Audio News for July 6th to July 12th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for July 6th to July 12th, 2008.


Classical statue of shy Venus emerges from Balkan dig


Our first story is from the Republic of Macedonia (MACK-ih-DOH-nia), where archaeologists have discovered a well-preserved statue of Venus, the goddess of love, in the ruins of an ancient Roman city near Skopje (SCOPE-yeh).  According to archaeologist Marina Oncevska (ohn-CHEV-ska), the life-sized marble Venus is a masterpiece of ancient art executed in the late classical Greek tradition.  The piece is five and a half feet tall and dates to the second or third century AD.  Oncevska (ohn-CHEV-ska) noted that the smoothness of the marble and the beauty of the statue give us the clue that this masterpiece came from one of the best artistic schools in the Mediterranean.  Because of the statue’s specific pose, with her hands covering her breasts and groin, she is thought to be the Venus Pudica (POO-dih-ca), or the Modest Venus.  A dolphin next to her left leg shows that Venus is emerging from the water, and is also typical of the classical Greek tradition.  The find was discovered in a bath that was recently excavated at the Skupi (SKOO-pee) site, along with an Early Christian basilica.   According to the site’s researchers, the dolphin, the craftsmanship and the high quality of the marble attest to Skupi’s wealth and prominence, as only prosperous towns could afford the luxury of such finely made statuary.  Now lying on the outskirts of the modern city of Skopje (SCOPE-yeh), the capital of Macedonia (MACK-ih-DOH-nia), the ancient city of Skupi (SKOO-pee) was founded as a colony of Roman military veterans after AD 90, and flourished till after AD 518, when earthquakes destroyed much of the city and forced its population to relocate to another site nearby.   Approximately 23,000 artifacts have been discovered in the current excavations at the Skupi (SKOO-pee) site, which have been carried out under government funding from March through July of this year.  Following study and conservation, the statue of the Modest Venus will be displayed at the national museum.

Ancient bones of Jericho help fight a modern disease


In Britain, a cooperative scientific effort has brought archaeologists and medical researchers together to gain insights into modern ailments through studying ancient bones.  Skeletal material from the city of Jericho will be used by scientists to develop treatments for tuberculosis.  The project will use the same methodology to examine evidence for syphilis, malaria, arthritis, and influenza.  Ancient history holds vital clues in seeking out treatments for modern diseases, according to the project leader, Professor Mark Spigelman of University College London.  We do not have new diseases today, says Spigelman: we have variations of old diseases.  His research team, which also includes Israeli, Palestinian and German researchers, is drawing on the work of British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon, whose major excavations at Jericho in the 1950s recovered bones from thousands of humans, some dating back 8,000 years.  Inspection of the bones revealed that many had lesions, indicating that the city's population had suffered from tuberculosis.   Spigelman and his team are studying DNA from these remains in order to identify genes that might have helped give people of Jericho susceptibility or resistance to the disease.  In addition, the team will study how the TB bacterium evolved over the millennia, in an effort to develop a more effective treatment for this global infection.  TB needs an urban environment to survive.  It is a disease of crowding because it requires prolonged close contact with carriers for transfer to new victims.  Given that Jericho was one of the world's oldest cities, its human remains are crucial to investigating the roots of TB thousands of years ago.  Not every disease is susceptible to such research.  For example, viral infections tend to be rapid in their impact and leave no skeletal trace.  However, many bacterial infections do leave bone lesions.  Historical clues are also useful.  Scientists recently exhumed the bodies of victims of the 1918 flu epidemic and garnered data that are crucial to preparing medical defenses against future epidemics.  In addition, digs in Britain have provided evidence of arthritis spread through the population during the Middle Ages.  According to archaeologist David Miles, archaeological research has also shown that until relatively recently, children were not weaned until around the age of three, because children nursed for a longer time were better protected against infections.  The lessons of history suggest that weaning children early, as we do today, is not necessarily a good thing.

Intact Moche tomb found in Peru


Archaeologists in Peru have discovered the intact tomb of a pre-Incan leader who lived 1,600 years ago.  The find could help solve mysteries about the ancient Moche civilization.  The tomb, named Huaca (WAH-ka) del Pueblo, is located in the province of Lambayeque (LOM-bah-YAY-kay), about 475 miles north of Lima.  In this coastal desert region, the Moche culture thrived between 100 BC and AD 600, producing highly developed architecture, ceramics and irrigation techniques.  The discovery shares characteristics with the Sipan (see-PAHN) complex, discovered in the same area of Peru 20 years ago. Sipan (see-PAHN), known for the tomb of El Señor de Sipan or the Lord of Sipan, is considered one of the most important archeological discoveries in the past 30 years because the main tomb was found intact.  Both sites include tombs built for important figures of the Moche civilization, characterized by complex construction techniques and works of art.  According to archaeologist Steve Bourget, who has worked in the area since 1986, it is clearly a first-rate find, with abundant and elaborate iconography that will add to our knowledge of Moche history and beliefs.  The tomb included a body inside a wooden sarcophagus, wearing a gold-colored funeral mask.  Fourteen copper crowns, earrings, nosepieces, and earflaps surrounded it.  Also found were technologically sophisticated objects made from copper.  Scientists said the tomb was well preserved, unlike many other archaeological finds in Peru, which has a long history of tomb robbers digging out ancient objects to sell to black-market collectors.  In 2006, the British police handed over a rare artifact from the Moche civilization found in a house in London.  The piece, a mythical octopus with human-like attributes, had been stolen in 1988 from a relatively unknown archeological site.

Alaskan highway survey maps site of early contact with Russians


In our final story, Alaskan archaeologists doing an exploratory survey prior to a road construction project have uncovered evidence of native settlements in contact with Russian traders.  According to Dan Thompson, a state archaeologist with the Office of History and Archeology in Anchorage, the sites on the Kenai Peninsula are believed to have belonged to the Alaska Native people known as the Dena'ina (DEH-na-EE-na), a lineage of Athabascan Indians.  The initial survey started last summer.  This spring, 28 test pits dug at six-meter intervals led to the discovery of the site.  Finds included remnants of a 10-by-20-foot house pit that would have sheltered up to a dozen people, several cache pits where fish was kept in cold storage during the winter, and the remnants of several fire pits where food was cooked and next to which tools were made.  According to Thompson, many artifacts and old animal bones were found that may give a better glimpse into the behaviors of these past peoples, who left no written records of their own.  Researchers found a mix of Native and European artifacts, including two types of European beads.  One is red with a clear center, and is Venetian in origin, but widely traded by the Russians.  The other bead, smaller and white, is of a yet unknown origin.   These beads would have been trade goods, prized by the Dena'ina, who integrated them into their clothing and jewelry.  Along one of the walls and in the fire pits were found a number of beaver bones, bird bones from what was probably a grouse, salmon bones, and some smaller fish bones, indicating their diet at the time.  Thompson said they also found tools for hunting, including two distinctly different projectile points, a spear point and harpoon tip made of antler.  Based largely on the beads and Russian pottery, the site is dated around AD 1800 to 1820.  It is one of a small handful of sites in this region from this period, and with its substantial archaeological deposits, it can add significantly to understanding of early interactions between Natives in this area and incoming Russians.  The artifacts will be compared to collections from earlier periods to highlight changes in tool technology, diet, and other aspects of the native culture.

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