Audio News for August 30th to September 5th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for August 30th to September 5th, 2009.


New evidence of cultural continuity sought at Ohio mounds


Our first story is from Ohio, in the United States, where evidence unearthed by University of Cincinnati students at Shawnee Lookout Park may show a direct connection between the Native American cultures of the ancient Hopewell and the modern Shawnee societies.  The discoveries include the find of a major new mound and excavation of a rare kiln for firing pottery, along with more proof to support the theory that the site could be the largest continuously occupied hilltop settlement established by any Native American group in the country.  New dating argues for cultural continuity at the site, which means that the Hopewell who lived at Shawnee Lookout starting 2,000 years ago show direct links to the Shawnee people who were living on the site less than 300 years ago.  A group of more than 20 students in UC’s Ohio Valley Archaeology Field School conducted the work.  Much of the summer was devoted to excavating the remains of dwellings about the size of a small modern-day house, under the supervision of UC Assistant Professor of Anthropology Ken Tankersley.  According to Tankersley, the site had been previously looked at back in the 1960s and was considered a small village.  This summer an extensive survey of the site worked through the dense vegetation and found features previously missed.  They also found more mounds at other sites around the park, vastly increasing the number from the 40 sites previously known.  Their structural details are further evidence that Shawnee Lookout may be the largest continuously occupied hilltop settlement.  Work from last summer showed that Shawnee Lookout has evidence of earthworks on its perimeter that stretch up to six kilometers in length combined with numerous villages and mounds.  Fort Ancient, about 40 miles to the northeast, is comparable, but does not display the continuity found at Shawnee Lookout.  One of the goals of the team was to continue to fill in the blanks of the overall physical scope of sites at Shawnee Lookout.  Another is to continue to uncover how different Native American bands and tribes used the site.  The Hopewell and Fort Ancient cultures, who used the site in ancient times, are credited with constructing the Shawnee Lookout earthworks.  Historically, the Shawnee were one of the groups who resided at the site more recently.  The Shawnee are an Algonquin-speaking people, believed to have broken off from the Delaware and Miami prior to European contact.  Arguments for cultural continuity between the two societies have been strengthened now by adding a new line of evidence, genetic comparison, to the known similarity of archaeological materials.  DNA comparisons of known Hopewell burial material to current Shawnee populations will be reported by Tankersley in an article in the next issue of the journal, “North American Archaeologist.”

Massive stone wall dates back to Canaanites


In Jerusalem, an archaeological dig has revealed a 3,700-year-old wall that is the largest and oldest of its kind found in the region.  The wall, made from boulders weighing 4 to 5 tons, stands 8 meters high.  According to the excavation's director, Ronny Reich, the sheer size and straightness of the walls are surprising, since it would only be done today using mechanical equipment.  The wall section that was uncovered is 24 meters long, but the fortification continues west beyond the area exposed.  Found inside the City of David, an archaeological site outside the Old City of East Jerusalem, the wall is believed to have been built by the Canaanites.  The Canaanites were an ancient people that inhabited Jerusalem and other parts of the Levant in preh-Hebrew times.  This is the most massive wall that has ever been uncovered in the City of David, Reich said in a joint statement with Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority.  It also marks the first time that this massive type of construction, predating the Herodian period, has been found in Jerusalem.  The wall is part of a protected, well-fortified passage that descends to the spring from a fortress that stood at the top of the hill.  The construction of a protected passage is a solution for which there are several parallels in antiquity, albeit from periods that are later than the remains here.  Such walls primarily defended against raiding desert nomads looking to rob the city.  The new discovery shows that the picture regarding Jerusalem's eastern defenses and the ancient water system in the Middle Bronze Age is still far from clear, Reich notes. Despite many previous excavations on this hill, there is a very good chance that extremely large and well-preserved architectural elements are still hidden in it and waiting to be uncovered.

Top of Mayan pyramid may have seen battle that ended city


In our next story, work at El Mirador in Guatemala suggests that the top of a great pyramid may have been the site of a bloody battle between the royal family and invaders from hundreds of miles away.  Researchers are carrying out DNA tests on blood samples from hundreds of spear tips and arrowheads dug up with bone fragments and broken pottery at the summit of the El Tigre pyramid in El Mirador, one of the major Mayan cities.  Many of the tips are made of obsidian that archaeologists have traced to a source hundreds of miles away in the Mexican highlands.  Archaeologists believe the spears belonged to warriors from Teotihuacan, an ancient civilization near Mexico City that was allied with Tikal, an enemy of El Mirador.  According to project leader Richard Hansen of the Idaho State University Anthropology Department, they have found over 200 of the obsidian tips alone, as well as flint ones, indicating there was a tremendous battle.  The area looks like it was the final point of defense for a small group of inhabitants.  El Mirador was one of the biggest ancient cities in the Western Hemisphere, with a population between 100,000 and 200,000 people at its peak.  Historians believe it was built around 850 BC and flourished for hundreds of years before it was mysteriously abandoned in AD 150.  Many archaeologists think the size and elaborate stucco decoration of the buildings in the city are to blame as the inhabitants used up stone, trees and lime plaster in their construction until their resources were completely depleted.  Hansen's team believes a group of some 200 people, thought to be the last remnants of the royal family, stayed in the ruined metropolis until warriors from Teotihuacan attacked them.  They believe the invaders were allies of Tikal, around 60 km to the southeast, who resented being secondary to the enormous pyramids of El Mirador.  They think Teotihuacan warriors trapped the survivors in a siege before a bloody battle that sealed the city's fate.  Hansen's team found graffiti that appear to have been left by Teotihuacan fighters who smashed up carved Maya monoliths and left crudely etched skull drawings, known as Tlalocs, on the rock as proof of their victory.  The Tlaloc is the war god image of the highland Mexicans.  The researchers sent the spear tips to a lab in Missouri where scientists are trying to extract blood samples for DNA tests.  They expect to find one DNA type in blood on the obsidian objects and a different type on the Maya-made flint fragments, suggesting a battle between two cultural groups.  

Elaborate gold jewelry recovered from early tomb on Crete


Our final story is from the Greek island of Crete, where archaeologists have unearthed the 2,900-year-old tomb of three women buried with jewelry showing links with later styles.  The tomb, with a burial chamber 2 meters high, is in the ancient town of Eleutherna, in northern Crete.  The women were adorned with gold necklaces and medallions decorated with lion heads and the figures of ancient gods.  According to excavation supervisor Nikos Stambolidis, the jewelry is worked in a style familiar in the Hellenistic Era over three centuries later, which had not been previously known this much earlier, particularly at the level of skill seen in these earlier necklaces. Also found in the burial chamber were offerings that include scarabs, amber seals and earthenware.  The sophisticated nature of the tomb, along with its elaborate contents, indicates that its three occupants, two of whom were adolescents, held a special rank or office, such as priestesses or princesses.  Excavations in the last 25 years in and around Eleutherna have yielded over 500 items of clay, metal and ivory including sculptures, tools and weapons.  The town is believed to have reached its peak in the early Geometric Era around 3,000 years ago.  The Geometric Era, which flourished until about 700 BC, toward the end of the Greek Dark Ages, is named for a distinctive phase of Greek art, in particular the geometric designs used for vase painting. The center of this style was in Athens, but it spread throughout the trading cities of the Aegean.

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