Audio News for May 30th to June 4th, 2011.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from May 30th to June 4th, 2011.


Eastern Ontario site reveals ancient human activity

Source: 9861

Our first story is from Canada, where archaeologists have discovered a site of human activity on the South Nation River in Eastern Ontario dating from between 3,500 and 9,000 years ago. It is only one of a half-dozen sites in Eastern Ontario considered to be reliable evidence of human presence during that time period.

According to Paul Thibaudeau (Thee BAH dough), an adjunct professor at Carleton University, the spot may have been a temporary hunting and animal-skinning camp, as his team has found more than 7000 items including small stone tools used in skinning, remnants of tools, and waste from the tool making process. The South Nation River, thought to have remained unchanged since the disappearance of the ancient Champlain Sea some 10,000 years ago, has always been a human transportation route.

Thibaudeau knew he was onto something when one of his team found what appeared to be a piece of glass but turned out to be a crystal quartz “end scraper.” Many of the team’s finds are made of stone from southern Ontario, western New York State, Pennsylvania and Northern Quebec, confirming earlier discoveries that migratory people hunting and fishing in Eastern Ontario participated in a vast trading network. Thibaudeau says there is nothing to indicate the people belonged to any First Nation group that is recognizable today.

The dig consists of two separate locations more than a hundred meters apart. One closer to the river has revealed mostly quartz stone tools, while another overlooking a floodplain has delivered mostly chert, a stone that breaks easily into sharp edges. The inhabitants apparently used the stones as scrapers, arrowheads and in woodworking.

Other researchers in Eastern Ontario have found lanceolate points on islands in the St. Lawrence River near Cornwall, which date back at least 8,000 years. Other archaeologists in the 1960s found 6000-year-old copper artifacts, including harpoon heads, in the area around Western Lake Superior and on islands near Pembroke in the Ottawa River.


Second largest prehistoric English mound dates back 4400 years


Next we go to England where scientists have revealed that a hill at Marlborough College is a prehistoric monument of international importance. After thorough excavations, researchers have dated the Marlborough mound to approximately 2400 BC, making it roughly the same era as the nearby, and far better known, Silbury Hill. Locals call the site "Silbury's little sister,” after the more famous artificial hill on the outskirts of Avebury, which is the largest manmade prehistoric hill in Europe.

Historians previously thought that Marlborough mound dated back to Norman times and believed it to be the base of a castle built 50 years after the Norman invasion and later landscaped as a 17th-century garden feature. Four samples of charcoal taken from the core of the 19 meter-high hill indicate the builders constructed it at a time when British tribes were combining labor on ritual monuments in the chalk downlands of Wiltshire, including Stonehenge and the huge ditches and stone circle of Avebury. Generations of workers constructed both it and Silbury Hill over a period of many years. Marlborough, at two-thirds the height of Silbury, now becomes the second largest prehistoric mound in Britain; it may yet be confirmed as the second largest in Europe.

Pre-Spanish Inca battleground uncovered in Ecuador


In Ecuador, fortresses built some 500 years ago at the foot of an extinct volcano reveal evidence of a war fought by the Inca just before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the Andes.

According to project director Samuel Connell, of Foothill College in California, the sites provide evidence for a pre-Columbian frontier, or borderline that existed between Incan and Ecuadorian fortresses. The team has identified 20 fortresses built by the Inca and two forts built by a people known as the Cayambe of Ecuador.

The discoveries suggest a ring of truth to stories Spanish chroniclers told when they made their way into South America during the 16th and 17th centuries. According to the “History of the Inca Empire” by the 17th century Spanish missionary Bernabe Cobo, the Cayambes withdrew from an open battlefield after finding that their forces were not sufficient to face the Inca. They then made strongholds in a very large fortress. The Inca laid siege to the fortress and bombarded it continuously; but the men inside resisted so bravely that they forced the Inca to raise the siege. Finally, after many battles, the Inca succeeded in driving the Cayambe out of their strongholds and onto the shores of a lake and executed them.

The newly discovered stone fortresses contain platforms called ushnus, and are located on ridges about 3,000 meters above the ground. The site of the Quitoloma fortress has well over 100 structures for people living inside. Inca weaponry fills the structures. For instance, researchers found numerous sling stones stored in these houses as if they were lying in wait for the enemy to attack, or were about to storm down the hill.

The Cayambe built the newly discovered forts from a hard volcanic material. One of the forts shows evidence of a battle. Archeologists discovered two types of ammunition, sling stones and bola stones outside its walls. Both forts housed pottery designed using Ecuadorian rather than Incan styles.

More excavation is required to sort out the full story of these fortresses, but so far, the team has found no evidence of post-conflict slaughter at the Cayambe sites. Cayambe pottery continued to be used in the region, suggesting that their culture carried on, at least on some level. It could be that some peoples decided after many years of resistance and warfare to simply lay down their arms or become allies with the Inca. There certainly would have been a motivation for an alliance. In the decades after the war, large numbers of Spanish penetrated into Ecuador and Peru. Smallpox ravaged the local population and the Inca found themselves fighting an enemy equipped with gunpowder. Against these pressures, they fell back, with their last stronghold at Vilcabamba falling in 1572.

Teutonic Crusaders changed forests to farmlands


Our final story is from Poland, where in 1280, triumphant Teutonic Crusaders began building the world’s largest castle on a hill overlooking the River Nogat. Malbork Castle became the center of a powerful Teutonic state that crushed its pagan enemies and helped remake Medieval Europe. Now, ancient pollen samples show that in addition to converting heathens to Christianity, the Crusaders also converted vast swathes of medieval forests to farmlands.

In the early-13th century, Prussian tribes living in the southeastern Baltic became the bane of the Monastic State of Teutonic Knights, which was formed in 1224 in what is now Germany and Poland. To remove the problem, and protect Christian converts in the region, the Teutonic Order launched a series of crusades. According to a study by Alex Brown and Aleks Pluskowski of the University of Reading, by the 14th century, the conquests had produced a state that reigned over more than 220,000 people, including new colonists who settled into fortified towns and castles.

To understand how these historic shifts changed Europe’s environment, past researchers have relied on hints from old maps and papers, such as those showing how much timber or stone a wealthy Knight used to build his castle. Brown and Pluskowski, however, turned to a different kind of historical record: the pollen grains trapped in the layers of mud that line bodies of water. By analyzing changes in the pollen, researchers can reconstruct everything from past climates to landscape changes.

In this case, the researchers looked at pollen taken from what was once Malbork Castle’s outer protective moat, an old fishpond north of the castle, and peat deposits. They noticed that tree pollen began to decline noticeably starting in the mid-11th century. Gradually pollen from herbaceous plants and then cereal crops replaced the tree pollen. The 12th/13th to 15th centuries witnessed a fundamental change in the nature of the vegetation landscape and land-use of Malbork, from one dominated by deciduous woodland, with only limited evidence for human impact, to an increasingly open landscape with evidence for intensive cultivation of cereals, particularly rye, with pastureland. Other research, however, suggests the Teutonic Knights also were careful to preserve at least some nearby forest, which provided game animals and other resources.

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