Audio News for June 24th to June 30th, 2007

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for June 24th to June 30th, 2007.


Egyptian tooth is clue to queen’s identity


Our first story is from Egypt, where a single tooth has clinched the identification of an ancient mummy as that of Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt about 3,500 years ago.  According to Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the right mummy turned out to be that of a woman in her 50s who had bad teeth, was obese, and died of bone cancer.  The mummy was found in 1903 in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings and it was thought until recently that it was the owner of the tomb, a woman by the name of Sitre In, who was Hatshepsut's wet-nurse.  The new evidence that changed this identification is a single molar that was found in a wooden box inscribed with the famous queen's name.  That box was found in 1881 in a cache of royal mummies and associated materials, which had been hidden away in ancient times for safekeeping at the Deir al-Bahari temple some 1,000 yards away from their actual tombs.  In the ancient embalming process, various body parts were commonly set aside and preserved in separate containers.  After finding the tooth in the box marked with Hatshepsut’s name, a professor of orthodontics, Yehya Zakariya, checked all the mummies that could be Hatshepsut's and found that the tooth was a perfect fit in a gap in the upper jaw of the large woman.  The team examining the mummy is doing DNA tests to confirm the identification.  Preliminary results show similarities between its DNA and that of Ahmose Nefertari, who was the wife of the founder of the 18th dynasty and a probable ancestor of Hatsephsut's.  One Egyptologist called it an interesting piece of scientific deduction, which might point to the truth.  Another Egyptologist, Kathryn Bard, at Boston University, warned that care is needed in reaching conclusions from such data.  The confusion about the identities of many royal mummies often arises from political events after they died.  Hatshepsut's tomb was found looted and without her mummy, possibly because her son and successor, Tuthmosis III, tried to wipe out all traces of her memory after she died in about 1482 BC.  It is believed that priests moved the collection of 40 royal mummies, including the box with the tooth, to Deir al-Bahari hundreds of years after the pharaohs died, in order to protect them from desecration and looting during a time of political unrest.

Peru yields evidence of early farming, up to 9,000 years old


In Peru, archaeologists working on the slopes of the Andes have discovered the earliest-known evidence of peanut, cotton and squash farming, dating back 5,000 to 9,000 years.  The findings provide long-sought-after evidence that some of the early development of agriculture in the New World took place at farming settlements in the Andes.  The discovery was made in the Ñanchoc Valley on the lower western slopes of the Andes in northern Peru.  According to Tom D. Dillehay, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Vanderbilt University, development of agriculture by the Ñanchoc people served as a means for cultural and social changes.  These changes eventually led to intensified agriculture, institutionalized political power, and new towns in the Andean highlands and along the coast 4,000 to 5,500 years ago.  The new findings indicate that agriculture played a broader role in these sweeping developments than was previously understood.  Researchers found wild-type peanuts, squash and cotton as well as a quinoa-like grain, manioc and other tubers and fruits in many parts of buried preceramic period sites, including the floors and hearths of houses, the garden plots, irrigation canals, storage structures and even on the blades of stone hoes.  The researchers used a technique called accelerator mass spectrometry to determine the radiocarbon dates of the materials.  Other archaeological findings and a review of the current plant community in the area suggest the specific strains of the discovered plant remains did not naturally grow in the immediate area.  The use of these domesticated plants is in keeping with broader cultural changes that apparently happened at that time in the area, such as people staying in one place, developing irrigation and other water management techniques, creating public ceremonials, and building mounds.  The researchers dated the squash from approximately 9,200 years ago, the peanut from 7,600 years ago and the cotton from 5,500 years ago.

Ancient Alaskan houses reveal same heating system as sites in Siberia


In Alaska, what may be the worlds oldest under-floor heating systems have been discovered in the Aleutian Islands.  The stone lined channels used to guide heat under the house floor are remarkably similar to the known system that the Koreans called ondol.  Ondol heating was used in ancient Korea and in related cultures in northeast Asia.  These Alaskan examples of ondol heating systems were found in house remains at the Amaknak Bridge excavation site on Unalaska, an island in the Aleutian chain that stretches southwest from Alaska across the Bering Sea toward Asia.  According to archaeologist Richard Knecht from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, the Amaknak Bridge site revealed four ondol structures during recent excavation.  Others had already been found in the area in 1997, but it was not known what they were at the time.  Radiocarbon dating shows the remains are about 3,000 years old.  The remains show that the Amaknak ondol heating ducts were built by digging a two- to four-meter-long ditch below the floor level of the house.   Flat rocks were placed in a "v" shape along the walls of the ditch, and it was covered with more flat rocks.  A chimney was built at one end to release smoke.  Until now, the oldest known ondol heating systems dated to 2,500 years ago and were built by the Korean culture in North Okjeo, in what is now Russia's Maritime Province.  The Alaskan ondol are about 500 years older, however.  In fact, they are the first ondol discovered outside Eurasia.  Professor Song Ki-ho of the Seoul National University looked over the Amaknak excavation report and commented on the numerous similarities.   For instance, all ancient Korean ondol are placed along just one side of the room.  The ondol in Amaknak conform to this rule.  However, since the ondol of Russia and Amaknak are more than 5,000 kilometers apart, and the Alaskan ondol are older than those in Russia, both Knecht and Song believe the two systems developed independently.  This theory is supported by the fact that this type of system has not been found in areas between the two locations, although new discoveries could fill that gap..

At over 1 million years, Spanish tooth is Europe’s oldest human evidence

Our final story is from Spain, where researchers announced they had unearthed a human tooth more than one million years old.  They estimate this to be the oldest human fossil remains ever discovered in Western Europe.  This ancient tooth was discovered in a site in the Atapuerca Sierra, in the northern Spanish province of Burgos.   According to Jose Maria Bermudez de Castro, the co-director of research at the site for the Atapuerca Foundation, the molar could be as much as 1.2 million years old.  The Atapuerca Foundation believes the tooth represents the anatomical evidence of hominids who left tools at the site more than one million years ago.  Since this was an isolated fossil, it is not possible at this point to confirm which Homo species this tooth belongs to, but early analyses suggest it is ancestral to the Homo antecessor species.  In 1994, the nearby Gran Dolina site produced several Homo antecessor fossils, suggesting human occupation of Europe by around 800,000 years ago.  Scientists had previously believed the continent had only been inhabited for around 500,000 years.  Subsequent findings in various sites across Spain lent further credence to the earlier date.  Homo antecessor is thought to be related to or part of Homo heidelbergensis, which is a direct ancestor of Homo neanderthalensis, the well-known Neanderthal Man.  The Sierra Atapuerca contains several caves such as Gran Dolina that have previously yielded fossils and stone tools of these early European hominids.  Researchers found the new molar in the Sima del Elefante section of the sierra, which had previously yielded fossils from mammals including bison, deer and bear as well as birds.  Studies of the geological level suggested it was more than one million years old, but final results are being awaited.  According to Bermudez de Castro, one of the three paleontologists leading the expedition, the fossil appears to be well worn and from an individual between 20 and 25 years old.  Although at the moment scientists have no idea what exact species the molar comes from, there is no doubt, given the geological level where it was found, that it belonged to the oldest European found to date.  Excavations in recent years in the sierra have uncovered human remains ranging from early humans through the Bronze Age to modern man.  Atapuerca's most famous site is Sima de los Huesos, or pit of bones and fossils; remains found there date to at least 350,000 years ago.

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