Audio news May 2nd to May 8th, 2010

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news May 2nd to May 8th, 2010.


Fortifications show preparations for war on ancient Crete


Our first story is from the island of Crete, where a team of archaeologists has discovered a fortification system at the Minoan town of Gournia that casts doubt on the vision of the Minoans as a peaceful society that needed no defensive structures. Gournia was a flourishing town on the north coast of the Crete during the neo-palatial period, around 1700 to 1450 BC, the height of Minoan civilization. The town sits atop a low ridge with four promontories or outcrops on its coastline. Two of these promontories end in high vertical cliffs that give the town a defensive advantage and it is here that the fortification system was discovered by Vance Watrous and Matt Buell, professors at the University at Buffalo. Modern use prevented excavation, so their team used a combination of photography, drawing and surveying to identify the fortifications. The eastern-most promontory had a heavy wall approximately 27 meters long, with an adjacent platform about nine meters across, apparently the remains of a tower or bastion. The wall fortifying the other promontory was two meters thick, laid out to close off access from the sea. According to Professor Watrous, the remaining two promontories on which the town is built slope gently down to the shore, providing easy access from the sea. The town comprises around 60 houses, a ship shed, and a small palace, all densely clustered, with evidence of wine making, bronze-working and stone-working as occupations. In addition to fortifying the sea approach, it appears that the Gournians built a second line of defense farther inland, where two walls run for about 180 meters to deter any invader trying to march on the town. The walls had stone foundations and were of mud brick above, which was sturdy enough for warriors armed with slings and bows to stand on. Whether the people guarding the fortifications were part of a militia or something more organized is more difficult to discern. Tombs uncovered in previous excavations revealed people buried with swords. One particular tomb produced an entire collection of daggers, swords and other items.

Gournia's fortifications did not prevent the town's downfall. The town fell around 1450 BC, along with other Minoan settlements. A new group called the Mycenaeans appeared on Crete, taking over the island. Watrous believes Mycenaeans probably avoided attacking the town by sea, but excavations would be required to find evidence of any battles at the fortifications. One thing researchers can say is that the people of Gournia had something worth fighting over. Many of the goods they made, such as wine and bronze tools, are known to have been exported, showing that the people of this town had some level of wealth.

Roman-era pottery center found in province of Dacia


In Romania, 100 kilns built between 1700 and 1900 years ago by the Dacians were unearthed around Mediesu Aurit (med-ee-AY-sue AWR-it) village in the northwest region of the country. According to Robert Gindele (jin-DEH-le), head of the Archaeology Department in the Satu Mare (SAH-too MAH-re) County Museum, a magnetormeter survey led to the discovery of the ovens underground, at a depth of approximately 20 centimeters. The kilns were used to fire pottery, and measure more than 2 meters across. This may be the largest pottery center in Central Europe for the period AD 100 to 350. The archaeologists hope to be able to start digging this spring in order to unearth the ovens. Gindele believes that once the digging starts, earthenware pots made in these ovens will be discovered to provide more information on the culture of those times. Earlier research had showed that the area hosted some kind of complex of pottery production, when 16 identical kilns were discovered in 1964. The land of Dacia was inhabited by the Dacians and Getae (GAY-tie), branches of the Thracian peoples who lived along the Danube. The Dacians had both peaceful and military encounters with other neighboring tribes, including the Celts, ancient Germans, Sarmatians, and Scythians, but their culture was mainly influenced by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The Roman emperor Trajan (TRAY-jen) conquered Dacia in a series of battles from AD 101 to106, and after that the tribes became assimilated both linguistically and culturally into the Roman world.

Plumbing at Palenque shows independent discovery of water pressure


A water feature found in the Mayan city of Palenque, Mexico, is the earliest known example of engineered water pressure in the New World. The study is the result of collaboration between two Pennsylvania State University researchers: an archaeologist and a hydrologist. The purpose for which the Mayans used the water is, however, still unknown. According to Christopher Duffy and Kirk French, writing in a recent issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, water pressure systems previously were thought to have entered the New World with the arrival of the Spanish. Multiple lines of evidence, however, including archaeological data, seasonal climate conditions, geomorphic setting and simple hydraulic theory show that the Mayans of Palenque, located in the Mexican state of Chiapas, had empirical knowledge of closed channel water pressure long before the arrival of Europeans. The key feature was first identified in 1999 during a mapping survey of the area. Although it was similar to the aqueducts that flow beneath the plazas of the city, it had enough differences that in 2006, Duffy, the hydrologist, accompanied French, the archaeologist, on a trip to focus specifically on the unusual feature. Palenque was first occupied about AD 100, grew to its largest during the Classic Maya period from AD 250 to 600, and was abandoned around 800. Underground water features such as aqueducts are not unusual at Palenque, because the city was built in a tight area on an escarpment, which prevented the city’s planners from spreading out. To make more land available, the Palenqueños (PAH-len-CANE-yos) routed the local streams into aqueducts set beneath the plazas. Streams cross the area every 300 feet or so along the whole escarpment. These spring-fed streams, amplified by nearly 10 feet of rain falling during the six-month rainy season, presented a flooding hazard that the aqueducts would have at least partially controlled. The feature the researchers examined, Piedras Bolas Aqueduct, is a spring-fed conduit located on steep terrain. The elevation drops about 20 feet from the entrance of the tunnel to the outlet about 200 feet downhill. The cross section of the feature decreases from about 10 square feet near the spring to about half a square foot where the water emerges from a small opening. The combination of gravity on water flowing down through the feature, combined with the sudden restriction of the conduit’s size, causes the water to flow out of the opening forcefully, under pressure. The aqueduct is partially collapsed, so very little water currently flows from the outlet. Duffy, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, used hydraulic modeling to determine the potential water pressure achievable from the aqueduct and noted that it would have held about 18,000 gallons if the outlet were controlled to store the water. One potential use for the artificially engineered water pressure would have been a fountain. Another possibility is that the pressure lifted water to the adjacent residential area for use as a disposal flow. According to Duffy, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, it is unlikely that the Maya observed any examples of water pressure occurring naturally in their landscape. In a climate of abundant precipitation, they came across this trick of engineering without knowing, or needing, the theory around it.

Search for tomb of Cleopatra finds previous pharoah’s statue


Our final story is from Egypt, where a headless granite statue of a Ptolemaic king emerged from the ruins of an ancient Egyptian limestone temple believed to be the burial site of Queen Cleopatra and her lover Mark Antony. According to a statement issued by Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, the sculpture came to light at the site of the temple of Taposiris Magna (TOP-oh-SEER-is MAG-na), near Alexandria, during work by an Egyptian-Dominican team who are searching for the tomb of Cleopatra and Antony. More than 2,000 years old, the statue has the traditional shape of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh wearing collar and kilt. Dr. Zahi Hawass, chief of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, believes the statue portrays Ptolemy IV, the pharaoh who constructed the temple. The team, led by Dr. Hawass in collaboration with the Dominican archaeologist Kathleen Martinez, also discovered the temple’s original gate on its western side. The entrance of the building is dedicated to Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld, and is constructed of limestone. One of the stones showed traces that a sphinx statue once stood upon it, indicating that a sphinx avenue once extended into the temple, similar to those built during earlier dynastic times. The team has spent the past five years trying to locate the final resting place of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, the Roman general who became Cleopatra’s lover and had three children with her. History records the couple committing suicide after Octavian, who was to become the first Roman emperor, Augustus, defeated their forces in the battle of Actium. A radar survey of the temple has identified three spots where a burial chamber might lie underground. So far, the researchers have unearthed several significant artifacts, including a number of headless royal statues, which may have been disfigured during the later Byzantine and Christian eras, as well as a collection of heads of Queen Cleopatra, and 24 metal coins bearing her profile. Also discovered behind the crumbling temple was a necropolis containing many Graeco-Roman style mummies. Early investigations show that the mummies were buried with their faces turned toward the temple, signifying that a significant royal personality may lie within the temple walls.

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