Audio News for March 16th to March 22nd, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for March 16th to March 22nd, 2008.


Ancient town found in Iraq has thoroughly modern sewage system


Our first story is from Iraq, where archaeologists have discovered a new Babylonian town 110 miles south of Baghdad. According to lead archaeologist Mohammed Yahya, the town spreads across more than 24,000 square meters and includes administrative quarters, temples and other buildings of magnificent and splendid design. Although the current name of the town is known, its ancient name is still a mystery. The team of excavators led by Yahya, the head of the provincial Antiquities Department in the Province of Diwaniya, has uncovered about 25 square meters of the town, and some fascinating finds have come to light. The most unique is a 65 pound Babylonian duck weight, 45 pounds heavier than any duck weight previously discovered. Several cuneiform tablets offer tantalizing possibilities of new knowledge, but as Yahya acknowledged, it may be some time before they are deciphered, because Iraqi experts on Mesopotamian script have fled the country. The finds indicate the town flourished during the Late Babylonian Period, about 1000 BC. Four graves have also been found, which show a somewhat puzzling positioning of the bodies. Two bodies were cut in half, with one part buried in the wall of a house and the other half in an urn. The other two had iron nails in their hands, feet, and necks, indicating that they might have been executed. Other finds include cylinder seals that compare to counterparts discovered in Babylon, 55 miles away. Structural details also include evidence of an intricate and highly developed sewage system in the town, which can easily be compared with modern ones.

Mycenaean coastal town may have guarded Greek harbor


In Greece, along a remote stretch of shoreline, a Florida State University researcher and his students are unlocking the secrets of a partially submerged, lost harbor town believed to have been built by ancient Mycenaeans nearly 3,500 years ago. According to Professor Daniel J. Pullen, Chairman of FSU's Department of Classics, not only is this a remarkable find, it is rare to locate an entire Late Bronze Age town this well preserved. Pullen and a colleague, Assistant Professor of Classical Studies Thomas F. Tartaron of the University of Pennsylvania, led students from both universities in conducting an initial study of the site during May and June of 2007. What they found was unique: an archaeological site that required very little digging. Because of erosion and tectonic subsidence, much of the soil had already been stripped from the site. The architectural remains of about 20 acres of closely built structures were plainly visible. Although more than 3,000 years of earthquakes and other factors have collapsed the structures, the building foundations still remain, along with wall portions that in some places stand nearly 5 feet tall. Pullen laid out the clues to the settlement's construction and purpose during a presentation at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America. Notably, all of the structures were laid out in a grid pattern, suggesting that the entire community was planned in advance, rather than evolving in a piecemeal way. This indicates a strategic purpose for the town, such as a military or naval outpost. The settlement, called Korphos-Kalamianos by Pullen and Tartaron, lies on the shores of the Saronic Gulf in the western Aegean Sea. The team has identified some fortification walls with gates on the inland side of the site, which again suggests at least some military role, possibly protecting the harbor. Last summer’s work included systematic mapping of the architectural remains. This summer, Pullen and Tartaron plan to return to the site with more students to conduct underwater research along the shoreline. The researchers don't know exactly why, but some portion of the settlement is now submerged in the Saronic Gulf. The Bronze Age shape of the coastline at Kalamianos was very different from that of today. So this summer, they plan to team up with Greece's department of underwater antiquities on a survey of the shallow waters around the Korphos region to clarify features of the Bronze Age coastline.

Vancouver Island suburb turns up rare prehistoric site


In Canada, archaeologists and members of the Songhees Nation have been painstakingly exposing a 2,850-year-old aboriginal site, one of the oldest ever found on Vancouver Island. According to Shane Bond, a senior archaeologist with Victoria-based I. R. Wilson Consultants, the find is quite rare. The researchers have been carefully exposing the remains of a large below-ground house, clay oven and fire pit unearthed at a new housing development in a Victoria suburb. Only a handful of similar house pits have been uncovered on the West Coast -- two at Crescent Beach near White Rock, British Columbia, and one in Sequim [Skwim], Washington. University of Victoria professor Nancy Jean Turner described the find as priceless because there are so few intact sites of this age in the area. The site was exposed last November when a trench for a water line was mistakenly dug in a space considered out of bounds for development. Earlier test excavations had indicated the area was archaeologically sensitive. The ancient dwelling was revealed by the pattern of house post holes that stood out in black dirt against lighter-colored soil. An extremely well entrenched ring of upright stones marked the circular fire pit where red, oxidized earth provided proof that flame was used for cooking and perhaps for heat. Archaeologist Kira Kristensen said that while most house sites are right on the waterfront, this one is unusual as it is farther away, under a former farm and orchard. In 850 BC, coastal aboriginals relied on fishing, so they built their cedar houses close to the water. The newly found below-ground structure, however, resembles those typically found in the mainland interior. Researchers are speculating that the site was used to prepare camas lily bulbs, which would have been roasted and eaten. Working at what will become high-end housing has been uplifting and encouraging for Songhees Nation member Ron Sam, whose job is to document and preserve what is found. More than 600 items have been unearthed, including arrowheads, spear points, small blades, and wedges, some made of obsidian. Some organic samples were shipped to a Florida lab for carbon-14 dating that revealed the 2,850-year age. Archaeological evidence suggests that aboriginal cultures settled on the West Coast more than 10,000 years ago. People lived at the site in what is known as the Locarno Beach period, defined by large, semi-permanent villages, food storage, basket-making, stone knives, elaborate rituals, and middens -- massive piles of clamshells, fish bones, cooking stones and broken tools. After research is finished, the site will be capped to protect it. In the future, archaeologists will be able to access the buried house and fire pit. The Royal B.C. Museum is storing the artifacts for the Songhees, who plan to display them.

Rarely seen Stone Age cave carvings are replicated in new French museum


And lastly we go to France, where prehistoric cave sculptures never seen by the public were revealed this week thanks to advanced, computerized techniques of laser-copying and visual display. A museum opening near Poitiers will span one-a-half millennia of human image making, from stone chisels to computers. The star of the show will be an exact reproduction of a 60-foot long two-dimensional frieze of bison, horses, cats, goats, and female figures that was carved into the limestone of western France 15,000 years ago. Discovered by French and British archaeologists in 1950, the caverns containing the frieze have never been opened to the public. The Roc-aux-Sorciers or Witches Rock Caves are the only site of their kind in Europe. They are a carved equivalent of the renowned cave paintings at Lascaux, created 1,000 years earlier. The public will be able to visit a center where the original sculptures, and the contours of the cavern sides, are precisely recreated at full size. French archaeologist Suzanne de Saint-Mathurin, and her British assistant, Dorothy Garrod, were first to explore the Roc-aux-Sorciers caves. They found one cave in which the roof had collapsed, dislodging the sculpted animals and human figures from the cave sides. In another cave, occupied during the Magdalenian period of 15,000 years ago, the archaeologists found a 20-yard frieze of beautifully finished, bas-relief, wall sculptures. These include human silhouettes, horses, bison, wild cats, and goats. To preserve the works of prehistoric art and to allow exploration to continue, officials have never opened the cave to the public. The Lascaux caves and other similar sites are believed to have been used only for religious purposes. The Roc-aux-Sorciers cave, however, seems to have been a dwelling place. According to Geneviève Pinçon, the chief archaeologist at the site, the south-facing cavern was exposed to the sun for large parts of the day in pre-historic times. France’s climate 15,000 years ago was like Siberia’s today. The cavern would have offered a more comfortable microclimate to live in. Researchers still have few conclusions as to the purpose and symbolic significance of the ancient relief.

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