Audio News for August 9th to August 15th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for August 9th to August 15th, 2009.


Stone Age “Cathedral” located in Scotland


Our first story is from Orkney Island, off the northern tip of Scotland, where archaeologists have unearthed a huge Neolithic structure that the researchers are comparing to a cathedral, possibly 5000 years old.  According to Nick Card, lead archaeologist, the building would have dominated the site and dwarfed such Stone Age landmarks as the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness that stand to either side of it.  In fact, these sites, which date back about 5,000 years, might have actually been secondary features of the structure complex.

The shape and size of the cathedral-like building are visible today.  Its footprint is about 65 feet square.  The 16 foot thick walls, which surround a cross-shaped inner sanctum, still stand to a height of more then 3 feet.  The excavation team has found examples of art and furniture made from stone in the sanctum.  But the true function of the structure still is a mystery.

A paved outer passage which surrounded the building may have formed a maze that led worshippers through darkness to the chamber at the heart of the building.  The team also discovered a standing stone, split by an hourglass-shaped hole, something never seen before in buildings from the period.

Card notes that a building of this scale and complexity must have astounded and created a sense of wonder in the people who saw it.  It is by far the largest structure of its kind from the period anywhere in the north of Britain.  The dig, which has been operating since 2003, involves archaeologists from Orkney College and from Aberdeen, Glasgow and Cardiff universities.  

Algerian metro station digs into history


In the Algerian capital of Algiers, workers digging the foundations of a new metro station have stumbled on an archaeological goldmine covering 2,300 years of history.  Work on the metro station has stopped and archaeologists and researchers have replaced laborers on the site at the far end of the Casbah, the historic heart of the capital.

An area covering several dozen square meters has produced artifacts from the early Roman Empire, followed by the Middle Ages, the Ottoman period and, at the top, the French colonial era.  Archaeologists hope that deeper excavations will reveal even older items from the Punic period, when Phoenician traders established North African outposts in the first millennium BC.   
According to Kamel Stiti, co-director of the excavations and a member of Algeria's national center for archaeological research, the Ottoman era residents built on the ruins of the medieval city, traces of which have also been found, along with several graves and complete skeletons.  Beneath those ruins came the remains of a Christian church dating from the 4th or 5th century AD.  The bases of columns in the church are visible, surrounding a nave around 20 meters wide and a floor covered in mosaics.  The archaeologists hope that by digging further they will uncover remains dating from the Punic era, when the Phoenicians built trading posts along a 1,200-kilometre piece of the Algerian coastline.
 One of Phoenician ports was Icosium, the ancient city on which Algiers now stands.  Although knowledge is limited, researchers believe Icosium emerged in the 3rd century BC.  A pot of money discovered during road construction near the Casbah contained coins with the Punic inscription for Icosium and an image that could have been Melqart, a Phoenician god.   

Native American village found in Tennessee


Now we shift to the United States, where archaeologists excavating ahead of bridge construction in Tennessee have found evidence that the site was a good-sized Native American village, rather than just a camp.

According to Matt Gage, senior archaeologist with the University of Tennessee Archaeological Research Laboratory, excavators at a planned bridge across the Nolichucky River have found proof of food storage facilities, in addition to pottery fragments and evidence of tool making.  Most of the finds are from the Middle Woodland of period, 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, and include food storage pits, fire hearths, broken pots and "chert," a fine-grained stone used to make tools.    

Gage notes it seems likely that the site is a good-sized village occupying a lot of the bottomland along the river.  Evidence indicates the Native Americans used the site for a long duration during the year, not just as a temporary stopover.

Earlier surveys employing deep coring took samples from 20 feet down and analyzed them to find how deep it was safe to dig with heavy equipment.  Core samples produced a record of the geological history of the river valley going back 20,000 years.

Every flood of the river leaves a layer of clean sand.  However, at this site, core samples found a layer of sandy flood deposits up to four feet thick about 12 feet down, indicating a very big flood about 8,000 years ago.

A study in 2004 found enough evidence to trigger this research, under provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.  That law, modified in 2004, requires agreements with federally recognized Native American tribes, who are very concerned about the possibility of human burials at the site.  The tribes being consulted include the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma.

Jewish presence affirmed in Lycia with discovery of Jewish temple


Our final story is from Turkey, where excavations at the ancient port city of Andriake in Lycia (LIE-see-ah), today’s Antalya in southwestern Turkey, have uncovered a centuries-old Jewish temple.  The find is important, as it is the first archaeological evidence of Jewish culture found in Lycia.  According to dig leader Dr. Nevzat Çevik, archaeology professor at Akdeniz University, the temple dates from around the Third Century AD.  Located on a choice spot facing the sea, believers may have built the temple following a law instituted in 212 by Roman Emperor Caracalla allowing Jews within the empire to become full Roman citizens.

When researchers first discovered the temple, they were not sure what it was, although the findings and particularly the high-quality marble slabs found were indications of part of a Jewish temple.   The team eventually located a menorah and pieces inscribed with traditional Jewish symbols and figures.  Çevik concluded they are adding another layer to what we know of Lycian culture, and, now that we know that there was a Jewish presence in Lycia as well, they can follow this path and better understand other finds.

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