Audio news from January 23rd through the 30th, 2011.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from January 23rd through the 30th, 2011.
“Long Wall” excavated in Vietnam
Our first story this week is from Vietnam, where, in the mountain foothills of a remote province in the central region, one of the country's most important archaeological discoveries in a century recently revealed itself. After five years of exploration and excavation, a team of archaeologists has uncovered a 127-kilometer wall, dubbed by locals "Vietnam's Great Wall.” Built of alternating sections of stone and earth, with some sections reaching a height of up to four meters, the wall is the longest monument in Southeast Asia.
In 2005, Dr. Andrew Hardy, associate professor and head of the Hanoi branch of French School of Asian Studies, found an unusual reference to a "Long Wall of Quang Ngai" in an 1885 document compiled by the Nguyen Dynasty court entitled, “Descriptive Geography of the Emperor Dong Khanh.” Intrigued, Hardy and Dr. Nguyen Tien Dong, an archaeologist at the Institute of Archaeology at the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, began a major project to locate an unearth this great structure.
After 5 years, they discovered the wall, which reaches from northern Quang Ngai Province south into the province of Binh Dinh. It is the greatest engineering feat of the Nguyen Dynasty.
Construction of the Long Wall started in 1819 under the direction of Le Van Duyet, a high-ranking mandarin serving Emperor Gia Long. Despite the nickname referencing the Great Wall of China, the Vietnam Wall is more like Hadrian's Wall, the Roman-era wall on the border of England and Scotland. Like Hadrian's Wall, the Quang Ngai wall lies along the route of a pre-existing road.
Researchers have identified more than 50 ancient forts, established to maintain security and levy taxes, along its length. Evidence suggests many of the forts, markets and temples built along the road are much older than the wall itself. Apparently, the wall served to distinguish territory and to regulate trade and travel between the Viet in the plains and the Hrê tribes in the mountain valleys. Research also suggests the Viet and the Hrê built the wall cooperatively. According to historians, the wall's construction was in the interests of both communities, and inhabitants on both sides tell stories about how their respective ancestors built it to protect their territory from invasion by the other side.
Watchtowers in Portugal established after Roman Civil War
In Portugal, archaeologists are exploring a system of 24 hilltop watchtowers set up in the aftermath of a Roman civil war.
Joey Williams, of the University at Buffalo, is co-leading the project along with archaeologist Rui Mataloto of the Câmara Municipal de Redondo. The work began 10 years ago when Mataloto surveyed the watchtowers, recording their features and began investigating the artifacts found on the surface. Later he teamed up with Williams to excavate one of them, a 9 x 5 meter tower named Caladinho.
According to Williams, the civil war that preceded the tower building was malicious. In this region between 82 BC and 70 BC, there was a breakaway Roman Republic where a Roman political leader named Quintus Sertorius mutinied. He traveled to Iberia returning with masses of disgruntled Romans. They created a shadow senate and challenged Sulla, the dictator of Rome, for control of the area.
In the beginning, the rebels fended off Rome’s forces, imposing heavy casualties. Pompey, the Roman general later defeated by Caesar, reportedly lost 10,000 men in a single battle. He did not give up, ultimately refortifying with more troops and supplies. Meanwhile Sertorius faced dissention from within. In the midst of the campaigning season, his Italian officers turned against him; inviting him to a banquet, and treacherously murdering him.
With the death of Sertorius, the rebellion faded, and in 61 BC, Julius Caesar took over the region. Seeking military glory to advance his career, he raised a third legion and launched a campaign against the tribal groups in the area, plundering even those towns that opened their gates to him. The 24 watchtowers were set up at some point in the mid 1st century BC, about the time the civil war ended and Caesar’s period of governance began.
Caladinho, the tower currently under excavation, is located on top of a ridge and overlooks plains to the north and west. To function efficiently as a watchtower it would have been at least four meters tall. To the west of the tower, the team discovered the remains of a wall measuring one meter thick by two meters tall. The wall is characteristically Roman in that it incorporates defensive aspects of the landscape, but more work is required to determine if the wall actually surrounds the watchtower.
The team has uncovered examples of artifacts not generally associated with Roman soldiers, such as 52 loom weights, used for weaving. This suggests that the Romans used Caladinho for much more than military surveillance. The simplest explanation of why Roman soldiers would be doing so much weaving is that the Romans had many clothes to make and repair. The Roman army had to be largely self-sufficient while working in the field. Another possibility is that the inhabitants of this tower were not Roman soldiers but were in fact civilians living in a fortified location.
Researchers also found the remains of fine red Roman pottery. One piece bears the name A. Vibius Scrofula, a name commonly seen on pottery produced in Arezzo between 40 – 15 BC. More examples bear a stamp by the potter Dareus who was active in Lyon between 30 – 20 BC.
The team also took time to survey a nearby Roman villa, constructed about the time the fort fell out of use. Excavators found an immense amount of slag at the villa along with ceramic, brick, tile, window glass, column bases and statuary. Williams believes that this slag may be the key to understanding what was going on at the watchtowers with the material found in them. It is possible that they were involved in mining operations and, with the local inhabitants not being very friendly, the Romans chose to base these mining operations in hilltop watchtowers.
Greek graves reveal Macedonian women and warriors
Now we go to northern Greece, where archaeologists at Pella report that they have exposed another 37 burials dating from the late Iron Age to the early Hellenistic period, circa 650-280 BC, bringing the total number of burials to 1,004.
Pella was capital of ancient Macedonia starting around 410 BC. Investigation of the 20-hectare cemetery site has been ongoing since the summer of 2000, when excavators discovered the first warrior burials containing gold-decorated armor, weapons and many other funerary gifts indicative of high rank and social status.
To date, with only about 5 percent of the site excavated, researchers have identified graves from the Late Iron Age and the Archaic period, as well as Classical and early Hellenistic times.
The burial site contains the remains of men, women and children buried with diverse collections of grave goods indicating Macedonian culture had already attained a high level of development some two centuries before the time of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. Of the latest group, six graves belonged to the Late Iron Age, 650-580 BC and contained a variety of ceramic vases and metal objects.
Thirty-one burials date to the Classical and Hellenistic periods of the 5th-3rd century BC. Sixteen of these graves belonged to Macedonian noble men and women buried with unique collections of personal and precious items, including iron weapons, jewelry, ceramic busts, amber beeds, knucklebones and gilded bronze wreaths of myrtle. Excavators found the cremated remains of one young female in a ceramic box beside gold, silver and iron jewelry, a gold mouthpiece, and a unique miniature glass amphora intended for perfume.
Particularly remarkable are the graves of nine male warriors, including one that dates to 650 BC. This burial indicates heroic status since archaeologists found a bronze helmet adorned with gold strips,; iron sword with a gold-covered handle, a golden ring, gold hand coverings decorated with impressed spirals and gorgons, and gold shoe covers decorated with golden strands. Additionally this grave contained iron models of a two-wheeled farm cart, furniture and roasting spits.
Ancient toolkit forces new look at when modern humans came “Out of Africa”
In our final story, a new study shows that artifacts unearthed in the United Arab Emirates date back 100,000 years, suggesting modern humans first left Africa much earlier than researchers had expected.
In light of their excavation, an international team of researchers believes that humans could have arrived on the Arabian Peninsula as early as 125,000 years ago, coming directly from Africa rather than passing through the Nile Valley or the Near East, as suggested in the past.
The timing and dispersal of modern humans out of Africa has been the source of long-standing debate, though most evidence has pointed to a migration along the Mediterranean Sea or along the Arabian coast approximately 60,000 years ago.
The team, including lead author Simon Armitage from Royal Holloway, University of London, discovered an ancient human toolkit at the Jebel Faya archaeological site in the United Arab Emirates. Researchers say it resembles technology used by early humans in east Africa, but not the artisanship that emerged from the Middle East. This toolkit includes relatively primitive hand-axes along with a variety of scrapers and perforators, and its contents imply that technological innovation was not necessary for early humans to migrate onto the Arabian Peninsula.
Armitage arrived at the age of the stone tools using a technique known as luminescence dating and determined the artifacts to be about 100,000 to 125,000 years old. According to Armitage, these “anatomically modern” humans, like you and me, evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago and subsequently populated the rest of the world. The findings should motivate a re-evaluation of the means by which the modern humans became a global species.
The team also analyzed sea level and climate-change records for the region during the last interglacial period, approximately 130,000 years ago. They determined that the Bab al-Mandab Strait, which separates Arabia from the Horn of Africa, would have narrowed due to lower sea levels, allowing safe passage prior to and at the beginning of that last interglacial period. In that era, the Arabian Peninsula was much wetter than today with greater vegetation cover and a network of lakes and rivers. Such landscape would have allowed early humans access into Arabia and then into the Fertile Crescent and India, according to the researchers.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!