Audio News for July 12th to July 18th, 2009  

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for July 12th to July 18th, 2009.


8000 years old dwelling found on Isle of Man


Our first story from the Isle of Man, in the middle of the northern Irish Sea, where archaeologists are investigating a prehistoric dwelling dating back 8,000 years to the time when the first human settlers returned to the area after the end of the Ice Age.  Discovered during airport runway construction, it is probably the oldest dwelling ever found on the Island.

The site shows foundations of a robustly built shelter, filled and surrounded by thousands of pieces of worked flint, the charred remains of wood, and hundreds of hazelnut shells.  Comparatively few materials can survive in the ground for a long period.  Unburned wood, horn, bone, leather and similar materials will rot away.  Therefore, archaeologists work hard  to get maximum information from the surviving evidence.

According to Manx National Heritage field archaeologist Andrew Johnson, archaeologists hesitate to call a structure of this kind a "house,” because the current wisdom is that 8,000 years ago people moved through the area as nomads, gathering their food from the land, rather than staying put and farming and harvesting crops.  However, this building, constructed from substantial pieces of timber, had a hearth for cooking and warmth.  The occupants lived here long enough to leave behind over 12,000 pieces of worked flint together with the tools needed to flake them, and food debris in the form of hundreds of hazelnut shells.

Radiocarbon dates are not yet completed, but researchers say that, based on the field evidence, it is probably the oldest dwelling on the Isle of Man.  Work on the site began after the discovery of a 3,000-year-old Bronze Age village, three burials and numerous artifacts, including thousands of pieces of pottery and worked flint.

Peruvians buried woman alive to improve the weather?


Now we shift to Peru, where researchers have found the remains of a woman buried alive in the 15th Century apparently to stave off the effects what today we call the El Niño weather phenomenon.  According to Cristobal Campana from the National Institute of Culture, this is the first time evidence has been found that people from the Chimu culture were buried alive to mitigate the actions of El Niño.  However, the National Institute of Culture did not explain the exact correlation between this particular human sacrifice and El Niño.

Workers found the remains of the woman, who was in her early 20s, at the western perimeter wall of the Ñain An, or House of the Birds’ Palace, at the Chan Chan archaeological complex.  The city of Chan Chan, capital of the Kingdom of Chimor, is America's largest prehispanic mud-brick settlement.  It reached its height in the 15th Century, not long before falling to the Incas.

Unknown persons strangled the approximately 5’1” tall woman and buried her alive.  The position of her arms and jaw reflect her final struggle to free herself from the fabric tied around her throat.  In addition, the victim had both feet amputated in the same manner that the Chimu did with other sacrificial victims at another palace in the same region.

Campana commented that archaeologist will remove the remains from inside a structure that is protecting them from sun and rain, for further study.  In 1982-1983, about 40 per cent of the infrastructure of the Chan Chan site turned to mud due to rains from El Nino.  United Nations recognized the Chan Chan archaeological complex as a World Heritage Site, but it is also on the list of endangered sites due to the fragility of its structures under the rains and intense heat in the region.  It is one of the most important ceremonial centers in northern Peru.

More terracotta soldiers march out of China


In China, archaeologists have found as many as 100 terracotta warriors and an army officer at the world heritage site of Xi'an (Shee An).  According to chief archaeologist Xu (Shu) Weihong, the most exciting discovery so far is the army officer.

Excavators found the life-sized figure lying on its stomach behind four chariots.  The face is not yet visible, but the leather gallus or suspenders on its back are distinct.  Xu noted the gallus was typical of army officers of the Qin (Chin) Dynasty, which existed from 221 to 207 BC.

According to Xu, artists probably originally painted the figure in different colors.  After more than 2,000 years of decay, the original colors have faded, but a corner of the officer's robe suggested it was in colors other than that of the clay.  Richly colored clay figures were unearthed from the mausoleum of Qinshihuang, (Chin shee whong) the first emperor of a united China, but once exposed to the air, they began to lose their luster and turned an oxidized grey.  Workers will take extra care to bring this sculpture out of the pit and restore its original color.  Except for its broken head, the army officer is largely intact, compared with other newly discovered clay figures, most of which are seriously damaged.

The 230 by 62 meter pit, currently under excavation, may contain about 6,000 of the life-sized terracotta figures.  Previous excavations unearthed more than 1,000 figures.  Most researchers believe this pit, the largest of three pits, houses a rectangular army of archers, infantrymen and charioteers that the emperor hoped would help him rule in the afterlife.

The terracotta army was one of the greatest archaeological finds of modern times.  Peasants digging a well discovered it in 1974.  The first formal excavation of the site lasted for six years, from 1978 to 1984, and produced 1,087 clay figures.  A second excavation, in 1985, lasted a year.  It ended for technical reasons.  The current excavation may unearth as many as 150 terracotta warriors.

 Iceman’s tattoos may be therapeutic, not decorative


In our final story, Oetzi, the 5300-year-old Tyrolean iceman mummy, continues to give up his secrets.  According to a new study in the Journal of Archaeological Science, the 57 tattoos on Oetzi came from fireplace soot that contained glittering, colorful precious stone crystals.  The report supports preceding research that the tattoos may be acupuncture treatments for chronic ailments suffered by the iceman.  German tourists found Oetzi’s frozen body near the Similaun Glacier of the Alps in 1991.

The findings also suggest how prehistoric people tattooed in the days before commercial inks and machines. Using optical microscopy and various electron microscopy techniques, lead author Maria Anna Pabst, a professor in the Institute of Cell Biology at the Medical University of Graz, and her colleagues analyzed several of Oetzi's tattoos.  Tattoos chosen for this study are line markings, as well as a distinctive cross-shaped tattoo on the iceman's right knee.  Magnification of the designs revealed soot, likely raked out of a fireplace, along with different silicate crystals, such as quartz and almandine, a type of purple garnet.

According to Pabst, because there are only a few tiny crystals in the soot particles, the ancients picked up some crystals when they took the soot from the stones of the fireplace.  The crystals were probably just naturally in the dirt or the fireplace itself, and not intentionally added.  Oetzi’s tattoos which are parallel to Chinese acupuncture meridians, comprise groups of one, two, three, four and seven tattoo lines parallel to the longitudinal axis of the body.  The cross-shaped tattoo on his knee, and another one on his left ankle, also lay over Chinese acupuncture trigger points, the researchers believe. This strengthens their argument that the markings are located on parts of the iceman's body not typical for tattoo displays, diminishing the idea that they served an ornamental function.

Prior research shows Oetzi did suffer from a range of ailments that might have benefitted from acupuncture, including a bad back and degeneration of the hip.  Before this most recent study, historians believed the earliest acupuncture took place in China around 3,000 years ago.  Since the iceman is much older, Pabst and her colleagues now believe many different prehistoric European and Asian cultures may have independently discovered this therapeutic technique.  It's also still possible that tattooing and acupuncture originated in East Asia, and spread to the Alps region well before the iceman's lifetime.

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