Audio News for May 10th to May 16th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news May 10th to May 16th, 2009.


Mayan tomb may contain second king of Copán


Our first story is from Honduras, where archaeologists believe they have found the remains of a king of the pre-Colombian Mayan civilization.  Working at Copán (co-PAHN), one of the biggest Mayan cities, a team from the Honduran Anthropology and History Institute has found bones that may belong to one of the 16 Mayan kings in the dynasty of Copán.  According to the director, Darío Euraque (da-REE-oh eh-u-RAH-kay), the grave in the Temple of Oropéndola (Oh-roh-PEN-do-la) contained the remains of a man about 30 years old, standing between 5 and 5 and a half feet tall.  The Temple of Oropendola dates between A.D 550 and 700.  The bones were in poor condition because a roof covering had collapsed on top of the grave, but the man’s teeth have been well preserved and will yield abundant information.  Both radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis will allow the researchers to test whether this is indeed the son of the well-known first ruler of the dynasty, who was himself linked to the central Mexican site of Teotihuacan (teh-o-tee-wa-CAHN).  Artifacts found with the tomb, some 3 meters below the main room of the Temple of Oropéndola, include a floor painting that appears to show the type of game associated with Mayan rituals and kings.  A very large piece of jade was also found in the recent excavations, along with jade necklaces or collars, decorated ceramics, and other artifacts.  The pre-Columbian Mayan civilization thrived in what is now Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, southern Mexico and Belize until its decline and apparent collapse around AD 1000.

Newest underwater technology will map oldest sunken city in Greece


In Greece, the oldest submerged town in the world is about to give up its secrets.  The ancient town of Pavlopetri (pahv-lo-PET-ree) lies in three to four meters of water just off the coast of southern Laconia.  The ruins date from as early as 2800 BC through the later Mycenean period, 1680 to 1180 BC.  The sunken city contains intact buildings, courtyards, streets, chamber tombs and some thirty-seven cist graves thought to belong to the Mycenaean period.  Underwater archaeologist Jon Henderson, from the University of Nottingham, will be the first archaeologist to have official access in four decades to the site, where no work has been carried out since it was first mapped in 1968.  Although Mycenaean power was largely based on their control of the sea, little is known about the workings of the harbor towns, as archaeology has focused on the better-known inland palaces and citadels.  Pavlopetri presumably was once a thriving harbor town where the inhabitants conducted local and long-distance trade throughout the Mediterranean.  The site thus offers major insight into the largely unknown economics and long-distance political relations of Mycenaean society.  The project will focus on learning the history and development of Pavlopetri, when it was occupied, what activities were carried out in the town and, through systematic study of the geomorphology of the area, the sequence of events that led to the town’s disappearance beneath the sea.  According to Dr. Henderson, the site is of rare international archaeological importance for its extensive but fragile remains, which need to be accurately recorded and preserved before they are lost forever.  The submerged buildings, courtyards, streets, tombs and graves lie just off a sandy stretch of beach.  It is threatened by both tourism boats that drag their anchors through it and inquisitive divers on the hunt for souvenirs.  Both activities have severely damaged the remains.  The growth of marine organisms is also taking a toll, degrading the fragile 3,500-year-old walls.  The survey will be carried out using equipment that was originally developed for the military and offshore oilfield exploration.  The application of these instruments to marine archaeology could transform the survey and recording of underwater remains.  Over the next four years, Henderson’s team will use an acoustic scanner for a digital underwater survey of the site that will be accurate down to the millimeter.  The equipment can produce photo-realistic, three dimensional digital surveys of seabed features and underwater structures to sub-millimeter precision in a matter of minutes.

Volunteers recreate smoke signals to test the range of early Navajo defense network


Our next story is from New Mexico, where archaeologists and volunteers armed with special flares will fan out over part of the Four Corners region to study how early Navajos could have used smoke signals to warn against invaders.  More than 200 small stone and timber structures, known as pueblitos (poo-eh-BLEE-tohs), perch high on rock outcroppings overlooking the San Juan Basin.  Archaeologists believe these were built by Navajos three centuries ago to protect against Spanish explorers and neighboring tribes.  The sites lie in the Four Corners area, where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah meet.  According to Jim Copeland, an archaeologist with the Bureau of Land Management in Farmington, the theory is that Navajos based in the pueblitos may have used smoke to send warnings across long distances.  Experiments in the early 1990s showed that this method of warning could work in general, but scores of new sites have been identified since then and researchers want to know more about how the signals could have been relayed.  Improved computer modeling and analysis has refined the idea of an ancient early warning system.  When the volunteers reach some of the remote defensive sites, their mission will be to set off their smoke signals and scan the horizon for other columns of smoke.  Much of the Four Corners area is part of Dinetah (DIN-eh-TAH), the ancestral homeland of the Navajo Nation and the center of their traditional creation stories.

Secret of Roman building’s survival was its volcanic blend of cement


Our final story is from Rome, where new research is showing that sandy ash from a volcano that erupted 456,000 years ago might have helped a huge ancient Roman complex survive intact for nearly 2,000 years despite three earthquakes.  X-ray analysis of a wall sample from the Trajan's Market ruins in Rome showed that the mortars used by ancient Romans contained a mineral called strätlingite (STRATE-ling-ite), a silicate form that is occasionally added to modern cement to increase the strength of concrete.  According to Lucrezia Ungaro (loo-CRATE-see-ah oon-GAH-ro), the Trajan’s Forum archaeological chief, this is the first time that strätlingite has been recognized in ancient mortars.  Comprising a set of halls arranged on three levels, the Market complex, part of the Forum of Trajan, probably was designed by Apollodorus [a-PAWL-oh-DOR-us] of Damascus, a Syrian architect who worked primarily for the Emperor Trajan.  Apollodorus was a gifted and innovative designer credited with most of the Imperial buildings, including the Forum of Trajan and Trajan's column.   Dating back to AD 113, the vast complex is no longer thought to be the world's first shopping mall, but more of a multi-purpose center with administrative buildings for governing the extensive Roman empire under Trajan, who ruled from AD 98 to 117.  The complex has survived three earthquakes, in AD 443, 1349 and 1703.  Although the use of the high-quality stratlinglite cement does not completely prevent concrete cracking from earthquake shocks, it increases resistance by giving a much stronger bond to the wall concrete.  Researchers have long known that Roman builders took great care in selecting a mortar to hold walls together.  They knew the diverse material properties of the rocks, and developed concretes that employed granular volcanic ash, known as pozzolan (POHTZ-oh-lan), and chunks of various volcanic rocks.  Pozzolan ash is a fine volcanic material high in silica and aluminum, named after its original quarry at Pozzuoli (poht-sue-OH-lee), near Naples.  Pozzolan reacts with lime in the presence of water to form a much faster, stronger bonding concrete mix.  Present-day engineering uses pozzolan to help offset the environmental costs of ordinary Portland cement, which produces substantial greenhouse gases during its manufacture.  Pozzolans also produced the first underwater concrete, which the Romans invented.  For Trajan’s complex, the Romans found the ash they needed in the material left by the Alban Hills volcano some 456,000 years ago.  The recipe for a robust concrete worked very well.  Marie Jackson, a historian at Northern Arizona University, carried out the research in collaboration with Barry Scheetz, a professor of materials, civil and nuclear engineering at Pennsylvania State University, and Fabrizio Marra (fah-BREETS-ee-oh MAR-ra) of Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.  According to Jackson, the stratlingite mortar was very well compacted, showing that the Roman engineers had carefully controlled the ratio of lime, pozzolan ash, and water.

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