Audio News for May 13th to May 19th, 2007 

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Rick Pettigrew filling in for Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for May 13th to May 19th, 2007.


Large Irish sacred site found in highway’s path


Our first story is from Ireland, where the discovery of a major prehistoric site has stalled construction of a contentious four-lane highway.  The site is a large circular enclosure, believed to have once been an open-air royal temple and estimated to be at least 2,000 years old.  It was unearthed at Lismullin in County Meath by road-builders working on the highway northwest of Dublin.  According to government archaeologists for the road project, the find, which is located a little more than a mile from the Stone Age Hill of Tara, likely represents a ritual site. The Hill of Tara was once the seat of power of Ireland's Celtic kings.  Work on the highway was halted last month after the archaeologists with the National Roads Authority found the large timber monument.  It measures 262 feet in diameter and has a 52-foot-round structure inside that is thought to have been a temple.  Artifacts discovered at the site include a stone axe head, a pottery fragment, and an ornamental pin. The monument is probably part of an important ceremonial complex centered on the Hill of Tara.  According to archaeologist Joe Fenwick of the National University of Ireland, Galway, it is commonly recognized that the valley where the new site was found is part of Tara, which is the pre-eminent archaeological site of Ireland.  The setting and the small number of artifacts recovered so far suggest that the enclosure was a ritual site rather than a human settlement.  Mary Deevy, the National Roads Authority’s chief archaeologist, pointed to the low-lying position of the site, which means that from inside there would have been no view of anyone approaching, as further evidence that it was not a settlement.  Fenwick agreed that the enclosure seems to have had a ceremonial link to Ireland's prehistoric royal sites.   Ceremonies and worship performed at these monuments may have been related to cosmology and royal inauguration.  The newly discovered site has yet to be accurately dated, but it is thought to have been in use some time after 1000 BC.   Road Authority officials have declared the site a national monument, but this does not ensure its protection.  Legislation introduced in 2004 allows for national monuments to be destroyed if the environment minister considers such action in the public interest.  The Irish government is currently considering its options. Reports suggest the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin is urging a complete archaeological investigation of the site.  Activists are questioning why the Lismullin monument wasn't detected earlier, before the route was given the go-ahead, and are calling for the road to be rerouted.

Historic battlefield excavations will explore a famous Swedish defeat


Ukraine this summer will see the first excavation of the eighteenth-century battlefield of Poltava (pol ta’va).  Researchers are hoping to uncover new information about the Swedish army's devastating defeat here in 1709 at the hands of Russian forces.  The archaeological work will be led by Bo Knarrström from the Swedish National Heritage Board in a cooperative effort among Sweden, Ukraine and the USA.  According to Knarrström, Poltava was a historical turning point for all of Europe, and was really the only time that Sweden was involved in shaping world history.  Sweden, the great power at that time, was routed in the battle and Russia took its place as a new great power.  The defeat of King Karl XII at Poltava is well documented and many historical works have been written on the subject.  But all of these are based on the personal memories of survivors.  The battle was so chaotic that there is little to compare with it from a Swedish point of view.  Holes exist in the known history and researchers have aired disagreements.  In fact, the defeat at Poltava was so decisive that it later gave rise to the Russian phrase 'like a Swede at Poltava,” meaning totally helpless.  The battlefield archaeologists are particularly interested in isolating the weapons that might have caused the enormous Swedish losses.  The area of the battlefield that is most interesting in this regard is the famous third redoubt, where the Swedish calamity began.  Karl XII was the King of Sweden from 1697 to 1718.  Son of Charles XI, he became absolute monarch at age 15. He defended his country for 18 years in the Second Northern War, gradually taking increased responsibility for planning and executing armed operations.  In 1709, he launched the disastrous invasion of Russia that resulted in the collapse of the Swedish armies and the loss of Sweden's status as a great power.  The excavations will be documented in a book and a television series.

 Mayan tomb yields new evidence on ancient city life


In Honduras, archaeologists have discovered the entombed remains of an elite member of the ancient Maya Empire that may help answer some longstanding questions on the vanished culture.  The skeleton is seated in an upright position in the unusual tomb in the city of Copán.  The dead person was flanked by shells, pottery, vessels, and jade adornments.  According to discoverer Allan Maca, archaeologist at Colgate University in New York State, the position of the body, the structure of the tomb, and several unexpected artifacts suggest the interred individual was a political or priestly figure.  The buried individual was found with a jade pectoral badge hung from a necklace of dozens of jade beads of various sizes.  Because jade was a precious commodity, this wealth shows control over economic resources.   Maca noted that the notched design on the pectoral probably represents a political title or social affiliation that links this individual to other major sites around the city.  Located at the western edge of modern-day Honduras, Copán was one of the most important Maya sites, thriving between the fifth and ninth centuries AD.  The political and cultural ranges of the city are not well understood, but it is famous for its funerary steles.  The newly found remains belong to a 50-year-old man with several illnesses.  He had poor use of his left arm, poor arterial flow through his upper spinal cord, and a chronic skull infection known as mastoiditis, according to a bioarchaeological analysis by Katherine Miller of Arizona State University.  Although he found the tomb in 2005, Maca only announced his findings last week, with officials from the Honduran Institute of Anthropology and History.   Maca, who is also the director of the Project for the Planning of Ancient Copán, described the tomb’s unusual features, including a split vault created by load-bearing horizontal supports.  The chamber was accessed from above by a stone chute that descends from the surface of the temple.  These are features that allowed the tomb to be reentered years after the original interment, for purposes of ancestor veneration.  The tomb's location, some 1,300 feet west of the Acropolis, Copán's ceremonial core, was unexpected.  Scientists said that the design is without precedent in the Maya area and it is the first elaborate tomb construction to be discovered outside the actual ceremonial center of Copán.

Colonial French fort found in Pennsylvania park


Our final story is from the United States, where two weeks ago, Philadelphia archaeologist Tom Kutys thought he'd found only a stone wall when he came across mortared capstones in a trench at a state park in Pennsylvania.  Instead, archaeologists at Point State Park, once the site of French and British forts, believe he may have uncovered long-buried remnants of Fort Duquesne, Pittsburgh's original fort.  According to Brooke Blades, archaeologist, the wall is probably the earliest example of European masonry in Pittsburgh.  After excavating around Kutys' discovery, workers found what they believe to be a drainage system that served the fort in the mid-1700s.  Blades believes there may be other extensive evidence of Fort Duquesne here.  Although people had known where Fort Duquesne was, the question was how much was left.  The new discovery is tangible evidence of the fort, and thus proof of where the permanent occupation of Pittsburgh began.  The discovery, however, won't slow down the planned renovation of the park that is also taking place.  In fact, Kutys' discovery will be buried as work continues to upgrade the 36-acre park to include a new lawn area, irrigation and electrical systems, landscapes, vendor hookups, and benches in time for Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary celebration next year.  No artifacts associated with Fort Duquesne have been found, but Blades believes that the location of the drain only 45 feet from where the fort stood, coupled with the fact that the brick dates at least to the early 19th century, indicates that the drainage system likely was part of the fort established by the French in 1754.  As French and British forces fought to seize control of North America, the French built Fort Duquesne where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River.  The French destroyed the fort as British forces advanced in 1758 during the French and Indian War.  The British then built Fort Pitt on the ruins of Fort Duquesne between 1759 and 1761.

That wraps up the news for this week!
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