Audio News for January 20th to January 26th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for January 20th to January 26th, 2008.


Cambodian water feature may be world’s oldest


Our first story is from Cambodia, where archaeologists have found a manmade water channel in the northwest region used for rituals as far back as the first century. The team of archaeologists from Japan discovered the sacred mounds or altars at the ruins in Snay village in Banteay Meanchey Province. According to Yoshinori Yasuda, a professor of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto, the standard model has been that the Khmer civilization started from the seventh to ninth century AD, but based on research here, the Khmer civilization goes back to the first century AD. The Khmer culture established a well-organized and continuously functional network of water conduits. Their water circulation system lasted up through the Angkor Wat era between the ninth and twelfth centuries. Professor Yasuda believes the water channel his team has excavated may be the world's oldest of its type, some 600 years older than one at the Tikal ruins in Guatemala of the seventh to ninth centuries. The site with the water feature is located about 225 miles northwest of Phnom Penh, and 100 miles west of Siem Reap Province, home to Angkor Wat. With 10 Japanese archaeologists and researchers and 50 Cambodian staff, the team excavated five sites last year, discovering 36 tombs, 7 pits and 156 pottery pieces. This year, another 12 tombs were discovered, according to Yoshito Miyatsuka, archaeologist and president of the Miyatsuka Institute of Archaeology in Sapporo, who helped conduct field research on the site.

Greek mountaintop altar shows 1,000 years of worship before Zeus


Our next story is from Greece, where excavations at Zeus's mountaintop "birthplace" suggest the site's altar of volcanic ash rock was in use at least 5,000 years ago, which puts it a startling thousand years previous to the earliest known versions of the myths of this Greek god. Located on the summit of remote Mount Lykaion, 4,500 feet above the sea, the shrine is about 22 miles from the more comprehensively excavated Olympia. The two leading myths about Zeus's birth come from the writings of Greek and Roman authors. One suggests the god had his origins on Crete, instead of Mount Lykaion. New pottery evidence unearthed by the Greek-American Mount Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project shows the mountaintop's conical ash altar was used for sacrifices and other rites centuries before Greeks began to worship their most powerful god. Greek-speaking peoples moved into the region of modern Greece about 4,000 years ago and brought their religions with them. The question being asked by David Gilman Romano, one of the project's directors, is what was the altar used for in the thousand-odd years before that time? According to Romano, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, they hope that with additional research and analysis they will learn more about the early use of this altar, the origins of Zeus, and what was going on during those thousand years before there was a Zeus. Although the site at Mt. Lykaion has been well known since antiquity, no excavations had taken place there in a century. Last summer, a small excavation trench in the altar yielded Early, Middle and Late Helladic pot sherds, dating from 3000-1200 BC. That indicates activity in this region from as early as 3000 BC. The new material has created a vastly different account of the history of the altar and the site. The intriguing discovery of one rock crystal lens-shaped seal bearing the image of a bull with full frontal face, likely of Late Minoan date, from between 1500 and 1400 BC, has no related materials to accompany it as yet — but it does show at least some early connection between the two cultural areas. Scholars believe the artifact may indicate some kind of Crete-to-Arcadia connection related to early Zeus worship. The Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project, which began in 2004 and saw its first seasons of excavation work in 2006 and 2007, is a collaborative project of the Greek Archaeological Service, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the University of Arizona.

Island temple complex in India has rare idol of ten-armed god


In India, the unearthing of a very rare 1,000-year-old idol of the ten-armed Ravana is thrilling archaeologists. The idol, and others, were discovered among the remains of a temple complex dating back to the 11th century Chandela period. The ruins of three main temples newly discovered by the Uttar Pradesh State Archaeology Department are on an island in the middle of the Betwa River. Each temple had a base made of ancient bricks and the complex was fortified with a boundary wall, the remains of which are still visible. Two main idols along with numerous smaller idols were unearthed on this island. The prized find is the idol of the ten-armed Ravana picking up the Kailash Parvat, the home of Shiva, with Lord Shiva and wife, Parvati, perched on top. Various demons are depicted helping Ravana pick up the Kailash Parvat. According to S.K. Dubey, Assistant Archaeology Officer with the Uttar Pradesh State Archaeology team, this is a very rare antique idol. There is only one more of this kind in Ellora. The other major idol found depicts Ma Durga, the warrior goddess, killing a demon known as a rakshasa. It shows the neck of the rakshasa slit and a human form emerging out of his body, although the idol has been badly damaged. Of the numerous smaller idols found, most are damaged or fragmentary, with only their bases left. The archaeological team came across the statues while searching for tools used by early man during the middle Paleolithic age. Expanding their investigation, they came upon this unexpected and significant site. The team believes that they eventually will find another main idol,as the complex remains show three temples. Researchers are speculating about whether this was a pilgrimage site in the Chandela period. The main deity of the complex is unknown. The Betwa River divides at this point, forming the one-mile long island. Today, the changing course of the river has established a land link to the previously water-bounded island of earlier times. The temple complex and surrounding areas are all indicative of an ideal pilgrimage site. However, definite conclusions can be reached only after continued research.

US fights antiquities thefts from national parks


Our final story is from the United States, where looting of fossils and archaeological artifacts from national parks, such as Native American pottery and Civil War artifacts, is getting worse, as demand for such items rises on the world market. According to Greg Lawler, a U.S. National Park Service ranger, over the past decade an average of 340 significant looting incidents per year have been reported at the 391 national parks, monuments, historic sites and battlefields. Lawler estimates this is probably less than 25% of the actual number of thefts, and the trends are moving up. Park service investigators search websites and the FBI helps track looted items, some of which are sold to collectors in Europe and Asia. Prices are rising for some items, including Native American pottery and garments, according to Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, manager of the FBI art theft program. The park service has 1,500 law enforcement rangers and 400 seasonal law enforcement rangers. This equals one ranger for about every 56,000 acres. That can make it difficult to catch criminals such as the three men who dug 460 holes at the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania military park in search of artifacts and the man who pleaded guilty to taking 252 relics last year from Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park. Collectors will dial 911 to draw park resources away so that they have time to get into areas and quickly pick up their work. Human remains, animal fossils, bullets and projectiles all vanish. Many park service officials agree that looting is increasing and often is undetected. According to Blake Selzer, legislative director for the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association, budgets are stretched thin. Insufficient budgets translate to unfilled positions and inadequate staffing. Martin McAllister, a former Forest Service archaeologist whose Missoula, Montana, company, Archaeological Resource Investigations, trains and consults with federal law enforcement officials, said the theft of artifacts from national parks and other federal land is a huge crime problem and a multimillion-dollar-a-year industry. Under the 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act, first-time felony offenders can be fined up to $20,000 and imprisoned for a year. The problem, though, is to catch the thieves.

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