Audio News for August 23rd to August 29th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for August 23rd to August 29th, 2009.

Floor tiles from palace of Henry VIII reveal trade with Spain


Our first story is from England, where archaeologists have uncovered rare Valencian tiles during excavations at the ruins of a palace once owned by Henry VIII.  The fired and decorated ceramic tiles, which were made in Valencia, Spain, between 1450 and 1490, were discovered at Woking Palace in Surrey.

Woking Palace, near Old Woking in southeastern England, was first documented in 1272 and used as a royal residence from about 1466.  It was converted into a palace by Henry VII, and later altered by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.  By the mid-17th Century, the palace had been abandoned and fell into ruin, and over the next century most of its architectural materials were taken away and reused in other local buildings.

The richly decorated style of imported Valencian tile found here has only been found in a few other locations across the UK.  A well-developed ceramic tradition came to Spain with Muslims from North Africa in the 8th century AD, and over the centuries developed into a richly varied art form reflecting the blended cultural heritage of Spain.  Islamic influences are typically seen in the elaborate geometric patterns seen in floor paving and the use of colors like lapis and cobalt, both mined in the eastern Mediterranean.  Northern Europe contributed Gothic influences and elements of heraldry.  The city of Valencia on the Spanish Mediterranean coast became a center of tile production and design during the Middle Ages, and its tile industry remains internationally important today.

The summer’s excavations were organized by the Surrey County Archaeological Society, which is part of the Surrey County Council.  More than 100 members of the public took part in this summer’s dig.   The teams also uncovered evidence of earlier medieval buildings.

Map links Mexico’s early history to present peoples


Our second story takes us to the time of the conquest of Mexico, via a mid-16th Century map decorated with symbols and pictures to explain a vision of the future.  The map, known as MC2, is a key document for understanding the migration of Mesoamerican peoples from their land of origin into what is now the U.S. Southwest.  For the past five years, an interdisciplinary team of 15 scholars, led by David Carrasco at Harvard University’s Divinity School, has been analyzing its materials, workmanship and complicated contents.

Carrasco describes the document, which is formally known as the Map of Cuauhtinchan 2 (KWOW-teen-chawn 2), as being something like a Mesoamerican Iliad and Odyssey, with illustrations.  Made up of more than 700 pictures in color, the map tells sacred stories and speaks of pilgrimages, wars, medicine, plants, marriages, rituals and heroes of the Cuauhtinchan community, in the present-day Mexican state of Puebla.

MC2 was painted on paper made from tree bark, probably around 1540, just two decades after the Spanish conquest of Mexico.  Through images and pictographs, the map recounts the ancestral history of the Mesoamerican people of Chicomoztoc (CHEE-co-MOZE-tok), meaning Place of the Seven Caves, followed by their migration to the sacred city of Cholula (cho-LOO-la) around 1174 and the foundation of Cuauhtinchan, which means Place of the Eagle’s Nest.
August 31, 2009
The document apparently was meant to resolve a dispute between the indigenous peoples and the Spanish conquistadors as to land ownership in Cuauhtinchan and surrounding areas, after the evangelizing process began in 1527.  This led to the building of the town’s first convent out of the dismantled temple of the native deities.  As Carrasco noted, the history begins in a sacred city under attack.  It continues with the people of Aztlan (AHSST-lahn) coming to the city’s rescue.  In compensation, they are granted divine authority to travel long distances, guided by priests, warriors and divinities, until they find their own city in the land promised to them.  That sacred city and the original land of Aztlan would have been in what is today the Southwestern United States.

MC2 remained in Cholula until 1933, then went to a regional museum and later came into the possession of private owners.  In 2001, the latest owner, Espinosa Yglesias, asked Harvard’s Center of Latin American Studies to find an expert who could analyze the map.  The result of the interdisciplinary studies is not only a 479-page scholarly book published this year in English and, in 2010, in Spanish.  A children’s book also has been inspired by the map, telling a story about 10-year-old Mexican-American twins who travel in time to go on pilgrimage with their ancestors 100 years before the Spaniards arrived.

According to Carrasco, deciphering the map has changed our understanding of how the Mesoamerican codices and the sacred lands of the region hold political and social significance today.  The map links the identity and politics of Mexican-Americans, that is, the Chicano people, with the art, rituals and philosophical practices of pre-Colombian Mexicans.   Together with his students and his interdisciplinary team, Carrasco continues to study the sacred objects and numerous plants that appear on the map.

The MC2 map is an important document for academics because, with artistry and great detail, it shows the lifeway of an Indian community that told its own story in the midst of a serious social conflict.

Neolithic grave uncovers evidence of families, and feuds


Now we move in time and space to Germany, where 13 people who perished around 4,600 years ago still have something to say about life and death in prehistoric Europe.  Analysis of their skeletal remains, in four large graves found in 2005 at a German Neolithic-era site called Eulau, provides a rare opportunity to reconstruct a lethal encounter from Europe’s Corded Ware culture, according anthropologist Christian Meyer of the University of Mainz in Germany and his colleagues.

The 13 men, women and children apparently stayed behind unprotected when their fellow villagers briefly left for some reason.  Unknown attackers then killed them with bows, arrows and stone axes, the researchers found.  After the attackers left, villagers returned to find their neighbors slaughtered.  Four large graves were dug close together, each containing a carefully arranged group of two to four people.

Five of the skeletons—two men, two women and a boy—display head and bodily injuries caused by a violent attack, the team reports in their new paper.  Two stone arrowheads were found with one woman’s skeleton.  Both slain Eulau men had also suffered left-arm damage from earlier falls that interfered with wrist and hand movement.  Meyer speculates that, because of those infirmities, the men had stayed behind with women and children the day the raid occurred.
Genetic evidence, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2008, suggests that one grave held a nuclear family — a man, a woman and their two children. The man was placed beside an 8- to 9-year-old boy, while the woman was next to a 4- to 5-year-old boy.   Other graves at the site probably contained biologically related adults and children, in the scientists’ view.  Villagers also put pottery and stone artifacts in the graves, such as the culture’s distinctive polished stone axes.

At Eulau, as at several previously excavated Neolithic mass graves, the attackers seem to have been members of the same cultural group, perhaps neighbors, according to anthropologist T. Douglas Price of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.  Chemical profiles of the Eulau individuals’ teeth, which indicate what they ate early in life, suggested that only the men and children had been raised locally.  This fits with a social structure in which descent was traced through the father’s line and men paired with women who came from other groups, the researchers say.  Male-centered kinship may have prompted the conflicts between neighboring groups during the Neolithic period, although it is also possible that the practice of intermarrying worked to decrease conflict between groups.  

Arizona Clovis find may point to new site


Our final story takes us to Arizona, where an unusual archaeological find discovered in the American Southwest is on its way to the Arizona State Museum in Tucson. The artifact is a Clovis projectile point, probably a  spearhead, recovered near Sahuarita (s’war-EE-ta), Arizona.  The artifact itself isn’t so exceptional, because Clovis points have been found all over North America since their first discovery in eastern New Mexico in the 1930s. What’s significant is where this one was found---in the Tucson Basin.

Arthur Vokes, a curator at the museum, said he knows of only one other from the Tucson Basin. That point was recovered in the early 1980s.  The white stone spearhead, roughly two inches long and an inch wide, is missing its tip and likely dates from 11,000 to 13,000 years ago, when the Clovis people, one of the earliest widespread cultures across North America, used them to hunt mammoths, bears and other large prey.  Clovis people hunted and gathered all over the continent and in the Southwest, but appear to have lived primarily in what is now New Mexico and the San Pedro basin, running north from Sonora, Mexico, along the San Pedro River in Southeastern Arizona.  As a result, the bulk of the state’s Clovis points are found at mammoth kill-sites in the southeast part of the state.  A find in the Tucson basin could indicate a regionally broader occupation, Vokes said.

The spearhead was discovered during a routine archaeological survey on Arizona State Trust land by an environmental consulting company.  It bears the characteristic unique features of Clovis points, including a slightly concave base with long broad flake scars, or flutes, running up from the bottom, most likely used to help secure it to a wooden shaft.  The Sahuarita example was found on the surface, not in the ground, but if more spearheads start turning up in this area, it could be meaningful, according to Vance Holliday, a professor of anthropology and geosciences at the University of Arizona.  With only about a dozen and a half sites known where Clovis artifacts are found below the surface, finding another such site would be very important to understanding this early culture.  And by analyzing the type of rock this new point is made out of, information will be gained about ancient trade and hunting routes.  

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