Audio news for January 3rd to January 9th, 2010


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for January 3rd to January 9th, 2010.


Massive statue in Nubia documents dynasty of southern Pharoahs


Our first story is from Sudan, where a massive, one ton statue of Pharaoh Taharqa has been found.  Taharqa was a ruler in Egypt’s 25th dynasty, which came to power around 690 BC and controlled an empire stretching from Sudan to the Levant.  The 25th Dynasty pharaohs arose in Nubia, an area of southern Egypt that stretched into modern day Sudan.  Taharqa’s statue is the first such royal statue found this far south of Egypt.  The Nubian pharaohs blended Egyptian culture with their own, building pyramids in Sudan, for example, even though pyramid building in Egypt had ceased nearly 800 years earlier.  Next to Taharqa’s statue were the statues of two of his successors, Senkamanisken and Aspelta.  These two rulers controlled territory in Sudan, but not Egypt.  According to Dr. Julie Anderson of the British Museum, the co-director of the excavations at Dangeil (dan-GALE) where the statues were found, the discovery of such royal statues so far south was a complete surprise.  Dangeil, which in Nubian means “redbrick rubble,” is in a modern town near the fifth cataract of the Nile River, about 200 miles northeast of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.  It was known that the ancient settlement at Dangeil was occupied during the time of Taharqa, but very little had been excavated until the recent project led by Anderson and her Sudanese colleague, Dr. Salah Ahmed of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums of Sudan.  So far, most of the buildings, temples and artifacts uncovered at Dangeil have dated to the Kingdom of Meroe (MARE-oh-ay), which rose three centuries after Taharqa’s time, lasting from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD.   The discovery of Taharqa’s statue, a monumental granite block weighing more than one ton, shows that Dangeil was an important royal city during the earlier period too.  The statue would have reached well over more than 2.6 meters, or 8 feet, when it still had its head.  But the statue was purposely smashed into several pieces long ago.  The head has been lost, but hieroglyphic inscriptions on his belt and the supporting pillar along the statue’s back establish his identity.  The statue may have been destroyed in the dynastic struggle after Taharqa’s time, when those who came to power in Nubia were determined to eliminate reminders of the Nubian Pharoah and his successors.  It is also possible that an Egyptian military force, which Pharoah Psamtek II led into Nubia in 593 BC, penetrated to Dangeil and damaged the statues in a show of force.  Whoever brought Taharqa’s statue into place would have had a tough job.  The nearest granite quarry is at the Third Cataract, hundreds of kilometers up the Nile.  The effort and coordination required to build the statue and bring it to Dangeil confirm Taharqa’s power.  His rule was the high point for the 25th Dynasty, however.  By the end of his reign, a conflict with the Assyrians had forced him to retreat south, farther into Nubia, where he died in 664 BC.  Egypt was taken over by the Assyrians for a time, and although it regained independence during the 26th Dynasty, Taharqa’s successors never managed to retake Egypt.

Bits of bronze mirror reflect power of early Japanese kings


In Japan, excavators have unearthed 331 pieces from an estimated 81 ancient bronze mirrors in a stone chamber of the Sakurai Chausuyama burial mound in Nara Prefecture.  The pieces, which belong to 13 different kinds of mirrors, are the most ever found in a burial.  The tomb is from the late Third to early Fourth Century AD, but many of the fragments are from mirrors that were heirlooms already.  Several fragments of the Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo type are engraved with Seishi Gannen, a period name of the Chinese Wei Dynasty, which means the first year of the Seishi era, or AD 240.  According to early histories, a woman ruler of the Yamatai-koku Kingdom named Himiko received 100 mirrors from the Wei Dynasty in that year.  According to researchers at the Kashihara Archaeological Institute, the discovery of so many bronze fragments of multiple types may help directly link the Yamatai-koku Kingdom with the Yamato Dynasty that followed it and later became the Imperial Court.  According to the Institute, the largest piece discovered in the tomb is 11 by 6 centimeters.  The large number of fragments adds enormously to the material known from the tomb, which includes pieces in private collections and others excavated 60 years ago.  None of the mirrors can be completely reassembled due to missing pieces, since most of the mirrors originally buried in the tomb were either stolen or destroyed during tomb robberies in medieval times and later.  The institute’s researchers used three-dimensional analysis to confirm that the pieces include part of 26 mirrors of the Sankakubuchi Shinjukyo type, and 19 mirrors known as Naiko Kamonkyo, made in both Japan and China.  The Naiko Kamonkyo mirrors, at up to 40 centimeters, or 16 inches, across, were the largest type made in Japan at that time.  The mirror types for 180 of the 331 pieces are still unidentified.  Three mirrors bearing the year Seishi Gannen have been found elsewhere in Japan, but this is the first time a mirror bearing a date from this period has been found in Nara Prefecture.  Bronze mirrors were introduced into Japan from China, probably through Korea, and in all of these regions were highly prized, not just for their usefulness, but as bringers of good luck and objects of religious power.  In later imperial Japan, the mirror became one of the key symbols of royal authority.  During this early era, when few were wealthy enough to own one, the burial of 100 ornamented bronze mirrors in his tomb attests to the power of the king who was buried in this tomb.

Iraqi desert site dates to Sumerian times


Iraqi archaeologists have uncovered many early artifacts at a 4,000-year-old Sumerian settlement in southern Iraq.  The newly discovered site is in the southern province of Dhi Qar, and is located in the desert near ancient Ur, the biblical birthplace of Abraham.  According to Abdul Amir al-Hamdani, head of the provincial government's archaeology department, the site has produced walls and cornerstones with Sumerian writing from around 2000 BC, during the rule of King Amar-Sin, the third king of the third Sumerian dynasty.  King Amar-Sin’s reign is known for his effort to rebuild the ancient sites of Sumer, including the unfinished ziggurat at Eridu, which is thought to have been the original tower of Babel.  According to Hamdani, the site changes our perceptions about the Sumerian settlements.  Most were near water or rivers, but this one is located in what would have been desert.  The later Sumerian period in southern Iraq was marked by gradual abandonment as soils became saline from centuries of irrigation, and the desert began to encroach.  The artifacts found at the site include sickles and knives, showing that daily life in this early society still revolved around agriculture.  The site lies approximately 80 kilometers southeast of Nasiriyah, the capital of Dhi Qar.  Ur of the Chaldees was one of the great urban centers of the Sumerian civilization of southern Iraq, and remained an important city until its occupation by Alexander the Great in the late fourth century BC.

Protection deal signed on Utah canyon rock art


Our final story is from the United States, where an agreement signed this week will safeguard thousands of prehistoric American Indian drawings and carvings.   The pact signed in Salt Lake City, Utah, is the first major attempt to address concerns over dust in Nine Mile Canyon.  The canyon’s miles of decorated walls, one of the world's longest rock art galleries, are threatened by dust from trucks and a Colorado energy company that wants to increase development dramatically.  The eastern Utah canyon, which is actually 78 miles long, has been the focus of intense debate for several years after the Bill Barrett Corporation proposed developing 800 natural gas wells on the plateau above Nine Mile Canyon.  The Bureau of Land Management has not made a final decision on the proposal.  The primary concern has been dust from the unpaved road stirred up by an increasing number of trucks moving equipment and workers.  Heavy dust and traffic threaten the ancient art panels, which include depictions of bighorn sheep, owls, a two-headed snake, spear-wielding hunters and warriors engaged in hand-to-hand combat.  BLM officials, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, and the Barrett corporation, along with environmental and archaeological groups and advocates for the canyon, signed the agreement, which lays out protections for the rock art if the company’s proposal wins approval.  The deal, which would affect some 233 square miles, including the canyon and adjacent plateau, includes a list of tasks such as more dust suppression and studies to determine if the rock art is being harmed.  The energy company will shoulder much of the agreement’s financial burden.  Canyon advocates called it an important first step but said its success is measured in how it is implemented.  Although much of the canyon's traffic today is from the mining and energy industries, dust has been flying ever since curious tourists began tramping through to see the rock art that was first reported in the late 1800s.  Some of the carvings and drawing are believed to be the work of the Fremont people, who lived in present-day Utah, Idaho, Colorado and Nevada from AD 700 to 1300.  Later inscriptions in the canyon's walls are from the Ute Indians, Euro-American explorers, and members of the U.S 9th Cavalry.

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