Audio News for March 8th to March 14th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from March 8th to March 14th, 2009.


Paleolithic remains found near Indian river


Our first story comes from Orissa, India, near Barpadar village by the banks of the Jira River, where researchers from have discovered the stone tool remains of a culture thought to be more than 70,000 years old.  According to P. K. Behera, head of the research team from Sambalpur University’s history department, the site has potential to further research on Paleolithic life in this part of the sub-continent.  The Palaeolithic period in India is also referred to as the Old Stone Age, beginning with the earliest known traces of human life about 750,000 to 500,000 years ago and lasting until the end of the Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago.

The researchers found stone tools such as axes, cleavers and scrapers.  These types of stone tools were used for food processing, cutting, chopping and scraping, and were made with the same level of skill as contemporary European and African models.  The team found no evidence that these tools were made on-site, leading researchers to believe that the site was inhabited by the Palaeolithic band for food processing purposes.   Team leader Behera expects that future excavations will reveal the manufacturing sites, where raw materials such as fine-grained quartzite were available.  Plant phytolith samples collected from the excavation but yet to be identified may offer clues to what plants were being used there.
He added that this area would have had an ideal environment to support prolonged habitation given its rich bio-diversity and reliable water supply.

Mayan carving recalls mythological tale


Now we shift to Guatemala, where a 2,200 year old Mayan bas-relief sculpture recently was uncovered.   A team of mostly Guatemalan archaeologists at the archaeological site of El Mirador, under the direction of Richard Hansen from Idaho State University, discovered the sculpture and dates it to about 200 BC, within the Mayan Late Pre-Classic Period.   The carving was made on structures that were used to store water and shows a Mayan mythological  recounting of the tale where the twin heroes, Ixbalanque and Hunacpú leave the underworld carrying the head of their father, Hun Hunapú.

As shown in The Archaeology Channel video, “Saving the Cradle of Maya Civilization,” the El Mirador Basin is being developed into the Park “Cuatro Balam,” or “Four Jaguars,” a development project with the goal of creating the largest archaeological park in the world, including  more than four thousand Mayan pyramids.  El Mirador is the site of the La Danta pyramid, which may be the largest pyramid in all of Mesoamerica.

The project in intended to benefit local communities, protect the tropical forests of the El Mirador Basin and generate tourism and development income for the Guatemalan department of Petén.

French wine dates back to Roman times


Our next story takes us to France, where new discoveries indicate that wine-growing in the region goes back to the Gallo-Roman era.  The French government commissioned excavations, which covered almost 12,000 square meters, in order to begin work to enlarge a housing project.   The excavation revealed series of pits aligned in rows, believed to be the remains of a vineyard from the first century AD as well as pot-holes and ditches from different eras.   
More than 300 evenly spaced, aligned pits surrounded by an uninterrupted, bordering ditch date to the Gallo-Roman era.   Each rectangular pit is 90 to 130 cm long by little less than 60 cm wide, and the soil filling them indicates a space left by the trunk and roots of a small shrub.   Many of the pits are split into two compartments by a small ridge of rubble and soil.

The evidence that these remains are vineyards is convincing.   These remains are similar to other examples of Gallo-Roman vineyard found in France and the UK.   The size of the pits excludes them from being those of an orchard.  The spaces left by what was originally growing are the size of vine stocks.  Moreover, the two compartments within each pit follow the recommendations of Pliny the Elder and Columella, which were to plant two vine stocks in each pit and arrange them so that the roots of the two layers in the same pit do not twist around each other.  This was easy to do by placing rocks no heavier than five pounts in the bottom of the pits, transversally and across the middle.

The dating of these remains is possible in several ways.  Vines planted in rows are characteristic of both ancient times and the 20th century, but recent vineyards are not recorded in old land registers.  The spacing within the rows, and the distance between rows, are multiples of the Roman foot, which was 29.6 centimeters.  The soil that the pits were dug into was ancient, from the Neolithic to the protohistoric periods and pottery fragments found in the pits are estimated to date from the 1st century AD.

Other finds in the surrounding areas support the evidence for the vineyards.  These include a sculpted horn of plenty containing a bunch of grapes, a monument to a wine merchant, the gravestone of a couple of vineyard owners, and a God with a barrel, all of which are on display in the Musée Archéologique (Mu say Ar key oh low jeek) in Dijon.   The chronology was also confirmed by the finding of a Neolithic II house, dated between 4000 and 3500 BC, and the remains of a Neolithic III house, dated between 3500 and 3000 BC, as well as an Early Bronze Age farm and its outbuildings from between 2300 and 1650 BC and a house from between 450 and 350 BC. This site is the first found that shows how Roman wine growing techniques were used in Gaul.

Oldest-known ship building techniques prove seaworthy


Finally we travel to Egypt, via Florida.  After examining the remains of the oldest-known seafaring ships, maritime archaeologist Cheryl Ward, from Florida State University, has put ancient Egyptian technology to the test.  She and a team including a naval architect, modern shipwrights and an on-site Egyptian archaeologist, built a replica of a 3,800-year-old ship for a Red Sea trial run filmed for a French documentary.
The journey with the reconstructed ship was intended to retrace an ancient voyage sponsored by Pharaoh Hatshepsut (Hat SHEP soot) to a place the ancient Egyptians called God’s Land, or Punt, located in what is now modern day Ethiopia or Yemen.  The reconstruction was based on ship planks and oar blades found at the caves of Wadi Gawasis in 2006, which we reported right here on the Audio News from Archaeologica.  Shipworms had tunneled into the almost 4,000-year-old timbers, and Ward was able to determine from them that the ship had made the six-month, 2,000 mile round trip to Punt.

Douglas-fir from North America was used in the reconstruction because it resembled the strength and density of the cedar wood used by the Egyptians.  Naval architect Patrick Couser used watercraft designs from ancient Egypt in conjunction with the relief images seen on Hatshepsut’s funerary temple to design the 66-foot-long by 16-foot-wide ship.  The construction used ancient Egyptian techniques.  Planks were fitted together like pieces of a puzzle and then, after being submerged in water, became watertight with the swelling of the wood.

The ship was named Min of the Desert and was taken for trial runs with its 24-person crew on the Nile, and then in late December 2008 set out on its maiden Red Sea voyage.  Modern-day threats of pirates and other political considerations ended the voyage after sailing 150 miles in one week, but the ancient Egyptian engineering proved itself sound after not having been used in shipbuilding for nearly 4000 years.

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