Audio News for April 12th to April 18th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for April 12th to April 18th, 2009.


Iron Age temple in Turkey may be from time of King Solomon


Our first story is from Turkey, where an extraordinarily well preserved temple, believed to date to the time of King Solomon in the 10th to 9th centuries BC, has shed new light on a period conventionally thought of as a Dark Age.  Ancient sources such as the poems of Homer and the Hebrew Bible portray an era of widespread famine, ethnic conflict and population shift, most notably the migrations of the Israelites and the Sea Peoples who became known as the biblical Philistines.  This is thought to have brought on a protracted Dark Age marked by cultural decline and strife during the early centuries of the Iron Age that followed.  However, recent discoveries, including those at Tayinat, Turkey, by the University of Toronto's Tayinat Archaeological Project, have revealed that some ruling dynasties survived and thrived during the collapse of the great Bronze Age powers.  According to Timothy Harrison, Project director and professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at the University of Toronto, the ongoing excavations have not only begun to uncover extensive remains from this Dark Age, but the emerging archaeological picture suggests that, during this period, Tayinat was the capital of a powerful kingdom, the “Land of Palastin.”   The early Iron Age settlement at Tayinat shows evidence of strong cultural connections, and the direct presence of foreign settlers, from the Aegean world, the traditional homeland of the Sea Peoples.  Excavations uncovered the temple's southern approach that once faced a broad stone-paved courtyard, and consisted of a monumental staircase and porticoed entrance, supported by a large, ornately carved basalt column base.  Also found were fragments of monumental stelae carved in a hieroglyphic script known as Luwian, a now-extinct language spoken in what is now Turkey.  According to dig director Harrison, the building’s central room was destroyed by an intense fire.  It was filled with heavily charred brick and wood.  There was also a substantial quantity of bronze metal, including riveted pieces, and some carved ivory fragments, clearly the remains of furniture or wall fittings.  Fragments of gold and silver foil were found along with the carved eye inlay from a human figure.  The temple’s inner sanctuary, its “holy of holies,” will be the focus of the 2009 field season starting on July 1.  The Tayinat Archaeological Project is an international project, involving researchers from a dozen countries, and more than 20 universities and research institutes.

Texas site marks surrender that led to independence


Archaeologists in Texas believe they have found the exact spot near the San Jacinto battleground where hundreds of Mexican soldiers surrendered to the army of the Republic of Texas.  The discovery was on a plot about 20 yards wide and 200 yards long, near a power plant.  Finds included scores of unfired musket balls, bayonets and cavalry ornaments all in rows as if they had been dropped.  According to Roger Moore of Moore Archeological Consulting, a Mexican commander organized a few hundred troops for a formal surrender after the Texans won the battle on April 21, 1836, sealing Texas' independence.  Other Mexican soldiers fled, only to be brought down by the Texas cavalry.   The findings could provide a missing piece of hard evidence about the surrender of a famous colonel, supporting historical writings and tall tales.  Moore believes the commander who organized the surrender was Col. Juan Almonte, a top Mexican official who had been educated in the U.S. and could have negotiated with the Texans in English.  Almonte probably had a hard time persuading the defeated soldiers to stop running and to surrender.  He might have managed it because the land is near a gulley that would have slowed their flight.  The archaeologists used a large tractor-like machine to whack through the overgrowth, and then relied on volunteers to sweep the ground with metal detectors.  The archaeologists did not just pinpoint the location of the surrender, but they are also providing the physical evidence that historians can use to confirm written accounts of Almonte's surrender and to nail down additional details.  For example, by some accounts, Almonte presented his sword to the Texans in surrender.  In addition, there are accounts that Sam Houston, leader of the Texas army, worried that a group of Mexican troops might be reinforcements, before realizing they were surrendering.  The battleground artifacts could show whether these accounts are true and whether they are linked.  Researchers sent the artifacts to Texas A&M University for cleaning and preservation and they will give the items to Texas Parks & Wildlife to display at the San Jacinto Battleground.

Canaan’s lioness figure may have ruled like a king


A mysterious queen known in ancient Canaanite as the "Mistress of the Lionesses" may once have ruled the Holy Land.  This interpretation was reached by Israeli archaeologists Shlomo Bunimovitz and Zvi Lederman of the University of Tel Aviv, based on a plaque dating to the Canaanite period.  The plaque depicts what they claim is the only known female ruler of the region.  The plaque was found at a recent dig in Tal Beth Shemesh near Jerusalem and depicts a figure dressed in a manner similar to how royal male figures were portrayed in Egyptian and Canaanite art.  However, the figure sports a woman's hairstyle and is holding lotus flowers, a feminine attribute.  Lederman believes they may have found the “Mistress of the Lionesses” who had been sending letters from Canaan to Egypt.  Around 1350 BC, unrest arose in the region. Canaanite kings conveyed their fears via clay tablet letters to the Pharaoh in Egypt, requesting military help.  Two of 382 such tablets found came from a "Mistress of the Lionesses" who wrote of bands of thugs and rebels roaming the region.  The archaeologists have uncovered remains of what they believe was a city of about 1,500 inhabitants that was violently destroyed and which they say may have been a well-to-do city-state ruled by the queen.  The ancient land of Canaan covered present-day Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as adjoining coastal lands and parts of Lebanon and Syria.  The Hebrew people, possibly following their liberation from exile in Egypt, moved into the area around 1,200 BC and began to conquer it.

 Chinese murals depict traditional herbal medicine


Finally, we go to China, where a mural unearthed from an ancient tomb in the northwestern province of Shaanxi is showing how traditional Chinese medication was practiced 1,000 years ago.  Murals from the Song Dynasty, which lasted from AD 960-1279, are not rare around the ancient Chinese capital Xi'an, but according to researcher, Sun Bingjun at Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, this was the first found to portray traditional Chinese medication, prevalent in China for nearly 5,000 years.  The mural, about four yards square, shows a man, who scientists believe was the tomb owner, sitting on a chair.  Jars and bottles were seen on a table nearby.   Two other men were sitting at the table; one was carrying two bags of herbs and the other consulting a huge collection of herbal formulas.  The names of the herbs were still readable on the bags and the papers.  Sun notes that we can assume the master of the house was sick and two physicians were making prescriptions.  The mural also shows eight servants, some busy waiting on the master while others are preparing his medicine.  One of them has a bowl and cup in each hand, while others are busy at the stove, presumably brewing herbs.  Also found in the same tomb were two other murals, one showing a 17-member troupe staging an opera and the other depicting nirvana, a divine state of peace and release from desire for Buddhists.  The tomb chamber, the murals and the coffin were transported to a heritage base in the provincial capital Xi'an for better protection and further research.

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