Audio News for May 27th to June 2nd, 2007

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  These are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for May 27th to June 2nd, 2007.


New laser aerial mapping technique finds famous buried earthwork in England


Our first story is from Gloucestershire County, England, where space-age technology has stripped away layers of history to discover what archaeologists believe could be a missing section of King Offa's Dike.  Aerial laser technology, which allows analysts to see what is hidden below the trees and the undergrowth, has discovered a long strip of earthworks in the Forest of Dean that has been hidden for centuries.  Archaeologists believe they may have finally found a missing 800-foot stretch of the Dike built by King Offa between AD 757 and 796.  The dike was built to keep the English and the Welsh apart.  It was thought to be lost to quarrying, but technology shows it could still be there, hidden under all the brambles and bracken.  Ground work is now being planned to test the accuracy of the laser map’s prediction.  According to the earliest historical records by King Alfred's biographer Asser, the dike was built by the former King of Mercia to separate England and Wales, and stretched from sea to sea.  Much of the 80-mile stretch snaking from the Wye Valley to Wrexham is still visible.  In places, walkers can see the original ditch and rampart which was 27 feet wide and 24 feet high.  The gaps in the dike led some historians to question whether Offa did build his dike sea to sea, or stopped short of the Severn estuary.  However, local archaeologists believe there is enough evidence to prove he did reach Beachley.  The newly found hilltop earthwork fills the main gap on the Tutshill to Redbrook section of the 8th century barrier and is near the site of a disused quarry.  The mystery earthwork was pinpointed by the Lidar laser, which sends out 33,000 pulses per second to map the ground below the trees and bushes.  The vegetation is then digitally removed from aerial pictures to reveal what lies underneath.  It is the first time the technology has been used on such a large scale, and technicians from Cambridge University spent hours flying over the Forest in a small plane to map it.   The missing section of Offa's Dike is not the only thing local archaeologists are excited about after seeing an initial Lidar report.   The technology has helped them identify additional sites of charcoal, iron and coal workings dating back to Roman times.

Clay tablets from government of Persia show women earned more than men


Researchers at Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago for the first time have identified an Old Persian, or Aryan, inscription among a loaned collection of Achaemenid (a-KEE-menid) clay tablets.  This invaluable collection is currently housed in the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago in trust for further studies.  According to Dr Abdolmajid Arfaee, an Iranian archaeologist with Iran’s Cultural Heritage and Tourism Department, the university has not disclosed their discovery in detail, but they will publish their findings soon. This discovery is expected to shed further light on the administrative, economic and political situation of Iran during the reign of the Achaemenid dynasty from 550 to 330 BC.  The inscribed stone pieces, known as the Persepolis Fortification Tablets, are administrative records in Elamite cuneiform.  Pieces from two archives of such tablets were discovered in Persepolis in 1933-34 and 1936-38.  They record the work of departments in the Achaemenid imperial government during the reigns of Darius the Great, Xerxes the Great and Artaxerxes I.  The records list many transactions but are chiefly concerned with distribution of foodstuffs, management of flocks, and provisioning of workers and travelers, at locations throughout most of Persia and eastern Elam.  Interestingly, the tablets also show that working Iranian women during the Achaemenid dynastic era received wages and salaries three times those of the men holding similar job positions. Those working for the government also received child benefits and other extra benefits.  The tables vary in size, shape and format.  Many of them are small, recording a single transaction.

New Mayan city discovered in Belize


In Belize, archaeologists have unearthed three foundations dating back to the early Classic Period of the Mayan Civilization.  Among the discoveries are crypts containing the bones of a man and a woman, believed to be 1,800 years old.  Found buried beneath a papaya plantation, the structures are believed to be part of a large ancient Mayan city now called Aventura.  Aventura had seven to ten thousand inhabitants and encompassed an area of two to three square miles.   Located in the northernmost district of Corozal, one of the houses measures 26 by 65 feet, and contains four rooms not yet fully excavated.  It is 25 yards from a Mayan temple in the center of the city.  The structure is considered to be very large for the Classic Period.  The size and the ornate pottery found in the house, including a double mouthed jar used to carry water, indicate that the resident family was perhaps not royalty, but had royal connections.  Two other structures were excavated south of the residence, one measuring 200 feet and the other, north of the residence, measuring almost 1,000 feet long.   Archaeologists also found two skeletons buried beneath the house’s thick, 18 inch limestone rock floor.  The crypts were in a back room that had been cut into the earth and lined with 12 by 12 inch stones.  The stones were exactingly cut and plastered, again indicating the wealth of the residents.  As was the Mayan tradition in this region, a vessel was placed with the remains, possibly to help the dead through the underworld.  In this excavation, the woman had a bowl placed over her head, and the man had a large family heirloom plate over his.  According to Chief Archaeologist Jaime Awe, placing vessels over the head is unusual and unique, as Mayans usually placed the vessels under the head.  A small jade piece was also found.  Other skeletons were also unearthed but found outside the residence.  The more important findings will be housed at the National Museum in Belize City.

Cyprus excavations reveal details of daily life in the Chalcolithic age


Our final story is from Cyprus, where the Lemba Archaeological Research Centre, a section of the University of Edinburgh's Department of Archaeology, has completed four weeks of excavations at the Souskiou-Laona site.  The ancient burials in this site have provided an insight into religious and social rites of the middle Chalcolithic people.  The site is in a region famous for the earliest cemeteries in Cyprus, which date back to around 3000 BC.  This is the beginning of the tradition of cemeteries, which became standard during the Bronze Age and have continued to the present.   The recent Lemba Centre excavations focused on the habitations of those people who were eventually buried in the cemeteries.  The ancient settlement was located on a steep hillside and this season the excavators were able to trace a series of terraces carved out by the Chalcolithic occupants on which to place their houses.  Contrary to previous belief, the house remains were well preserved on the protected inner side of these terraces and a great deal of evidence was acquired on the lifestyle of the community.  The early residents of Souskiou specialized in the production of the cruciform figurines, of the same well-known type that will soon grace the new euro that will be introduced in Cyprus.  According to University of Edinburgh's Professor Edgar Peltenburg, the team was surprised that production was not confined to a particular workshop.  The waste material from the manufacture of the figurines was distributed throughout the settlement, indicating they were fashioned by several groups.  These new data provide unprecedented amounts of evidence for the way in which these iconic images were created, as well as for the organization of society and craft production in ancient Cyprus.  Until now, researchers had assumed that the dead were all buried in the unique cemeteries of Souskiou, but this season revealed child burials in an elegantly built structure at the top of the site.  Mortuary studies have suggested that children were under-represented in the cemeteries, so here we have evidence of a division in burial customs, one in which age and status played a significant role in decisions about who was allowed a place in these earliest cemeteries.  
That wraps up the news for this week!
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