Audio News for November 28th to December 4th, 2010.  

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from November 28th to December 4th, 2010.

Battlefield exposes first use of firearms in Britain


Our first story is from Britain, where archaeologists believe they have found evidence of the first use of firearms on a British battlefield.  Fragments of shattered guns were unearthed on a site that saw one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on English soil.  A metal detection expert, working closely with a team trying to unlock the secrets of the 1461 battle of Towton, in Yorkshire, northern England, discovered bronze barrel fragments and ancient lead shot.  

The battle, a fight over the throne between Lancastrian King Henry VI and England's first Yorkist king, Edward IV during the Wars of the Roses, is historically one of the bloodiest ever fought on the island.  Historical records suggest the military used cannon-like guns at Towton, but no one has found any evidence of it until now.  Laboratory analysis of the barrel fragments showed that they belonged to two separate guns.  The results confirm lead archaeologist Tim Sutherland's view that the crudely cast guns, likely needing a pole for support when fired, exploded because of the cold as the battle raged during a snowstorm.  

The discovery of a lead ball with an iron core is also highly significant, being the earliest amalgamated lead bullet known in Europe.  Acknowledged accounts say the 10-hour conflict fought in a blizzard between the Yorkist and Lancastrian armies ended with the massacre of 28,000 men.  However, Sutherland believes the figure is a gross exaggeration and that Edward IV used it for propaganda for political ends.  Mass graves of soldiers found in 1996 and recently in the center of the battlefield suggest only three or four thousand died during the engagement.

Coca leaves popular for 8000 years


Next, we journey to Peru, where archaeological evidence indicated that foraging societies were chewing coca leaves 8,000 years ago, 3,000 years earlier than previously believed.  Ruins beneath house floors in northwestern Peru showed evidence of chewed coca and calcium-rich rocks.  The inhabitants burned the rocks to create lime and then chewed the lime with coca to release more of active chemicals in the leaves.  

Coca leaves contain a range of chemical compounds known as alkaloids.  The most notable among them is cocaine, extracted and purified by complex chemical means.  However, chewing of coca leaves for medicinal purposes is a pastime at least as old as the Inca civilization.  Other alkaloids within the leaves have mildly stimulating effects, can reduce hunger and aid digestion, and can lessen the effects of high-altitude, low-oxygen environments.  

Tom Dillehay of Vanderbilt University and his team have found evidence both of chewed leaves and of calcium-rich rocks burned and scraped to supply ash for chewing beneath the buried floors of the homes of foraging peoples, where the conditions were favorable to preserve what is normally fleeting, organic remains of a long-gone civilization.  In addition, coca chewing seems to have been limited to a few select households, not widely used through the population.There is international pressure to curb coca production in the Andes because of its association with cocaine, but Dr. Dillehay notes that some have argued that coca chewing is a fairly recent historical tradition, meaning the last several centuries or a thousand years, but  that it is actually a deeply-rooted economic, social and even religious tradition in the Andes.  

Peter Houghton of King's College London, editor of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, calls the Peruvian finds significant in terms of pushing the date back for the first known coca chewing, in particular finding both leaves and calcium-bearing rocks in the same place.  That the consumption appears to have been restricted to few would not be surprising.  The evidence supports the idea that widespread use amongst the people in that part of Peru and Bolivia is a somewhat recent thing; before then it was restricted to a privileged class.

Move over Cleo; There’s a new Female Pharaoh


Move over Cleopatra, there’s a new female pharaoh in town! Queen Arsinoë (Are SIN oh way) II may have ruled ancient Egypt as a female pharaoh, predating Cleopatra by 200 years, according to a thesis written by Maria Nilsson from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.  A unique queen's crown with ancient symbols combined with a new method of studying status in Egyptian reliefs is the foundation for the re-interpretation of developments in Egypt in the period following the death of Alexander the Great.  

Researchers largely agree on Queen Arsinoë II's importance because of her deification.  Placed on a level with the ancient goddesses Isis and Hathor, she was still respected and honored 200 years after her death when her better-known descendant Cleopatra wore the same crown.  
Researchers have never found Arsinoe’s crown, but statues and Egyptian reliefs depict it as a symbol forged to represent the qualities of the queen.  

Nilsson’s thesis questions the traditional royal line that excludes female regents, and defies some researchers' attempts to minimize Arsinoë's importance while she was still alive.  Nilsson's conclusion is that Arsinoë was a female pharaoh and high priestess who was equal to and ruled jointly with her brother and husband, and that she was deified during her actual lifetime.  
According to Nilsson, it was a combination of religion and politics that served as the backbone of her long-lived influence.  But, it was not only Cleopatra who wanted to re-use Arsinoë's important symbolic crown.  Male descendants, all named Ptolemy, used her crown as a template when creating a new crown, which they gave to the goddess Hathor to honor the domestic priesthood and so win its support when Egypt was in the grips of a civil war.  

Farmer destroys Mayan ruins to create a cow pasture


In Mexico, a an ancient Mayan residential complex dating back to 2,300 years ago, was destroyed by a farmer to create more pastureland. According to Julio Castrejon, communications chief of the National Anthropology and History Institute, INAH will act quickly to remedy the situation.  

As a first step, the national coordinating team for judicial and archaeological matters went to the site to prepare a technical report appraising the extent of the damages.  Previous inspections carried out by archaeologists Angel Gongora and Victor Castillo determined that the ancient Mayan settlement, covering one square kilometer, suffered irreversible and irreparable damage because the center core of the settlement was directly affected by bulldozers and heavy equipment.  

Both researchers said that among the rubble left by the earthmoving equipment, they found the remains of walls, roofs and stairways, and a block from a cylindrical column believed to form part of the portico of one of the buildings.  Also toppled and cleared away were seven structures and two altars that stood in the main square.  The largest building was more than 3 meters tall.  

Though at first the owner of the premises, Ricardo Ascencio Maldonado, denied what had happened, he later admitted that he leveled the ground for pastureland.  Maldonado bought the land three months ago and stated no one ever told him it was an archaeological site.

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