Audio News for February 24th to March 1st, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for February 24th to March 1st, 2008.


Fifty-five hundred year old plaza discovered in Peru


Our first story is from Peru, where a team of Peruvian and German archaeologists uncovered a circular plaza built 5,500 years ago. Other parts could be older depending on what else is unearthed. Archaeologists say carbon dating shows it is one of the oldest structures ever found in the Americas. Hidden beneath another piece of architecture at the ruins known as Sechin Bajo, the site is located north of Lima, the capital.

According to Cesar Perez, the scientist at Peru's National Institute of Culture who supervised the project, the find could redesign the history of the country. Prior to the discovery, archaeologists considered the ancient Peruvian citadel of Caral to be one of the oldest in the Western Hemisphere, at about 5,000 years.

Caral, located a few hours drive from Sechin Bajo, was one of six places in the world, along with Mesopotamia, Egypt, China, India, and Mesoamerica, where humans first started living in cities. Earlier finds near Sechin Bajo had been dated at 3,600 years old.

Peter Fuchs, one of the archaeologists, commented that the people who build the plaza had a highly developed understanding of architecture and construction. This can clearly be seen in the fact that the materials they used survived for so long. The plaza served as a social and ritual space where ancient peoples celebrated their thoughts about the world, their place within it, and images of their world and themselves.

The social gathering space that Fuchs and his colleagues found was constructed with rocks and adobe bricks. In an adjacent structure, built around 3800 years ago, Fuchs' team uncovered a six foot tall 3,600-year-old adobe frieze depicting the iconic image of a human sacrificer standing with open arms, holding a ritual knife in one hand and a human head in the other.

Hundreds of archaeological sites cover Peru and many ruins were built by cultures that preceded the powerful Inca Empire, which reached its peak in the 16th century, just as Spanish conquerors arrived.

False doors open new insight on Egyptian history


Our second story comes from Egypt, where three false doors that served as portals for communicating with the dead were recently unearthed at the huge necropolis of Herakleopolis. The discoveries date back to Egypt's First Intermediate Period, roughly between 2160 and 2055 BC. The period is thought to have been a chaotic era of bloodshed and power struggles, but little is known based on archaeological evidence.

In addition to the false doors, two funerary offering tables and a new tomb were found. Previous excavations uncovered tombs that had been intentionally burned and ransacked in antiquity, but researchers are unsure if the damage was done by military conquerors or pillaging thieves.

The site, known among historians by the Greek name Herakleopolis Magna, was the seat of the 9th and 10th dynasty kings. Local rulers from Thebes eventually defeated the Herakleopolitans and established the Middle Kingdom, but details of the battles and power transfer are scarce. Discoveries like the three false doors offer some of the best hope for Egyptologists hungry for information about the period's artwork and culture. Such symbolic passageways were common features of most ancient Egyptian tombs of significance. The rectangular portals, which did not actually open, were meant to allow the deceased to come back from the afterworld and consume gifts placed on nearby offering tables.

The false doors were found a few meters from their original locations, probably cast aside during the burial ground's destruction. According to excavation leader Carmen Pérez Díe of the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid, Spain, the sandstone doors are inscribed with religious texts and the names and titles of those buried in the tombs. At least one of the false doors was inscribed with the name Khety, the same name as the 9th and 10th dynasty kings, because officials often assumed the royal name as a sign of loyalty.

The Spanish team also hopes to shed some light on the fall of Herakleopolis by studying clues in the burned remains of the necropolis.

Original Blue Man mystery solved


Our third story comes from the United States, where anthropologists from Wheaton College in Illinios in have solved the mystery of how the ancient Maya produced Maya blue, a vivid and virtually indestructible pigment used for painting religious objects, in human sacrifices and in other contexts across Mesoamerica from about AD 300 to 1500.

Researchers have long known that Maya blue results from a strong chemical bond between indigo dye and palygorskite, an unusual clay mineral. They have re-created the pigment by slowly heating a mixture of indigo and palygorskite, but it was not clear how the Maya made it. The answer laid in a three-footed pottery bowl that has been sitting in Chicago's Field Museum for three-quarters of a century. According to anthropologist Dean E. Arnold of the museum and his colleagues, the bowl contained copal (ko-PAHL) incense and two other substances. Scanning electron microscopy showed that one of them was palygorskite. Combining that with other evidence, they concluded that Maya blue was produced during rituals by burning a mixture of copal incense, palygorskite and probably the leaves of the indigo plant.

Their discovery also explained the 14-foot-thick layer of blue sediment at the bottom of the Sacred Cenote (say-NO-tay), a deep well in the Yucatan Peninsula city of Chichen Itza [stress on second syllables] into which more than 100 victims were thrown after their hearts had been cut out on a ritual altar. The pigment, which was brushed onto sacrificial objects immediately before they were thrown into the cenote, was used on murals, pottery, rubber, wood, and other items thrown into the well to placate the rain god Chaak and bring moisture to the region, which suffers a seasonal drought from January through mid-May. Athough Maya blue pigment is long lasting, it can be easily washed off painted objects unless special binders are used to set it. Therefore, the blue sediment was the result of pigment washing off the large number of objects thrown into the cenote.

Team to seek signs of Blue Licks battle


Our final story is from the United States where Daniel Boone's son, Israel, and 77 other Kentucky frontiersmen were killed by British and Indians during the Battle of Blue Licks. According to Morehead State University history professor Adrian Mandzy, an expert in European battlefield archaeology, the site is about to be visited by historians and archaeologists with highly sensitive metal-detection devices. 
The bodies of some of the Kentuckians who died in fighting after an ambush are buried in a common grave under a simple stone marker on the park grounds. No archaeological site preparation was done on the battlefield area before development of the area as a health spa during the 19th century, or later when it became a park, so few, if any, artifacts from the battle are known to exist. 
The park has one musket ball that is said to have been found on the grounds many yeas ago, but no one knows where. During the 1990s, the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program determined that all the bulldozing and building that had occurred at Blue Licks over the years had destroyed so much of the site's integrity that it no longer qualified for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. 
Discovery of tangible evidence of the battle could restore eligibility to the National Register for part of the battlefield and would aid in the protection of territories where artifacts from the battle may remain. The archaeological survey of the battlefield could begin by late March or early April.

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