Audio News for October 12th to October 18th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news October 12th to October 18th, 2008.


Golden burial mask in Philippines pre-dates Spanish conquest


Our first story is from the Philippines, where archaeologists unearthed a “death mask” and additional evidence of pre-Spanish Cebu in Cebu City.  According to Boomboom Miano (mee-AH-no), Fort San Pedro Museum curator, the death mask was made for the chieftain or head of a tribe, and was accompanied by a dagger, pottery, and what could be the remains of the local chieftain himself.  Dating back more than 500 years, the three-piece mask is made of very thin gold.  One piece covered the eyes, another ran across the nose, and the third piece covered the mouth.  The purity of the gold pieces has yet to be determined by scientists.  Miano notes that it was the practice of early Filipinos, especially in the Visayas and Mindanao Islands, to put a death mask on a chieftain when he was buried.  The additional burial objects were to help the powerful chief in his heavenly afterlife.  The skeletal remains and burial items will help researchers learn more about the workings of wealth and power in society of the time.  The chieftain's identity is not yet known.  Other researchers from the National Museum and the University of San Carlos are assisting Miano with the analysis of the site.   According to Miano, their priority is to understand more about early settlement in Cebu, before the upheavals resulting from Spanish conquest.  Ferdinand Magellan, sailing for King Charles V of Spain, arrived in Cebu in 1521.  Forty-four years later, in 1565, Spanish colonization began when 500 armed soldiers along with several Augustinian and Franciscan friars arrived to take over the islands for the Spanish crown.

Kushite Kingdom shows strength of ancient Egypt’s rival


In the Sudan, new evidence about the power of a Sudanese civilization that once dominated ancient Egypt has been unearthed by a British Museum expedition. The Second Kushite Kingdom controlled the entire Nile valley from Khartoum to the Mediterranean from 720 to 660 BC.  Now archaeologists have learned that a region of northern Sudan once considered a forgotten backwater was actually a power base for the Kingdom.  Researchers discovered a ruined pyramid containing fine jewelry dating to about 700 BC, and pottery from as far away as Turkey along an isolated and impassable 100-mile stretch of the Nile known as the Fourth Cataract.  Other finds included various examples of ancient rock art as well as musical rocks, which were tapped to create a musical sound.  The discoveries were made after Sudanese authorities invited the British team to help excavate part of the Merowe [MARE-oh-way] region before it is flooded for a large hydroelectric dam.  Over 10,000 sites were found.  Yet previously, historians had written off the area as having little archaeological interest.  According to Dr. Derek Welsby, of the British Museum, they had no idea how rich the area was.  Extraordinarily well-preserved bodies, naturally mummified in the desert air, and a cow buried with eye ointment were also unearthed.  Dr. Welsby expects the finds to revolutionize our knowledge of Kushite history and geography.  The First Kushite Kingdom competed with Egypt for power between 2500 BC and 1500 BC, the period when many of Egypt's largest pyramids were built.  Dr. Welsby commented that all the preconceptions about this being a relatively poor, inhospitable area were completely wrong.  It was believed the first kingdom slowly grew over 1,000 years, but the new finds show instead that the kingdom’s power developed much more rapidly, and from the very beginning.  The kingdom’s location along major trade routes of the ancient world must have contributed to its rapid rise and ability to challenge Egypt.  The team recorded hundreds of large items, including blocks of rock art, and 390 stones of the Kushite pyramid.

Roman tomb links ancient general to modern movie gladiator


In Italy, a tomb being unearthed at a construction site belonged to a general who may be the inspiration for the main character in the movie “Gladiator.”  The tomb belonged to Marcus Nonius Macrinus (Marcus NO-nee-us mah-CRY-nus), a favorite of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who helped him achieve major victories throughout Europe.  Macrinus is thought to have been part of the inspiration for the character Maximus, played by Russell Crowe in the 2000 film.  Although the movie general also was depicted as a favorite of Marcus Aurelius, who ruled near the end of the 2nd century AD, this is where similarities end.  The real Roman general, Macrinus, was not sold into slavery only to return to Rome as a vengeful gladiator.  On his death, Macrinus’ son erected a magnificent tomb for him between the River Tiber and the Via Flaminia.  Many marble columns, inscriptions and decorations have been beautifully preserved here by mud left during centuries-old floods of the River Tiber.  According to senior archaeologist Daniela Rossi, the tomb has more than 10 inscriptions detailing the life of Marcus Nonius Macrinus.  He came from Brescia in northern Italy, was a police commissioner, magistrate, pro-consul of Asia and close confidante of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who wanted him to fight in the wars against Germanic tribes in northern Europe.  Much of the tomb remains buried in mud, and Professor Rossi’s team are working around the clock to unearth the rest of it.  Its exact size is not yet known, but it appears there was a row of columns at least 15 yards long.  The tomb is one of a number of recent archaeological discoveries in Rome.

So-called Desolation Canyon turns out to be anything but


Our final story is from the United States, where researchers have concluded a three-year project exploring one of Utah's most rugged places, Desolation Canyon.  What they found is evidence of a mysterious people from 1,000 years ago who may have earned a living there but didn't actually live there.  Desolation Canyon is so remote and rugged the only practical way to explore the archaeology of the area is by river.  According to Dennis Willis, with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, it was one of those kinds of things where everybody knew there was a lot of archaeology there, but nobody knew what or where.  Jerry Spangler, with the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance, led the team that went into the canyon not really knowing anything about the archaeology, and now have almost 200 sites documented on the west side of the Green River alone.  The group found burial sites, a few small pit houses and dozens of rock structures for storing grain.  They also discovered artifacts and rock art suggesting people who belonged to what is known as the Fremont culture lived there 1,000 years ago.  In a time before dams were built, the flow of the Green River was unpredictable, yet one of the big surprises was evidence deep in the canyon that agriculture flourished.  According to Spangler, they were growing corn, as evidenced by dozens and dozens of stone and adobe granaries tucked up in the cliff faces.  Strangely, there are no large pit houses and no ancient garbage piles, which would be the primary evidence these early farmers were living there.  One possible explanation for the mystery is the place called Range Creek Canyon, the subject of an exhibit at the Museum of Natural History.  According to this theory, people walked many miles back and forth to grow corn in Desolation Canyon in case they had crop failure at Range Creek.  Although the canyon is almost never visited by anyone but river-runners, the three-year survey showed that modern-day people are taking a toll on the archaeology.  Government river rangers hope to use the survey data of the last three years to draft a management plan that will protect the canyon's past from present-day users.  The newly completed survey involved only the west bank of Desolation Canyon.  Archaeologists plan to discuss future expeditions with the Ute Indian Tribe, which owns the east bank of the river.

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