Audio News for January 13th to January 19th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for January 13th to January 19th, 2008.


Royal tomb unearthed in Yemen


Our first story is from Yemen, where tombs containing three women, including one believed to be a queen, were unearthed. A bronze spear, a sword measuring 28 inches in length, large pieces of alabaster, an 8-inch bronze belt, and gemstones were also discovered. Dating to the Hemiriate dynasty around 110 BC, the tombs are located in the city of Ibb, not far from the ancient city of Dhafar, the capital of the Saba and Tho Raydan kingdoms.  According to the head of the General Authority of Antiquities and Museums, the discovery came about after two tribes began fighting about the tombs. When local authorities intervened, they became aware the of the tomb. Two archaeological teams were sent to investigate. The head of Antiquities explained that the site is a royal grave built in an artistic style indicating that it is of an important political person, presumably a woman. A specialized team will perform rescue and preservation excavations at the site at which the bronze coffin was found. The coffin will be sent to the Ibb city museum for additional preservation. The Hemiriate Kingdom was the dominant state in Arabia until AD 525. The economy was agriculture and foreign trade included the exportation of frankincense and myrrh. For many years, it was also the major intermediary linking East Africa and the Mediterranean world.

13th century village “rises” from the sea


Our second story comes from seaside Britain where a village that began slipping into the ocean in 1286 will be revealed for the first time with high-tech underwater cameras. Marine archaeologist Stuart Bacon and Professor of Physical Geography David Sear, of the University of Southampton, will explore the lost city of Dunwich, off the Suffolk coast. Dunwich was the capital of East Anglia 1,500 years ago. Its decline began in 1286 when a sea surge hit the East Anglian coast. The village gradually disappeared into the sea because of coastal erosion. Bacon, director of Suffolk Underwater Studies, first located the debris of the lost city, which lies between ten and fifty feet underwater, in the 1970s. Sear and Bacon are hoping the application of new technology will bring the medieval site to the public light. So far, they have found three churches and one chapel. Evidence of debris from lost chapels and churches has come from diving expeditions, but high silt levels in the water means visibility is only a few inches. However, according to Sear, technical advances have greatly improved a researcher’s ability to create accurate acoustic images of the sea floor. The expedition will use the latest sonar, underwater camera and scanning equipment to build up a picture of the ancient sunken city. A dive of the site will take place later in the year. Maps and images of the lost city are to be exhibited at the Dunwich museum.

Time capsule discovered in Mexico City Cathedral


Our next story takes us to Mexico, where workers have found a time capsule on top of a bell tower at Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral. Placed there in 1791 to protect the building from harm, the lead box contained religious artifacts, coins, and parchments. The capsule, hidden in a hollow stone ball, marked the moment on May 14, 1791, when the building's topmost stone was laid--218 years after construction had begun. Workers restoring the church found the box in October, inside the stone ball base of a cross that sits atop the southern bell tower. Burying the box at the highest point of the cathedral, rather than in a cornerstone, may have been a way to commemorate the end of a very lengthy building process. In fact, construction on the decorative parts of the church were not competed until 1813. After discovering the capsule, researchers spent the next three months opening the airtight box and preserving its contents. According to archaeologist Xavier Cortes, director of historic buildings for the National Council of the Arts and Culture, a perfectly preserved parchment listed the time capsule's contents, They included a small case of wax blessed by the Pope that served to protect against mishaps, 23 medals, 5 coins, and 5 small crosses made of palm fronds which were used as protection from the storms. The box also contained an engraving of Saint Barbara, a Roman Catholic martyr associated with lightning. Her image was intended to serve as a religious lightening rod, to protect against damage. Considering the cathedral's history - it has been flooded, fought over and damaged as the soft soil it sits on sinks - the cathedral may need the divine protection. The cathedral, built on the swampy terrain of a former island and partially atop an Aztec pyramid, has had structural problems ever since its foundation, requiring major renovation efforts in the 1920s, 1940s, 1970's and throughout the last decade. A new time capsule with items from this year will be placed into the stone ball when it is closed again.

Stone Age tomb engravings found on Irish road


Our final story is from Ireland, where tomb engravings dating back 6,000 years are the latest discoveries unearthed on the route of a controversial highway under construction. The historic site, at Lismullin in County Meath, was turned over to road builders last month, just weeks after the Stone Age art was found inside a medieval bunker. The engravings were removed to allow construction of the highway to proceed. The new find follows the discovery last spring of a prehistoric open-air temple nearby, causing construction along the 37-mile-long M3 highway to be suspended. The timber ceremonial enclosure, found just one and a quarter miles from the Hill of Tara, was the seat of power of ancient Celtic kings. According to archaeologists from Ireland's National Roads Authority, the latest excavations revealed part of a large stone monument, or megalith, decorated with engravings dating to the Late Stone Age. Unearthed 165 feet from the temple's enclosure, the stone’s engravings are a series of zigzags, concentric circles, and arcs. Mary Deevy, the Road Authority’s chief archaeologist, noted the engravings are similar to those that decorate other burial chambers in the region known as passage tombs. Only half a boulder has been found, which researchers believe was originally a curbstone from a passage tomb. The stone formed a wall that kept the burial mound together, with the artwork displayed on the outer surface. The etching symbols remains a mystery, however. The rock was discovered within an early medieval underground structure that may have been used by local inhabitants to defend themselves against Viking raiders. Dating to around the 10th century AD, the underground structure was most likely constructed using the broken megalith as building material. The site was given to road builders on December 18, with construction work expected to start soon. Campaigners who want the highway re-routed away from the Hill of Tara area have condemned the decision. According to Vincent Salafia of Dublin-based protest group TaraWatch, significant damage has already been done. Irish citizens opposed to the road project are currently seeking legal advice with a view to obtaining a court injunction to halt construction. The European Commission has criticized the Irish government for failing to properly reassess the impact of the road project after the ruins of the open-air temple were uncovered last year. Salafia notes that as many as 40 archaeological sites have been uncovered along the route of the M3 highway.

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