Audio News for October 18th to October 24th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for October 18th to October 24th, 2009.


Seventeen wooden statues discovered in Peru


Our first story is from Peru, where archaeologist discovered 17 wooden statues embedded in a wall at Chan Chan, the ancient urban center and largest mud city in America, located some 570 kilometers north of Lima.  The complex was one of many urban administrative centers, which were closed off once the ruler that built them died.  
The 17 statues found at the entrance to Ñain An are different from others found at Chan Chan.  Wooden statues discovered in the past had spears in their hands and were warriors guarding entrances.  These new sculptures, each about a meter tall, were created there between AD 1450 and 1472, in the later part of Chan Chan's 600 year history.  They are both men and women and each one is a unique individual with its own subtle differences.  Archaeologist Cristóbal Campana notes that female sculptures hold Spondylus shells, while the men hold snails.   
According to Campana, the creators may have intended the wooden figures to lead the transition from worldly to divine.  Researchers believe these Chimú sculptures could be the most important discovery in Chan Chan.  The objects may not represent warriors or religious idols, but well-wishers who respectfully bid farewell to their leaders.  This is a new and different function, so further studies are needed to understand the true meaning of the pieces.   
Archaeologist Arturo Paredes, head of the Department of Conservation and Valorisation of Chan Chan, explains that in the coming days the sculptures will be excavated and relocated to the site museum for further study.  Of the 17 sculptures, 12 are in good condition. The rest will need special treatment because worms damaged the wood.  


Alexandria settled before Alexander the Great


A new study is providing evidence that Alexander the Great, long credited with being the first to settle the great Egyptian port city of Alexandria, was not really the first.

The latest clues, taken from microscopic bits of pollen and charcoal in ancient sediment layers, show settlements existed in the area for several hundred years before Alexander founded the city in 331 BC.   
The Egyptian city sits on the Mediterranean coast at the western edge of the Nile delta.  A major port city in ancient times, Alexandria was famous for its lighthouse and its library, the largest in the ancient world.  However, in the past few years, scientists have found fragments of ceramics and traces of lead in sediments in the region that predate Alexander's arrival by several hundred years, suggesting there was already a settlement in the area.

Christopher Bernhardt of the U.S. Geological Survey and his team took sediment cores, deep cylindrical pieces of sediment drilled from the ground, which contained layers dating as far back as 8,000 years ago as part of a larger climate study of the area.  In these layers, Bernhardt and his colleagues examined samples of embedded ancient pollen grains to look for shifts from mainly native plants to those connected with agriculture.  They also analyzed levels of microscopic charcoal, a presence that can indicate human fires.

At a level 3,000 years ago, Bernhardt's team detected a shift in pollen grains from native grasses and other plants to those from cereal grains, grapes and weeds related to agriculture.  They also found a marked increase in charcoal particles, all of which suggests that a settlement pre-dated the great city of Alexandria.  Whether the early settlement was Greek, Egyptian or affiliated with some other culture is unknown.  Nor can scientists say exactly how big the settlement might have been.   

Bronze Age skeletons found under German railway line


In Germany, a railway line under construction is giving archaeologists a multitude of amazing finds, including Bronze Age artifacts, burial sites and evidence of settlements dating back more than 7,000 years.

In the central German state of Saxony-Anhalt, scientists have come across a number of skeletons stacked on top of one another, suggesting that they were buried in what is known as a layered grave from the Bronze Age about 4000 years ago.  Among the cluster of graves, archaeologists discovered a woman interred in a sitting position.  Scientists are hoping to find clues about why she was buried in such an unusual position.  In various graves from different periods, researchers found copper and amber jewelry and hundreds of dogs' teeth with holes bored in them as well as small shell discs worn as decoration for clothing.  

Additional finds include a farm from the early Bronze Age Unetice [OO-na-teet-see] Culture of 2200 to 1600 BC.  According to a statement from the Saxony Anhalt Office for Monument Protection and Archaeology, the broad range of traces from ancient cultures and the number and quality of the individual finds show how important this region has been for thousands of years not just as a settlement area, but also as a transportation route.

Over the last year, archaeologists have retrieved more than 55,000 items on an area of around 100 hectares.  They have also located relics of the more recent past, including a Slavic graveyard from the ninth or 10th century AD.  Even though the heads of the bodies pointed west in the Christian tradition, receptacles and food remains placed with the bodies indicate that mourners observed pre-Christian traditions in furnishing the dead.

The construction of the rail link has provided an opportunity to conduct a 22-kilometer dig along one of the key settlement areas of central Germany.  The excavations will continue until mid-2010.

Hadrian’s “liberal arts school” discovered near the Roman Forum


Our final story is from Italy, where archaeologists unveiled the remains of an ancient auditorium where scholars, politicians and poets held debates and lectures.  The partially unearthed complex dates to the 2nd century AD.  Emperor Hadrian probably funded it as a school to promote liberal arts and culture.  Known as the "Athenaeum" and named after the city of Athens, which Romans  considered the center of culture at the time, the auditorium could accommodate up to 200 people.  The digs have turned up two terraced staircases used for seating, a corridor and marbled floors.  
According to Roberto Egidi, an archaeologist overseeing the digs, Hadrian, a cultured emperor, wanted to re-establish the tradition of public recitation, conferences and poetry contests, as it was in classic Greece.  Egidi notes the identification of the auditorium as Hadrian's is likely because of the building's specific structure, as well as references in ancient texts.

Archaeologists probing the depths of the Eternal City to pave the way for some of the 30 stations of the city's planned third subway line discovered the auditorium at Piazza Venezia, a busy intersection in the heart of Rome, located just a few meters from the Roman Forum.

Archaeological investigations are needed only for the subway's stairwells and air ducts, because the 25 kilometers of subway stations and tunnels will be dug at a depth of 25 to 30 meters, below the level of any past human habitation.  However, most of the digs still have yet to reach levels that date back to Roman times, where plenty of surprises may be waiting.  Many digs are near well-known monuments or on key thoroughfares and several archaeological remains have turned up at Piazza Venezia.  

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