Audio News for June 7th to June 13th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for June 7th to June 13th, 2009.


Underwater sites of early Native Americans found below Lake Huron


Our first story is from the border of Canada and the U.S., where archaeologists have located what appear to be caribou-hunting structures and camps more than 100 feet deep in Lake Huron.  Located on a wide stony ridge that 9,000 years ago was a land bridge, University of Michigan researchers have found the first archaeological evidence of human activity preserved beneath the Great Lakes.  According to John O'Shea, curator of Great Lakes Archaeology in the Museum of Anthropology and professor in the Department of Anthropology, this is the first time structures like these have been identified on the lake bottom.  Scientifically, it is important because the entire ancient landscape is preserved and not been modified by farming or modern development, which allows for far better understanding of the ancient ecology and environment.  A paper about the findings was published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  by O'Shea and colleague Guy Meadows, director of the Marine Hydrodynamics Laboratories and a professor in the departments of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, and Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences.  O'Shea and Meadows found features they believe to be hunting pits, camps, caribou drive lanes and stone piles used to attract the caribou to the drive lanes.  Drive lanes are long rows of rocks used to channel caribou into ambushes.  One 1,148-foot long drive lane closely resembles one on Victoria Island in the Canadian subarctic.  The hunting formations are on a 10-mile-wide ridge that stretches more than 100 miles from Ontario to Michigan, that was dry land between 7,500 and 10,000 years ago when water levels were lower.  The Paleo-Indian and early Archaic periods were a time of major shifts in environment and culture, but are poorly known in the Great Lakes region because most of their sites are thought to have been lost beneath the lakes.  Scientists had hypothesized for some time that the ridge might hold signs of ancient occupations, but were not sure what to look for.  O'Shea and Meadows zeroed in on caribou-hunting structures after considering the region's climate at the time, which would have been similar to the subarctic.  Subarctic hunters are known to utilize caribou drive lanes.  To pinpoint such structures, the researchers modeled the lake ridge as it would have been when it was dry, reconstructing the ancient environment and then simulating caribou migrations across the corridor.  Based on this, they picked three spots to survey using sonar equipment and underwater remote-operated vehicles with video cameras.  Archaeologists will begin examining these areas underwater this summer.

5000 more terracotta warriors may be in new Chinese site


In China, researchers are starting new excavations to unearth more terracotta warriors.   In a bid to unravel the mysteries that surround the ancient figures buried in the tomb of the first emperor, the work will begin in the site's largest pit, which is believed to be still hiding around 5000 of the life-size figures.  This will be the third excavation in the pit at the site near Xian, the capital of northern Shaanxi province, since 1974 when a peasant digging a well discovered the army of terracotta warriors and horses.  According to a statement from the State Administration of Cultural Heritage, this time the excavation could answer many unresolved mysteries, such as whether there are civil servant officials in the pit as well as soldiers.  The majority of the discovered figures are archers, infantrymen and charioteers that the Qin (Chin) Emperor, who had the site built, hoped would follow him into the afterlife.  Fewer than 10 armored generals have been unearthed with the army, part of a burial site for Qin Shi Huang, who presided over the unification of China in 221 BC and declared himself the first emperor of the nation.  This is the first excavation of the pit that the Terracotta Army Museum will undertake without outside help, and scientists are hoping that new technology might be able to help keep the original color of the undiscovered soldiers.  In past excavations, richly colored clay figures have turned an oxidized grey when they were exposed to the air.  The Terracotta Army is one of the greatest archaeological finds of modern times, and was listed as a World Heritage Site in 1987.

Stonehenge area turns up two Neolithic barrow tombs


At the other end of Eurasia, in Britain, a prehistoric complex, including two 6,000-year-old tombs, has been discovered in Hampshire.  The Neolithic tombs had gone unnoticed under farmland despite being just 15 miles from Stonehenge, and are some of the oldest monuments in Britain.   Archaeologists believe they will hold valuable clues about how people lived at the time and what their environment was like.  According to Dr. Helen Wickstead, the Kingston University archaeologist leading the project, the area is one of the most famous and well researched prehistoric landscapes, a Mecca for prehistorians, so the new find came as a surprise.  From examining similar sites, archaeologists know that complex burial rituals were common at the time.  Typically, bodies would be left in the open air until the flesh had decayed, leaving only a skeleton.  Then the bones were arranged in the tombs.  The tombs were discovered by Damian Grady, an English Heritage photographer, who flew over the area taking aerial photographs of the land, looking for marks or features on the landscape suggesting ancient monuments.  One photograph showed two long mounds, and Mr. Grady invited Dr. Wickstead to investigate.   After a survey of the land using electromagnetic detectors and ultrasound, Dr. Wickstead was able to identify the two tombs with troughs on each side, known as long barrows, typical of Neolithic burial sites.  Her team also found artifacts very close to the surface, including fragments of pottery, flint and stone tools.   So far, Dr. Wickstead’s team has used only non-invasive techniques to figure out what lies inside the tombs.  Because the original surface of the land has been preserved beneath the mound, scientists will be able to examine it for traces of pollen and identify which plants and trees were common at the time.   Whether they will be excavated will depend on local opinion.   Dr. Wickstead commented that they want to be sure that it is what people living in Damerham village want, as the sites are their local heritage.  The Kingston University team will publish preliminary findings of their research in the journal Hampshire Studies.

New strides in history come with find of early leather shoes


Our final story is from Germany, where archaeologists have unearthed a well-preserved leather shoe from the 13th Century at a dig in Magdeburg.  The find could provide new insights into medieval life and craftsmanship.  According to Heiko Breuer, an antiquities restorer from the State Museum for Prehistory Saxony-Anhalt, shoe discoveries of this type from the Gothic period very seldom occur in Central Europe.  The shoe, surprisingly well preserved in a moist layer of soil, is made of sheepskin.  Archaeologists also found a 350-year-old pair of cowhide loafers, probably belonging to a young boy in Harz during the Baroque period of the early modern era.  Breuer noted that the approximately 350-year-old Baroque shoes are especially valuable, because the craft details are preserved in great detail.   Due to the exceptional conditions of both finds, they show how shoes would have been made and how shoemakers worked in the Middle Ages.  Materials were pulled tight on a block, sewn together and turned for the production of the seam.  From there, the turned wings were formed into the final shape and style of the shoe.  The 800-year-old medieval shoe will be freeze-dried after soaking in a chemical solution for 14 days at a lab in the state museum of Saxony-Anhalt.

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