Audio news for November 22nd to November 28th, 2009

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for November 22nd to November 28th, 2009.

Paleoindian point excites interest in Ontario


Our first story is from Canada, where archaeologists in Windsor, Ontario, have discovered a 10,000-year-old stone weapon created by the first humans who lived in the province.  Archaeologist Kim Slocki found a single projectile point while surveying a construction site where a new arena will be built.  According to Slocki, the point was made by the Paleoindian hunters of 10,000 years ago, who were probably the first people of Ontario.  Other archaeologists in the region are excited by the find as well, because it is at least 7,000 years older than anything previously discovered in the area.  According to Christopher Ellis, one of North America’s leading researchers on Paleoindians, it is very rare to find evidence of the nomadic hunters and fishermen who moved into southern Ontario as the glaciers retreated.  Excavations in the United States show that Paleoindians hunted mastodons, and in Ontario, bones found at one site suggest they may have also hunted caribou and Arctic fox.  Stone tools, particularly projectile points and scrapers, are the primary evidence of Paleoindians, the earliest well known human group in the Americas.  At the new Ontario site, a 15 by 10 meter area around where the artifact was found has now been fenced off for a more comprehensive archeological dig in the spring.

Akkadian seal in Egypt is mark of foreign invasion


In Egypt, routine excavation work at the Delta site of Tel Al-Dabaa unearthed a fragment of a seal bearing cuneiform impressions.  The script stamped into the clay seal fragment is in the Akkadian language, which dates the artifact to the last decades of the Old Babylonian Kingdom.  Ancient administrators in many early empires impressed an official stamp onto lumps of wet clay that sealed the contents of a box or bag, in order to track and control goods and commodities.  This particular impression of a foreign seal implies that the sealed object was a trade item or a gift brought to Egypt from ancient Mesopotamia.  The seal, found by the archaeological mission from the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Cairo, was inside a pit that cuts into a layer dating from the Late Period, about 3700 years ago, at Tel Al-Dabaa in the outskirts of modern Cairo.  According to Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, the inscription includes the name of a top governmental official who served during the Old Babylonian era, specifically under the reign of King Hammurabi, from 1792 to1750 BC.  This is the second cuneiform inscription of this type found at the site.  Hawass described a fragment of a letter fashioned in baked clay and written in a similar script, unearthed last year in a well that served the palace of the Hyksos King Khayan.  That palace has been dated to around 1660 BC.  The Hyksos were foreigners from western Asia who invaded northern Egypt and ruled it for about 100 years, marking a dark but distinctive period in Egypt's history.  Manfred Bietak, the head of the Austrian archaeological team, commented that both inscriptions are of great importance as they are the oldest Akkadian texts found in Egypt.  He indicated that they dated 150 years before the famous Amarna Letters, a body of diplomatic correspondence in Akkadian found at Tel Al-Amarna in Upper Egypt, the capital of Pharaoh Akhenaten.  Bietak concludes these seals are evidence that the Hyksos maintained diplomatic connections across the Near East as far as southern Mesopotamia.  Tel Al-Dabaa is an important site in the Nile Delta for its evidence of Egypt's many foreign contacts, including not only the Middle East but also Nubia and Crete.

New tombs may be missing link between early Peruvian cultures


In Peru, researchers searching the Lambayeque [lam-bah-YAY-kay] region for decades in an attempt to discover more about its most ancient past have found success at the site of El Chorro.  A number of recently discovered tombs dating from 800 to 2000 years ago cover a time span that could be the historical ladder linking all the different Lambayeque cultures.  The findings, from the central section of the five-hectare complex, began in mid-October, and have included five different tombs unearthed so far, including that of an adult woman.  Artifacts found in the burials have included metal needles, cotton fibers, and implements used to weave clothing.   According to Edgar Bracamonte, the archaeologist in charge of the excavation, these graves date from the Early Intermediate period to the Late Formative beginning of the better-known Vicus [vee-KOOS] cultures, such as the Chimú and the Lambayeque, or Sicán.  During the few first days of work, the discovery of raided graves led the researchers to fear the pre-Inca site had been destroyed.  They were pleasantly surprised to discover untouched tombs.  According to archaeologist Luis Chero, the site is important because it will help us to understand the transition from the Chavín to Mochica periods, about which little is known.  The new tombs form a missing link that will yield information about the decline of the Chavín civilization and the rise of the Moche.  For archaeologist Bracamonte, the more surprising element is the discovery of metal objects in the tombs that are laid out differently than those found previously.  The metal ornaments include round copper and rectangular gold plates that belong to the Vicus culture.  Also recovered were looms, 19 ceramic vessels with Vicus characteristics and seven gilded copper objects that were placed in the arms and on the heads of the deceased.  The finds show how much work must be done to understand El Chorro and learn from its remains.  To enable this, researchers are seeking urgent intervention by the local government to prevent the site not just from further looting, but from being overrun by the constant encroachment of nearby towns.

Serving girl reconstructed from ancient Korean tomb


Our final story is from South Korea, where researchers unveiled the reconstruction of a girl who died 1,500 years ago during the Gaya Confederacy Era.  She was probably 16 years old and as shown by the restoration, had a wide, Asian face, a long neck and a slim figure.  The restoration is the result of two years of interdisciplinary work that brought together professionals in archaeology, forensic medicine, anatomy, genetics, chemistry, and additional fields.  The girl’s skeleton was uncovered in December 2007, when archaeologists discovered her complete remains and the partial remains of three other individuals in a looted tomb in Changnyeong County, South Gyeongsang.  The position of the four bodies within the tomb indicate they were part of the funeral entourage of the tomb’s owner and principal occupant.  The remains of that owner, however, were missing.  According to Lee Seong-jun, a researcher at the institute, they rarely find bones from this era in such good condition, because the soil moisture and biological richness rapidly lead to decay.  While there have been restorations, they have been based more on imagination than actual measurement and the standard forensic projections they support.  The well-preserved bones of the young woman, however, allowed a reconstruction that was based strictly on medical science, physiological and anatomical study of the body, and statistical projection from those data.  Lee also noted that this discovery marks the first time that forensic specialists, in this case from the National Institute of Scientific Investigation, have recovered the remains of an ancient tomb so completey.  The analysis revealed that the four retainers, two women and two men, lived in the early Sixth Century, and were placed in the tomb after being killed either by suffocation or poison.  Their main diet had been rice, barley and beans, supplemented by meat.  The young girl’s age was estimated from her teeth.  Detailed examination of her skeleton shows that she apparently spent much time kneeling and also engaged in the repetitious task of cutting something with her teeth.  She was wearing a golden earring that probably indicates she was a serving maid, rather than a slave.  The resulting lifesize reconstruction of the girl, with silicon skin and human hair, with hairstyle and clothing typical of her time and social status, will be on display in Korean museums, first in Seoul and then at Changnyeong.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!