Audio news from October 17th to October 23rd, 2010

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from October 17th to October 23rd, 2010.

Naval battle site from First Punic War may have been located


Our first story takes us to the depths of the Mediterranean Sea, where the remains of a sunken warship may confirm the site of an ancient sea battle.  Archaeologists believe the newly discovered remnants date from the final battle of the first Punic War in 241 BC.  The opponents were the ascending Roman republic located in Italy and the declining Carthaginian Empire centered on the northernmost tip of Africa.  Historical documents place the battle near the island of Levanzo, west of Sicily, where archaeologists located the site.  According to archaeologist Jeffrey G. Royal of the RPM Nautical Foundation, this particular naval battle was the ultimate, devastating defeat for the Carthaginians.  

Royal and his team in the summer of 2010 discovered a warship's bronze ram-- the sharp, prolonged tip of the ship's bow—which mariners used to smash into an enemy vessel.  The ram is all that is left of the warship; the rest, made of wood, rotted away.  Royal notes no one has ever found an intact ancient warship. The most we have are the rams and part of the bow structure.  Yet a ram alone can reveal fascinating clues about how the ship’s timbers were situated, how large they were and how they came together.  This was the third in a series of rams found in recent years.

In 2008, the same team uncovered a warship ram with bits of wood still attached that researchers were able to carbon-date to around the time of the end of the first Punic War.  Another ram, pulled out of the water by a fishing boat three years earlier, bore an inscription dating it to the same era. The most recently found third ram is almost identical in shape and size to the one found in 2008, which leads researchers to believe the site is the location of an ancient naval battle.  

The research team can't be certain whether the new ram belonged to a Roman or a Carthaginian ship, but researchers are betting on Carthage.  The inscription on the first ram, brought up by the fishermen, was in Latin, establishing it as Roman.  In addition, intricate carvings, including rosettes decorated it.  By comparison, the rams found in 2008 and this year are plain and undecorated with rough finger marks still left from workmen making the cast.  These rams appear to be very utilitarian and hastily made, which fits with historical accounts of the Carthaginians hurrying to rush a fleet together.  In addition, because the Carthaginians lost the battle, more of the sunken ships would have belonged to them than to Rome.  


Swiss door dates back 5000 years


Now we move north to Switzerland, where archaeologists in Zurich, excavating at a planned underground parking garage for the city’s opera house, have unearthed a 5,000-year-old door.  Researchers believe it may be one of the oldest found in Europe.  According to chief archaeologist Niels Bleicher, the ancient poplar wood door is "solid and elegant" with well-preserved hinges and an ingenious method of uneven weaving that holds the boards together.  
By using tree rings to determine its age, Bleicher believes a craftsman could have made the door in the year 3,063 BC, around the time that construction on Britain's world famous Stonehenge monument began.  Harsh climatic conditions at the time meant people had to build solid houses that would keep out much of the cold wind that blew across Lake Zurich, and the door would have helped.  The door was part of a settlement of so-called "stilt houses" frequently found near lakes about a thousand years after agriculture and animal husbandry were first introduced to the Alpine region.  It is similar to another door found in nearby Pfaeffikon.  A third door previously discovered may date back to 3700 B.C.

Excavators have found traces of at least five Neolithic villages at the site and estimated to date between 3,700 and 2,500 BC.  The artifacts they have found include a flint dagger from Italy and an elaborate hunting bow.


Peruvian coppersmiths could have been part of elite class


Now we shift to the New World and a 1400-year-old flat-topped pyramid in Peru.  

In August 2009, excavation co-leader Edward Swenson of the University of Toronto and team began excavating a long mound at the roughly 24-hectare Huaca Colorada site in the Lambayeque region's southern Jequetepeque Valley.  Measuring about 390 meters wide by 140 meters deep, the pyramid is Huaca Colorada's most prominent feature.  Built on a slope, the pyramid appears almost flat when viewed from the north.  On its southern side, however, the monument rises about seven stories at its tallest point.  

Ancient people in Peru often used pyramidal mounds as mortuaries more than anything else.  However, this newly exposed pyramid supported residences for up to a couple dozen elite people, who oversaw and perhaps took part in copper production at the site.  These pre-Inca pyramid dwellers likely presided over important rituals, feasted on roasted llama and guinea pig, and drank corn beer, according to archaeologists working at the site.  Among the signs of occupation are at least 19 adobe stands where residents stored large vessels of water and corn beer, as well as llama, dog, guinea pig, and fish bones and traces of coca leaves and red peppers.  

It dates to the Late Moche period, about AD 500 to 800.  The Moche Culture, made up of independently governed agricultural societies that shared a common religion and a skill for irrigation systems, complex ceramics, and metallurgy, flourished along Peru's arid northern coast from about AD 100 to 800.  

During the first month of the dig, the team uncovered the mud-brick pyramid, as well as the residences, within the mound .  Later digging turned up evidence of human sacrifice on a rooftop platform.  Excavators found detached body parts and the corpses of five young women, all with signs of ritual burning and one with a rope around her neck.  

The excavation team was surprised to find that the pyramid may have been home to a group of privileged coppersmiths.  On lower levels of the pyramid, researchers found smelting pits, where workers fashioned copper tools and ornaments.  The team also found knives, spatulas, and other copper goods on the pyramid.  Expedition co-leader John Warner, an archaeologist with the University of Kentucky, noted there's far more robust domestic occupation of elite residential quarters than what researchers would have expected at a smelting site.  Intense fires required to maintain the thousand-degree-Celsius temperature necessary for melting copper would have cloaked the mound in a dirty, smoky haze.  Resident workers lived the high life precisely because of the copper production, since the Moche culture linked metallurgical production to religious and cultural values as well as economic utility.

The unusual nature of Huaca Colorada originally attracted the archaeologists, as the site was neither an elaborate religious structure nor a political center nor a rustic capital for the surrounding farming community.  However, some powerful individuals seem to have lived here.  Even the murals are unique.  They include well-known figures from Moche iconography such as a serpent and a warrior, but the artisanship is informal, almost graffiti-like, compared with murals at other Moche sites.  

The pyramid excavation is in its infancy, according to Swenson, and that raises hopes that the monument may yet reveal more about the poorly understood Moche.  


Longhouses found in Ontario


Our final story is from Ontario, Canada, where researchers have found a pre-contact village, including about ten longhouses as well as pottery, bone tools, stone tools, arrowheads and a wide variety of other artifacts, along Strasburg Creek in Kitchener.  The site of the First Nations settlement spans the area of two soccer fields at the south end of the Huron Natural Area.  

According to Dave Schmitt, an environmental manager with the City of Kitchener, planning to expand the area's trail system exposed the site.  Once discovered, officials realized its significance, calling in the Ministry of Culture as well as the Six Nations, historically referred to as the Iroquois League, to come up with a workable solution.  Archaeologist Paul Racher believes the village itself is about 500 years old, and notes that villages are rare as far as archaeological finds go.  Artifacts from the area date back as far as 9,000 years, showing that settlers found this area particularly attractive from very ancient times.  

Not all of the thousands of artifacts unearthed will be on display.  Archaeologists have removed those with spiritual value, out of respect for native traditions.  The Six Nations will hold them until they find a permanent home.  The Heritage Act and a city by-law protect the site.  

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