Audio news for January 17th to January 22nd, 2010


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for January 17th to January 22nd, 2010.


Remains from German cathedral may be legendary early English princess


In our first story, scientists in England are revisiting the story of a beautiful English princess who married one of Europe's most powerful monarchs and dazzled subjects with her charm and good works.  This particular princess was named Eadgyth (E-dith), though, and she died in the 10th century AD.  Now an international team of scientists has found what may be the remains of this daughter of King Alfred the Great, in a crypt in a German cathedral.  According to Mark Horton, an archaeology professor at Bristol University in western England, Edith was the Diana of her day: popular, pretty and full of good works.  Horton is one of a team working to verify the identity of the bones found bundled in silk at Magdeburg Cathedral, 90 miles west of Berlin.  The bones were in an elaborate 16th-Century monument that was long thought to be empty.  When the monument was opened in 2008 during a research project at the cathedral, the archaeologists found a lead coffin bearing the name of Princess Eadgyth and holding a nearly complete set of bones from a woman between 30 and 40 years of age.  The inscription on the coffin states that the bones were placed here after two previous moves, and Horton said archaeological evidence indicates at least two additional previous moves.  Gathering and relocating the bodies of saints and royalty was a common practice in the Middle Ages, so analysis is being carried out to discover whether these bones are even those of an English person.  According to Horton, the bones of various persons were quite often mislabeled or mixed together, either by accident or by intention.  The team, led by researchers at Bristol University, is performing a variety of technical analyses on the bones, including isotope analysis, to verify their age and determine where they may have come from.  Strontium isotope analysis measures the ratio of strontium isotopes in a person's tooth enamel and compares it to the known background levels at different geographic locations, to determine where the person grew up.   According to Simon Keynes, a professor of Anglo-Saxon history at the University of Cambridge, if the strontium isotope ratios show that this medieval woman grew up in western or southern England, that will not only confirm the skeleton’s identity, it will make this the earliest identifiable remains from Anglo-Saxon England.  It will also be the earliest identified remains of any English royal.  The closest competitors are the bones of various Saxon royals in Winchester Cathedral in southern England, but these are so hopelessly jumbled together that no single person can be identified.  Eadgyth grew up at the dawn of the 10th Century, when England was still divided into a patchwork of Anglo-Saxon and Viking fiefdoms.  Her brother, King Athelstan, kicked the Vikings out of York and routed the Scots and Irish in a massive battle around 937.  Historians consider him the first king to effectively rule of all of England.  King Athelstan took advantage of having many half-sisters to extend his influence abroad by marrying them into ruling houses across the medieval world.  Eadgyth was sent to be the bride of Duke Otto of Saxony, a warlord’s son who would eventually rise to become the Otto I, the first ruler of the Holy Roman Empire.  Legend holds that she and her younger sister Adiva (ah-DYE-va) were both presented to Otto, who was invited to pick the one he liked better.  Eadgyth's looks and charm won out over her sister's youth.  Keynes said that at first, he groaned at the comparison to Princess Diana, whose marriage to Prince Charles in 1981 captured the world's imagination.  But then he re-read the chronicle of Hroswitha (ROSS-WITH-a) of Gandersheim, a contemporary of the princess.  In Hroswitha’s words, Eadgyth was resplendent with a wondrous charm of queenly bearing.  Topping that is another, even more florid account from a German nun of the time, who said that public opinion, by unanimous decision, rated Eadgyth the best of all women who existed at that time.  Keynes concluded that these historical accounts show a very comparable public regard for the two princesses, Eadgyth and Diana.  Eadgyth bore Otto at least two children, whose descendants founded many of the royal lines of Europe.  Like Diana, however, she died young, both at age 36.  The results of the tests on the bones are expected back within six months.

Egyptian temple to Bastet is also earliest palace evidence in Alexandria


In Egypt, archaeologists have found a 2,000-year-old temple in Alexandria dedicated to Bastet, the cat-headed goddess.  The temple is the first trace ever found of the royal quarters of the Ptolemaic dynasty in Alexandria.  The find confirms that the Greek dynasty of Egyptians continued the worship of ancient animal deities.  The temple was discovered in the Kom el-Dekkah neighbourhood of the city and is believed to belong to Queen Berenike (BEAR-a-NEEK-a) II, wife of Ptolemy III, who ruled Egypt in the Third Century BC.  The remains show the temple originally measured about 200 by 50 feet.  According to Egyptian director of antiquities Zahi Hawass, the temple may have been used as a quarry in later years, as there are a large number of missing blocks.  The temple’s identity was confirmed by its statues of Bastet, who was worshipped by the Egyptians as a lion-headed goddess, relative of the sun-god Ra and a ferocious protector.  Her influence waned as the Pharaohs declined, and the Greek-speaking Hellenistic Egyptians redefined her as the equivalent of the ancient Greek deity Artemis, goddess of the moon.  Other artefacts discovered in the dig include pottery, a Roman era water cistern, and the granite statue of a senior official dating between 205 and 222 BC, a century after Alexander’s time.  The Ptolemaic kings of Egypt were descended from Ptolemy, one of Alexander the Great's most trusted generals during his conquests of Egypt, Persia and his attack on India.   After Alexander's death, Ptolemy returned to Alexandria to become king and his descendants ruled Egypt for almost 300 years, until the Roman leader Octavian, who later became Emperor Augustus, defeated Cleopatra, the last of the Ptolemaic line.  Modern-day Alexandria was built directly on top of the ancient city, and archaeologists say ruins of whole cities, palaces and ships remain to be discovered.

Data curation work provides recovery for the past, and a future for US veterans


In the southern U.S., military veterans are sorting through a massive government archaeological collection that has been neglected for decades, with the hope of archiving the stone tools, arrows and American Indian beads that were recovered in the course of many major public works projects.  The collection dates to the 1930s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started building dozens of locks, dams and reservoirs, and the ground beneath them was excavated for archaeological treasures.  Prehistoric and historic pottery, stone tools, arrowheads, Indian beads, necklaces, earrings and ear spools, ceremonial artifacts, and even human remains were collected.  The items then sat in boxes and paper bags in university museums as well as private basements, garages and tool sheds.  In recent weeks, U.S. veterans undergoing recovery from traumatic brain injuries or post-traumatic stress disorder have begun processing, cataloguing, digitizing and archiving the collection as part of a one-year $3.5 million project, funded with federal stimulus money.  It's part of the corps' effort to find American Indian cultural items and return them to tribes or their descendants, which all federal agencies must do under a 1990 law.  According to Michael Trimble, chief of curation and archives for the St. Louis District of the Corps, the goal is to get the collection catalogued, digitally photographed and put on the Web for public viewing.  Trimble had helped excavate mass graves in Iraq from 2004 to 2007 and testified in the genocide case against Saddam Hussein.  In the process, he learned that he could both help veterans and apply their discipline to the care of the artifacts.  He and his staff then applied for the federal funding.  The 47,000-cubic-feet of boxed artifacts and associated records, audio tapes and photographs would fill 30 semitrailers.  Veterans say the project is providing them with hope as well.  They are learning new job skills at the three centers where the project is being carried out, in St. Louis, Washington, D.C., and Augusta, Georgia.  Brockington Cultural Resources Consulting, a firm based in suburban Atlanta, runs the three centers for the corps and trains the veterans.  Veterans hold the jobs for six months and receive training in data management, then work with the Veterans Administration to find permanent jobs.  According to Trimble, the work has also proved to be good therapy for the vets as they work closely together to carefully sort and inventory the many old field records, maps, photographs and artifacts.

Cuban petroglyphs show early use of lush mountain area


Our last story comes from Cuba, where a group of petroglyphs have added to knowledge about aboriginal culture in the Pan de Guajaibón (pahn deh WAH-high-BONE), the largest mountain in the Cuban western region.  At just over 2,000 feet, or 700 meters, elevation, Guajaibón is the highest peak in the Guaniguanico (WAH-nee-wah-NEE-co) mountain range, and is cut by numerous caverns that were used as refuge or resting place for the earliest indigenous groups.  In a recent research project, an archaeological team including cave specialists found the petroglyphs along with two new archaeological sites, according to Pedro Luis Hernández, one of the coordinators of the expedition.  Artifacts at the cave sites included stone tools as well as organic materials such as fabric scraps, bones and plant materials.  These will yield important insights on the dress and diet of this little-known early period.  The explorations are the first step in a large research project on the use of the mountain landscape.  Historically, the area saw several battles in the 19th Century fight for Cuba’s independence.  Pan de Guajaibón is part of the protected area of Mil Cumbres (MEEL KOOM-brayz), which is home to over a thousand species of plants and around 760 varieties of animals.

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