Audio News for June 17th to June 23rd, 2007
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for June 17th to June 23rd, 2007.
Inca Warrior Victim of Gunshot Wound
Our first story is from Peru, where archaeologists have identified the earliest documented gunshot victim in the Americas. An Inca warrior was one of 72 apparent victims shot by Spanish conquistadors in 1536 in the aftermath of a battle now known as the Siege of Lima. According to archaeologist Guillermo Cock of Peru's National Institute of Culture, many of the victims, including women and children, showed signs of extreme trauma, having been hacked, torn, or impaled. Spanish records indicate the battle took place Aug. 14, 1536, as a small group of conquistadors tracked down a group of Incas who had fought them the day before. The records maintain that a few hundred conquistadors with their advanced weaponry and horses repelled an attack by tens of thousands of Incas. After breaking the siege, the Spaniards tracked down and killed many of the Incas who had attacked. The archaeological evidence indicates that the Spaniards were accompanied by a large group of Indians who were fighting the Incas to escape occupation. Some of the Inca warriors were clearly shot and others suffered injuries made by the Spaniards' metallic weapons. Most of the 72 victims were bludgeoned with more primitive stone weapons wielded by other Indians. The Inca warrior was undoubtedly not the first native shot by Spaniards in the years between Christopher Columbus' arrival and the Inca's death. Nevertheless, the odds of finding such a victim are small, and the odds of finding a victim who could be linked so closely to documentary evidence are extremely low. Here the archaeological evidence and the written record are clearly connected. Cock and archeologist Elena Goycochea of the institute were asked to investigate the new Puruchuco site in 2004 by Lima's government, which planned to build a road there. So far they have excavated more than 500 skeletons from the unlooted site, all dating from the Inca period. The bulk of them exhibit classic Inca burials in a crouched position, carefully wrapped, and buried facing east toward sunrise, ready for their rebirth. Seventy two of the skeletons were different, having graves that were oddly shallow and without burial offerings. One of the skeletons, in particular, had what appeared to be a bullet hole in its skull. Researchers also had the plug from the skull by the projectile's entry, and analysis showed that the force of the impact was not caused by a modern weapon. The team took the skull and other bones to a hospital where a CT scan was performed but no trace of metal was found. Cock called in forensic scientists Tim Palmbach of the University of New Haven and Al Harper, executive director of the University's Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science. They examined the skull and bone plug under an electron microscope and found both were impregnated with iron, which was commonly used in Spanish musket balls. The team has since found what appear to be bullet holes in two of the other skeletons.
Defense Department Sensitizes Troops with Decks of Cards
The Defense Department of the United States Government is sending a very special deck of playing cards to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. This deck shows some of these countries’ most precious archaeological sites. The Pentagon is sending 40,000 copies of this deck as part of an archaeology awareness program designed to make troops aware of the damage they can cause to sites and to discourage the illegal trade in artifacts. Archaeologists working at Fort Drum, New York, where troops are trained for deployment in Iraq, hope soldiers will know what to avoid when it comes to setting up camps or gun installations. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Americans built a helicopter pad on the ruins of Babylon and filled their sandbags with archaeological fragments from the ancient city. Each playing card shows a site or artifact, some of them from Afghanistan, or the card provides a tip on preserving antiquities. The suits have different themes: diamonds for artifacts, spades for digs, hearts for winning hearts and minds, and clubs for heritage preservation. The seven of clubs carries a picture of the Ctesiphon Arch in Iraq with the caption: “This site has survived 17 centuries. Will it and others survive you?” The five of clubs advises troops to drive around, not over archaeological sites. The two of hearts shows ancient ruins at Samarra, Iraq, with the message: “Ninety-nine percent of humankind’s history can be understood through archaeology.” In another Defense Department program, US pilots have received training in recognizing and identifying ruins, cemeteries and other sites so they don't accidentally bomb them. A third program involves soldiers in simulating incidents, such as practicing what they would do if they were taking hostile fire from an archaeological ruin. According to Laurie Rush, an archaeologist at Fort Drum, in such a circumstance, soldiers would be advised to put their safety first but to consider whether they might be able to return fire without harming a site. The US military has long recognized that educational playing cards are a good way of making good use of the long periods in which troops are waiting for orders. During the Second World War for example, cards were issued with silhouettes of Allied and Axis planes.
Excavations reveal there was much more to the Kingdom of Kush
In the Sudan, until now, virtually all that we have known about the Kingdom of Kush came from the historical records of their Egyptian neighbors and from limited study of monumental architecture at the Kushite capital city, Kerma. Scholars have come to learn that there was more to the culture of Kush than previously suspected. From interpreted Egyptian documents and current research, it is now known that for five centuries in the second millennium BC, the kingdom of Kush flourished with the power to maintain control over a wide territory in Africa. Kush’s governing success seemed to have been out of the ordinary. How could a fairly complex state society exist without a writing system, an extensive bureaucracy or major urban centers, none of which Kush evidently had? Did our experience with statehood rely too heavily on the early civilizations like Mesopotamia, Egypt and China? Archaeologists now are finding some answers and insights in northern Sudan. Hurried excavations are uncovering ancient settlements, cemeteries, and gold-processing centers in regions previously unexplored. Recent reports and interviews with archaeologists reveal extensive evidence that the kingdom of Kush, in its prime from 2000 to 1500 BC, controlled a 750-mile stretch of the Nile Valley. The area covered part of the larger geographic region of unfixed borders known in antiquity as Nubia. Some archaeologists theorize that the discoveries show that the rulers of Kush were the first in sub-Saharan Africa to hold power over a large territory. According to Geoff Emberling, co-leader of a University of Chicago expedition, this makes Kush a more important player in political and military dynamics of the time than we knew before. In addition, studying Kush helps scholars have a better idea of what statehood meant in an ancient context outside such established power centers as Egypt and Mesopotamia. Over the last few years, teams from Britain, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Sudan, and the United States have rushed to dig at sites that will soon be submerged. Teams were surprised to find hundreds of settlement ruins, cemeteries, and examples of rock art that had never been studied. To be sure, the scale of the salvage effort hardly compares to the response in the 1960s to the Aswan High Dam. In that project, temples that the pharaohs erected at Abu Simbel and Philae had to be dismantled and reconstructed on higher ground. The Kushites, however, left no such grand architecture to be rescued. Their kingdom declined and eventually disappeared by the end of the 16th century BC, as Egypt grew more powerful and expansive during the New Kingdom. In Sudan, the Merowe Dam stands at the downstream end of the fourth cataract, a narrow passage of rapids and islands. The rising Nile waters will create a lake 2 miles wide and 100 miles long, displacing more than 50,000 people of the Manasir, Rubatab and Shaigiyya tribes. Most archaeologists expect this to be their last year for exploring Kushite sites nearest the former riverbanks. Archaeologists from the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago scoured the ruins of a site called Hosh el-Geruf, about 225 miles north of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, where they discovered large-scale gold processing. Gold was already known as a source of Kush’s wealth through trade with Egypt. More than 55 huge grinding stones were scattered along the riverbank. The grinding stones were too large and numerous to have been used only for processing gold for local trade. Ceramics at the site were in the style and period of Kush’s classic flowering, about 1750 to 1550 BC. The primary accomplishment of the salvage project is the realization that, in its heyday, the kingdom of Kush extended not just northward to the first cataract, but also southward, well beyond the fourth cataract. By this time next year, the dammed waters may be lapping at the old gold works, and archaeologists will be looking elsewhere for clues to the mystery of how remote Kush developed the power to oversee a vast realm in antiquity.
Food on the Run in Ancient Rome
Our final story is from Pompeii, where recent evidence indicates that the formal, decadent image of wining and dining in ancient Rome mostly just applied to the elite. According to archaeologist Penelope Allison of the University of Leicester, the majority of the population consumed food on the run. Allison excavated an entire neighborhood block in Pompeii, a city frozen in time after the eruption of volcano Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. Historians often expand on and apply findings from Pompeii to other parts of Italy, particularly Rome, given the city's closeness to the Roman Empire's center. Allison noticed an unusual lack of tableware and formal dining or kitchen areas within the Pompeii homes. Instead she found isolated plates here and there, such as in sleeping quarters. She also found multiple mini barbecue-type fireboxes, suggesting that BBQ or fondue-style dining often took place. Stephen Dyson, one of the world's leading authorities on ancient Rome, is a professor of classics at the University of Buffalo and former president of the Archaeological Institute of America. According to Dyson, numerous fast food restaurants have been found in Pompeii and other parts of ancient Rome. Dyson equates these places to a cross between Burger King and a British pub or a Spanish tapas bar. Open to the street, each had a large counter with a vessel in the middle from which food or drink would have been served. Most Romans lived in apartments or rather confined spaces, and not much evidence for stoves and other cooking equipment is found in them. Dyson believes fast food restaurants became popular because they were plentiful, offering affordable choices. Additionally, many of Rome's and Pompeii's residents, who worked as artisans, shopkeepers, and weavers made enough money to support these places. Getting food to go either in a house or on the street also seems to match the energy and flexibility of the mindset and gives insight into the wonderful, slightly chaotic, aspects of early Roman life.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!