horses is presenting new questions about the Roman conquest of the country.  Was there a small part of ancient Gaul that refused to surrender for 300 years?  Located in Normandy, the gravesite dates to the 3rd century.  It was discovered by French state archaeologists at Evreux and appears to contain ritualistic placement of human and horse remains.  In one, a human skull is sandwiched between two horse's skulls.  In Gaullish times, 300 years earlier, graves containing both horses and people were common, and the remains were kept carefully apart.  No such grave has ever been found from the Roman period.  In the Normandy grave the bones appear to have been deliberately combined.  The skeletons of 40 people and 100 horses have been found so far.  Sylvie Pluton, leader of the dig for the Institut National de Recherches Arcéologique Préventives, or INRAP, doesn't think it is Roman, because the Romans were very organized.  Their graves were exceptionally orderly.  In this mass grave the bodies point in all directions.  There is extraordinary mingling of humans and horses.  This could represent a previously unknown cultural survival such as worship of Epona, the goddess of horses and warriors.  Roman graves often contained offerings of food, but Romans did not eat horseflesh.  Nor can this have been a warriors' grave.  Many of the human skeletons are those of children, women and old men.  Some Gaullish practices and beliefs did survive deep into Roman times, but no finds this extraordinary have come to light.  Professor Christian Goudineau of the Collège de France, an expert on the period, is reluctant to believe in some kind of cultural survival, such as a cult of the goddess Epona.  Perhaps these were slaves and horses, which died in an epidemic and were just thrown here in a hurry and became mixed up.  The problem, as Goudineau himself pointed out, is that some of the remains seem to have been carefully arranged.  Further digging on the site in the next two months may help to unlock the mystery.

Trophy skull gives insight into ancient Wari Empire in Peru


Our final story is from Peru, where a skull, believed to have been used as a ceremonial trophy by an ancient Peruvian culture, is providing new clues into warfare in the society.  The Wari Empire, a society that predated the Incas, ruled over parts of Peru 1,500 to 1,000 years ago.  During excavations at a Wari cemetery in the Huaro Valley, archaeologists have found what they consider to be an elite section of the graveyard.  They discovered llama bones arranged in a special pattern, often an indicator of something exceptional when it comes to Wari remains.  Beneath the bones, the team found a skull with several unusual holes and marks that appear to indicate it was revered.  Circular holes cut at the skull’s base and back suggest it was held on poles or worn as a large pendant during special ceremonies.  A line cut across the front of the skull indicated that the scalp may have been removed either for cleaning or to make the skull into a ceremonial vessel, and was later reattached with gold-alloy pins.  On the basis of healed-over scars and abrasions to the bone, archaeologists believe the skull belonged to a warrior.  Based on the physical evidence, the warrior was around 30 years old at death.  For his skull to be displayed in ceremonies, the man must have been a well-respected warrior.  According to team leader Dr. Mary Glowacki of the Earthwatch Institute, the trophy skull adds a new dimension to our understanding of the role of warriors and warfare in Wari culture.  The site of the cemetery, Cotocotuyoc, which sits high above the floor of the valley, was believed to be a last stronghold of the Wari as their empire collapsed.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!