Audio News for August 24th to August 30th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news August 24th to August 30th, 2008.


Medieval monks moved material through canals


In England, aerial photographs have revealed an extensive network of canals used by Medieval monks.   Hidden in the fen landscape of Lincolnshire (Lincoln-sheer), the 56 miles of waterways would have been 20 ft to 40 ft wide.   They were built by the monasteries in the area after 9th century raids by Vikings destroyed many monastic sites.   
According to civil engineer and archaeologist Martin Redding, the system was unlikely to have been created merely for drainage because of the huge costs involved.   More likely, the monks would have used the canals to ferry locally-quarried stone to rebuild monastic sites belonging to religious orders including the Benedictines and Cistercians (Sis TER shuns).   The monks would then have used the waterways to carry the rich agricultural resources of the fens to market in "fen lighters" or punts, shallow flat-bottomed boats.   The Medieval cargo could have included cranberries, as research on a now extinct peat bog in the area has confirmed it would have been an ideal area for growing the fruit.   
Redding, a member of the Witham (WIT-um) Valley Archaeology Research Committee, noted that each monastery probably had its own network of canals connecting parts of its estate, including its farms.   Redding also commented that the canals showed that what he called "breathtaking engineering projects" were being undertaken 800 to 1,000 years ago.  He added that the canals would have lasted until around the 14th century when rising sea levels would have made their operation progressively more difficult.  The disbanding of the monasteries in the 16th century mostly likely ended the system.  

Rare gold wreath mistaken for land mine


Now we turn to Greece, where a rare gold wreath has been unearthed.  After finding it buried with human bones in a large copper vase, workers initially mistook the object for a land mine.  The discovery was made during excavations in the ruins of ancient Aigai (Ay JAY) .  Aigai was the first capital of ancient Macedonia, where King Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, was assassinated.   The city flourished in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, attracting leading Greek artists such as the poet Euripides, who wrote his last tragedies there.
Gold wreaths are rare and were buried with ancient nobles or royalty.  However, the find is unusual, as the artifacts appear to have been removed from a grave shortly after the original burial and, for reasons unknown, reburied in the city's marketplace near the theater where King Philip was stabbed to death.   
According to Greek archaelogists, the find probably dates to the reign of Philip and Alexander around the 4th century BC.    During this time, burials outside organized cemeteries were very uncommon.  The university statement also said that archaeologists must explain why the items were found outside the royal cemetery as well as try to determine why the bones of the unknown person were hidden in the city's most public and sacred area.  

Peruvian mummy predates Incas


All the way around the world in Peru, archaeologists working at Huaca Pucllana (wah’-ka puc’-lana) ruins unearthed a mummy in a tomb, thought to be from the ancient Wari culture that flourished before the Incas.   The remains of two other adults and a child were buried with the female mummy.  This is the first intact Wari burial site discovered at Huaca Pucllana and researchers believe it dates to about AD 700.   
According to Isabel Flores, director of the ruins, other tombs have been discovered, but they always had been disturbed or were damaged.  Workers wrapped the female mummy in tissue paper before lifting it onto a flat wooden board.  They exposed her face, revealing two big, bright blue orbs in her eye sockets.  It is not clear what the artificial eyes were made of.   
The Wari civilization flourished and ruled in what is now Peru for from approximately AD 600 to 1100.  Their capital was near modern-day Ayacucho (ah’-yah-koo’-cho), in the Andes, but they traveled widely and are known for their extensive network of roads.   Surrounded by Lima's busy streets, 30 tombs have been found at Huaca Pucllana.    When found in good condition, Wari tombs can be identified by the ceramic and textile offerings placed around the dead.   Small children were often sacrificed and it is common to find their bodies alongside adult ones.  The child discovered with the adult mummies at Huaca Pucllana probably was sacrificed.   The discovery confirms that the Wari people buried their dead in what is now Lima and offers a more complete picture of how burials were done.  

Nine historic boats buried in Norwegian mud


And now we bounce back to Norway, where the largest collection of historic shipwrecks ever found has been discovered under mud in Oslo.   According to Jostein Gundersen, the project's lead archaeologist, at least nine wooden boats were found well preserved nearly 400 years after they sank at Bjoervika harbor.   The largest one is 56 feet long.  Never have so many boats in such good condition been undercovered at one site in Norway.   The remains were remarkably well preserved because they had been covered in mud and fresh water, where river waters run into the sea.   
The wrecks are thought to have sunk sometime after an immense fire swept the wooden buildings of old Oslo in 1624.  After that catastrophic event, Danish-Norwegian King Kristian IV ordered the city center moved before reconstruction started.   The boats were moored at the old port, which became a remote area after the city was moved.  Gunderson noted the boats may have been 30 or 40 years old when they sank, although no evidence indicates that the ships were deliberately scuttled.    The wreckage will be charted and removed as quickly as possible, so construction of a new undersea road tunnel can continue.

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