Audio News for June 8th to June 14th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for June 8th to June 14th, 2008.


Stone Age art revealed on ancient axe


Our first story is from western Sweden, where an image from the Stone Age has been hiding in the plain sight of museum visitors and researchers.  No one noticed until archaeologist Bengt Nordqvist discovered the form of a human body on a stone axe.  According to Nordqvist, the axe has been in the museum’s collection for more than 100 years and anyone could have found the engraving.   The stone axe was originally found during construction of a road near Stala in the municipality of Orsut in Bohuslän region of in 1875.  The axe is about 9,000 years old and in the shape of a cross.  Similar artifacts have been found but are not as old.  However, it is the engraved image of a headless human figure on the axe that is causing a stir.  Nordqvist, an expert on the Stone Age from the Swedish National Heritage Board, noted that it is seldom we come so close to figurative shapes of Stone Age people.  The figure’s missing head may be explained by wear, but the image could also be a symbolic picture of a shaman or medicine man in a trance, during which his mind is in another place.  The ancient tool is a prized archaeological artifact in itself, and has been seen by many visitors to the Gothenburg City Museum and the Stone Age Museum in Orust.

Famed American Revolution warship found in Lake Ontario


Our next story is from the United States-Canada border area, where deep-sea divers have found the wreck of a Royal Navy warship that sank during the American Revolution.  The discovery of HMS Ontario, at the bottom of Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes, is being called an "archaeological miracle."   The 22-gun, 80 foot long vessel, with about 130 men on board, went down in Lake Ontario in a gale in 1780.  Shipwreck divers Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville used side-scanning sonar and an unmanned submersible to find the ship earlier this month.  According to Kennard and Scoville, HMS Ontario is the oldest confirmed shipwreck and the only fully intact British warship to have ever been found in the Great Lakes.  Scoville noted that, although the vessel went down in a huge storm, it had still managed to stay intact, including two windows that did not break under the pressure of sinking.  The vessel is sitting in an area of Lake Ontario where the water is up to 500 feet deep.  Kennard and Scoville, who have been looking for the ship for three years, are not divulging its location, saying only that it was found off the southern shore.   The pair believes the cold, fresh water of the lake has acted as a preservative, with the lack of light and oxygen slowing decomposition.  HMS Ontario is considered one of the few "Holy Grail" shipwrecks in the Great Lakes and for many years, it has been searched for without success.  Official records quoted by the team of explorers show HMS Ontario went down on October 31, 1780, with a garrison of 60 British soldiers and a crew of about 40, mostly Canadians, and possibly up to 30 American prisoners of war.  The ship is being treated as a war grave and there are no plans to raise it or remove any of its artifacts.  The Great Lakes hold about 4,700 shipwrecks, approximately 500 of them in Lake Ontario.

Roman working-class skeletons bear marks of laboring life


In Italy, first-century burial grounds near Rome's main airport are yielding a rare look into how ancient longshoremen and other manual workers did backbreaking jobs.  The necropolis near the town of Ponte Galeria became known last year when customs police noticed a secret dig by grave robbers.  Archaeologists then went to work carefully recovering the remains.  Of the 300 skeletons unearthed, most were male, and show the evidence of years of heavy work, such as joint and tendon inflammation, compressed vertebrae, hernias, and spinal problems.  Sandy sediment helped preserve the remains well.  According to Gabriella Gatto, a spokeswoman for the archaeology office, archaeologists who studied the skeletons concluded that the men likely carried loads on their backs at a nearby port during the early years of Imperial Rome.  Finding a necropolis near ancient Rome is not rare, but most of them have been the burial grounds of the privileged classes.  Among the finds was the skeleton of a man whose lower jaw was fused to his upper jaw.  Study indicated for all of his life this individual was fed, likely through the care of his family with liquids or semisolids introduced through a hole made through his teeth.  The man lived into his 30s, a decent age at the time, evidence that the lower classes cared for the disabled.  Artifacts found in the necropolis were simple ones, including lanterns to guide the dead to their next life.  One ceramic-and-glass lantern was decorated with a grape harvest scene.  The necropolis is one of the most extensive ones to be excavated near Rome in recent years.

Aztec palace dig reveals Montezuma’s meditation chamber


In Mexico City, the former Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, archaeologists believe they have unearthed the remains of an Aztec palace once occupied by the Emperor Montezuma.  According to team leader Elsa Hernandez, while doing a renovation project on a Colonial-era building, researchers uncovered pieces of a wall as well as a basalt floor assumed to have been part of a darkened room where Montezuma meditated.  Montezuma's palace complex, known as the Casas Nuevas, or New Houses to distinguish them from his predecessors' palaces, is thought to have contained five interconnected buildings that included the emperor's office, chambers for children and several wives and even a zoo.  Aztec structures were destroyed by the Spanish, who built what is now Mexico City on top their ruins.  The find is another piece of a puzzle, and scientist hope to find several more pieces.  Excavations are planned beneath several parts of the colonial building, which now houses the Museum of Culture.  The basalt floor likely belongs to the Casa Denegrida, or the Black House, that Spanish conquerors described as a windowless room painted in black.  The Emperor was believed to have reflected there on visions recounted by professional seers and shamans.  His reliance on such predictions may have contributed to his downfall, possibly prompting him initially to mistake Spanish conquerors for divine figures.  Montezuma was the Aztec emperor when Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes marched into the Valley of Mexico in 1519.  He died after the Spaniards took him captive.  Tenochtitlan and the Aztec empire finally fell in 1521.

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