Audio News for May 4th to May 10th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for May 4th to May 10th, 2008.


Viking trade center discovered in Ireland


Our first story is from Ireland, where one of the Vikings' most important trading centers has been unearthed.  Dating back approximately 1,200 years, the settlement is located at Woodstown in County Waterford.  The site was discovered during an archaeological survey for road construction at Waterford city, a city founded by the Vikings.   
Nearly 6,000 artifacts and a chieftain's grave have been revealed at the site, which was established by the year 860.  The grave contains a sword, shield and silver mark.  According to the excavation team, which included archaeologists from Ireland's museum and monuments service, the discoveries of silver and lead weights shows that Woodstown falls firmly into the Scandinavian tradition.  The team’s report added that many, if not all, of the settlement's occupants were either Scandinavian, or had strong insular Scandinavian associations.   
The Woodstown site will provide a rare opportunity to study a Scandinavian settlement of this period outside Scandinavia itself.

Pacific Coast migration might have been leisurely


Our next story confirms that the Monte Verde archaeological site, in southern Chile, is one of the two earliest known settlements in the Americas.   The site shows that early human migration occurred along the Pacific Coast more than 14,000 years ago, but how rapidly that migration occurred is still under question.

According to Tom Dillehay, professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University, the peopling of the Americas may not have been the blitzkrieg movement to the south that people have presumed,  if all the early American groups followed a similar pattern of moving between inland and coastal areas.

Most archaeologists suspect that people entered North America via the Bering land bridge or associated coastal stretches more than 16,000 years ago.   It is not known if people colonized the Americas by moving along the Pacific coast, through interior routes or both.   Researchers imagine that coastal migration would have been a rapid process, but some feel that seaweed samples found at Monte Verde may be a sign of slower migration.  Although the site is located 50 miles from the Pacific coast and 10 miles from an inland marine bay, the research team identified nine species of seaweed and marine algae in hearths and other areas in the settlement.   The samples, dated between 14,220 to 13,980 years ago, are 1,000 years earlier than most other dated human settlements in the Americas, but almost exactly the same age as the recently announced and well documented human occupation of Paisley Caves in eastern Oregon.   
The seaweed and algae at Monte Verde  might also indicate that early immigrants could have moved south along the shoreline exploiting familiar coastal resources to get much of their food.   The researchers also found a number of inland resources including meat from the gomphothere (GOM-fo-theer) four-tusked relatives of mastodons, which suggested groups moved back and forth between the coast and inland areas.   According to Dillehay, it would have taken time for coastal migrants to adapt to inland resources, and other coastal sites that are recorded also show the use of inland resources.

Direct evidence to support the coastal migration theory is particularly hard to find because sea levels at the time were about 200 feet lower than today.  As the sea level rose, it covered most of the early coastal settlements.   However, the seaweed finding, one of the most significant, and the location not far from the coast, verifies the migrants' use of coastal resources and makes the coast a likely path.

Prehistory jewelry discovered in Morocco


Our third story comes from Morocco, where archaeologists have uncovered shells used for adornment by prehistoric communities 85,000 years ago.  A research team led by Abdel-Jalil Bouzouggar of the Moroccan National Institute of Archaeological and Heritage Sciences and Oxford University's Nick Barton found the 20 perforated shells in a cave in the eastern region of the country.  The marine shells came from archaeological levels dated by thermoluminescence and uranium-series techniques, as radiocarbon dating is not accurate for samples more than 50,000 years old.   In a statement from the Moroccan Ministry for Culture, the shells are the type prehistoric people would have worn.  

In 2007, Bouzouggar and Barton discovered 13 perforated shells, dated to 82,000 years ago, in the same cave.   Known as the "Cave of Pigeons," the 30-meter-deep, 10-meter high cave is situated 30 miles from Morocco's Mediterranean coast.   According to Bouzouggar, this discovery shows that the making and use of objects of finery is anchored in the traditions of Morocco's prehistoric people.  The first appearance of explicitly symbolic objects marks a fundamental stage in the materialization of social behavior in modern humans.  Ornaments such as shell beads represent some of the earliest objects of this kind.   According to the Culture Ministry, the objects discovered in Morocco are considered more ancient than those discovered in Algeria, South Africa and in Palestine.

Oops(!)–sunflower probably not domesticated in Mexico after all


Our final story is a follow up to an article from last week entitled “Conclusive evidence dates sunflower to early Mexico.”   This story referred to a study just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that argued that, contrary to what had been believed, the sunflower was domesticated in Mexico as early as 2600 BC.  This contention was based largely on the identification of three sunflower seeds in a Mexican cave, identifications made on the basis of photographs because the original specimens had been destroyed in the process of radiocarbon dating.  Now, in a stunning and highly unusual reversal, Charles Heiser, a biologist at Indiana University and a key researcher in this study, has rescinded his earlier determination that the achenes (AY-keens) or seeds were those of sunflower.  In an excerpt from his extensive announcement he states:

 (Quote) “I have concluded that my initial verification of a specimen recovered from the San Andrés archaeological site in Mexico as domesticated sunflower was incorrect.   The specimen in question is most likely the seed of a bottle gourd.   As yet there is no compelling evidence that the sunflower was grown as a food crop in Mexico prior to European contact.  In addition, the complete absence of any early historical record for the sunflower in Mexico argues against its presence in pre-Columbian times.   Although no dates or boundaries can be set, the wild sunflower may have grown in northernmost Mexico in early times.   A southward range expansion for the species is probably very recent, perhaps in the last few hundred years with the development of a modern road system.   The widely used common names of the sunflower in Mexico are in Spanish or with Spanish words in them, which suggests that the sunflower is a post-contact arrival.” (Unquote)

Heiser also refers to a recent DNA study that also suggests a single domestication for sunflower that took place outside of Mexico.  Based on conclusively identified seeds found in archaeological sites, the sunflower became cultivated for the first time in eastern North America more than 4000 years ago.

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