Audio News for May 3rd to May 9th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for May 3rd to May 9th, 2009.


Wooden spear tip more than 35,000 years old


Our first story is from Slovenia, where archaeologists have found a wooden spear tip believed to be between 38,000 and 45,000 years old.   According to Barbara Nadbath, the head of Slovenia's Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, which led the excavation, a wooden spear tip is something entirely new for this time period.

The institute’s underwater archaeology team found the tip last September at a riverbed construction site, in wetlands west of the capital, Ljubljana.   The tip was made of yew.   A resin coating was preserved on one of its sides.   Due to its shape, the object was compared to Szeletian stone spear tips, typical for central Europe between 50,000 and 35,000 years ago.   The age was confirmed by radiocarbon dating.

Finding the wooden spear tip adds to the modest data on Paleolithic hunters in the area and answers the question about the materials used for making tools, Nadbath said.

The wetlands where the tip was found cover a 62 square mile area and contains the site of the earliest traces of a settlement in the area, which is believed to date back to the Mesolithic Period, before 6000 BC.   The finds from the site include more than 10,000 artifacts, including the world's oldest wooden wheel, dating to about 3600 BC.  

16th Century ritual complex discovered in Mexico


Now we jump to Mexico, where Professor Christopher Fisher of Colorado State University has unearthed an ancient imperial ritual complex dating to the 16th Century Purepecha or Tarascan Empire.
The word “Tarascan” refers to an aboriginal ethnic group of Mexico and the language that they speak.   The term is gradually becoming obsolete and being replaced by the ethnic group's own name for themselves: Purepecha, for both the people and the language.   However, the historical Purepecha built a state that is referred to as Tarascan because that is the way it appears in the early colonial sources.   The Purepecha Empire controlled much of western Mexico with a communally fortified Eastern frontier shared with their rivals, the Aztecs.  
The ritual complex was located on an island in the Lake Patzcuaro Basin in the Central Mexican state of Michoacan.   The Lake Patzcuaro Basin was the geopolitical center of the Purepecha Empire and included a large population, centralized settlement patterns, and a hierarchical society.   The site includes a small pyramid, several platforms, and a central structure that could be an imperial treasury mentioned in historic documents.   An early 16th Century colonial chapel also was found.
According to Fisher, he and his team were able to document 2,000 years of continuous occupation, climate change and a highly engineered environment including hundreds of ancient agricultural terraces, by walking the entire island.   The team surveyed the island using global positioning equipment recording every prehistoric and historic structure they came upon.    

Ancient wigwam may have been found in Maryland


Much farther north, in Arundel County, Maryland,  archaeologists searching for clues about Native American settlements from the Middle Woodland Period have hit a trove of pottery, arrowheads and perhaps even the remnants of a wigwam.

That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the artifacts are not from their target period which lasted from roughly AD 1 to 900.    According to Al Luckenbach, county archaeologist, the team thought it would find plenty of Middle Woodland evidence, but have not yet found any.  However, it has found plenty of traces from earlier and later settlements, including 10,000-year-old spear points.
Five hundred sites have been identified in the county.  Luckenbach and the Lost Towns Project crew have mapped about 150 likely sites, hoping to narrow their focus to about seven of the best ones, hoping to find an intact Middle Woodland settlement.  He notes that one of the key questions to be answered is when corn was introduced into the culture.  He believes it was in the Middle Woodland period, but no one has proved it yet.

The dig started when archaeologists and volunteers dug a series of small test pits to determine if there was evidence of prehistoric settlement on the site.  After finding some arrowheads and pottery shards, the team dug larger excavation units.  One turned up the shells of now extinct freshwater clams piled next to what appears to be a fire pit.  An additional pit yielded more shards and arrowheads from the Late Woodland Period settlement.

This same pit yielded other evidence of Native American settlement: a telltale pattern of dark, round spots, or molds, about 6 inches apart, in the earth, indicative of saplings stuck into the ground to build a wigwam.  Luckenback believes the wigwam dates from AD 500 and may be the oldest structure ever found in Maryland.  He postulates that Native Americans came to the spot along the Patuxent River for 10,000 years.  They would be at this spot on the river for a period in spring or fall, then would move on to another camp, perhaps to take advantage of berries, deer and other game.    

Roman “shanty town” unearthed in Britain


Our final story is from Britain, where archaeologists have unearthed evidence of an unplanned settlement that grew up on the outskirts of the Roman fort at Bowes, in the north of England.   The Romans founded the fort to protect the road across the Pennine (PEN-ine) Mountains.  Only the ramparts now survive.   
Last year, archaeologists dug five trenches to assess the impact of a proposal to build five homes at the site.  Researchers discovered stone walls, foundations of wooden buildings, flooring, and the remains of a huge Roman building.  In addition, large amounts of Roman pottery dating to the Second and Third centuries were unearthed.  Historians believe hundreds of people lived at the site.
The researchers were surprised to find that the site was in the centre of a Roman vicus, a civilian settlement that sprang up close to an official Roman site.  According to Richard Carlton, from The Archaeological Practice Ltd, it would have resembled a “shanty town.” Unplanned and originally lacking any public administrative buildings, a vicus had no specific legal status and developed in order to profit from Roman troops who had little to distract them when off duty.    
What makes this site unusual is that it appears it was occupied longer than similar settlements in northern England.  The excavations showed occupation until possibly the Fourth Century.   Similar settlements seem to stop in the middle of the Third Century.    

Little is known about the final days of Roman life in Britain, but tradition holds that towards the end of the occupation, the garrison at Bowes fell into a disorganized state.  Legend has it that locals retaliated by storming the fort and massacring the legionaries.  

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