Audio News for August 29th to September 4th, 2010.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from August 29th to September 4th, 2010.


Pit house near Lake Huron is province of Ontario’s oldest dwelling


In our first story, Canadian archaeologists have discovered a 4,500-year-old settlement on the Ausable (ah-SAY-ble) River near the shore of Lake Huron. The find rewrites the history of the Canadian province of Ontario by proving that people were living a settled lifeway at that time, even though they lacked agriculture and pottery. Among the discoveries is a semi-subterranean house, the oldest ever found in the province. Professor Chris Ellis of the University of Western Ontario led the team that made the find. After the house was abandoned, it was hit by floodwaters. Garbage was piled on the abandoned house’s floor, which helped the archaeologists reconstruct what the structure looked like because the garbage layer follows the shape of the floor. Stains also marked the ancient floor where 8-inch-thick posts once supported the roof and later rotted away, leaving the traces of their holes. The ancient house was circular and five meters in diameter. Its narrow entrance faced the river and sloped down into the house pit. The house depression was a meter deep, so its earthen walls would have provided insulation against the Canadian winter.  A wooden roof on the top might have been covered with sod. Inside was a circular bench half a meter up the wall and extending all the way around, and even more interesting, remnants of what apparently were partitions that divided the house into sections. Unfortunately, parts of the floor have been eroded away by flooding, making it hard to determine where all the partitions were. This house would have been one family’s dwelling. Ellis noted that it would have taken a considerable amount of time and resources to build. The entire ancient settlement is about two hectares, or five acres, in size, and the research team has uncovered only a small portion so far. The rest of the settlement is known only through artifacts found on the surface and a magnetic survey, which revealed numerous buried features of various kinds. Artifacts found at the site include spear points, bifaces that would have served as knives, fire cracked rock from many hearths, and a net sinker. The team has also found abundant organic remains including deer and fish bones, black walnuts, and raspberry seeds. The finds suggest that the site was used year round, with fishing in the summer and harvesting walnuts in the fall. Outside the 4,500-year-old house, a storage area one meter deep and one and a half meters across is further evidence that, despite living a hunting and gathering lifestyle, the inhabitants were here to stay. The site also had extensive areas for garbage disposal. Three structures at the site date to later times, with the youngest one about 2,500 years old.

New Peruvian burials are early Mochica elites


Moving southward now to South America, archaeologists have discovered three high status burials more than 1,600 years old in northern Peru. The finds are three coffins made of cane. The first belongs to an adolescent, approximately 13 years old. The second person appears to be a woman, and the third person, not yet exhumed, is in a coffin covered in copper and gold-copper alloy. The three are believed to be from the Mochica culture, which ruled the northern coast of Peru from about AD 100 to 800. Vessels and offerings including peanut remains and figures representing peanuts as well as copper offerings surrounded the adolescent. In the Mochica culture, small nuts represented life after death, according to Peruvian archaeologist Walter Alva. Teams led by Alva previously discovered the tomb of the Great Lord of Sipan, an important Mochican warrior priest, in 1987. Most recently, the team has been excavating the platform of his royal mausoleum, where the Mochicas buried all the high-ranking people from priests to lords and members of the noble Mochica families. The new tomb is located 20 meters from the tomb of the Lord of Sipan and just 10 meters from the tomb of a priest. The new burials are from a period before that of the Lord of Sipan, however. According to Alva, the fact that the new remains are on the same platform but pre-dating the Lord of Sipan is extremely useful for constructing a timeline of the culture.

Oldest evidence of human communal feasts is found in Israel


Moving to the Old World, new evidence in Israel shows that community feasts were part of village life even before the dawn of agriculture. Communal feasting, a social behavior unique to humans, is one of the most important social patterns in communities worldwide. The earliest clear evidence of organized feasting has now been found at a burial site used some 12,000 years ago. According to new research by Natalie Munro of the University of Connecticut, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists have speculated that feasting began before the Neolithic period, which in the Middle East started about 11,500 years ago. Now Munro has the first solid evidence showing that communal feasts were already occurring, with some regularity, at the beginnings of the transition to agriculture. At a burial cave in the Galilee region, Munro and her colleague, Leore Grosman of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, uncovered the remains of at least 71 tortoises and three wild cattle in two purposely crafted hollows. This was an unusually high density of such remains for the time. The shells and bones showed evidence of being cooked and then torn apart, indicating butchering for human consumption. Each of the two hollows, notes Munro, was created for the purpose of a ceremonial human burial and related feasting activities. The tortoise shells lay under, around and on top of the remains of a ritually buried shaman, suggesting that the feast accompanied the ritual burial. The turtle meat alone could have fed about 35 people.

The research team proposes that the likely reason why humans began feasting is the same as the reason why a short time later they also began to cultivate their own foods. Faster human population growth had begun crowding the landscape. Earlier in the Stone Age, small family groups often moved to find new sources of food. However, around the time of this feast, that lifestyle had become much more difficult. These public events served as community-building opportunities, which helped to relieve tensions and solidify social relationships. Nevertheless, when a once-nomadic group of humans settles down, that can put tremendous strain on the local resources. Munro notes that humans around the time of this feast were intensively using the plants and animals that their descendants later domesticated. The appearance of these feasts at the beginnings of agriculture is evidence of increased social interaction. It was such changes in resource types and use, according to Munro, that eventually led to agriculture.

Jordan finds Iron Age temple from Moabite kingdom


Our final story is from Jordan, where the Antiquities department has announced the discovery of a 3,000-year-old Iron Age temple that includes a trove of figurines of deities, as well as circular clay vessels used in religious rituals. According to Antiquities chief Ziad al-Saad, archaeologists unearthed the sanctuary from the eighth century BC at Khirbat 'Ataroz, near the town of Mabada, about 20 miles southwest of the capital, Amman. The temple, which had a main room measuring nearly 100 feet by 40 feet, two antechambers and an open courtyard, is the largest and most complete yet found in the region. Dating back to between 1200 and 539 BC, the sanctuary and its artifacts, hewn from limestone and basalt or molded from clay and bronze, show the complex religious rituals of Jordan's ancient biblical Moabite kingdom. The Moabite kingdom extended along present-day Jordan's mountainous eastern shore of the Dead Sea. The Moabites were closely related to the Israelites, although the two peoples were in frequent conflict, and the Babylonians eventually conquered the Moabites in 582 BC. The temple dig also unearthed more than 300 Moabite artifacts, including a figurine of the four-legged animal god Hadad. The finds included objects related to several ancient cults, in addition to four altars of stone and a rectangular platform found for the first time in Jordan. One altar bears Egyptian and Assyrian artistic influences, indicating contacts the Moabites had with neighboring civilizations. Excavations began in Khirbat 'Ataroz in 2000 in cooperation with the California-based La Sierra University, but the field team found the majority of the items only in the past few months. The items, once analyzed and conserved, will go on display in Jordan's archaeological museum.

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