Audio news April 25th to May 1st, 2010

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news April 25th to May 1st, 2010.

Rare artifacts revealed by Arctic ice melt


Our first story is from Canada, where warming temperatures are melting ice that has been in place for thousands of years in the mountains of the High Arctic and revealing a treasure trove of ancient hunting tools. Ice that builds up from layers of annual snow have, until recently, remained frozen all year, but now, under the warm-up of temperatures in recent decades, some of the ice patches have begun to melt away, and sometimes that exposes ancient artifacts to the surprise of archaeologists. Tom Andrews, an archaeologist with the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, Northern Territories, Canada, is the lead archaeological researcher on the International Polar Year Ice Patch Study. In 1997, sheep hunters discovered a 4,300-year-old dart shaft in caribou dung exposed as ice receded in the Yukon. Investigators found layers of caribou dung buried between annual deposits of ice, and with it, a storehouse of well-preserved artifacts. Andrews first became aware of the importance of ice patches when word about the Yukon find started leaking out. In 2000, he scraped together funds to buy satellite imagery of specific areas in the Mackenzie Mountains that form part of the border between the Yukon and the Northwest Territories and began to examine ice patches in the region. Five years later, he had raised enough money to support a four-hour helicopter ride to investigate two ice patches. The trip proved productive and resulted in the find of an ancient willow bow. The discovery allowed Andrews and his team to get more funds to explore eight ice patches in four years. The results have been extraordinary: Andrews and his team, including members of the indigenous Shutagot'ine (SHOO-tah-go-TEEN) or Mountain Dene tribe, have found 2,400-year-old spear throwing tools, a 1,000-year-old ground squirrel snare, and bows and arrows dating back 850 years. According to Andrews, the implements are truly amazing, with wooden arrow and dart shafts as finely made as any modern machinery could produce. Biologists are examining dung in the area for plant remains, insect parts, pollen and caribou parasites and using the DNA in it to track the lineage and migration patterns of caribou. The dung and artifacts are at these spots because, for millennia, caribou seeking relief from summer heat and insects have made their way to ice patches where they bed down until temperatures cool. Hunters noticed caribou were, in effect, stranded on these ice islands and took advantage. Andrews is concerned about retrieving more artifacts, because funds have run out and two of the eight ice patches have already disappeared. As the ice patches continue to melt, artifacts exposed will be trampled by caribou that continue to visit the patch, or decay in the wet acidic soils.

Sauna of famed Japanese warlord found


In Japan, the remains of a sauna have been discovered at the site of a famous feudal warlord’s 16th Century residence. The steam bath, found in the ruins of Nijo-Goshinzo residence in Kyoto, belonged to Nobunaga Oda, who was one of the most powerful figures of Japan's warring states period and began the unification of Japan. According to officials at the Kyoto City Archaeological Research Institute, it is likely that the Sixteenth Century warlord welcomed his guests with a steam bath and tea ceremony. The bathhouse measures approximately seven by six meters in size, with a small U-shaped furnace on its own stone foundation. The 16th Century date was based on the earthenware discovered along within the structure. Nearby were a well and another furnace used for foot baths. According to the institute, holding a tea ceremony after a bath was popular among upper class people of the time. The unearthed sauna reportedly has almost the same architectural features as those of the Okaku-dai, the nation's oldest bathhouse from the Azuchi-Momoyama Period. The warlord Oda constructed the Nijo-Goshinzo residence in 1576, after he took over the land from the Nijo, a noble family of the time. The sauna stood in a location from which the warlord could view his favorite garden. In 1582, the nobleman’s residence burned down during the Honno-ji Incident, in which both Oda and his eldest son Nobutada died. The remains of Ryuyaku Pond, depicted in folding screens portraying scenes of the ancient capital city, were discovered in the garden in 2002. This is the first time, however, that a part of the residence itself has been found.

Roman fortress remains revealed in England


Our next story is from England, where a new 936-page report on the millennium digs at Carlisle (car-LYLE) Castle has detailed the 80,000 artifacts discovered and what they reveal about Roman life in the city. Excavations in five trenches on the Castle Green and Eastern Way began in 1999 and, over the following three years, unearthed vast quantities of pottery, armor, weapons and, unusually, wooden remains. Normally wood rots away, but because of the waterlogged soil, 2000 large pieces of timber remained intact. The dig also recovered over 2500 fragments of pottery, including many ceramic bowls from Gaul, along with hundreds of Roman coins, thousands of animal bone fragments, 11 spearheads and 32 arrowheads, 21 brooches (BROA-ches), 9 pieces of bracelets, 10 hairpins and 41 glass beads. However, it is the extensive wooden and leather remains, including posts, shoes and tents, that most surprised and delighted the archaeologists, providing a profusion of new evidence about the structure of Roman buildings and clothing. According to the report by the archaeology team, the data from this site have added significantly to understanding the construction and layout of Roman military buildings in the First and Second centuries. The range of the finds demonstrates the special nature of archaeological deposits in Carlisle, with its wealth of organic objects that do not normally survive. Articulated armor, which has never before been found in the UK, also emerged from the wet deposits. According to John Zant, a team leader who works for Oxford Archaeology North, the fort was probably built in AD 72 or 73 to house around 500 soldiers. The finds show that the builders of the fort used small pieces of wood in building construction so that they could easily arrange its internal walls. A picture of the everyday life of the soldiers also becomes clear from the finds. Soldiers hunted deer on a regular basis, ate mutton rather than lamb, and played a Roman version of draughts (drafts) or checkers with gamepieces like the 12 black and white glass counters that turned up. Razor blades, combs and fragments of mirrors showed that the soldiers made an effort with their appearance. The archaeological report shows that Carlisle was the equal of York, Chester and Newcastle as one of the dominant centers in the north in Roman times.

South Carolina army fort dig finds ancient camp as well


Finally, we go to the United States, where prehistoric remnants show that ancient people bivouacked at what is now Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The most wide-ranging archaeological dig ever carried out at the fort has unearthed evidence of human camps up to 9,000 years old. The finds are comparable to others around the state, but change the picture of settlement. Previous concentrations of artifacts from the Archaic period had turned up only along major waterways. The Fort Jackson site is on sandy uplands, several miles from the Wateree River and even farther from the Broad River. According to Chuck Cantley, archaeologist with the state Department of Archives and History, evidence of occupation in the sand hills is new. The team under Audrey Dawson, chief investigator at the Fort Jackson site, has found five dense concentrations of materials, including sandstone that is probably from hearths, quartz chipped into tools and projectile points, and rare pieces of pottery. The materials include stone from as far away as the mountains of North Carolina and the coastal areas of South Carolina and Georgia, hinting at wandering groups. Nevertheless, clearly someone sat in these woods and chipped quartz to make points. According to Dawson, who is from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, it indicates that small groups or micro-bands moving through the area would camp here for a few days at a time. Their use of the sand hills is probably related to two nearby natural springs, where they could get fresh water and hunt animals also drawn to the springs. The high ground would be ideal for a short stay on a trip from the Broad River to the Wateree. Nowadays, the highlands also are ideal for military training and army barracks. Fort Jackson carried out basic archaeological work starting in 1989 that found enough evidence to prompt a ban on ground-disturbing activities and heavy vehicles on 74,000 square meters. However, plans for a future barracks complex on a portion of the archaeological site now have prompted work to recover as much of the history as possible in advance of any future construction.

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