Audio News for November 2nd to November 8th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news November 2nd to November 8th, 2008.


Failing rain causes falling dynasties


In our first story, a new study is showing some Chinese Dynasties may have fallen because of lack of rainfall.  This study, led by researchers from the University of Minnesota and Lanzhou University in China, shows that a weakening of the summer Asian Monsoons accompanied the fall of three dynasties.  
The work rests on climate records sealed in layers of stone in a four and a half inch-long stalagmite.  By measuring amounts of specific elements, the researchers could tell the date each layer was formed.  And by analyzing two types of oxygen in the stalagmite, they could match summer monsoon strength to those dates.  The stalagmite was formed over the span of 1,810 years; stone at its base dates from AD 190 and at its tip AD 2003.  
According to David Verardo, director of the National Science Foundation's Paleoclimatology Program, no one expected a record of weather would be preserved in underground cave deposits. Hai Cheng, author of the paper and a scientist at the University of Minnesota, explained that when the summer monsoon is stronger, it pushes farther northwest into China.  These moisture-laden winds bring rain necessary for cultivating rice. But when the monsoon is weak, the rains stall farther south and east, depriving northern and western parts of China.  This lack of rainfall could have contributed to social upheaval and the fall of dynasties.  
The researchers discovered that periods of weak summer monsoons coincided with the last years of the Tang, Yuan and Ming dynasties, which are known to have been times of popular unrest. On the other hand, the scientists found that a strong summer monsoon prevailed during one of China's golden ages, the Northern Song Dynasty.  
The abundant summer monsoon rains may have contributed to the rapid expansion of rice cultivation from southern China to the midsection of the country.  During the Northern Song Dynasty, rice first became China's main staple crop, and China's population doubled.  Larry Edwards, geologist at the University of Minnesota and a co-author of the paper, noted that the waxing and waning of summer monsoon rains are just one piece of the puzzle of changing climate and culture around the world.
For example, the study showed that the dry period at the end of the Tang Dynasty coincided with a previously identified drought halfway around the world, in Meso-America, which has been linked to the fall of the Mayan civilization.  The study also showed that the plentiful summer rains of the Northern Song Dynasty coincided with the beginning of the well-known Medieval Warm Period in Europe and Greenland.  During this time in the late 10th century, Vikings colonized southern Greenland.  Centuries later, a series of weak monsoons prevailed as Europe and Greenland shivered through what geologists call the Little Ice Age.  

Village in Romania dates back to Bronze Age


Now we move to Romania, where a village established in the Bronze Age has been recently discovered in the northwestern region of the country.   According to archaeologists, this is the first time a Bronze age village has been completely excavated in Transylvania.
The village comprises eight houses built in the upper portion of a hill in two almost parallel rows.  Pits used for storage were found near the houses.  Throughout the area of over 20,000 square yards, as many as 124 individual archeological features were found, including houses, graves, and supplies' pits or ovens, as well as two human skeletons.  The site altogether appears to cover a period from about 1500 B.C., within the Bronze Age, to a much later era in the Fourth Century A.D.
A well-preserved pottery kiln also was discovered.  The furnace was built with two levels for making ceramics.  The two levels were separated by a barrier with holes.  At the top is where the ceramic objects were baked, while the bottom was the fire.  The existence of the kiln suggests an established society in the area during that time.  In antiquity the territory was inhabited by the Dacian and Sarmatian communities.

Shaman’s grave excavated in Israel


In Israel, excavations have revealed one of the oldest known graves of a shaman, dating back 12,000 years.  The grave contains the skeleton of a woman pinned down by large stones in an unusual position, buried with a collection of animal remains and another person’s foot.   
Archaeologist Leore Grosman of Hebrew University of Jerusalem and her coworkers recently discovered the unique burial in a small Israeli cave.  Analysis shows that the grave holds one of the earliest ever excavated shamans.  In traditional societies, shamans are thought to communicate between the human world and the spirit world and are believed to possess spiritual, magical and healing powers.  Shamans are typically buried in elaborate ways that mark their privileged status and destination for afterlife.  According to Grosman, this woman certainly held a special social position, and the most practical explanation of this burial is that it was for a shaman.
Grosman and her team uncovered the woman’s burial in 2005 and 2006, among individual and group graves of at least 27 other people in a cemetery that belonging to a prehistoric Natufian settlement.  The Natufian culture, which lasted from roughly 15,000 to 11,500 years ago, played a vital role in the transition from foraging to farming.  They were the first known society to live in year-round settlements.  Burials of the dead increased drastically among the Natufians, indicating that these people placed a great deal of symbolic importance on treatment of the dead.  
An earlier radiocarbon study of finds at the cave proved that activity had occurred there between 12,400 and 12,000 years ago.  That stretch of time was marked by a cold, dry climate in the region and relatively small, dispersed Natufian settlements.  
Debby Hershman, curator of prehistoric periods at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, notes that the burial of the shaman in the cave is one of the most important discoveries associated with a prehistoric cult.  
After removing a triangular limestone slab atop the woman’s grave, the researchers found her skeleton lying in a limestone-tiled oval enclosure.  Her body lay on its side, with her back and right upper-leg resting against a wall.  Her legs were spread apart and folded inward at the knees. Large stones had been placed on her head, pelvis and arms, apparently to hold them in place.  Grosman estimates that the woman died at about age 45 and stood just under 5 feet tall.  The skeleton had spinal and pelvic deformities that would have caused her to limp or drag her feet.  Next to her leg lay a stone bowl and the complete skeletal remains of a foot from a much larger adult.  Fifty complete tortoise shells had been placed in the grave.  Remains of other animals also lay nearby, including a wild boar, an eagle, a cow, a leopard, and two martens.  

First cultural genocide on native North American peoples investigated


Our final story is from the United States, where the Pequot War, a conflict between English settlers and the Pequot tribe, is the focus of a new study by a team of University of Connecticut researchers.  According to Kevin McBride, associate professor of anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the war, which took place from 1636 to 1638 in southern New England, remains one of the most misconstrued and least understood events in the history of early America.  McBride is working on the project with Connecticut State Historian Walter Woodward, State Archaeologist Nick Bellantoni, and the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center.  The project aims to identify and preserve battlefields and historical sites associated with the Pequot War.  
McBride notes that the English wanted to eliminate the powerful Pequot in what was the first policy of cultural genocide on native people in North America.  The English justified their actions by vilifying the Pequot.  Lasting for more than two years, the war involved several major battles that spread over what is now southwestern Rhode Island, coastal Connecticut, the Connecticut River Valley, northeastern Connecticut, and parts of eastern New York.  The war changed the political and social landscape of southern New England.
The massacre at Mystic Fort reflected the English intent to demonstrate to all native people in southern New England and elsewhere that the English had the ability and will to wage total war against their enemies.  
The early phases of the research include identifying and analyzing narratives, historical accounts, and descriptions of the war, a review of scholarly and antiquarian works, an analysis of military strategies, and an analysis of artifacts.  About a dozen potential sites have already been identified. The researchers will also search for physical evidence through archaeological investigations.  
Although the English tried to wipe out the Pequot tribe, two communities survived and are known today as the Mashantucket Pequot and the Eastern Pawcatuck Pequot tribes.  The project will probably last four to five years and is funded by the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program.

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