Audio News for September 16th to September 22nd, 2007

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for September 16th to September 22nd, 2007.


Mummies found in ancient Peruvian fortress


Our first story is from Peru, where dozens of mummies from the Chachapoyas culture were found during excavations at the Kuélap fortress. The Kuélap fortress where the 40 mummies were found is located on Peru's Amazon basin slopes. According to Restoration and Conservation Project Director, Alfredo Narváez, the remains seem to have been affected by a fire, raising questions for investigators. Fragments of Inca ceramics also were found at the excavation site. The 700 room stone fortress is some 9,000 feet above sea level, and was built in AD 800. The remains were protected under tons of dirt and stones at the southern part of the complex, the area known as El Tintero. Six circular buildings in the El Tintero area held the mummies, which included both males and females. The buildings were residential structures. Investigators are attempting to establish if these ancient Chachapoya people died in an attack or from disease. The Chachapoyas, also called the Warriors of the Clouds, were an Andean people who lived in the cloud forests of the Amazonas region of present-day Peru. The Incas conquered their civilization shortly before the arrival of the Spanish in Peru.

20: Temple to the Sun God found in Roman-era Armenia

Our next story is from Armenia, where archaeologists have discovered a second pagan temple near Yerevan. Found 17 feet underground, the temple was devoted to Mihr, the God of the Sun in Armenian mythology. The temple remains are in the ancient city of Artashat (ART-a-shot), which was the longest-ruling of the early capitals of Armenia, dominating the region from the 2nd century BC to the 5th century AD. A team comprising 15 workers from the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of Armenia started the excavations of the territory around Artashat in the 1970s. Before that, Soviet authorities prohibited large-scale excavations in the territories bordering Turkey. The findings reveal that Artashat covered about 100,000 acres of territory and had a population in 150,000 in its heyday. The protective walls of the city ran for more than 10,000 meters; scientists unearthed 4,500 meters of them in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The archaeological team has found a seven-room public bathhouse, which has a mosaic floor, statuary bases and pools with beautiful ornaments. Also found was a sewage system more than 2,000 years old. According to archaeologist Zhores (zo-res) Khachatryan (ka-chat-re-yan), it was known from the start that a temple was here, which was destroyed during the 4th century AD. However, they didn’t know exactly where the temple was, or how big. The latest studies show the temple devoted to the god Mihr was built on a hill on the left bank of Arax River. Walls surrounded the hill where the limestone holy place was erected. The excavations unearthed 23 staircases leading to the temple. The only previously found temple of Mihr was at Garni. Mihr was equivalent to Helios, the Roman god of the sun. The Garni temple to Mihr was built in the first century AD by the Armenian King Tiridates, with money he received after visiting Emperor Nero in Rome to seal their alliance. That temple was destroyed in 1679 in an earthquake, but was reconstructed in Soviet times. After Christianity was adopted in Armenia in the early 4th century, most pagan monuments were destroyed or abandoned.


New historical analysis revises history of 18th-century Cherokee


In the United States, two new studies are rewriting the history of the collapse of the Cherokee Indians. The date of the Cherokee society's end was previously believed to be 1785, when several tribes signed the Treaty of Hopewell and came under the jurisdiction of the new United States government. Many historians have thought resource scarcity was the major factor in the disintegration, based on eyewitness accounts of sparse settlement patterns. However, new land-usage research indicates that the Cherokee actually had plenty of land, crops and animals to go around. According to University of Georgia anthropologist Ted Gragson, the collapse was more likely brought about by a series of political impacts that occurred over a few decades as a result of increased contact with white Americans. Good historical accounts about the Cherokee first appeared in the early part of the 18th century. Their territory had reached almost 125,000 square miles and consisted of approximately 60 small towns spread out across the Appalachian Mountains. In his 1775 book, History of the American Indians, British writer James Adair made one comment about the tribes that ultimately shaped interpretations about their troubles at the end of the century. Adair stated that Cherokee towns were scattered widely apart from each other because the land would not support any other settlement. Historians focused on this statement because it made sense in the context of what happened later. When Cherokee towns began to unravel in the late 18th century, resource shortage was an easy answer. Gragson points out, however, that Adair's research doesn't give clues regarding the time he's talking about. Adair lived with the Cherokee for more than four decades. To investigate the likelihood of the resource-scarcity explanation, Gragson's team looked at maps and historical data from the year 1721 only. This was a point in time before the activities of the European newcomers grossly affected Cherokee society. Research showed it was a time of abundance, with more than enough workable land for everyone. The relatively small Cherokee footprint on the landscape could not have led directly to an all-out collapse, the analysis concluded. Deer were the only resource diminishing by 1721, because of the European demand for skins, and things really only started to go downhill after this trend had progressed for several decades. The deer trade collapsed in 1750, just before the French and Indian War. At that time, Cherokee tribes still had plenty of natural resources to sustain agriculture, but little time to farm, Gragson believes. By the time the Colonies were doing battle with the British, the once-powerful tribes were crumpling. At the end of the American Revolution, Cherokee numbers were decimated. With the loss of people, crop land, deer, and thus their normal social functioning, signing the Hopewell Treaty would have seemed the only way to salvage what was left of their culture. One of the new studies is detailed in the journal Social Science History, and the second will be published soon in the Journal of Archaeological Sciences. For more about Cherokee history, go to The Archaeology Channel at and see the video, The New Echota Traditional Cultural Properties Study.

Japan opens two imperial tombs to researchers


Our final story is from Japan, where the Imperial Household Agency is granting access to some of the country's imperial tombs after decades of pressure from archaeologists. Researchers have long been denied admission to the hundreds of imperial mausoleums and tombs, which the agency regards as not so much cultural relics as sacred religious sites. However, some historians put the agency's reluctance down to fears that inspection of the burial mounds could provide evidence that tears down commonly accepted theories about the origins of the Japanese imperial family. Members of archaeological and historical societies will have limited access to two tombs in February and March. Excavation will be prohibited and researchers will be permitted to enter only the tombs' fringes. The mausoleums to be opened for inspection are those of the Meiji emperor, who lived from 1852 to 1912, and the very early tomb of Empress Jingu, who lived from AD 170 to 269 and was the wife of the Emperor Chuai, whose date of birth is unknown. Opposition to the study is based on beliefs passed down through ancient myths holding that Japan's emperors are the direct descendants of the sun goddess Amaterasu Omikami. Thus, the current monarch is the latest in an unbroken line of 125 emperors stretching back more than 2,600 years to Jimmu in the seventh century BC. Although the wartime emperor, Hirohito, renounced his divine status after Japan's defeat in 1945, some regard his son, the current emperor, Akihito, as a living god, and have issued death threats to archaeologists involved in previous attempts to gain access to the tombs. Their greatest fear is that scholarly inspection of the tombs will reveal compelling evidence that the Japanese imperial family originated from China and the Korean peninsula. Currently, such secrecy surrounds the sites that no one can be certain what lies inside them. They may be the final resting places of the emperors, accompanied by artifacts, or they may turn out to be nothing more than hollow mounds of earth. An estimated 20,000 ancient burial mounds are distributed around Japan, but the most important are the 896 imperial tombs, including those of 124 emperors, from Jimmu to Hirohito, who died in 1989. Many of the most important burial sites are in and around the western cities of Nara and Kyoto, both ancient capitals. The biggest, belonging to Emperor Nintoku and dating from the early fifth century, is a keyhole-shaped mound near Osaka that covers almost 500,000 square yards.

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