Audio news from June 13th to June 19th, 2010

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from June 13th to June 19th, 2010.

Aztec goddess may lead to royal tomb


Our first story is from Mexico, where archaeologists have found some extraordinary Aztec offerings in excavations under a mammoth stone slab depicting the earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli (tlahl-tay-KOO-tlee). The seven unusual offerings include the skeleton of a dog or wolf dressed in turquoise earplugs and jadeite necklaces with golden bells on its feet.

Investigators found the 4-meter long carving of the goddess in 2006 near the edge of the Templo Mayor pyramid in downtown Mexico City, and lifted it out in 2007, after which archaeologists began digging underneath.

According to archaeologist Leonardo Lopez Lujan, the presence of shells from distant seas, gold earrings and collars as well as strange wooden daggers found under the slab suggest a very important person may be buried nearby. He adds they hope, at some point, to find a royal tomb. Archaeologists have been looking for the tombs of the Aztec emperors and royals for decades, but no one has found one yet. Historical records from the time of Spain's 1521 conquest and markings on the Tlaltecuhtli slab suggest mourners cremated the Aztec emperor Ahuizotl, who died in 1502, and buried his ashes somewhere at the foot of the Templo Mayor pyramid. Originally, scientists thought the tomb might lie directly below the slab. But with only about 2 meters left to dig downward in 12 and a half meter deep pits, researchers plan to dig a lateral tunnel 5 meters in an effort to locate the royal tomb.

Aztec artistic convention portrayed the goddess Tlaltecuhtli as a woman with giant claws and a stream of blood flowing into her mouth as she squats to give birth. She devoured the dead and then gave them new life. The Aztecs found the goddess so frightful, they buried her images face down in the earth. However, this one was face-up. In the claw of her right foot, the goddess holds a rabbit and 10 dots, indicating the date "10 Rabbit" - 1502, the year of Ahuizotl's death. The sculpture itself challenges the perception of Aztec monuments as uncolored bare stone carvings. The piece preserves a half-dozen original colors, including rich ochre, red, yellow and blue shades.

Phoenician garrison discovered in Cyprus


Now we go to Cyprus, where archaeologists have discovered what could be the remains of a garrison used by Phoenician soldiers who manned a guard tower. The buildings at the ancient city of Idalion overlook a previously discovered Phoenician complex dating back nearly 2,500 years.

Researchers found metal weapons, inscriptions and pieces of a bronze shield in the complex. According to a statement by the Department of Antiquities, the soldiers who guarded the tower may have used the complex, which is connected to the tower.

The earliest evidence of human occupation in the area dates to 7,000 BC. Idalion was one of 10 Cypriot kingdoms listed on the Prism, or many-sided tablet, of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon, who lived from 680 to 669 BC. Phoenicians captured the city in the middle of the Fifth Century BC, and governed it for 150 years. Tradition holds that the founder of Idalion was Chalcanor, an Achaean hero of the Trojan War.

Investigators believe the wider complex, the largest identified so far in Cyprus, is either a palace or administrative center. Strictly defensive in nature, the building complex contains a triple olive-press, unique in its kind throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Roads lead to the complex courtyards from the external gate, towers, residences and the military installations. Archaeologists also unearthed impressive storage buildings, housing numerous inscriptions that recorded tax collections from the ancient city’s inhabitants.

Radiocarbon analysis of plants gives accurate dates for ancient Egyptian rulers


Crossing the Mediterranean to Egypt, a new radiocarbon analysis of short-lived plant remnants is providing scientists with an accurate dating of ancient Egyptian dynasties.

Scholars around the world have spent more than a century endeavoring to document the reigns of the various rulers of Egypt's Old, Middle and New Kingdoms. The new radiocarbon dates agree with most previous estimates, but they also imposes some historic revisions. Although previous chronologies have been precise in relative ways, assigning absolute dates to specific events in ancient Egyptian history has been an exceedingly contentious task. This new study sets new limits for dates, and suggests they may be slightly older than some scholars had previously believed. For example, it suggests that the reign of Djoser in the Old Kingdom actually started between 2691 and 2625 BC, although traditionally the beginning of his reign has been set at about 2630 BC. The new data indicated also that the New Kingdom began between 1570 and 1544 BC, compared to the traditionally accepted date estimate of 1550 BC.

Christopher Bronk Ramsey and colleagues from the Universities of Oxford and Cranfield in England, along with a team of researchers from France, Austria and Israel, collected radiocarbon measurements from 211 various plants. The museum collection samples in the form of seeds, baskets, textiles, plant stems and fruits, were directly associated with particular reigns of ancient Egyptian kings. Combining their radiocarbon data with historical information about the order and length of each king's reign produced a complete chronology of ancient Egyptian dynasties.
Bronk Ramsey and his colleagues found some discrepancies in the radiocarbon levels of the Nile Valley, but they suggest that these are due to ancient Egypt's unusual growing season, concentrated in the winter months. For the most part, the new chronology narrows down the various historical scenarios that researchers have been considering for ancient Egypt.

According to Bronk Ramsey, for the first time, radiocarbon dating has become precise enough to tie the history of ancient Egypt to very specific dates.


Saxon Queen’s bones found in German cathedral


Our final story is from Germany, where scientists have revealed that bones found in Magdeburg Cathedral, Germany in 2008 are those of one of the earliest members of the English royal family. The remains are those of Queen Eadgyth, who died in AD 946. The granddaughter of Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, the Saxon princess married Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor, in 929. As the half sister of Athelstan, considered the first king of all of England, Eadgyth had at least two children with Otto and lived most of her married life in Magdeburg, in what is now the state of Saxony-Anhalt. She died at age approximately 36. Her initial place of burial was the monastery of St. Maurice, but her bones were moved at least three times until their final interment, 564 years later, in an elaborate tomb at Magdeburg Cathedral in 1510, wrapped in silk in a lead coffin.

According to Archaeology Professor Mark Horton of the University of Bristol and team researcher, the historical record and the scientific records match. A study of the bones at the University of Mainz confirmed that the remains were those of a woman who died between the ages of 30 and 40. Professor Kurt Alt found evidence that she was a regular horse rider and ate a high-protein diet, including a lot of fish, hinting at her high rank.

The Director of the project, Professor Harald Meller of Germany's State Office for Heritage Management and Archaeology, noted that people frequently moved medieval bones and often mixed them up; hence, these remains required some extraordinary science to prove that they were indeed those of Eadgyth. Decisive evidence came from the study of Eadgyth's teeth. Scientists at the two universities studied strontium and oxygen isotopes that mineralize in the teeth when they form. Dr Alistair Pike, from the University of Bristol, explained that by micro-sampling, using a laser, researchers can reconstruct the sequence of a person's location, month by month up to the age of 14. They found the isotope results exactly matched records of Eadgyth's childhood and adolescence in Wessex. Horton notes Eadgyth must have moved around the kingdom following her father, King Edward the Elder, during his reign. When her father divorced her mother in 919, Eadgyth was between nine and 10. Her father banished both her and her mother to a monastery in Salisbury. Researchers will rebury her in Magdeburg Cathedral later this year, 500 years after her first interment.

That wraps up the news for this week!
For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at, where all the news is history!
I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!