Audio News for May 24th to May 30th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for May 24th to May 30th, 2009.


Ancient Mexican port may have been early Mayan trading center


Our first story is from southeast Mexico, where discoveries at an ancient Mayan river port show it was used as early as 600 BC.  Excavations at the 217-acre site of Moral-Reforma (moh-RAWL reh-FOR-ma), in the Mexican state of Tabasco, began three months ago.  According to Benito Lopez (ben-EE-to LOH-pez), one of the two researchers leading the project, the port was used by the Mayan cities of the present-day Mexican states of Campeche (com-PAY-chay) and Chiapas (chee-AH-pus), and neighboring Guatemala.   The archaeologists have been studying a pyramid at the site that resembles the ruins of Calakmul (cah-lahk-MOOL) in Campeche State, proof of the spread of Mayan civilization in the area.  The port area, which would have been under the rule of the great city of Palenque (pah-LAIN-kay), is still known as Balancan (bah-lahn-CAHN), a Mayan word describing it as a place of tigers and serpents.  The port lies conveniently near two great rivers, the Usumacinta (OOH-su-ma-SEEN-ta) and the San Pedro, which as Lopez noted, could mark it as a key point in trade routes between Mayan regions.  Masks, small sculptures, stone tools and spear points are among 23 noteworthy artifacts unearthed in the pyramid excavations.   Investigations of the site began 17 years ago and have included port structures as well as monuments.  Some of the monuments, a traditional ball court and three buildings, are now restored.   Francisco Cuevas Reyes (fron-SIS-co CWAY-vahs RAY-ace), the other archaeologist heading the investigation, noted that the site holds 95 earthen mounds, which likely contain more Mayan artifacts and buildings.  The Mayan civilization flourished between 250 BC and AD 1000 across a region extending from the present-day Mexican states of Tabasco, Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo (keen-tah-nah ROH-oh), to the Central American countries of Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.  Trade was crucial in its rise, as it continues to be in the present day region of highly diverse wet and dry highlands, lowlands, and coastal ecosystems.

Roman era ship found sewn from bark


In Croatia, a 2,000-year-old ship has been found that was stitched together from carefully sewn panels of bark.  The ship was discovered in a cooperative effort between the city of Novalja (no-VAHL-iya) and the Zadar  (ZAH-dahr) University, and the French Institute for Scientific Research in the Caska (CAHS-ka) Bay on the Croatian seacoast.  The archaeologists recovered the lower part of the ship, body panels, ship skeleton and stitches that connected the panels.  A sewn ship is literally a small ship made from pieces of tree bark that have been soaked in tar and then sewn together.  Once the bark hardens, the ship is both watertight and lightweight.  The research, led by Professor Zdenko Brusic (ZDEN-ko BROO-sitch) from the Zadar University, is expected to last for two years.  According to Brusic, in Roman times Novalja was known for its port accommodations on the old sea route from Greece to northern Italy and central Europe, where ships would often have to wait for favorable winds.   A town thus developed, which in Roman times included aqueducts, basilicas, and graves that are still visible on land.  Sunk beneath the waters of the bay is the Roman town of Kissa, whose remains are being researched.  The sewn ship was found in the joint work at the town site.  According to conservation expert Irena Radic Rossi (ih-RAIN-a RAH-ditch ROSS-ee) of the Croatian institute, the ship was sewn together using rope pulled through holes in a style characteristic of the people of Liburnia.  The Liburnians were renowned seafarers, notorious for their raids in the Adriatic Sea.  Even though the context of excavation shows that the ship is over 2,000 years old, its exact age will be determined through further analysis.

Arizona irrigation system is 3200 years old


In the United States, archaeologists preparing for the expansion of a wastewater treatment facility have discovered the remains of the earliest known irrigation system in the Southwest.  The small canal system was dug around 1200 BC to bring water to about 60 to 100 acres of farms near Tucson, Arizona.  The irrigation fed crops that included corn and amaranth, a less well-known but also nutritious semi-domesticated plant of the Americas.  The 80 to 150 people supported by these fields lived in pit houses, most of which are buried under the nearby highway but are confirmed from this and previous excavations.  This un-named group of people built their canals over 1000 years earlier than the more famous giant canals of the Hohokam (HO-ho-kahm) culture that arose in the Phoenix area after about 300 B.C.  The find at Tucson, 120 miles southeast of the Hohokam heartland around Phoenix, thus suggests that prehistoric peoples of the region began with relatively simple irrigation systems and developed more complex systems as the climate was also becoming hotter and drier.  According to lead archaeologist James M. Vint of Desert Archaeology Incorporated, while these are not the earliest known individual canals in southern Arizona, they are the most extensive and sophisticated system of canals that have been identified to date.  The site, known as Las Capas, or The Layers, sits at the union of three streams and was named from the thick layers of silt that repeatedly buried the site.  Earlier work had established that Las Capas was inhabited during the San Pedro phase of the Early Agriculture Period.  Vint’s team of 30 archaeologists used over a mile of backhoe trenches and associated excavation to salvage additional data prior to expansion of a current municipal wastewater treatment facility.  Two main canals were found, which fed into eight smaller distribution canals.  The cultural identity of these farmers is unknown, although their crops and artifact styles show ties to Mexico.  Pottery was not yet produced, but stone cutting tools were found, along with grinding stones, antler pieces for making stone tools, and awls for basket making.  Geomorphology shows the region suffered a huge flood about 800 BC that buried the canal system.  There is some indication that the villagers tried getting it going again, but without success.  They cleaned out some sections, but never brought it back to full scale.  According to Vint, they likely just moved upriver to other villages.

Small Buddhist stupa found in Maldives


Our final story is from the Republic of Maldives (mahl-dives), where a local resident was digging a well and instead found a pre-Islamic stupa beneath his house.  A stupa is a mound-like structure containing relics of the Buddha.  Stupas were built throughout the Buddhist regions of southeast Asia beginning around 300 B.C., originally to venerate the Buddha and later as sites of pilgrimage.  The island country of the Maldives comprises a group of atolls south of India.  According to an island leader, the stupa that was found is made of coral in three parts, which may have been destroyed when Islam came to the islands.  Other ancient artifacts have been found on the island.  In 2003, large elaborately carved coral bricks were discovered during construction of a school and in 2006, a small statue of the Buddha was found.  Ahmed Tholal (ah-med toe-lal), Assistant Director of the Center for Linguistic and Historical Research, planned a visit to the island in the near future to study the small, approximately 8-foot-diameter stupa.  While he warned it was too early to be optimistic, he noted that it appears to be part of a Buddhist monastery.  Very little is known about the Maldives’ Buddhist past, although Buddhism was the dominant religion until the 12th century AD, when Islam was introduced.  The area’s religious prehistory subject is a sensitive one as the Maldives operates within a strict Islamic framework.   However, in October 2008, a program began with US funding to preserve the archaeological site on another island, which was the site of a Buddhist monastery dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries.

That wraps up the news for this week!
For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at , where all the news is history!
I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!