Audio news for December 20th to December 26th, 2009


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for December 20th to December 26th, 2009.


Southwestern patrol finds ancient pot


Our first story is from the United States, where a pot discovered under a rock in one of the canyons in the Manti-LaSal (man-tie la-SAL) National Forest in Utah may be between 800-1000 years old.  According to forest archaeologist Charmaine Thompson, researchers will be doing a lot of study on the intact vessel, which appears to be from the Fremont culture, a northern branch of the prehistoric Pueblo peoples related to the Anasazi peoples who lived in what is now the Four Corners area.  Casey Mickelsen, a conservation officer for Utah’s state Division of Wildlife Resources, spotted the pot sitting under a rock outcrop while he was on patrol.  The handmade ceramic vessel is about four inches high and more than six inches wide, with a strap-shaped handle, and is more than half full of sediment.  Much of this obviously accumulated through the centuries that it sat uncovered under the protective rock overhang, but there are potentially food particles in the bottom as well.  According to Renee Barlow, the archaeologist for the College of Eastern Utah Museum who collaborated in the vessel’s recovery and will help direct its study, whoever set the storage pot under the rock carefully rested it on a bed of roughly shredded cedar bark.  It may be an Anasazi vessel, originating from as far away as Arizona.  The Fremont and Anasazi often traded items and both groups used this style.  However, both archaeologists agreed that as it appears to use local basalt temper, it is likely a local manufacture.  According to Thompson, its black-on-white painted design is a rare example of a sophisticated style in which the black painted areas are extensive enough to make the remaining white spaces appear to be the design, making for a negative effect.  Some of the decoration has been lost from weathering, and Barlow will begin conserving the vessel immediately to prevent more of the black paint from flaking away.  Mickelsen earned high praise from the archaeologists for immediately recognizing the importance of the find, and putting rocks around the opening to keep anyone else from finding it while he contacted authorities.  The pot and accompanying base material will be under study for some time, but the agencies will put it on public display as soon as possible at the College of Eastern Utah Museum.  It is the official policy to place artifacts in repositories that are as close as possible to the sources where they are found.  According to Barlow, the pot offers an ideal combination of research data, with the vessel itself, its contents, and its location in situ providing material for radiocarbon dating as well as information on ancient climates and diet through sediment, pollen and plant analysis.  Research will begin right away with chemical analyses on the composition of the artifact, as well as its contents, either at the museum or at a research facility that specializes in this kind of artifact.  More information on the project is available in a video that our listeners can access through the news link we have posted with this story.

Excavations in Nazareth find first house from time of Jesus


In Israel, the remains of a house dating from the time of Jesus 2,000 years ago have been found in Nazareth.  According to Israel's Antiquities Authority, this is the first discovery of this kind in the place where he grew up.  However, archaeologists see no direct link between the Nazareth dwelling and Jesus.  In Christian tradition, his mother Mary's childhood home was a cave, over which Nazareth's imposing Church of the Annunciation now stands.  According to Yardenna Alexandre, the director of a dig near the church, her team uncovered the walls of a First-Century house comprising two rooms and a courtyard.  The discovery is important since it reveals for the very first time a house from the Jewish village of Nazareth.  The building found is small and modest and it is most likely typical of the dwellings in Nazareth in that period.  Alexandre described Nazareth, now Israel's largest Arab city with a population of some 65,000, as a small hamlet during Jesus's time.  Until now, a number of tombs from the time of Jesus were found in Nazareth, but none of the household features discovered could be attributed to this period.

Archaeologist and hydrologist reveal Mayan engineering for toilets, fountains


Moving to Mesoamerica, a new study is showing the ancient Mayans may have had enough engineering knowledge to master running water, creating fountains and even toilets by controlling water pressure.  The earliest known example of engineering with water pressure was found on the island of Crete in a Minoan palace dating back to roughly 1400 BC.  In the New World, the ability to generate water pressure was previously thought to have begun only with the arrival of the Spanish.  Scientists now believe it began much earlier, based on investigations at the Mayan center at Palenque in Chiapas, Mexico.  At its height, this major site, inhabited from roughly AD 100 to 800, was made up of some 1,500 structures, residences, palaces, and temples, with 6,000 inhabitants under a series of powerful rulers.  The center at Palenque also had the most exceptional and complex system of water management known anywhere in the Maya lowlands.  These involved elaborate subterranean aqueducts to deal with the spring-fed streams that naturally divide the landscape and could otherwise cause flooding or erosion.  According to researcher Kirk French, an archaeologist at Pennsylvania State University, the ancient Maya called this city Lakamha, meaning Big Water, because of its nine recurrent waterways, 56 springs, and hundreds of meters of cascades.  One finding was a buried, spring-fed conduit some 66 meters long, which differs from other aqueducts under the site's main plaza that stayed relatively level and maintained an approximately constant width.  In contrast, this rectangular conduit runs up a steep slope and narrows abruptly at its end.  Assuming this sloping conduit was smoothly plastered as the aqueducts were at Palenque, the researchers calculated the resulting water pressure could force a fountain to shoot water 6 meters high.  According to French, this finding demonstrates yet another technological achievement made by the Maya independently of the Old World.  The Maya of Palenque had water pressure technology by AD 750 at the very latest, and most likely much earlier.  French noted that archaeologists for decades have suspected that the palace in Palenque had running water for toilets, yet bringing running water into the palace would have been impossible without water pressure.  Because of this new find, the toilet hypothesis no longer seems far-fetched.  Running water would have been a luxury, not a necessity, however.  The Maya of Palenque were never more than 150 meters away from a source of water.  Water pressure technology would have been useful as a display of power and knowledge, similar to how priests and shamans used astronomical events.  Other examples of Pre-Columbian water pressure may exist throughout the Americas that have been unseen or misidentified, French said, such as the ceramic tubes found at several sites in central Mexico.  During the next five years, French plans to focus on water, or hydroarchaeology, to shed light on aspects of past life such as droughts, population levels and settlement patterns.  French and his colleague Christopher Duffy, a hydrologist at Pennsylvania State University, detailed their findings online December 16 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

British dig will explore Roman building underground


Our final story is from the United Kingdom, where archaeologists are investigating a mysterious Roman building underneath the Dewa Roman Experience premises in the city center of Chester.   Their excavations will tunnel through the brickwork and sandstone blocks above the Roman foundations of the unknown building, working entirely underground.  Developers plan for a 58-bed hotel at the site, and will incorporate any significant structures and finds into the design, possibly using glass floors.  According to archaeologist Mike Emery, the building is something substantial, although its function is as yet unknown.  One possibility is that it was a Roman hospital.  The Dewa Roman Experience already features exposed archaeological trenches from 1991 that reveal remnants of the Roman fortress, plus Saxon and medieval remains including a Tudor footpath and road.  A collection of artifacts from the Chester site and the wider Roman Empire is on permanent display.  

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