Audio News for June 14th to June 20th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news June 14th to June 20th, 2009.


New discovery expands ancient Mayan agriculture


Our first story is from El Salvador, where a previously unknown Mayan agricultural system has been uncovered.   A 1,400 year old manioc field, one-third the size of a modern football field, was perfectly preserved under a 17-foot blanket of ash from a volcanic eruption.   Manioc, a carbohydrate-rich tuber native to South America, was cultivated as a staple crop by the Maya.  The ancient planting beds are the first and only evidence of an intensive manioc cultivation system at any New World archaeology site.

According to anthropology Professor Payson Sheets, head of excavations at the ancient village of Ceren (ser-EN), the field was harvested just days before the eruption of the Loma Caldera volcano near San Salvador in roughly AD 600.   Evidence shows that just a few days before the eruption, the crop was harvested and then replanted with manioc stalk cuttings.

Sheets, who discovered Ceren in 1978, noted that this is the first time we have been able to see how ancient Maya grew and harvested manioc.   While two isolated portions of the manioc field were discovered in 2007 following radar work and limited excavation, 18 large test pits dug in spring 2009 allowed the archaeologists to estimate the size of the field and analyze the agricultural activity that took place there.

Ash hollows in the planting beds left by decomposed plant material were cast in dental plaster to preserve their shape and size.  Corn, beans and squash have long been known to be staples of the ancient Maya, but they are sensitive to drought and require fertile soils.  Anthropologists have suspected that manioc tubers, which can be more than three feet long and as thick as a man's arm, were a dietary salvation for ancient, indigenous societies living in large cities in tropical Latin America.

Because it is unlikely that the people of Ceren were alone in their intensive cultivation of manioc, Sheets and his colleagues are now investigating chemical and microscopic botanical evidence at other Maya archaeological sites that may be indicators of manioc cultivation and processing.  
The Ceren field and the ancient village are considered the best-preserved ancient farming village in all of Latin America.

Source of Irish gold located


Now we shift across the Atlantic Ocean to Ireland, where scientists believe they have found the source of the country’s prehistoric gold.  Ireland has very high level of prehistoric gold objects especially from the early Bronze Age, which dates from 2400 to 1800 BC.  Skilled craftsmen turned out striking objects such as gold collars or lunulas, crescentic necklaces of sheet gold, named because of their resemblance to the shape of a crescent moon.

Because of the amount of gold used, scientists believed the craftsman had to have access to extensive quantities of local gold.  After 14-year study using both modern scientific equipment as well as primitive gold-mining methods, archaeologists and geologists believe they have found that source in the mountains of Mourne.

According to a report in the current edition of Archaeology Ireland, the scientists used X-ray fluorescence spectrometry to look at the silver content of prehistoric Irish gold in more than 400 objects.   At the same time, others were out panning for gold in Irish rivers, walking the mountains looking for gold in the hills and extracting gold from rocks by fire, as prehistoric people would have done.  The teams extracted gold from rocks by heating and cooling the rock, crushing it and panning the resultant sand.

Research found the average silver content of gold in the early Bronze Age ornaments was 10 per cent, which matched the profile of gold taken from the River Bann and its tributaries but not that of gold taken from other Irish sources.  The report concluded that it is able to suggest, with solid evidence, that the Irish early Bronze Age ornaments were not only made of Irish gold but probably of gold from Mourne Mountains.

Pithouses discovered at White Sands Missile Range


Back across the Atlantic Ocean we go to New Mexico, where artifacts of the Jornada Mogollon have been found near White Sands Missile Range.  The  artifacts suggest that the Jornada Mogollon temporarily occupied the site at two separate times; first around AD 1150 and the second from about AD 1250 to 1350.

According to Stan Berryman, stewardship archaeologist for the Environmental Branch of White Sands' Public Works Directorate, the site is one of the first that has the kind of structures and artifacts researchers have been looking for.  Typically, White Sands Missile Range is left in its pristine state so not to disturb possible archaeological sites.  When a project like this comes around the construction of facilities, it provides an opportunity to do some research that would not otherwise be done.   Mark Sales, archaeologist and principal investigator with Ecological Communication Corp., a company contracted by the Army to investigate the site, uncovered remnants of three pithouses, commonly used by the Jornada Mogollon [hor-NAH-duh mow-go-YOHN] during the ancient period known as the Doña Ana Phase.   Nevertheless, it was the discovery of structures that represent two distinct occupations, a couple of hundred years apart that excited the team.

Excavation of a 50 by 70 meter section uncovered dozens of other ancient artifacts giving investigators an indication of life centuries ago in the Tularosa Basin.  The Mogollon people who lived in the area from the 1100s to 1400s were adaptable, and they farmed native plants near their water source.   Sales believes that when the growing season ended, the Mogollon probably moved to temporary seasonal shelters built closer to the Organ Mountains where there was more wood for fire, animals for hunting and plants for foraging.

Archaeologists believe the archaeological site near White Sands' main post is one of hundreds such sites along the eastern slopes of the Organs.   Because of the nature of their construction, the material would not stand the test of time.  In this case, fire carbonized the structures.   Archaeologists found three limbs used as framing structure and the remnants of an upright post that survived underground.  The pottery found at White Sands is the largest find of its type in the region.   

Aqueduct supplied Sultan’s Pool


Finally, we go to Israel, where an ancient aqueduct that served as the principal water supply to the Sultan's Pool outside the Old City of Jerusalem has been discovered.  The Sultan's Pool was one of the city's most important water reservoirs for hundreds of years.  The aqueduct, which supplied the Pool, provided pilgrims and residents with water for both drinking and ceremonial purification.  It was unearthed in a salvage excavation ahead of the planned construction of a museum at the site.

According to Dr.  Ron Beeri, director of the excavation at the site, the aqueduct was repeatedly used and repaired for about two thousand years, dating back to the Second Temple period of 536 BC to AD 70.

The recent excavation focused on a section of the previously uncovered low-level aqueduct, one of two ancient water conduits that originated in the Hebron Highlands and Solomon's Pools and terminated in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.  Beeri’s team had uncovered aqueducts dating from four different periods at the site, ranging from the Byzantine to the Ottoman periods.   The impressive, three-meter high Ottoman-era aqueduct included a tower and a ceramic pipe that diverted water to Sultan's Pool, as well as to a public fountain.  The low-level aqueduct will be incorporated in the planned Montefiore Museum to be built by the Jerusalem Foundation at the site.

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!