Audio News for October 24th to October 30th, 2010.  

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from October 24th to October 30th, 2010.

Ancient royal garden discovered near Jerusalem


In our first story, from Israel, researchers at Tel Aviv University, in partnership with Heidelberg University in Germany, have uncovered an ancient royal garden at the site of Ramat Rachel near Jerusalem. Having a massive and lush green space surrounding one's palace was the ultimate symbol of power and wealth, especially when the surrounding area is bare, as it would have been in the dry climate of the Judean Hills.  This garden would have been the most outstanding feature of Ramat Rachel, visible from the west, north and south.  

One of the garden's most impressive features is its water management system.  In ancient times, control over water indicated political strength.  Ramat Rachel gardens have a complex irrigation system, the likes of which not seen before outside of Mesopotamia.  Features include open channels and closed tunnels, stone carved gutters and the framework for sophisticated waterfalls.  
Preliminary results show that while the Judeans, the people of the ancient kingdom of Judah, built Ramat Rachel, foreign powers commissioned the construction.  These results may reveal information about a wide variety of empires that ruled in Israel at one time.

According to graduate student Boaz Goss, the site was in use from the 7th to the 4th Century BC, an era of many wars and exchanges of power.  The Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah in 586 BC, and the Persians in 539 BC conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Jews to rebuild their temple in Jerusalem, but not to establish an independent kingdom.  

The archaeological team will use close analysis of soil and other findings to delve deeper into the history of the garden and determine what kind of plant life would have grown there, and which, if any, animals called the garden home.


Welcome to the chapel of colonial love!


Now we go to Virginia, where archaeologists have located the wedding chapel of an iconic figure in American history.  Archaeologist Bill Kelso and his team were digging in a previously unexplored section of the fort at Jamestown, Virginia, the country's oldest permanent English colony, when they uncovered a series of deep holes.  They believe the holes once anchored heavy, timber columns supporting the fort's first church where Pocahontas married settler John Rolfe in 1614.

Pocahontas, a dominant chief's daughter, became acquainted with Captain John Smith and the other colonists in 1607 and, according to Smith, saved his life after he'd been taken prisoner by her father's men.  Smith returned to England in 1609 and Pocahontas married settler John Rolfe. She died in England three years later, on March 21, 1617.  

Records say the church was built roughly a year after Britain's King James sent a crew of around 100 men, including Captain John Smith, to establish an outpost 40 miles upriver from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay.  The men were supposed to be primarily seeking a profit, not Christian converts. The church's exact location had perplexed Jamestown scholars for years.

The 60-foot-long walls and thatch roof of the church are all gone now, but excavators found a row of graves in what would have been the church's chancel, an area near the altar where prominent Anglicans traditionally are buried.  Mr. Kelso, director of archaeology at Historic Jamestowne, a nonprofit organization that oversees excavations, believes this proves they've found the church.
The only previous evidence of a church consisted of remains of a later church, built in 1617 near the eastern wall of the fort.  However, this summer's find proves Captain Smith's men planted their first church in the center of the compound, the first and largest structure anyone would notice after passing through the fort's entrance.  Next spring, forensic anthropologists will exhume the row of chancel graves, which might contain the remains of either the fort's first minister or Sir Ferdinando Wenman, a knight who arrived in 1610 to aid the colony's historic turnaround.


Early humans exhibited sharp tool-making skills


In our next story, which comes out of Africa, researchers reveal that early humans were, indeed, among the sharpest tools in the bag.  Or at least had the sharpest tools!  Humans were creating sharp, delicate stone weapons more than 50,000 years sooner than previously thought.  The clever technique is known as pressure flaking.  Early weapons makers typically used hard blows from a stone hammer to give another stone a rough blade-like shape, then would use wood or bone implements to chip out relatively small flakes, refining the blade's edge and tip.  When done correctly, pressure flaking can provide a high degree of control over the sharpness, thickness and overall shape of a tools such as spearheads and stone knives.  

Pressure flaking has long been considered a fairly recent innovation, with the earliest examples seen roughly 20,000 years ago in the Solutrean culture in France and Spain.  However, researchers say Blombos Cave in South Africa yielded what seem to be 75,000-year-old spearheads made by anatomically modern humans using pressure flaking.  In addition to these razor-sharp points, the site yielded other evidence of modern human behavior including shell beads.  These finds link to the so-called Still Bay industry, a Middle Stone Age tool-manufacturing style adopted roughly 76,000 years ago and lasting about 4,000 years.  

The stone points were made of silcrete, or quartz grains cemented by silica, which needs to be heat-treated before pressure flaking.  Paola Villa, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, and her colleagues analyzed microscopic details of 159 silcrete points and fragments, 179 retouched pieces and more than 700 flakes in Blombos Cave from the Still Bay industry.  The removal of flakes from unheated silcrete produces scar surfaces with a rough, dull texture.  The surfaces of silcrete treated with heat show a smooth, glossy appearance.  
Researchers concluded that at least half of the ancient, finished points at Blombos Cave involved pressure flaking with heat-treated silcrete.  Villa and her colleagues speculate that pressure flaking originated in Africa and then spread from the continent when Homo sapiens migrated out about 60,000 years ago.

 French King’s blood squashed in gourd


In our final story, researchers in Spain suspect that a gourd dating back to the French Revolution may contain the blood of Louis XVI, collected shortly after he was guillotined in 1793.  The gourd, originally used to store gunpowder, is extensively decorated on the outside with a flame tool.  Burned into its surface is the text: "Maximilien Bourdaloue on January 21st, dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Louis XVI after his beheading."

According to Carles Lalueza-Fox, a researcher at Spain's Institute of Evolutionary Biology, contemporaneous accounts of the execution explain that there was a lot of blood on the scaffold after the beheading and  many people dipped their handkerchiefs in it.  While storing blood or body parts in a decorated squash might seem unusual today, Lalueza-Fox says it would not have been for the time.  A gunpowder gourd was an acceptable receptacle to preserve something valuable, suggesting that the gourds were long-lasting, common containers during the 18th Century in France.

The handkerchief is now missing from the gourd, but the team determined through biochemical testing that the brownish substance on the interior of the dried squash was dried blood.  Lalueza-Fox, recalling the king had blue eyes, got the idea of looking for the blue eyes mutation within the dried blood's DNA.  The scientists found this mutation.  

The researchers also analyzed other aspects of the blood's genetics.  These revealed that the DNA profile found inside the gourd is extremely rare in modern Eurasians, suggesting that it may derive from a royal bloodline.  Lalueza-Fox notes that to prove the blood belonged to the King, it would be necessary to compare the findings to known physical remains of Louis or his relatives.  As luck would have it, a heart located in a royal French crypt is believed to belong to the king's son, Louis XVII, who died when he was just 10 years old.  The heart, cut from the young boy's tumor-ridden body, was pickled after death and may be suitable for comparing with the blood found in the gourd.  

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