Audio news for the week from January 23rd to January 30th, 2010


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for the week from January 23rd to January 30th, 2010.


Bamboo Books Discovered in China

Our first story is from China, where archaeologists hope the discovery of rare books made out of bamboo strips will reveal the name of the owner of an ancient tomb.

Ancient Chinese believed that Yanluo, the god of death, was not only the ruler, but also the judge of the underworld.  Therefore, the deceased would bury an introduction letter with them detailing their good deeds and achievements during their life to guarantee a better afterlife.  Researchers think there is a possibility newly discovered strips from the tomb in Yancang, a village near Jingmen, might be such an introduction.

According to Shen Haining, director of the provincial cultural heritage bureau, scientists cannot tell how many there are and they have no idea what is written on them, but the discovery of bamboo strips itself is exciting.

In addition to the bamboo books, the excavation has also uncovered a copper weapon inscribed with the year of manufacture, equivalent to the year 384 BC, and a chariot pulled by four horses.  In other chambers, archaeologists have found another five chariots and 10 horses, all arranged around a flagpole as if prepared for a battle.  According to historical records, only officials at the minister level traveled in chariots pulled by four horses.  This is one reason archaeologists initially suspected the tomb belonged to a minister-level military officer of the Chu kingdom, now modern day Hubei province.

Bamboo-strip books are the best resources for studing the earliest Chinese manuscripts because Emperor Qin Shihuang (CHIN-SHIH-HWONG) ordered most documents destroyed after he united China in 221 BC.  The emperor ordered all books except those about the Qin (CHIN) dynasty's history and culture, divination and medicines burned.  A discovery in 1993 of almost 800 bamboo strips dating back to the Warring States Period was an international sensation as they contained the complete pre-Qin transcription of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, a philosopher in the spring and Autumn Period of 770 to 476 BC and founder of the Taoist school of thought.

Peruvian shaman found with aphrodisiacs


Across the Pacific Ocean, in Peru, archaeologists have discovered the remains of a healer who lived 800 years ago, along with 500 seeds believed to have aphrodisiac properties.  Buried near the valley of the Tucume Pyramids, a ceramic vessel containing 500 nectarine seeds was the first hint to finding the remains of the healer from the pre-Incan Lambayeque culture.  The Lambayeque culture, also known as the Sican culture, flourished approximately 800 to 900 years ago.

Researchers also found a Peruvian scallop shell for inhaling tobacco, gourds for drinking, pieces of textiles, a globular jug, and a wooden cane.  The director of the La Pava de Mochumi archaeological complex, Marco Fernandez, added that they also discovered the remains of another individual from the same culture, buried with objects that identify him as a middle-ranked official.  The objects included ceremonial copper knives, fragments of quartz and seven ceramic objects.
According to Carlos Wester, the director of Lambayeque’s Bruning Museum, the burials, both of the healer and the official, were evidence of intense cultural, artistic, technological and ritual activity in the Mochumi area.  Fernandez noted that the healer not only performed cures but also spoke with the gods as was the shaman’s role in the Moche and Lambayeque cultures.

The Peruvian government has set aside substantial funds for continued archaeological research at Lambayeque, one of the regions where important pre-Inca cultures such as the Moche, Chimu (chee-MOO), and Lambayeque emerged.


Gregorian law code pieced together in London


In the UK, researchers at University College London’s Department of History have discovered part of an ancient Roman law code previously thought lost forever.  Simon Corcoran and Benet Salway made the breakthrough after piecing together 17 fragments of previously unintelligible parchment that possibly originated in Constantinople, today’s Istanbul.

The fragments are part of the Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded "Projet Volterra,” a ten-year study of Roman law in its full social, legal, and political context.  Corcoran and Salway found that the text belonged to the Codex Gregorianus, or Gregorian Code, a collection of laws by emperors from Hadrian, who ruled from AD 117 to 138, to Diocletian, whose reign lasted from 284 to 305.  The Codex was published around AD 300.

Little is known about the Codex's original form and until now, no known copies were in existence.  According to Dr. Salway, the fragments bear the text of a Latin work in a clear calligraphic script, perhaps dating as far back as AD 400.  The fragments use a number of abbreviations characteristic of legal texts and the presence of writing on both sides of the pieces indicate they belong to a page or pages from a late antiquities codex book, rather than a scroll or a lawyer's loose-leaf notes.

Dr. Salway added that the fragments contain a collection of responses by a series of Roman emperors to questions on legal matters submitted by members of the public.  The responses, arranged chronologically and grouped into topical chapters under highlighted headings, contain corrections and readers' remarks between the lines. The notes show that this particular copy received extensive use.

The surviving fragments belong to sections on appeal procedures and the statute of limitations on a yet unidentified matter.  The content is consistent with what is known about the Gregorian Code from quotations of it in other documents, but the fragments also contain new material not previously seen in modern times.

Dr. Corcoran confirmed these fragments are the first direct evidence of the original version of the Gregorian Code.  Preliminary study validates that it was the pioneer of a long tradition that has extended down to the modern era and it is, in the end, from the title of this work, and its companion the Codex Hermogenianus, that we use the term 'code' in the sense of 'legal rulings'.  

Giant head casts light on Mayan architecture


Our final story is from Guatemala, where archeologists have discovered a huge Mayan sculptured head that suggests a little-known site in the jungle-covered Peten region may once have been a significant city.

Researchers uncovered the stucco sculpture, which measures 10 feet wide and 11.5 feet tall, at the Chilonché ruins, near the border with Belize.  The recent discovery of the head, dating from the early Classic period of AD 300 to 600, is considerably older than other artifacts found at the site, showing the site is much older than previously thought.

The discovery provides important scientific data that help us understand the architecture of the Mayans of the time.  The team hopes to find similar heads at the site, since the Mayans often built and arranged multiple items symmetrically.

According to Polytechnic University of Valencia Professor Gaspar Muñoz, part of the team that found the head, the sculpture might connect to Mayan mythology, and possibly represent an imaginary being such as a Mayan god, or an underworld figure.  Unlike Guatemala's well-known Mayan cities of Tikal and El Mirador, Chilonché is not excavated to any extent.  Looters, looking for artifacts to sell on the black market, had dug a small tunnel passing the buried sculpture that is similar to others decorating a solar observatory at another site, Uaxactun (wah-shahk-TUN).

Guatemala's Peten region is home to dozens of Mayan ruins, but the thick jungle region is home to poachers, looters looking for artifacts to sell on the black market, and drug smugglers carrying cocaine to nearby Mexico.

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