Audio News for February 25th to March 3rd, 2007.  

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for February 25th to March 3rd, 2007.

Peruvian site of Chankillo sheds light on earliest sun cult in the Americas


Our first story is from Peru, where a new discovery at Chankillo is pushing back the first sun cults in the region nearly 2,300 years.  A line of structures known as the 13 towers run north-south along the ridge of a low hill at Chankillo, a ceremonial center dating back to the fourth century BC.  From observation points on either side, the towers form a “toothed” horizon that spans the annual rising and setting arcs of the sun, evidencing their use in solar observations.  According to Ivan Ghezzi, a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology at Yale University, the solar observatory at Chankillo is the earliest such structure identified.  In addition, unlike all other astronomically oriented sites, Chankillo contains alignments that cover the entire solar year.  The site predates the European conquests by 1,800 years and even precedes, by about 500 years, the monuments of similar purpose constructed by the Maya in Central America.  Beginning in 2000, Earthwatch volunteer teams assisted Ghezzi at Chankillo in conducting excavations that supported this new theory about the site’s importance in ancient sun cults.  They aided in mapping the 13 towers, recording their alignments, and excavating the “solar observatory” to the west.  Earthwatch volunteers also took tree ring samples from well-preserved wooden lintels that helped date the site.  Excavation of ancient buildings to the west of the towers exposed one corridor that was plainly an observation point for watching the sun rise over the toothed horizon.  The end of the passage was littered with offerings of pottery, shell, and stone artifacts, thus suggesting ritual significance associated with solar observations.  A building to the east is in the exact mirror position of the western observation point and is lined up to view the sunsets over the 13 towers.  The gaps between the towers are wide enough for just one or two sunrises to be observed in each.  The regularity of the gaps suggests that the year was divided into regular intervals.  Plazas near the 13 towers apparently provided a setting for people participating in public rituals and feasts directly linked to solar observations.  However, the observation points themselves appear to have been restricted to those of special status.  This, along with ceramic warrior figurines found at the site, suggests the authority of an elite few.  According to researchers, these monuments were statements about how the society was organized; who had power, and who did not.  The people who controlled these monuments were thought to control the movement of the sun.  The archaeologists propose that this knowledge could have been translated into the very powerful political and ideological statement.

Hera statue found under Mt. Olympus


In Greece, a 2,200-year-old statue of the goddess Hera has been found in an ancient wall under Mount Olympus.  The headless marble statue was discovered during excavations in the ruins of ancient Dion, 50 miles southwest of Thessaloniki.  According to archaeologist Dimitris Pantermali, early Christian inhabitants of the city had used the life-sized statue as filling for a defensive wall.  The 2nd century-BC piece appears to have originally stood in a temple dedicated to Zeus, leader of the ancient Greek gods.  A statue of Zeus, husband and brother of Hera, was also found in the building's ruins in 2003.  The statue of Hera had stood next to that of Zeus within the temple.  The statue is described as a female form seated on a throne, and is made of thick-grained marble like the one of Zeus.  It shows exactly the same technique and size, which led researchers to link the two statues.  Pantermalis theorized that if confirmed, it would be the first time two statues of different gods have been located from a single temple in Greece.  He believes it also possible that a statue of Athena, goddess of wisdom, could have stood in the same temple and may be found in future excavations.  Dion was a major religious center of the ancient Macedonians.  Alexander the Great offered sacrifices there before launching his campaign against the Persian Empire in the 4th century BC.  Excavations so far have revealed temples, theaters and a stadium, city walls, a hotel, baths, and streets with an elaborate drainage system, as well as many statues.

Sunken artifacts found, but no galleon


In Mexico, porcelain plates and other artifacts found along the Baja California coast, near the port of Ensenada, could be from the wreckage of a Spanish galleon that sailed between the Philippines and Mexico hundreds of years ago.  According to archaeologist Luz Maria Mejia of the National Institute of Anthropology and History, seals and other markings on some of the 1,000 fragments of porcelain plates indicate they were made in China in the late 1500s.  Shifting sand dunes have kept artifacts like these hidden for centuries.  Archaeologists have been scouring the dunes looking for relics from old Pacific trading ships.  Spanish ships, referred to as “Manila galleons” began sailing the Pacific trade route in the 1560s, traveling from Acapulco to Manila and back again.  The standard return route from Manila took advantage of winds and currents, which led ships northward and then westward across the North Pacific Ocean to the Oregon or California coast.  Then they would hug the coast as they traveled south to Acapulco.  Researchers believe the artifacts may have reached shore following a shipwreck, although no sunken ships have been found off the coast.

Multinational teams struggle against time in Irna’s Bolaghi Valley


In our final story, a team of Iranian and French archaeologists have begun a new phase of excavations in order to completely unearth the Achaemenid palace in the controversial Bolaghi Valley.  The team discovered the palace, believed to have belonged to Darius I, in May 2006 during archaeological rescue excavations.  Unfortunately, the Sivand Dam will flood the site in the near future.  According to team director Mohammad-Taqi Ataii, the site where the castle was discovered was one of the most important residential areas of the Achaemenids in the valley. Looters destroyed part of the palace, and the team only unearthed the corridor and main court of the palace during the previous excavations.  The corridor was constructed on columns; and four of their bases were found during the previous excavation.  The column bases, which are identical to those at Persepolis, are made of black and white stone.  Remy Boucharlat, the director of the French Institute of Iranian Studies, leads the French archaeologists.  A number of archaeological teams from Japan, France, Italy, Poland, Germany, and Australia along with Iranian researchers have worked in the region from 2004 to 2006 to save artifacts and gather information from the 130 ancient sites of the Bolaghi Valley.  Fortunately, the government has been convinced to temporarily suspend the filling of the reservoir of the Sivand Dam.

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