Audio News for March 9th to March 15th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for March 9th to March 15th, 2008.


Evidence of ancient brain surgery discovered in Greece


Our first story is from northern Greece, where archaeologists have uncovered the skeletal remains of a young woman, who appears to have undergone brain surgery nearly 1,800 years ago. The bones were found in one of more than 1,000 graves excavated in an ancient cemetery near the modern-day city of Veria (VER-eeah). Veria is built on the ruins of the ancient city of Beroea (bear-EE-ah), which was ruled by the Roman Empire beginning in 168 BC.

According to Ioannis Graikos, the archaeologist who led the dig, the bones indicate a complicated surgery that only a trained and specialized doctor could have attempted. The patient probably did not survive, as the wound was very large and shows no signs of healing.
Roman physicians regularly attempted a form of brain surgery called trepanation that involved drilling a hole through a patient's skull, to relieve pressure on the brain and cure headaches. However, the methods that were used on the young woman seem to indicate a different technique. Researchers believe the operation was attempted to repair damage from a blow to the head. The sloping sides of the hole suggest that the surgeon used a sharp implement to scrape away at the bone; scratching a deep furrow in the skull until he could move that section of bone away. This was less likely to cause brain injury than other techniques such as drilling or hammering. It is likely the patient would have been conscious in this pre-anesthesia age.
Although such methods may seem primitive, scientists point out that some techniques are very similar to those used in modern neurosurgery---just minus the anesthetic and antiseptic.
A 6,000-year old skeleton discovered in Cappadocia, Turkey, is thought to be the earliest example of brain surgery. The Greek skeleton was discovered in one of two cemeteries, which date from the third century BC to the third century AD. While gold and bronze jewelry, pottery, coins and other trinkets such as glass bottles were found with some skeletons, this woman's body was in an empty grave.

Peruvian temples pre-dates Incas


In our next story, which comes from Peru, archaeologists have discovered the ruins of an ancient temple, roadway and irrigation systems at a famed fortress overlooking the Inca capital of Cuzco. The temple, which shows signs of religious as well as military aims, is located on the margin of the Sacsayhuaman fortress.

According to lead archaeologist Oscar Rodriguez, the site, which covers 2700 square feet, includes 11 rooms believed to have held mummies and idols. The team believes the structures predate the Inca Empire.

Washington Camacho, director of the Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park, noted that the site contains elements from both the Inca and pre-Inca cultures. Apparently the Incas changed the form of the temple, which initially had a more rustic architecture. Archaeologists are still waiting for carbon dating tests, but Camacho stated that the calculations about the facilities' age are supported by historical connections such as ceramics and construction style. Previous carbon-14 dating of Sacsayhuaman revealed that the Killke culture constructed the fortress in the 1100s. The Killke occupied the region from AD 900 to 1200, prior to the arrival of the Incas. The Inca Empire, ruling from the ancient city of Cuzco, prospered along the western edge of South America during the 1400s, prior to the arrival of the Spanish.

The discovery of the temple reveals the sacred ceremonial nature of the Killke. Scholars previously thought that Sacsayhuaman was simply a military fortification. However, now it is seen as a very complex ceremonial center. Part of the temple was destroyed by dynamite blasts in the early 20th century, when the site was used as a stone quarry.

Archaeologists are also busy unearthing an advanced hydraulic system, which may have been used to supply water to Cuzco during the Inca Empire. The team also believes the Killke built the irrigation system, which was later used and expanded by the Incas. The new excavations, directed by Cuzco's National Culture Institute, began in June 2007 and will continue for another five years.

Neanderthal landscapes survive under North Sea


Now we go to the bottom of the North Sea, where archaeologists claim that prehistoric landscapes survive in pristine condition. Recently, 28 Neanderthal flint axes came to light when a sharp-eyed amateur archaeologist spotted them in a consignment of North Sea gravel, which was delivered to the Dutch port of Flushing. The artifacts came from 8 miles off Great Yarmouth, the most northerly point in the North Sea that Neanderthal tools have been discovered.

Archaeologists had suspected that some Neanderthal landscapes have survived under the North Sea. Now they are certain that hundreds or even thousands of square miles of post-ice age prehistoric landscapes survive there. Land sites have largely been destroyed or degraded by centuries of agriculture, human settlement, and natural erosion. The North Sea is the largest area of drowned landscape in Europe. Dating to at least 50,000-60,000 years ago, the axes were found with other flint artifacts, mammoth bones, teeth and tusk fragments, and pieces of deer antler. The seabed location was probably a Neanderthal hunters' kill site or temporary campsite.
In the southern North Sea, Dutch historians working alongside North Sea fishermen over the past decade have identified about 100 Neanderthal flint axes, 200 later Stone Age bone, and flint artifacts probably made by modern humans, as well as the remains of thousands of mammoths, woolly rhinos and other ice-age mammals.

Detailed archaeological research at the bottom of the North Sea would be likely to solve a mass of Stone Age questions. It could help establish when humans recolonized Britain after a 100,000-year uninhabited period. It may also reveal for the first time the full technological capabilities of Neanderthal Man, since preservation of artifacts on and in the sea bed is extremely good. Wooden, stone and bone implements have almost certainly survived. Later this month, British and Dutch archaeologists will meet in Holland to formulate a joint program of North Sea research. German, Belgian, Danish and Norwegian archaeologists and oceanographers are likely to be included in a plan to map and investigate the North Sea's prehistoric landscapes in detail.

Jewish people lived in present-day Austria as early as the third century AD


And lastly we go to Austria, where archaeologists have found an amulet inscribed with a Jewish prayer in a Roman child’s grave. Dating back to the 3rd century AD, the one-inch long gold scroll represents the earliest sign of Jewish inhabitants in present-day Austria. The amulet, found at a burial ground in the town of Halbturn, shows that people of Jewish faith lived in the area during the Roman Empire. Before this discovery, the earliest evidence of a Jewish presence within the borders of Austria has been letters from the 9th century AD. In the areas of the Roman province of Pannonia that are now part of Hungary and the northwest Balkan Peninsula, gravestones and small finds attest to Jewish inhabitants even in antiquity. Jews have been settling in all parts of the ancient world at the latest since the 3rd century BC. Primarily after the second Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire in the Second Century AD, the victorious Romans sold large numbers of Jews as slaves to all corners of the empire. This, coupled with voluntary migration, is how Jews might have come to present-day Austria.

The one or two year old child, who wore the gold amulet capsule around its neck, was buried in one of around 300 graves in a Roman cemetery which dates back to the 2nd to 5th century AD and is next to a Roman estate. This estate was an agricultural venture that provided food for the surrounding Roman towns at Carnuntum, Györ and, Sopron (shô'prôn). The gravesite, originally discovered in 1986, was completely excavated between 1988 and 2002. More than 10,000 individual finds were assessed, most notably pieces of glass, ceramic shards and metal finds.
In 2006, Nives Doneus from the Institute of Prehistory and Early History of the University of Vienna, discovered the gold amulet, whose inscription was incomprehensible at first. Greek is common with amulet inscriptions, although Latin and Hebrew amulet inscriptions are known. In this case, the scribe's hand is definitely familiar with Greek. However, the inscription is Greek in appearance only, for the text itself is a Greek transcription of the common Jewish prayer from the Old Testament, which reads,” Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God. The Lord is one.”

Other, non-Jewish, amulets have been found in Carnuntum. One gold and three silver-plated amulets with magical texts were found in a stone sarcophagus, including one pleading for Artemis to intervene against the migraine demon, Antaura. Amulets have also been found in Vindobona (now Vienna) and the Hungarian part of Pannonia. What is different about the Halbturn gold amulet is its Jewish inscription. It professes the Jewish faith and does not contain a magic formula. The gold-plated artifact from Halbturn is currently on exhibition in the Burgenland State Museum in Eisenstadt.

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