Audio News for June 15th to June 21st, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news June 15th to June 21st, 2008.


Peruvian figurines may be 5000 years old


Our first story is from Peru, where a team of archaeologists has unearthed numerous anthropomorphic figurines believed to be five thousand years old. The figurines represent a woman nursing and a person of high social status. Carbon 14 dating will soon determine the exact age of the artifacts.
The artifacts were discovered at the excavation site of Vichama, or "hidden city," a place belonging to the Norte Chico civilization of Caral. Vichama is located 100 miles north of Lima.
The Norte Chico civilization was a complex pre-Columbian society that included as many as 30 major population centers in what is now the Norte Chico region of north-central coastal Peru. It is the oldest known civilization in the Americas, having flourished between 3000 and 1800 BC. Its alternative name, Caral-Supe, is derived from Caral in the Supe Valley.  Peruvian archaeologists led by Dr. Ruth Shady [shah-dee] provided the first extensive documentation of the civilization in the late 1990s, with work at Caral.

To learn more about the Cara-Supe Civilization, you can view our video on TAC called “Caral Supe: The Oldest Civilization in the Americas.”

Ancient farmers go green—with beads


Now we go to the Middle East, where a new study indicates that some of the first farmers in the area probably used green beads as amulets to protect themselves and their crops. Ancient villagers traveled great distances to obtain green stone for making beads and pendants that held special meaning for them in a new agricultural world.

Bead-making began 110,000 years ago in what’s now Israel.  But, according to archaeologist Daniella Bar-Yosef Mayer of the University of Haifa and geologist Naomi Porat of the Geological Survey of Israel in Jerusalem, an emphasis on green beads emerged only about 11,000 years ago in connection with the agricultural revolution.  Because beads in white, red, yellow, brown and black colors had been used earlier, the research suggests that the occurrence of green beads is directly related to the onset of agriculture.

Bar-Yosef Mayer and Porat examined 221 beads of various colors that had already been excavated from eight Neolithic Israeli sites.  Four of the sites contained remains of the transitional Natufian culture, which established permanent settlements and began to cultivate cereals 13,000 to 11,500 years ago.  The remaining sites represented farming villages dating from 11,500 to 8,200 years ago.  None of the minerals the beads contained came from the immediate vicinity of the sites.  Some were mined from as far away as northern Syria, Cyprus and Saudi Arabia.

Bar-Yosef Mayer suggests the handful of double-holed, oval pendants which were made of green or brown apatite probably symbolized shiny sea shells called cowries that were used as fertility charms.

First Canadian farmers may have lived in British Columbia


In British Columbia, the westernmost province of Canada, a 3,600-year-old native village site uncovered during road work for a new bridge suggests that the aboriginal people who lived there were Canada’s first recorded farmers.  Until now the oldest evidence found of gardening in British Columbia dated to around 300 and 400 years ago on the central coast, where aboriginal people tended clover and silverweed.  The discovery of remains of wapato, a type of root vegetable, in a context suggesting active cultivation, has been radiocarbon dated to 3,600 years ago, and is thus the oldest example so far of horticulture in B.C. and Canada.

Tribes in warmer parts of southeastern North America had begun growing seeds like sunflower, quinoa and maize as early as 5,000 years ago, but they didn’t plant root vegetables.  Europeans who first arrived here didn’t recognize aboriginal gardens because they weren’t neatly tended plots with fences.  Instead, the newcomers saw virgin wilderness that wasn’t being used.
The discovery of the garden may help reverse long-held philosophies of pre-contact natives as hunter-gatherers who didn’t actively garden or manage the landscape.  It also reveals the accelerating loss of First Nations heritage sites in the Lower Mainland to make way for new highways and development.

The site was found more than a year ago but has been kept quiet throughout the 10-month excavation that wrapped up recently.  Eventually it will be paved over.  Rather than oppose the road work, the local Katzie First Nation headed up the dig themselves.  The band’s development corporation signed on to excavate any sites found during bridge construction.  The multi-million-dollar deal gave band members skills and job training in archaeology and more control in saving their own heritage if anything significant was found.  Two-thirds of the 90 employees at the dig during its peak were Katzie band members.

According to Katzie First Nation chief negotiator Debbie Miller, hundreds of thousands of pieces – everything from stone to wood—have been found, along with house structures, cookery, arrow points, and digging sticks.  However it is the wapato, a root vegetable that would have been grown in the mud and cooked as a source of starch, which is causing the most excitement.  The tubers were found almost perfectly preserved in a rare “wet site” where water kept them preserved and ensured they never rotted.

The wapato were found atop a layer of carefully placed charred rocks built over a spring-fed gravel area.  Researchers believe it’s an intentional wapato garden and the rocks were intended to help spread the water evenly and to keep the plant from rooting deeply, making it easier to harvest.  Despite months of fieldwork, just five per cent of the site was actually excavated.  But under provincial law, that is considered sufficient to constitute a representative snapshot.  Now that the dig is over, the bridge builders have obtained a site alteration permit, allowing road crews to rapidly excavate the rest of the site using heavy equipment, with monitoring in case more artifacts emerge.

“Look but don’t touch” the ancient artifacts


Our final story is from Japan, where archaeologists working at an ancient tomb are using a newly developed, computer-based technique that allows unearthed artifacts to be examined without risk of damage by physical handling.

The first step in the technique involves encasing the artifacts in medical resin to protect them. Then, through the use of computer-based technology and the principles of tomography, which is the study of the internal structure of solid objects through imaging by sections or sectioning, three-dimensional images that reveal the enclosed items in great detail are revealed.
Okayama University and the Kyushu National Museum, joint developers of the method, have used it to examine artifacts found at a late fifth-century tomb.  Excavation work last year uncovered an intact stone chamber that contained approximately 200 original burial items, including mirrors and harnesses.  Researchers applied the synthetic resin.  After the resin had solidified, the researchers removed the items in 14 solid blocks and analyzed the artifacts contained in each using the tomography software.

This new method enables highly accurate examination of artifacts quickly and efficiently.  The three-dimensional images generated through the analysis revealed minute details of the items such as a mirror wrapped in several layers of cloth, its surface decorated with the red mineral cinnabar.  Researchers were also able to tell precisely how the iron parts of a harness were combined.

Details of the technique and its results were presented at a meeting of the Japan Society for Scientific Studies on Cultural Properties at the International University of Kagoshima.

That wraps up the news for this week!

For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at , where all the news is history!

I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!