Audio News for March 29th to April 4th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for March 29th to April 4th, 2009.

Beneath the beauty of Nefertiti, new details revealed


Our first story is from Germany, where researchers have uncovered a second, hidden face within the bust of legendary beauty Queen Nefertiti.  A gracefully carved face in the limestone core of the famous bust of Nefertiti suggests the royal sculptor may have smoothed creases around the mouth and fixed a bumpy nose to depict the Queen in a better light.  According to a report in the journal Radiology by Alexander Huppertz, director of the Imaging Science Institute in Berlin, and colleagues, it is possible that Akhenaten himself commissioned the bust of Nefertiti, to represent Nefertiti according to his personal perception.  The 20-inch bust consists of a limestone core covered in layers of stucco of varying thickness.  Researchers first analyzed the bust using computed tomography, the technology known as CT or Cat scan, in 1992, but thanks to recent advances in CT, Huppertz and his team were able to probe even deeper into the sculpture.  Their analysis showed that compared to the outer stucco face, the inner face had less prominent cheekbones, a slight bump on the ridge of the nose, creases around the corner of mouth and cheeks, and less depth at the corners of the eyelids.  Scientists believe the changes may have been made so that the queen’s image would adhere more to the ideals of beauty of the time.  The bust of Nefertiti was found in Egypt in 1912 by German archeologist Ludwig Borchardt, during excavation of the studio of the famous royal sculptor Thutmose at Tell el-Amarna, the short-lived capital of Nefertiti's husband, the Pharaoh Akhenaten.  It is now on display in Berlin's Altes Museum.

Peru produces earliest mural known


In northern Peru, the oldest-known polychromatic mural in the Americas was discovered during rescue excavations at Cerro Ventarrón (ven-tar-ROHN).  Unearthed by archaeologist Walter Alva, a researcher at the Royal Tombs of Sípan (SEE-pahn) Museum, the 4,000-year-old painting depicts a deer snared in a net.  The mural adorns a wall in a fire temple, a familiar feature of later Andean ceremonial architecture in which people burned offerings to the gods.  Next to the mural is a 10-foot-high, curved chimney that held the temple's ritual fire.  The exterior walls of the temple, built on top a multi-tiered platform mound, are painted with a red-and-white zigzag pattern.   According to Alva, the architecture of the fire temple is very, very primitive.  The adobe used to construct it was completely lacking in stone and appears to be made up of dried blocks of river sediment.  However, the temple is significant because it bears a number of features that seem to be the most ancient expressions of elemental ideas in Andean religion.  The rendering of a deer snared in a net runs deep in Andean iconography, being symbolic of the primordial hunt and man's first offerings to the gods.  The Moche culture was still using the captured deer image 2,000 years later.  Alva also unearthed a collection of offerings, including a conch (conk) shell trumpet and the remains of a monkey.  Also found was an Amazonian parrot entombed with a simple turquoise collar.  Alva points out that this combination of offerings is extremely significant, particularly at this early date, as they represent the three realms of the world: sea, earth, and sky.  This is a religious concept that is more developed in the art of later Andean cultures, such as the Moche and the Inca.  Cerro Ventarrón is the latest of recent finds, including the vast 4,600-year-old ceremonial complex of Caral-Supe, that continue to push back the date for large-scale ritual architecture in the Andean region.  While Caral-Supe is noted for its monumental buildings, including a fire temple and an extraordinary collection of flutes and whistles made from the wing bones of condors and pelicans, it has yet to reveal any paintings like the mural at Cerro Ventarrón.

French graves mark mass killings during Revolution


Now we hop over to France, where archaeologists have found two mass graves dating to the years of strife that followed the French Revolution of 1789.  Located in a park in the northern city of Le Mans, the graves contain the bodies of some 30 people, including several women, two male teenagers and a child.  All are identified as victims of a massacre that took place on December 12 and 13, 1793, as republican forces repelled royalist Catholic rebels from the city, during the first War of the Vendee (vahn-DAY).  The first grave contained nine or 10 bodies, whose disintegrated clothing was still shown by shirt buttons and boot buckles, and some knives that had been attached to belts.  The second grave, sealed shut with a thick layer of lime, contained some 20 bodies.  All bore the signs of an extremely violent attack, with broken leg, jaw and shoulder bones.  Between 1793 and 1796, the passionately Catholic Vendee region on France's Atlantic coast was shaken by a drawn-out revolt aimed at reversing the French Revolution.  At the end of the first uprising, Catholic forces were crushed and repelled from Le Mans on December 12, 1793, and republican forces released bloody retaliation on prisoners and rebels who were left behind.  Their graves were discovered during a dig to make way for a new cultural center.

Early mosaic floor is shown off after long conservation effort


Our final story is from Israel, where a magnificent 1,500-year-old mosaic floor in an ancient synagogue in the western Negev was unveiled to the public this week.  The mosaic is part of a synagogue from the Byzantine period around the fifth and sixth centuries AD.  The 12 foot by 25 foot floor is decorated with a seven-branched menorah and the images of various animals common to the area, among them the Lion of Judah.  Scenes of everyday life, including wine production from the surrounding vineyards, adorn the medallions on a vine that winds around the floor.  According to archaeologists, coins, bone and metal artifacts, found on the floor,  probably belonged to the Holy Ark and the ornamental curtain in front of the ark.  The Holy Ark is a repository for the Torah at a synagogue.  Fragments of glass and ceramic lamps were also present, as were dozens of amulets, some related to women who were asking for good health.  A large panel with an Aramaic inscription is part of the mosaic, showing an upper part which blesses the community, followed by a dedication to three individuals who made generous contributions.  The mosaic floor and the remains of the synagogue were first discovered during salvage excavations undertaken on behalf of the Department of Antiquities in 1957.  The condition of the mosaic deteriorated in recent years because of the unsuitable conditions and a lack of maintenance.  In 2006, it was removed from the site and transferred to laboratories at the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem for conservation.  A team of conservators with the Conservation Department of the Israel Antiquities Authority carried out the work on the mosaic and the archaeological remains of the ancient synagogue.  Similar mosaics and panels have been found in synagogue ruins in Susya and at an archaeological site in the national park at Ein Gedi.

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