Audio News for April 26th to May 2nd, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for April 26th to May 2nd, 2009.


North Carolina airport turns up early palisaded villages


Our first story is from the United States, where archaeologists inspecting the site of a proposed airport extension, in North Carolina, discovered two palisaded villages dating to AD 1100.   According to Tasha Benyshek, senior archaeologist for the project, which is being carried out by TRC, they had no idea there were palisaded villages from that era.  Benyshek’s team has been at the site for several weeks, mapping archaeological features as part of archaeological data recovery on a portion of the area slated for a county airport’s runway extension.  The airport is in Iotla Valley, which once was home to several native American cultures.  Artifacts found at the site date back as early as 2000 BC.  Two of the areas opened revealed structural features, including postholes, marking out the circular edge of each large building.   The evidence suggests that vertical fences were erected to protect homesteads nearly one thousand years ago.  Benyshek called the discovery a rare find, with few instances of such palisades ever being documented, especially for this little-known time period.  Most of what the researchers have come across at the site is from the Woodland Period, around AD 500, and consists of buildings, along with pits for storage and cooking.  After this, the next period evidenced on the site is the Middle Qualla period, from 1600-1750, with many individual structures and pit features.  The information now being gathered will help scientists understand how people lived thousands of years ago; including whether they lived in individual farmsteads, villages or compact villages during the different periods.  Evidence can also provide clues to what people ate, what tools they used and what their activities were.  The settlement patterns at the Iotla site have been especially enlightening, providing vital clues about how villages were set up.  The runway extension has been a source of controversy as some area residents have voiced concern over the historical and cultural significance of the prehistoric site at county meetings.  Wild-South Cultural Heritage Director Lamar Marshall believes the new discovery substantiates claims that the significance of the site was “glossed over” by governmental agencies.

Digital facsimiles of ancient Iranian tablets allow distant scholars to share them


In our next story, scholars at the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago are using modern technology to digitally record thousands of tablets that when pieced together, tell an unusually detailed story of the Persian Empire.  These ancient tablets from the palaces of Persepolis include chunks of language and art from the center of the Persian Empire, produced when the Empire reached from India and Central Asia to Egypt and the Mediterranean.  Most of the tablets have texts in impressed cuneiform characters, some have inked texts in Aramaic writing and almost all of the tablets have seal impressions.  Once the tablets are recorded and distributed with digital processes, researchers can closely examine their contents just as if they had picked them up and rotated them under a light.  With a substantial grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the team of researchers began work in 2007.  Now, with a second grant, they will continue through 2010, hoping to get about 10,000 tablets and fragments recorded.  Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute, is the principal investigator of a multi-institutional team doing the work.  The group collaborates electronically as well as in person. For the digitizing, one set of images is made with a high-resolution, large-format scanning camera with polarized and filtered lighting.  The lighting compensates for some of the staining, glare and fading that is problematic in seeing inked texts.  The second set of images is captured with Polynomial Texture Mapping equipment. A computer controls the camera in each device, making a set of distinctly lighted views of each document. Each image set is combined by a software application in such a way that viewers can control the direction, angle and intensity of the light falling on the object, just as if they were handling the original object under a desk lamp.  The tablets come from the Persepolis Fortification Archive, a collection of some 30,000 administrative tablets and fragments that Oriental Institute archaeologists recovered in 1933 at Persepolis.  Since 1936, they have been on loan from Iran to the Oriental Institute for analysis and recording.  According to Stein, they were written, sealed and filed in a short span of time, between 509 and 493 BC, in the middle of the reign of the Achaemenid [a-KEEM-anid] Persian king Darius I.  The first Greek history of Herodotus tells us about the reign of Darius, but not anything like this.  The documents cover every level of society, from workers through bureaucrats and governors to the royal family itself.   Part of the collection has been recorded, and many of the tablets have been returned to Iran, but the tablets have challenged scholars since their discovery.  Oriental Institute professor Richard Hallock’s work resulted in the groundbreaking publication of 2,087 texts in 1969 and fundamentally changed how researchers looked at the Persian Empire.

Roman grave in London produces rare classical glass type


In Britain, archaeologists have unearthed an intact Roman glass bowl at an ancient cemetery beyond the walls of the old city of London.  The bowl has the distinctive patterning of millefiori (MIL-a-fee-ORE-ee), or the “thousand flowers” style, which is a mosaic of hundreds of indented blue petals with white bordering that is believed to date from around the 2nd to 3rd century AD.  According to Jenny Hall, curator of the Roman collection at the Museum of London, it is an unprecedented piece in the western Roman world and for it to have survived intact is amazing.  There are similar examples surviving in the eastern part of the empire, in ancient Alexandria for example, but this the only one in the West.  Archaeologists said the dish was colored bright red when it was first unearthed; the intricate design imbedded in opaque red glass.  The bright vermilion color has slowly faded as the water-saturated glass dried out.  The moisture had preserved the original coloring; however, some of the pigment is still discernible around the rim.  The artifact was found 2 to 3 meters underneath an expansive ancient cemetery in Aldgate, east London, just beyond the old city walls. Romans buried their dead outside the city gates as required by law at the time.  The glass bowl was part of a cache of grave goods found close to a wooden container holding the ashes of what must have been a wealthy Roman citizen, from the ancient imperial outpost of Londinium.   Londinium is now mostly buried beneath modern-day London.  Other finds at the site include ceramic pottery and glass flasks that once contained perfumed oil used to anoint the body.  Guy Hunt, director of commercial archaeology services firm L-P Archaeology, in charge of the six-month dig at the site, said that the cemetery covers a massive area.  Some believe it could be up to 40 acres, extending under roads and buildings.  The section of the cemetery that was excavated originally sat under Victorian houses flattened during World War Two.  The dish is now on exhibit at the Museum of London Docklands in the southeast of the British capital.

Balkan village yields medieval coin hoards


Our final story is from the Republic of Macedonia, where archaeologists recently discovered 4,300 medieval coins, dating to the Twelfth and Thirteenth century A.D.  Found at the Tsarevi Kili site near the town of Strumica in eastern Macedonia, the coins were in two ceramic vessels and are one of the largest and most important medieval finds in the country.  According to Zoran Ruyak, head of the excavation, three types of coins were forged during the rule of Byzantine Emperor Manuel I [The First] Komnenos, who reigned between 1143 and 1180, and subsequent emperors.  On one side, the coins have an image of Jesus Christ or the Virgin Mary and on the other the Emperor, who might be alone, in the company of another emperor, or together with Jesus, who is blessing him.  Since the start of excavations at Tsarevi Kili, findings have included coins covering numerous historical periods. The oldest of them dates back to 350 BC, from the time of Philip II of Macedon.  In addition, coins were found from the first century BC, the second half of the third century AD to end of the sixth century, from the tenth to the eleventh centuries, from the twelfth to the fifteenth century, as well as from more recent history, such as the First World War until the end of the Second World War.  The Tsarevi Kuli site saw different uses across the many periods within which it was inhabited, but according to Ruyak, the city of Strumica and its surroundings have an overall cultural continuity spanning more than 7,000 years.

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