Audio News for November 23rd to November 29th, 2008

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news November 23rd to November 29th, 2008.


Spanish shipwreck played key role in Turks and Caicos history


Our first story is from the Turks and Caicos Islands, where marine archaeologists have recently identified the wreck of the historic slave ship Trouvadore off the coast of East Caicos.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Ocean Exploration and Research extensively funded several years of archaeological research leading to the discovery by Don Keith and Toni Carrell of Ships of Discovery, an underwater archaeology research institute.   The sunken Spanish vessel is the Trouvadore, which was involved in the slave trade after the date when it was outlawed in the British Indies, including the Turks and Caicos Islands.  Thus in 1841, after the vessel ran aground on a reef, Caicos authorities arrested the crew for slave trading.  Most of the 192 African survivors settled on Grand Turk Island.  Keith and Carrell believe the African survivors of the Trouvadore are the ancestors of a large segment of the residents in the islands.  According to Carrell, the sinking of the Trouvadore was a major event on the island, but the story was lost to history over the following century and a half.  After researchers uncovered records of the shipwreck several years ago, they were stunned to realize that Turks and Caicos residents had never heard of the shipwreck that brought their ancestors to the island.  They hope that this discovery will encourage the people of the Turks and Caicos to protect and research their local history, especially the history that remains underwater.  The archaeologists began their search in 2004, using historical accounts of where the Trouvadore went down, along with remote sensing and visual reconnaissance.  They soon focused on a ship near a local landmark known as the Black Rock.  Historical records said the vessel had sunk at Breezy Point, approximately two miles from there.  The team used careful measurements of the hull and years of research to amass compelling circumstantial evidence that helped them conclude the Black Rock wreck could only be the Trouvadore.  Keith and Carrell knew from the start it would be difficult to find artifacts to identify the ship, because it had been salvaged when it sank.  They had learned about the Trouvadore while tracing the present locations of artifacts from the Islands that were sold to museums in the U.S. and Europe over a hundred years ago.  Their examination of records about African idols that were sold brought to light the story of the Trouvadore.  Keith and his colleagues were also the discoverers of the wreck of the U.S. naval vessel Chippewa, lost in 1816, that formed part of America’s efforts to stop piracy and the slave trade by patrolling the Caribbean.  Keith plans to continue work on the Chippewa wreck site and hopes to discover a sister ship, the Onkahye, nearby.

Vietnamese cave site yields traces of very early roads


Now we visit Vietnam, where traces of a road used by ancient people 21,000 years ago have been found at the Xom Trai Cave in the northwestern province of Hoa Binh.  The discovery was made during an on-going preservation project at the site by scientists from the Center for Southeast Asian Prehistory.  According to Nguyen Viet, center director, this is the first discovery of such an ancient road in the Southeast Asian region and a rare discovery in the world.  He estimates the route was used between 10,000 and 21,000 years ago.  The Xom Trai Cave site was occupied by people of the Hoa Binh Culture, which developed as early as 12,000 or more years ago and lasted until 2,000 BC.  The cave was discovered in 1974 and went through various stages of excavation from 1981 to 2004.  The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism listed it as a national archaeological site in 2005.  A coordinated preservation effort by the Center for Southeast Asian Prehistory and the Hoa Binh Museum has been ongoing since 2004.  Since then, researchers have discovered traces of approximately six yards of a road at the south end of the cave’s mouth.  The ancient pathway lies approximately 25 to 30 inches deeper than the late Hoa Binh Culture layer. The road sections are believed to date back 8,000-9,000 years ago and remain in good preserved condition.  Another four yards deeper in the deposits, the excavators found a route presumed to be used by the earliest cave dwellers.  This route had been hidden by several layers of stones and debris that had fallen over time from landslides and other geological events.  Recently, researchers discovered 10 yards of another trail linking the cave’s mouth to the foot of the mountain.  Also found was a burial from about 17,000 years ago, in the typical style of the Hoa Binh culture, with the individual leaning toward the right with legs folded.  The body’s hips lay on 10 inches of coal.  An oval pestle, two carving tools and a pointed horn hook were buried with the remains.  Previously, human bones had been found scattered about the cave, but this is the first complete burial discovered.  Director Viet noted that six clear layers of the road are known, and more are likely to be found.  Different amounts of wear on the paving stones shows that the newly discovered road was used longer and more heavily than the previously known route at the southern end of the cave’s mouth.

Five thousand year old settlement found in Peru


In Peru, a team of Peruvian and German archaeologists has unearthed the remains of a settlement 5,500 years old near the southern town of Nazca, south of Lima.  The archaeologists, who are members of the Nazca-Palpa Project, said that the discovery was made in a sector known as Pernil Alto (pear-KNEEL AHL-to), some 9 miles from Palpa.  The project is being led by Peruvian archaeologists Johny Isla Cuadrado and Elsa Tomasto, and Germany's Markus Reindel.  According to the team, the find comprises a group of homes amongst which 19 graves were found.  One grave held the remains of a child under a year old who may have been mummified.  The find is the first discovery in southern Peru of an inhabited site from the late portion of the Archaic period.  One of the project researchers noted that the excavations made at the site since last October enabled the team to find the remains of eight small oval-shaped and circular homes made by digging deep pits in the ground.  The 19 graves, holding both children and adults, were all individual interments inside the homes, which may indicate burial after the homes were abandoned.  In some of the graves, archaeologists found carved bones and snail shells, deer horns, necklaces, and bracelets made from shells, but there was no firm evidence of offerings to the dead or to deities.  The research team is seeking to expand knowledge about the culture of southern Peru in the early periods from about 5,500 years ago up to the Inca Civilization in the 16th Century.  The project is being funded by the German Education and Science Ministry, the Archaeological Commission for Extra-European Cultures and the German Archaeological Institute.

Rare miniature pagoda box may hold remnant of the Buddha


Our final story is from China, where archaeologists claim that a 1,000-year-old miniature pagoda, unearthed in Nanjing, holds a piece of skull belonging to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism.  The pagoda was wedged tightly inside an iron case found at the site of a former temple in Nanjing in August.  The four-story miniature pagoda, which measures almost four feet high and one-and-a-half feet wide, is believed to be one of 84,000 such pagodas commissioned by Ashoka the Great in the Third Century BC to hold the remains of the Buddha.   Ashoka, one of India's noted emperors, converted to Buddhism after waging a bloody war in the eastern state of Orissa.  He is widely credited with spreading Buddhism throughout Asia and across his kingdom, which stretched across most of modern India through Afghanistan and into Iran.  The newly discovered pagoda is crafted from wood, gilded with silver and inlaid with gold, colored glass and amber.  It matches a description of another of Ashoka's pagodas which used to be located underneath the Changgan Buddhist temple in Nanjing.  Also found was a description of the contents of the pagoda, said to be a gold coffin bearing part of Buddha's skull inside a silver box.  Although scans have confirmed that there are two small metal boxes inside the pagoda, researchers have not yet looked inside.  According to Qi Haining, the head of archaeology at Nanjing Museum, there will be lengthy research before the contents are opened.  In 2001, Chinese authorities found a case that was said to contain a lock of Buddha's hair, but declined to open the welded box in case it damaged the contents.  Buddhism’s founder, Siddhartha Gautama is believed to have been born in the fifth century BC.

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