Audio News for May 20th to May 26th, 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 20th to May 26th, 2007.


Possible Offerings to the Aztec Rain God Found in Mexico


Our first story comes to us from Mexico, where archaeologists on a scuba-diving expedition found wooden scepters shaped like lightning bolts in a lake inside a volcano.  The scepters match 500-year-old descriptions by Spanish priests and conquerors writing about offerings to the Aztec rain god.  The lightning bolts, along with cones of copal incense and obsidian knives, were found more than 13,800 feet above sea level at the Lake of the Moon, one of the twin lakes of the extinct Nevado de Toluca volcano.  Scientists must conduct tests to determine the exact age of the findings, but historical documents written after the Spanish conquest in 1521 have led them to believe the offerings were left in the frigid lake more than 500 years ago.  According to Johan Reinhard, an anthropologist and explorer-in-residence for National Geographic, lightning bolt scepters were used by Aztec priests when they were conducting rites associated with the god Tlaloc. It is believed that the Aztecs considered this location one of the more important places of Tlaloc.  The research, which also involves the volcano's Lake of the Sun, is being led by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History. According to Stanislaw Iwaniszewski, an archaeology professor at the institute, Aztec imagery often associates Tlaloc with lightning bolts.  The pieces were left in the lake to bring rain storms, and copal incense was burned to form clouds.  Sharp spines from the maguey cactus, which does not grow at that altitude, were found at the site and indicate worshippers brought them there to draw blood from themselves as part of the sacrifice.  Luis Alberto Martos, the institute's director of archaeological studies, noted that other artifacts found in the clear cold waters of the lake suggest the rituals may have started about 100 BC, long before the Aztecs settled in the area in 1325.

Satellite Imagery may Rescue Ancient Egypt


A University of Alabama at Birmingham Egyptologist is in a race against time.  According to Dr. Sarah Parcak,only 1/100th of one percent of archaeological sites in Egypt have been discovered. Thus, our entire understanding of Egyptian history is based on very few discoveries.  In Egypt, thousands of known and unknown archaeological sites are at high risk from urban sprawl, expanding development and looting. Twenty-three percent of ancient sites in the East Delta region have disappeared in the past 30 years, with 8 percent lying under towns and 76 percent undergoing full to partial removal. If the same rate of destruction continues or increases, by 2050, virtually all archaeological sites, or tells, could be wiped out in the region.  Parcak is using satellite imagery to locate and identify tells. The technology allows tells to be found in weeks instead of years. Parcak became the first Egyptologist to use the methodology in 2003-2004, when she located 132 sites, some dating as far back as 3,000 BC.   In her latest study, Parcak tested several different types of satellite imagery to determine which ones are most effective in locating tells under various environmental conditions. It’s the first step toward the general use of satellite remote sensing in Egyptology.  Her findings appear in this month’s issue of the Journal of Field Archaeology.  Satellite remote sensing will change the field of Egyptology and may alter current ideas about ancient Egypt.  Among the sites already located is a major town in the East Delta dating to the time of the pyramids, a large monastery dating to AD 400 in Middle Egypt and a massive, largely buried city beneath the field on the East Delta dating to 600 BC.

European Lineage in Ancient China?  DNA Tells the Story


In China, DNA technology is showing that human remains found in a 1,400-year-old central region tomb belonged to a man of European origin.  Scientists who analyzed the DNA of the remains say the man, named Yu Hong, belonged to one of the oldest genetic groups from western Eurasia.  The tomb, in Taiyuan, marks the easternmost spot where the ancient European lineage has been found.  Zhou Hui, head of the DNA laboratory of the College of Life Science at Jilin University, led the research.  The tomb containing Yu Hong's remains has been under excavation since 1999 and was found also to contain the remains of a woman of East Asian descent.  The burial style and multicolor reliefs found in the tomb are distinctive of Central Asia at the time.  The people pictured in the artwork, however, have European traits, such as straight noses and deep-set eyes.   To learn more about the history of the couple, Hui's team studied their mitochondrial DNA, a type of DNA inherited exclusively from the mother that can be analyzed to track human evolution.  The research shows that Yu Hong arrived in Taiyuan approximately 1,400 years ago and most probably married a local woman.  Carvings found in the tomb portray scenes from his life; he was chieftain of the Central Asian people who had settled in China during the Sui dynasty AD 580 to 618.  Yu Hong died in AD 592, at the age of 59.  Scientists are using DNA to reconstruct ancient population movements in Asia and to determine when Europeans arrived there.  According to Hui, the existence of European lineages in China was known, but they were primarily concentrated in Xinjiang province.  In the central part of China, west-Eurasian lineages are seldom found in modern populations.

URGENT NEWS: Saving Spruce Hill: Four Organizations Unite to Spare an Ohio Hopewell Site from Development


Our final story is from Ohio in the eastern United States, where group four determined organizations are turning to the public to help save a 2000 year old Hopewell earthworks site from destruction.  The Arc of Appalachia Preserve System, Archaeological Conservancy, Wilderness East, and Ross County Park District are working together to collect donations to purchase and protect the 238-acre area known as Spruce Hill.  The Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Ohio has been hoping to incorporate Spruce Hill Earthworks into the park system since the 1980's.  Unfortunately, time has run out. With Spruce Hill going to auction on June 15th, laws prevent the Park Service from protecting the area without Congressional approval of park expansion. Unfortunately, these procedures can take many years.  What makes this site unique is that the Spruce Hill earthworks are nearly as intact today as when they were found in 1848.  The site belongs to a category of unusual sacred enclosures known as large hilltop "fortresses," of which less than a dozen have ever been found of similar scale. What is also remarkable about the Spruce Hill site is that its walls are made entirely of stone. The Hopewell culture associated with these fortress sites is recognized as one of the most artistic and geographically influential to have ever lived in North America. Spruce Hill earthworks encloses an astonishing 150 acres; most of which has never been investigated archeologically.  In addition, of the 41 primary Hopewell earthwork enclosures that were found intact 200 years ago, nearly every one has since been obliterated by agriculture or development.   The group’s plan is to formally contract the National Park Service's expertise in managing and preserving the historic earthworks. Conservation easements and deed restrictions will be put into place to preserve these archaeological resources, but in order to be successful, the group will need to raise enough funds to be the highest bid at the auction.  The need is estimated to be $600,000, of which $262,000 has been raised thus far.  Further details are available on the Bulletin Board of The Archaeology Channel at or at

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