Audio News for January 25th, 2009 to January 31st, 2009
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news January 25th, 2009 to January 31st, 2009.
New petroglyphs found in Tonga may hold key
Our first story is from Tonga, where the discovery of more than 50 ancient rock engravings may shed some light on long-distance migrations of Polynesian peoples across the Pacific Ocean.
The petroglyphs, with images of people and animals, were found rising from beach sand at the northern end of Foa Island late last year. The Foa rock engravings are on two large slabs of fixed beach-rock that were exposed by erosion.
The images, which have an average height of 8 to 12 inches and larger, include very stylized images of men and women, turtles, dogs, a bird, a lizard, as well as footprints and some unfamiliar exotic combinations.
Petroglyphs have been found throughout eastern Polynesia, especially in the Marquesas, Tahiti and Hawaii. The Foa Island images appear close in form to some found in Hawaii dated between AD 1200 and 1500. If similar dating is established for the latest carvings, it would suggest the new possibility of direct long distance voyages between Tonga and Hawaii in that era.
Tonga's previously reported rock art has been limited mostl to simple geometric engravings. The single exception, a single engraved outline of a foot, exists on a stone at a royal tomb.
Ancient shipwrecks brought to light in Albania
Now we shift to Albania, where lost shipwrecks that date back 2,500 years are being revealed off the coast. At least five sites that could fill in blanks on ancient shipbuilding techniques have been located off the waters of southern Albania over the past two summers.
According to archaeologist Jeffrey G. Royal from the non-profit RPM Nautical Foundation out of Key West, Florida, Albania is a tremendous untapped archaeological resource. The latest expedition has revealed traces of four sunken Greek ships dating from the sixth to the third centuries BC, while another three suspected sites are still to be verified. The expedition uses scanning equipment and submersible robots to seek ancient wrecks.
Andrej Gaspari, a leading Slovenian underwater archaeologist who was not involved in the project, noted the discoveries are very important because of the lack of properly documented objects from that period. The only ships found and documented from that time belong to the western Mediterranean and Israel, so knowledge on the methods of construction on ships is rather limited.
During ancient times, Albania stood on an important trade route, receiving traffic from Greece, Italy, North Africa and the western Mediterranean. A 20 inch-long pottery jar, or amphora, and a smaller version found about 80 yards deep were probably made in the southern Greek city of Corinth, in the sixth or fifth centuries BC. Both were recovered from a merchant ship that sank about two miles off shore. According to Albanian archaeologist Adrian Anastasi, if the sixth-century BC dating is confirmed, it would be only the fifth of its kind found in the world.
Other artifacts included a fourth-century BC amphora, a North African jar from the first to third centuries AD and a stone anchor from a Roman ship of the second-first century BC. Anastasi notes that what was unique in the 2008 season was the discovery of the fired clay roof tiles, which appeared to be part of an entire sunken shipload. Anastasi had unearthed the same type of large tiles, measuring 74 by 51 inches, during excavations on land at the ruins of ancient cities in western Albania. The ship seemed to have been loaded on the nearby Greek island of Corfu and possibly foundered on its way to a Corinthian colony in Albania. The team, working off the southern port city of Saranda, also located more than 20 unknown 20th-century shipwrecks.
Unique bust of Roman boxer found in Israel
In Israel, archaeologists have discovered what they believe is the bust of a Roman boxer from the Second or Third Century. The marble figurine is small, measuring about 2 ½ inches high by 1 ½ inches wide, but very detailed, archaeologists say. The short hair style, the prominent lobes and curves of the ears as well as the almond-shaped eyes suggest that the object most likely portrays an athlete, probably a boxer, according to a statement from the Israel Antiquities Authority. Little bits of the sculpture have broken off and it is missing part of the nose and mouth. Two tiny holes suggest it was used as a suspended weight together with a balance scale. It comes from a time when the art of Roman sculpture reached its peak
According to dig directors Doron Ben-Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets, their team had been digging up a building in the City of David, part of Jerusalem. The archaeologists believe a merchant family from the eastern part of the Roman Empire most likely passed down the object through the generations until the fourth or fifth century, when an unfortunate family member had it with him at a public building, perhaps a hostel, when an earthquake struck. Ben-Ami and Tchekhanovets note that the high level of finish on the figurine is extraordinary. To the best of their knowledge and to date no similar artifact made of marble or any other kind of stone bearing the same image has been discovered in excavations elsewhere in the country. A few similar artifacts made of bronze have been found at different sites in the country and they have been found in large numbers in different places throughout the Roman Empire. The vast majority of them date to the third century AD, known as the “Roman period.”
Last month, the excavation team at this same site discovered one of the largest and most impressive coin hoards ever found in Jerusalem. It comprises 264 gold coins and was found at about the same time as a well-preserved gold earring, inlaid with expensive pearls.
Sarcophagus may reveal Balinese ancestors
Our final story is from the Indonesian island of Bali, where human remains discovered inside a sarcophagus may be from ancestors of today’s Balinese. According to the chief of the Bali Archaeology Office, Wayan Suantika, the Keramas village sarcophagus shows similarities with a number of other sarcophagi found in the Gianyar regency. This could mean that the remains are from a group belonging to an East Asian population originating well to the north, who settled on the island more than 2000 years ago.
According to Suantika , this discovery matches earlier findings that have shown that people at that time were already living in small groups of villages and that they were East Asian and similar to most Indonesians of today. If the most recent discovery is consistent with earlier findings, then it is possible the newly discovered remains may have been the ancestors of the Balinese.
Found by construction workers, it is the 12th sarcophagus found in the Gianyar regency, and the 80th one found in Bali. Suantika, who led the field operation on the sarcophagus, notes that the sarcophagi found in Gianyar tend to be found within a relatively small area and shared many similarities. He estimated that the remains may be dated as early as 500 BC, long before Javanese kingdoms ruled most of Indonesia’s waters. His estimation is based on the similarities it shared with the other discoveries, such as its shape and size, that come from the Megalithic Period, which preceded the Iron Age. More discoveries of the same may contradict proposals that have argued that Balinese ancestors came from India.
The sarcophagus is made of a five foot long rock slab, with a circular lid three feet in diameter. It was found eight feet underground. Suantika warned that nothing was conclusive, saying that there was more research to be done on the sarcophagus. Meanwhile, it will be staying where it was found. According to Suantika, the archaeologists don’t want to risk taking it back to Denpasar, the capital city, because local people believe that moving such an artifact might bring disaster to their village. His office will continue making trips to the site to study the sarcophagus further.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!