Audio News for August 31st to September 6th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news August 31st to September 6th, 2008.


Late period Chinese tomb was made from stacks of blue and white bowls


Our first story is from China, where a unique Qing (ch?ng) Dynasty tomb has been discovered made out of more than 2,000 blue and white porcelain bowls.  According to an announcement from the archaeology department of China's Chongqing (Ch'ung-ch'ing) Municipality, this type of tomb is very rare and was probably built by migrants to the area from another province where the style has been documented.  The porcelain tomb was unearthed on the final day of the Beijing Olympics by a team of road workers in the Yuzhong district of Chongqing (Ch'ung-ch'ing).   Lying just 24 inches beneath the road surface, the bowls were piled together into sloping walls to form the tomb. The coffin and other funerary objects would have been placed inside.  The bowls and the basic  structure of the tomb were scarcely damaged, despite lying directly under a road, but tomb raiders had long ago stolen almost all the contents.  Thus, the identity of the person buried there will probably remain a mystery.  The bowls were glued together very tightly with sticky rice and cement to help the tomb hold its shape.  The bowls are a Qing (ch?ng) Dynasty style called qing hua c i(ch?ng-hu-ch'i) that was very typical of the period, with blue images and flower patterns that still look brand new on the bowls of the tomb.  Some experts speculate that the reason for using bowls as construction materials was so that the occupant of the tomb would have something to eat in the afterlife.  Archeology team leader Li Dadi noted this kind of tomb was likely built by occupants of a Qing (ch?ng) Dynasty migrant settlement, who may have come from Fujian Province, where similar, though smaller, bowl-tombs have been found.  The Qing (ch?ng) Dynasty,  also known as the Manchu Dynasty, was the last ruling dynasty of China, lasting for 268 years, from 1644 to 1912.

Climate change melts glaciers to yield a stream of ancient artifacts


In the Swiss Alps, a melting glacier is giving up objects dating back 5,000 to 6,000 years. The Schnidejoch (SHNY-de-yock) pass at 9,000 feet above sea level has been a windfall to scientists.  However, it would never have emerged if climate change were not melting the nearby glacier.  So far, 300 objects the site's former ice fields have been found, dating from as far back as the Neolithic or New Stone Age, about 4,000 BC, as well as from the later Bronze and Iron Ages and the recent medieval era.  According to Albert Hafner, an expert with the archaeology service in Bern Canton, the discoveries on are the oldest of this kind ever made in the Alps.  They have allowed researchers not only to piece together snapshots of life way back when, but also to shed light on climate fluctuations in the past 6,500 years as well as forecasting what is happening now.  Such data could help sharpen forecasts for the future by taking into account patterns of natural temperature fluctuation.  Hafner noted that the site itself is the most important find, because it provides a correlation between climate change and archaeological objects.  People were only able to walk the area when it was relatively warm.  When it was too cold, the glacier advanced and it was not a passable route.  Scientists have long known there were periods of warmer weather in the region but the artifacts allowed them to identify the exact years when the site would have been passable on foot.  The first artifact found preserved in the ice fields, discovered in 2003 when two hikers noticed a strange piece of wood lying upon some stones, turned out to be an arrow quiver made from birch bark and dating as far back as 3,000 B.C.  Since then, even older objects have been excavated, including a wooden bow some 6,000 years old, predating by a millennium the famous "Oetzi the Iceman,” whose frozen body was found high in the Tyrolean Alps in 1991.   Researchers believe that many of the most valuable items from the glacier may stem from the death of one ill-fated person, who probably carried the quiver, bow and arrows and wore the leather pants and shoes of which pieces have been found.  Analysis showed a patch on those the pants was made from the leather of a domesticated goat linked to a breed from far away in Laos.  Lately archaeologists have found Roman coins.  With climate change, many more such sites and finds are expected to emerge.

Second statue of ancient Czech goddess found


In the Czech Republic, archaeologists have uncovered a second torso of a statue of a woman from about 7,000 years ago, again near the village of Masovice (mas-o-VEE-che).  The woman's statue found in the area last summer was given the name "Hedvika of Masovice (mas-o-viche)," while her sister statue has been dubbed Johanka.  Both names come from the women’s names in the calendar for the days when the artifacts were found.  According to the head of the archaeological research team, Zdenek Cizmar, the statues are from the same period, but each is different and exceptional.   Both sculptures were created by people of the Moravian Painted Ceramic culture, and probably served as idols symbolizing life and fertility.  The lower part of the half-a-yard tall Hedvika statue is the oldest sculpture of this size found in central Europe.  The torso of Johanka is 12 inches, and consists of four fragments that were reassembled, with her legs missing.  Masovice (mas-o-viche) is a significant prehistoric region that has yielded remains of prehistoric settlements as well as many artifacts. ?

Ancient Yucatecan skeleton may confirm pre-Clovis arrival in New World


Our final story is from Mexico, where inside a deep underwater cave, archaeologists may have discovered the oldest human skeleton ever found in the Americas.  Named Eva de Naharon, or Eve of Naharon, the female skeleton is dated at 13,600 years old.  If that age proves to be accurate, the skeleton, along with three others found in underwater caves along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, may provide new clues to how the Americas were first populated.  The remains were excavated over the past four years near the town of Tulum, about 80 miles southwest of Cancún, on the Yucatan Peninsula, by a team of scientists led by Arturo González, director of the Desert Museum in Saltillo, Mexico.  According to González, in addition to possibly shifting the time line of human settlement in the Americas, the remains may cause experts to rethink where the first Americans came from.  Characteristics of the skeletons' skulls hint that the people may not be of northern Asian descent, which would contradict the prevailing theory of New World settlement. That theory holds that ancient humans first came to North America from northern Asia via a now submerged land bridge across the Bering Sea.  The shape of the skulls has led researchers to believe that Eva and the others have more of a similarity with people from South Asia.  The three other skeletons excavated in the caves were given a date range of 11,000 to 14,000 years ago, based on radiocarbon dating.  According to archaeologist David Anderson of the University of Tennessee, minerals in seawater can sometimes alter the carbon 14 content of bones, however, resulting in inaccurate radiocarbon dating results.  The remains were found some 50 feet below sea level in the caves.  At the time Eve of Naharon is believed to have lived, sea levels were 200 feet lower, and the Yucatán Peninsula was a wide, dry prairie.  González has also found remains of elephants, giant sloths, and other ancient fauna in the caves.  If the dating of González's finds is corroborated by further research and analysis, they will add to the questions about how the Americas were first populated.  Many researchers once believed humans entered the New World from Asia as a single group crossing over the Bering Land Bridge no earlier than 13,500 years ago.  That theory came into question after remains in Monte Verde, Chile, found in 1997, were securely dated to at least 12,500 years ago, long before migration would have been possible through the ice-covered Arctic reaches of North America.  Confirmation of Eve of Naharon's age could further transform the thinking about the settlement of the Americas.

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