Audio news from July 25th to July 31st, 2010


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from July 25th to July 31st, 2010.


Secret Tunnels Opened in Iran


Our first story is from Iran, where the Hamedan Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Department has announced the discovery of an ancient network of secret tunnels and dwellings which inhabitants may have used as a shelter during wars. Hamedan province is one of the most ancient parts of Iran and its civilization and the city of Hamedan is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, dating back possibly to 3000 BC. According to initial studies, the tunnels likely relate to the first Iranian dynasty, the Medes (728 to 550 BC) or to the Parthian dynasty (248 BC to AD 224).

The complex comprises 25 rooms connected to each other by several tunnels, beneath a stone mound extending deep into the earth at a depth of 4 to 6 meters. The entrance to the subterranean complex is hidden or yet to be discovered, but the tunnels are currently accessible through an original ventilation shaft. The walls of the site contain carved holes, which held light fixtures. Archaeologists also have identified a cot in one of the structures as well as a number of stone rings and clasps.

According the Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies, an educational nonprofit organization based in Britain, the Iranian government since March 2009 has banned archaeologists from giving interviews or revealing any information about the status of Iranian archaeology, thus removing the only reliable avenue for obtaining the accurate information about the status of the archaeological discoveries and the cultural treasures recovered from the sites. The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies also alleges that the looting and smuggling of pre-Islamic heritage in Iran is encouraged by the country’s current Islamic theocratic government, but cites no evidence in support of this assertion.


Jewish law code parallels Code of Hammuabi


Moving westward to Israel, archaeologists working at Hazor in the northern part of the country have discovered two fragments of a cuneiform tablet apparently containing a law code that parallels portions of the famous Babylonian Code of Hammurabi found in Iran. Dating to the 18th or 17th Century BC, during the Middle Bronze Age, the tablet, written in Akkadian cuneiform script, refers to issues of personal injury law relating to slaves and masters. According to Professor Wayne Horowitz of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology, co-sponsor of the excavations, the laws are written is a style similar to that of the Code of Hammurabi, which dates to the 18th Century BC, and bear some resemblance to biblical laws that prescribe justice in the form of “a tooth for a tooth.” Researchers have deciphered words including “master, “ ”slave,” and apparently the word for “tooth.”

These fragments are the 18th and 19th cuneiform finds from an excavation at Hazor within Hazor National Park. They represent the largest corpus of documents of cuneiform texts found in Israel. Previous documents dealt with such subjects as the dispatch of people or goods, a legal dispute involving a local woman, and a text of multiplication tables. The tablets point to Hazor’s importance as a major center for administration and scholarship in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages, although it is not known whether the tablet was inscribed in Hazor or imported from elsewhere. The Hazor excavation team now is focused on a large Bronze Age monumental building, where they hope to find more inscribed tablets.


Famous British shipwreck located in Canadian Arctic


Moving now to Mercy Bay in the Canadian Arctic, Parks Canada archaeologists have found the ship whose crew 155 years ago abandoned it during a rescue operation. Marine archaeologists using side-scan sonars from inflatable Zodiac boats located the copper-bottomed HMS Investigator sitting upright in silt, but its three masts are gone, probably removed by ice. Because it settled on the bottom in very cold water, it did not deteriorate quickly. The clear Arctic water makes it possible for observers above to glimpse the outline of the ship’s outer deck, which is only eight meters below the surface. Investigators also found three graves. These undoubtedly are the remains of a trio of British sailors who succumbed to disease in the final months of the ship’s three-year Arctic ordeal.

A passing British expedition last saw the remains of the 36-meter ship in 1854. At that time,
it was listing on its side and half-filled with ice. According to Native Inuit testimonials, the Investigator had vanished by the following summer. Whether the ship had drifted into deep water or out of Mercy Bay altogether had been a source of constant speculation for more than a hundred years.

Solving that mystery — thanks in part to changes in climate, since the first recorded summer Mercy Bay was ice-free was in 2007 — puts an ending to one of the Arctic’s greatest marine dramas.

HMS Investigator had sailed from England in 1850 under Captain Robert McClure to join the search for the missing Franklin Expedition, which had set off to find the fabled Northwest Passage. Approaching the area from the west in hopes of finding Franklin’s two ships approaching in the opposite direction, Investigator probed farther east than any other European expedition. Ice quickly trapped the ship, often hoisting it out of the water by 15-metre-high ice ridges or threatening to crush its hull.

The 69-member crew first attempted a route along the southern shore of Bank Island before retreating to head north into what is now McClure Strait in the summer of 1851. Running into impenetrable pack ice, they sought shelter in this treeless, windswept bay and spent another two winters locked in ice. In desperation, Capt. McClure planned to have the ship’s crew divided into three parties, two to attempt a walk to safety while the third would remain in case it was possible to sail free later in the year.

But before this survival plan could be implemented, the crew learned that two better-equipped British vessels lay surrounded by ice at neighboring Melville Island. Capt. McClure ordered his crew to abandon ship. They cleaned the cabins, stored their supplies in a massive cache on the shore, and trekked to the HMS Resolute. After another winter trapped in ice, they left that ship behind also and traveling eastward returned to England aboard the HMS Northern Star. They thus became the first to transit the Northwest Passage and Captain McClure received a 10,000 pound prize for doing so.

The discovery of one of the most famous shipwrecks in Canadian history is important in part because it represents the first historical contact between Arctic people of the area, the Copper Inuit, and European explorers and it couples high tech scientific research with the oral history of the Inuit people.

While the giant cache of supplies taken off the ship apparently was removed over the years, archaeologists will search other areas around the Investigator’s final resting place for archeological remains and also will search for the two lost ships of the Franklin Expedition.

Ceremonial vessels found at Machu Picchu


Our last story comes from Peru, where a team of Peruvian archaeologists from the National Institute of Culture working in the citadel of Machu Picchu have found three ceramic vessels used as offerings. Circular pieces of stone ringed the three long-necked vessels.

According to archaeologist Ruben Maqque, the objects, the first of their kind found in Machu Picchu, were connected to a ceremonial rite of tribute to the earth. Inca rulers began construction of Machu Picchu around AD 1400 and abandoned it shortly after Spanish Conquistador Pizarro arrived in Peru in the Sixteenth Century. The find was in an area known as the “cemetery,” although excavators have not found human remains in the citadel.

Archeologists also found nine kinds of stone brought by ancient pilgrims from different parts of the neighboring region, including the valley of the Urubamba River and the Sicuani district. The present project began in 2007 and focuses on what is known as Mirador or Lookout Point, a highly popular tourist destination.

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