Audio News for August 2nd to August 8th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for August 2nd to August 8th, 2009.


Turkish temple turns up trove of tablets


Our first story is from Turkey, where excavations at a recently discovered temple have uncovered a stockpile of cuneiform tablets dating back to the Iron Age.  According to University of Toronto archaeologist Timothy Harrison, professor of near eastern archaeology and director of the University’s Tayinat Archaeological Project, the tablets were made between 1200 and 600 BC.  Found in the temple's cella (SEL-la), or inner sanctum, the tablets are possibly part of an archive.  The cella also contained gold, bronze and iron tools, libation vessels and elaborately decorated ritual objects.  Harrison said the collection appears to be a Neo-Assyrian renovation of an older Neo-Hittite temple complex, providing a rare glimpse into the religious aspect of Assyrian imperial philosophy.  The information in the tablets may possibly bring to light the imperial ambitions of one of the great powers of the ancient world and its influence on the culture of the Middle East.  The building where the tablets were found, which began to be unearthed in 2008, is a a Neo-Hittite temple of classic layout.  It formed part of a sacred area that once included monumental stelae carved in Luwian, an extinct Anatolian language once spoken in Turkey.  Tell Tayinat was the capital of the Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Palastin.  Tayinat was destroyed by the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III in 738 BC, and then changed into an Assyrian provincial capital, with its own governor and imperial administration.  Later, the temple burned in an intense fire.  It was found filled with heavily charred brick and wood that ironically contributed to the preservation of the finds in its inner chambers.  Harrison noted that while those responsible for this later destruction are unknown, the remarkable discoveries preserved in the Tayinat temple clearly record a pivotal moment in its history.  The Tayinat Archaeological Project is an international project, involving researchers from a dozen countries, and more than 20 universities and research institutes.

Spanish cave cartography could be earliest map ever


In northern Spain, archaeologists have discovered what they believe is the earliest map ever found, dating from almost 14,000 years ago.  The stone tablet found in a cave in Abauntz in the Navarra region looks to contain the earliest known representation of a landscape.  On an object measuring less than seven inches by five inches, and less than an inch thick, the engravings appear to depict mountains, winding rivers and areas of good foraging and hunting.  A team from the University of Zaragoza spent 15 years deciphering the etched lines after unearthing the artifact during excavation of the cave in 1993.  According to Pilar Utrilla (pee-LAHR oo-TREE-ya), who led the research team, it is certain that it is a sketch, a map of the surrounding area.  Whoever made the map sought to capture in stone the flow of the rivers, the mountains outside the cave and the animals found in the area.  The team confirmed that the landscape depicted corresponds exactly to the surrounding geography.  The ancient map, however, includes marks showing herds of ibex on one of the mountains visible from the cave itself.  The research, published in the latest edition of the Journal of Human Evolution, furthers our understanding of the early modern human ability of spatial awareness and organized hunting.  The intent behind the making of the tablet is unknown, but it was clearly important to those who populated the cave 14,000 years ago.  The researchers theorize that it may have been used as a storytelling device or, alternatively, to plan a hunting expedition.  

Italians identify vast villa as Vespanian’s summer palace


Now we cross the Mediterranean Sea to Italy, where a discovery in the Sabine [sa-BEEN] hill country northeast of Rome has been identified as the summer villa of the Roman Emperor Vespasian.  Titus Flavius Vespasianus (TIE-tus FLAY-vee-us ves-PAYS-ee-ANN-us), who rebuilt the Roman Empire following the chaotic reign of Emperor Nero, changed the face of Rome with his public works programs, including the construction of the Colosseum.  After four years of excavating near the town of Cittareale (CHEE-ta-ray-AUL-eh), in the province of the Rieti (ree-AYT-ee), an immense villa has emerged, adorned with mosaic floors, baths and marbled halls.  Dating to the First Century AD, the villa is located near the place of Vespasian's birth at Falacrinae (fall-AH-cree-nye); it may also be where he died.  According to Filippo Coarelli (FIL-ip-po cwar-EL-lee), the archaeologist from University of Perugia who led the excavation, it is a unique and very large villa, over 160,000 square feet in size.  The researchers have found no inscription that says it belonged to the emperor, but the location, dating, size and quality of the building leave little doubt about its owner.  Coarelli thinks Vespasian might have built this extravagant summerhouse near his birthplace to show off his wealth and power.  The precise location of Falacrinae has long been the subject of debate.  The rediscovery of an ancient Roman inscription celebrating a Falacrinae resident’s military service in the wars of 91-88 BC, near the town of Cittareale, were the clue to the identity of the ancient village.  Coarelli described the floor of the main hall as the most spectacular section of the villa, with flooring of polychrome marbles quarried in North Africa.  Two other rooms also have delicate mosaic floors.  Vespasian was a highly regarded military commander who became emperor in AD 69, at the age of 60.  He was the fourth emperor in that year, ending a power struggle and civil war after the end of Nero’s rule.  Despite his turbulent rise to the throne, Vespasian was known for his success in stabilizing the Empire following years of war and strife under Nero.   In AD 72, he began the construction of the Flavian (FLAY-vee-an) Amphitheater, later named the Colosseum.  According to the historian Suetonius (sway-TOE-nee-us) in his ‘De Vitae Caesarum’ (de VEE-tie se-SAHR-oom) or ‘The Lives of the Caesars’, Vespasian was in his summer villa in the mountains near Rieti when he died.

California cogged stone site finally gains protection


Our final story is from California, where a site that is widely regarded as an ancient American Indian burial ground has received national historic designation.  Federal officials last month determined the “Cogged Stone” site at Bolsa Chica Mesa, located in Huntington Beach, California, eligible for listing with the National Register of Historic Places.  The move grants the area slightly more protection against future development.  The site, named after the hundreds of carved stone disks or cogged stones found there, dates back approximately 8,500 years.  According to National Register of Historic Places historian Paul Lusignan, there was a tremendous amount of information about the prehistoric site as well as its distinctive cogged stones, a rare archeological feature found in very few other locations.  The area captures some of the land within a housing development and an estimated six acres of unincorporated land owned by a developer that the City is proposing to annex.  The honor is just the latest chapter in a decades-long battle among preservationists, tribal members and developers.  In 2008, tensions escalated after an announcement about the unearthing of 174 ancient American Indian burials, half of them found over an 18-month period on a site slated to become a community with more than 300 homes.  The area was once shared by the Juaneño (wah-NEH-nyo) Band of Mission Indians and the Gabrieleno-Tongva (GAB-ree-el-AIN-o TONG-va) band.  The discovery of hundreds of mysterious cogged stones and human bone fragments confirmed decades-long rumors that the home development site was an ancient burial ground of international importance.  While the national designation is more of an honorary distinction, it carries enough weight to be taken into consideration during environmental reviews.  In addition, the designation deems the site a significant resource and thus requires the city to complete an environmental impact report before development, according to Susan Stratton, an archeologist at the California Office of Historic Preservation.  Preservationists contend the city of Huntington Beach will now have to re-evaluate the proposed annexation.  In the past, city officials have said they could skip the environmental impact report for the undeveloped 6.2 acres, saying the annexation would not have enough of an environmental impact to warrant an in-depth study.

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