Audio News for May 22nd to May 29th, 2011.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from May 22nd to May 29th, 2011.

Early battle site in Germany is from the Bronze Age


Our first story is from Germany, where fractured human remains found on a riverbank could provide the first persuasive evidence of a major Bronze Age battle. Excavations of the Tollense Valley in the northern region of the country unearthed fractured skulls, wooden clubs and horse remains dating from around 1200 BC. Investigation of the Tollense Valley site began in 2008, and involved both excavations on the riverbank and underwater surveys of the riverbed. Excavators found the remains of around 100 human bodies, most of them young men. Eight had damage to their bones that indicate pre-mortem trauma. The injuries indicate face-to-face combat, with skull damage from two sources, direct blows and arrowheads.

In several cases the injuries appear to have been fatal. Other evidence of injuries in the bones include an upper arm bone containing an arrowhead embedded over 2 centimeters, or about an inch, into the bone, and a thighbone fracture that suggests a fall from a horse. The archaeologists also found remains of two wooden clubs, one the shape of a baseball bat made of ash, the second the shape of a mallet and made of sloe wood. According to Dr. Harald Lubke, from the Centre for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology in Germany, the evidence points to a major battle site, perhaps the earliest found to date.

At the beginning of the Neolithic, finds like Talheim in Germany show evidence of violence, but not on the order of the recent find in the Tollense, with its large number of people involved. The location and type of materials suggest that the violence occurred immediately before the victims died, and that their bodies were not buried. The archaeologists found no pottery, ornaments or stones suggesting formal graves or burial rituals. Many of the bones were transported some distance by the river, although some finds are in their original position. It is possible that the bodies were dumped in the river, then washed along it some distance before being deposited on a sandbar.

Dr. Lubke believes the real conflict took place further up the river, and that the bodies found represent just a fraction of the deaths from the battle. Finding the place where the bodies came into the water will clarify if it really was a battle or something else, such as an offering, but a fight is the best explanation at the moment. Other evidence in the site includes signs of millet in the diet, which was not typical of Northern Germany at the time, and thus suggests the presence of invaders. Bronze pins of a Silesian design were also found, showing contact with the Silesian region 400 kilometers to the southeast.

Human remains in Mayan sinkholes were sacrificial offerings


In Mexico, archaeologists exploring a sinkhole cave, or cenote, at Chichen Itza (chee-CHEN eet-ZAH) in the Yucatan Peninsula discovered a funerary offering consisting of six human bones, as well as vessels, jade beads, knives and other artifacts. According to a statement by the National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH (EE-Nah), these would have been offerings made to bring rain, part of rituals performed in the 9th and 10th centuries AD, at a time when the Maya had suffered two severe droughts. The objects were positioned carefully at the bottom of a flooded cave linked by a 25-meter-long tunnel to a cenote near the Kukulkan pyramid.

It is probable the bones, which represent at least six individuals, were victims sacrificed during rituals to end water shortages. At the bottom of the cenote, at a depth of about 50 meters, archaeologists found bones from another 20 individuals, and more than 100 animal bones, ceramic objects and sculptures, most notably one of a standard-bearer with features similar to a jaguar. Another figure is similar to the faces that appear on the Tlaloc-type vessels found at the Balankanche network of sacred caves, also in the Yucatan Peninsula. According to marine archaeologist Guillermo de Anda, who has worked in the area for the past four years, these types of funerary offerings, which have been found in five cenotes in the Yucatan, indicate a ceremonial practice that was recently identified and is being studied. It is clear from the placement, he noted, that the victims were placed along the walls of the cenote, not thrown from the surface.

Snake-like robot camera surveys small tunnels in Egypt’s Great Pyramid


Next we go to Egypt where a robot has revealed ancient markings inside a chamber at the Great Pyramid of Giza. Filmed with a camera small enough to fit through a hole in a stone door at the end of a narrow tunnel, the markings lay unseen for 4,500 years. These may shed light on why the tiny chamber was built, along with its tunnel, which is one of several unexplained passages leading from the larger King and Queen's chambers. The markings are hieroglyphic symbols in red paint as well as lines in the stone possibly made by masons during construction of the chamber. According to Peter Der Manuelian, the Philip J. King Professor of Egyptology at Harvard University, there are similar lines elsewhere in Giza. Sometimes they identify the crew who built the room, or give a construction date, and sometimes they give guidelines to mark cuttings or directional symbols about the beginning or end of a block.

According to Der Manuelian, the purpose of these tunnels is the big question. Hypotheses include architectural functions, symbolic explanations, and religious meaning. The challenge is that no human can fit inside them, so the only way to do the exploration is with robots. The robot explorer that took the images is named Djedi, after the magician whom Pharaoh Khufu consulted when planning the layout of the Great Pyramid. Although robots have previously sent back pictures from within the pyramid's tunnels, Djedi is an advanced robot called a micro-snake camera, which can explore the walls and floors in detail, rather than just taking pictures looking straight ahead. The Djedi camera also scrutinized two copper pins embedded in the door to the chamber at the end of the tunnel. The purpose of these pins has been debated for over 20 years, with suggestions ranging from use as handles, or keys, to even being a kind of ancient electrical power plant, and the new pictures from behind the pins will allow a better test of these theories. The team's next undertaking is to look at the chamber's far wall to determine whether it is a solid block of stone, or another door.

Pre-Incan site is from the Yumbo culture


Our final story is from Ecuador, where archaeologists are researching an archaeological site near Quito with remains of an pre-Incan civilization that lasted from AD 800 to 1660.  The new excavations at the site of Tulipe will start during summer 2011. Tulipe has already produced some 2,000 pyramids and mounds, but the new focus will be directed at a complex consisting of 8 “piscinas” (pee-SEE-nas), low-lying or sunken stone structures containing water, and several pyramids and artificial mounds called "tolas" (TOH-las).  

These remains are thought to be the work of the Yumbo people, a group with a well-developed agricultural system, and a system of ancient roads that supported an impressive trade and communication network between the settlements in the mountain areas and those of the coast. The tolas are approximately 65 feet high, made of earth and a mix of other materials. Some feature steps or ramps. Their purpose is thought to have been both ceremonial and domestic. The piscinas, which are polygonal or semicircular in shape, are thought to have had some astronomical and religious significance. They have interconnected channels for transporting water, but the details of their function and meaning continues to perplex scholars and scientists.   

According to excavation director Nicholas Ntovas, both the early Spanish chroniclers and the later historians ignored the ruins. The extensive architecture, however, as well as the site’s location along a trade route between the Andes and Amazon to the east, and the Pacific coast to the west, point to a people who were both important and advanced. The Yumbos are thought to have had peaceful relations internally and with their neighbors, as no traces of weapons or wars have been found. The arrival of the Incas in AD 1400 changed the world in which the Yumbo people lived, but according to archaeologists and historians, their arrival had only limited effect, unlike the fate of other cultures during the time of the Inca conquest. The presence of the Incas did not change the Yumbo culture. They quickly learned the conqueror's language, products and needs, thus becoming a trading partner with the Incas. 

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