Audio News for November 7th to November 13th, 2010.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from November 7th to November 13th, 2010.

Robot underground explorer is first in Mexican archaeology


Come with us to Mexico, were the first robotic exploration of a pre-Hispanic ruin revealed a 2,000-year-old tunnel under a temple at the famed Teotihuacan ruins.  The tunnel has a perfectly carved-arch roof and seems stable enough to enter.  Archaeologists guided the remote-controlled, camera-equipped vehicle into the 4-meter wide corridor to see if it was safe for researchers.  

The 30-centimeter wide robot, named "Tlaloque 1" (tlal-OH-kay One) after the Aztec rain god, sent back grainy footage of a narrow, open space left after the tunnel was intentionally closed off between AD 200 and 250 and filled with debris nearly to the roof.  According to archaeologist Sergio Gomez, the recording showed the arched-roof tunnel was an example of sophisticated work by the ancient inhabitants of Teotihuacan, located just north of Mexico City.  At a length of over 100 meters, the entire passage is skillfully excavated, and in some places, tool marks from the original construction are visible.  Researchers hope the tunnel may lead to burial chambers.  The team hopes to clear the debris blocking the tunnel's mouth and enter the passageway by late November or early December.

Robots have been used in exploration in Egypt where, in 2002, another robotic vehicle discovered a hidden door and chamber in the Great Pyramid built by the pharaoh Khufu more than 4,000 years ago.  However, the National Institute of Anthropology and History, said “Tlaoque 1" was the first robotic exploration in Mexico and the Americas.   

The mouth of the passageway was reached in July after a year’s excavation.  Ground-penetrating scanner images had revealed it and also showed that the passageway lies 12 meters below the surface, and runs beneath the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, in the central ceremonial area of the ruins.  The scanner images show what looks like chambers that branch off the tunnel, possibly tombs of some of the ancient city's early rulers.  A tomb discovery would be significant, as the social structure of Teotihuacan remains a mystery after nearly 100 years of archaeological exploration at the site, best known for the towering Pyramids of the Moon and the Sun.  Yet to be found is any depiction of a ruler, or the tomb of a monarch, which sets the city apart from other pre-Hispanic cultures that openly venerated their rulers.  However, archaeologists have found rich offerings in the mouth of the tunnel, including almost 50,000 objects made of jade, stone, shell and pottery, including ceramic beakers of a kind never found before at the site.  

Teotihuacan is a multiplex of pyramids, plazas, temples and avenues that was once the center of a city of more than 100,000 people, and may have been the largest and most influential city in pre-Hispanic North America at the time.  But nearly 2,500 years after the city was founded, and about 2,100 years after the Teotihuacan culture began to flourish there, the identity of its rulers remains a mystery. The city was abandoned by the time the Aztecs arrived in the area in the 1300s and gave it the name "Teotihuacan," which means "the place where men become gods."

DNA reveals early German farmers had Fertile Crescent forebears


Now we go to Germany where DNA evidence suggests that immigrants from the ancient Near East brought farming to the hunter-gatherers of Europe.  A genetic study of ancient DNA, published in PLoS Biology, adds vital evidence to the long-running debate about the introduction of farming to Europe's societies almost 8000 years ago.  

In an international project, a research team led by scientists at Australia's University of Adelaide has compared ancient DNA from the remains of Early Neolithic farmers at a burial site in central Germany with a large genetic database of European and Eurasian populations.  They found that these early farmers had a specific genetic signature that suggests significant ancestry from the Near East around the time of the inception of farming.  Referred to as the Fertile Crescent, the Near East includes modern-day Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.  

According to Professor Alan Cooper, director of the Centre for Ancient DNA, the ground-breaking component of this study was the addition of ancient DNA. Previously researchers could only use genetic data from modern populations to examine ancient relatedness.  Using the new high-precision ancient DNA analysis, researchers were also able to determine a possible migration route the farmers took from the Near East and Anatolia into Central Europe.  

Farming first originated about 11,000 years ago in the Near East and then spread across Europe during the Neolithic period.  Whether this wave of change was carried by incoming farmers, or consisted simply of the transmission of innovative ideas and techniques, remains a hot debate in archaeology, anthropology, and human population genetics.  Study leader Dr Wolfgang Haak is the genographic project senior research associate at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide.  According to Haak, these latest findings might not completely settle the debate on the origins of farming in Europe, but they would push it in a certain direction.  Haak is eager to see other research teams build on this study, building a picture about this transitional period in other regions and helping to put the pieces of the puzzle together globally.  

Meanwhile, Haak and colleagues want to discover how communities in this region in central Germany evolved over the next 3000 to 4000 years leading up to the Bronze Age.  The project involved researchers from the University of Mainz and State Heritage Museum in Halle, Germany, the Russian Academy of Sciences, and members of the National Geographic Society's Genographic Project.

Drought in Amazon reveals ancient rock art


In Brazil, a series of ancient underwater etchings has been uncovered near the jungle city of Manaus, following a drought in the Brazilian Amazon.  The previously submerged images, engraved on rocks and possibly up to 7,000 years old, were found last month after the Rio Negro, a tributary of the Amazon River; fell to its lowest level in more than 100 years.  Though water levels are now rising again, partly covering the apparent Stone Age etchings, local researchers photographed them before they began to disappear under the river's waters.  

Archaeologists who have studied the photographs believe the art, featuring images of faces and snakes, is additional evidence that thousands of years ago the Amazon was already home to large civilizations.  According to Eduardo Neves, president of the Brazilian Society of Archaeology and a leading Amazon scholar, the etchings were likely created between 3,000 and 7,000 years ago when water levels in the region were lower.  Neve’s research challenges the idea that the Amazon has always been relatively empty.  In many parts of the Amazon, there is now proof of settlements, and a growing number of archaeologists studying the Amazon have begun revising previous theories that the rainforest was too inhospitable to host a major civilization.  

The traditional account of the Amazon basin is that it was inhabited by very small, often nomadic indigenous communities.  The growing proof of incredible pottery, large villages and well-used roads leading from one place to another has now contradicted the older theory.  However, with soy farmers, loggers and urban settlements advancing into the rain forest, cataloguing and preserving ancient Amazon sites has become a race against time.  Archaeologists are particularly concerned about the imminent inauguration of a 2.2-mile bridge across the Rio Negro connecting Manaus with Iranduba.  The area is home to numerous archaeological sites, where ancient ceramics and burial urns have been found.  Neves hopes the latest find would boost efforts to preserve the rainforest and its ancient secrets.

Inscriptions of Ramses bring Saudia Arabia into orbit of ancient Egypt


Our journey today ends in Saudi Arabia, where the discovery of a hieroglyphic engraving suggests that the ancient Egyptian empire extended further than previously thought.  Archaeologists from the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, or SCTA, have discovered what is believed to be the first ever ancient Egyptian royal artifact to be unearthed in the country.  

The rock engraving bears a dual cartouche of Pharaoh Ramses III, and was found at the northern town of Tabuk in Taima (TIE-ma) Oasis, some 300 miles north of Medina.  Ramses III, a Pharaoh of the 20th Dynasty, ruled from 1185 to 1153 BC.  The discovery was made during routine excavations conducted at several sites in the Saudi kingdom to establish relationships with other civilizations in different historical periods.  Taima is the largest archaeological site in the kingdom and the Arabian Peninsula.  The remains at the oasis date as far back as the Bronze Age.  Taima is mentioned in ancient texts dating from the eighth century BC.  

Last year, excavators found a fragment of a cuneiform text linking the city to Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon, who ruled from 556-539 BC.  According to Ali Ibrahim Al-Ghaban, vice- president of antiquities and museums at the SCTA, initial studies have uncovered evidence that the direct trade route used during the reign of Ramses III connected Taima to the Nile Valley.  The area was famous for incense, copper, gold and silver, which were in demand in ancient Egypt for religious ceremonies and in the production of jewelry and funerary objects.  The trade route started in the Nile Valley and passed through what is today the port of Suez, where inscriptions of Ramses III have been found.  It then crossed the Sinai Peninsula, passing through Wadi Abu Ghada and Nakhl Oasis, where there was another cartouche of Ramses III.  

Discovering the route is a turning point in studying the routes of civilization between Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula.  Researchers are expecting more cartouches of Ramses III and other ancient Egyptian rulers to turn up along the trade route.  According to Ahmed Said, professor of the ancient Egyptian civilization at the Antiquities Department of Cairo University, next to the newly discovered cartouche was a Thamudi text with drawings of the Arabian moon god Capricorn.  

Said suggests that there could be three reasons for finding a cartouche like this in the area.  First, it suggests that Ramses III may have gone towards the east to build trade bridges to replace its alliance with northern countries threatened by the appearance of the sea people and their attacks on Egypt.  Second, it could indicate individual transport, and that Egyptians who travelled to Taima drew a cartouche to pay homage to their gods.  Third, it could represent a royal journey, with the Pharaoh engraving his logo to reconcile with the principle god of the region.  Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, explained that Egypt extended its empire outside its boundaries during the 18th, 19th and 20th dynasties, an era known as Egypt's golden age.  Hawass has expressed his willingness to help the SCTA in restoring the new find and excavating more sites.

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