Audio News for October 28th to November 3rd, 2007

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for October 28th to November 3rd, 2007.


Construction unearths pre-Columbian site in Puerto Rico


Our first story is from Puerto Rico, where archaeologists believe they have uncovered one of the most important pre-Columbian sites in the Caribbean. A plaza has been found, marked by stones etched with ancient petroglyphs and graves that reveal unusual burial methods. The plaza measures some 130 feet by 160 feet, and was probably used for ball games or ceremonial rites, according to Aida Belen Rivera (ah-EE-da beh-LAIN ree-VAIR-ah), director of the Puerto Rican Historic Conservation office. The elaborate petroglyphs include a carving of a human figure with masculine features but the legs of a frog. Researchers believe the site might belong to the Taino (TIE-no) and pre-Taino cultures that inhabited the island before European colonization. The plaza could contain other artifacts dating from AD 600 to 1500. Several graves were also uncovered, containing bodies that were buried face down with the legs bent backward at the knees. This unusual form of burial has not previously been found in the region. The plaza was discovered while land was being cleared for a dam. Scientists have called for a halt to the construction, saying the use of heavy machinery that exposed the stones may have already destroyed important evidence. Jose Oliver, a Latin American Archaeology lecturer at University College London, said the discovery is the kind that archaeologists don’t come across more than once every 50 or 100 years. Researchers have long suspected that the area might yield indigenous artifacts simply because it is close to other sites. The Tainos were a subgroup of the Arawakan Indians, native to the Caribbean region. They migrated to the Caribbean from South America many centuries before European colonizers arrived, but bore the direct impact of the earliest exploration. When Columbus landed in Hispaniola in 1495, the population was over a quarter million. Within four years, one third of the Indians had been killed or removed. Only half a century later, the region’s Tainos were nearly extinct, but some tribal groups retain their identity still today.

Bronze Age fort in Turkey includes apparent cult of the Hittite king


In Turkey, new excavations at Cilicia (si-LISH-ee-a), a site near Adana, have revealed the remains of a massive stronghold dating to the Hittite Imperial Period around 1300 BC. Sirkeli Höyük (sear-kay-lee hoo-YOOK) is one of the largest settlement mounds on the south coastal region of the Anatolian peninsula during the Bronze and Iron Ages. Archaeologists know its identity because of two Hittite rock reliefs at the site. The better-preserved one shows the Hittite King Muwatalli II, the opponent of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II, in the famous Battle of Qadesh in Syria. It is the oldest Hittite rock relief known so far. On the upper surface of the rock formation on which the reliefs are carved, various shallow pits or basins are connected to the reliefs. These pits were part of a larger religious installation that also included a building to the west of the rock reliefs. Researchers believe the structure had to do with a cult focused on the Hittite King. The Universities of Munich and Innsbruck Original (o-ree-gee-NAHL) conducted excavations at the site from 1992 to1997. In 2006, the University of Tübingen and the University of Çanakkale (CHAH-nahk-KAH-le) resumed excavations. In the course of the operations during 2006 and 2007, massive stone pavement and associated walls in the northwestern part of the city were uncovered. Additional evidence, in the form of pottery found on the floor of this monumental building and within the walls, suggests that the building was constructed during the Late Bronze Age, 1500-1200 BC. It was then modified and re-used during the Iron Age, 1200-600 BC. Later on, Hellenistic buildings occupied the surrounding area of the mound. The finds reveal that the site was engaged in cultural exchange and trade with the Levant, the Aegean and different regions of Anatolia in the second and first millennium BC. Historical information on Cilicia (si-LISH-ee-a) is hampered by the sparse finds of inscriptional evidence. For the Bronze Age, almost no inscriptional evidence from Cilicia is known, and in the following Iron Age, only the 8th century has yielded some information. However, Cilicia is frequently mentioned in historical documents of the second and first millennium BC. This raises the hope that the lack of inscriptional evidence is due only to the lack of excavations in this specific region.

Dig confirms early Aborigine use of central Australia


In Australia, new archaeological evidence shows that Aboriginal people visited the Watarrka Plateau, southwest of Alice Springs, 13,000 years ago. Two archaeologists, Dr. June Ross from the University of New England and Dr. Mike Smith from the National Museum of Australia, first came to the plateau during their survey of rock art in the National Park. While carrying out a small excavation to establish the age of a rock art site, they uncovered stone artifacts in an ancient buried sand plain. The artifacts were small, multi-purpose tools. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal in the sediments put the use of the area at the end of the last ice age. The excavation was part of an ongoing collaborative investigation involving researchers at the University of New England, the National Museum of Australia, and the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Service studying patterns of past human occupation within Central Australia. This research builds on the groundbreaking discoveries of Dr. Smith showing that people were living in the Central Australian arid zone by as early as 35,000 years ago. The results from the excavation provide a small window into the past, but additional evidence will need to be uncovered before a clear picture of desert life over the past 13,000 years can be established. Dr. Smith noted that the finds at Watarrka are sparse but important. They confirm early use of the relatively well-watered country, midway between the better-known ice-age sites of Kulpi Mara and Puritjarra. Dr. Ross and Dr. Smith’s research is available in the October issue of Australian Aboriginal Studies.

Greek island excavation finds lost temple of Artemis


Our final story is from Greece, where joint excavations by the Swiss School and Greek officials have unearthed the massive foundations of a large building that might be the lost sanctuary of Artemis Amarysia(AR-teh-mis ah-mah-REE-see-ah). A team of archaeologists led by Denis Knoepfler and Amalia Karapaschalidou has been seeking the site on the island of Euboea (you-BEE-ah). They focused their search on the island’s coastal plain near the small fishing port of Amarynthos, working at the foot of the hill called Paleoekklisies (PAH-leh-o-ek-KLEE-see-ehs). They were rewarded when their deep trenches unearthed a building base made of two rows of large tuff blocks. A stretch of 18 feet of the wall was traced into the neighboring fields, preventing further work for the time and making it impossible to establish the exact shape and function of the building. A preliminary study of marble and pottery found at the site suggests that the first course of blocks was laid in place in the second half of the fourth century BC. The upper row belongs to a later phase, during the second century BC. This is the first time such a monumental building has been found in the area. The 2007 excavation did not yield any significant finds related to cult activities, except for a few female terracotta figurines. Various evidence suggests that the sanctuary of Artemis Amarysia (AR-teh-mis ah-mah-REE-see-ah) was located somewhere in the vicinity. Past discoveries include several inscriptions that once stood in the sanctuary, as well as a lead weight inscribed with the name of the goddess. Ancient tablets from Thebes identify the hill of Paleoekklisies (PAH-leh-o-ek-KLEE-see-ehs), occupied during the second millennium BC, with ancient Amarynthos. The final piece of evidence is the distance between the major nearby city of Eretria (air-ET-ree-ah) and the foundation remains. Strabo, the Greek historian, geographer and philosopher wrote that the Artemision at Amarynthos lay 60 stadia, or 11 kilometers, from Eretria. Strabo was known for his 17-volume work Geographica, which presented a descriptive history of people and places of the different regions of the world that were known in his time. Future excavations should clarify the function of the monumental building discovered and yield new evidence related to the sanctuary of Artemis Amarysia.

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