Audio News for June 19th to June 25th, 2011.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from June 19th to June 25th, 2011.


Bronze Age fortress in Cyprus shows signs of turbulent times


Our first story is from Cyprus, where researchers have discovered evidence of an ancient Cypriot city well protected from outside threats.  Gisela Walberg, a classical archaeologist at the University of Cincinnati, will present the new results this month at the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Center in Nicosia, Cyprus.

Since 2001, Walberg has carried out fieldwork in modern Cyprus to uncover the ancient city of Bamboula, a Bronze Age city and an important trading center for the Middle East, Egypt and Greece. Bamboula was a prosperous harbor town from the 13th to 10th centuries BC, lying on the southwestern coast of Cyprus near the modern harbor town of Limassol. The area thrived in part because of rich copper deposits in the nearby mountains, that were easily brought down the local river to the port.

Walberg’s latest work at the site revealed the remnants of a Late Bronze Age fortress, from about 1500-750 BC, which may have protected the larger urban center further inland, which was unfortified. The Bamboula fortress’s function was clear from its thick walls, some of them more than four meters, or 12 feet, thick, as well as its strategic location overlooking approaches from the sea, the river, and the mountains. Remains of stairs were also found, leading up to a circular tower-like structure. According to Walberg, the staircase seems to have been destroyed in a violent calamity. The beginning of the Late Bronze Age in Cyprus is a period of major social upheaval, and some of its cemeteries contain what a number of scholars have identified as mass burials. The Bamboula finds are significant because they can help fill in a gap in historical knowledge of this little-known period.

Remote video camera used to peer into deeply buried Mayan tomb


In Mexico, a small, remote-controlled camera lowered into an early Mayan tomb in southern Mexico has revealed an intact funeral chamber with offerings and red-painted wall murals. Film footage of the approximately 1,500-year-old tomb at the Palenque archaeological site showed a series of nine figures depicted in black on a blood-red background. Archaeologists say the images from one of the earliest ruler's tombs found at Palenque will shed new light on the early years of the once-great city-state.

According to the National Institute of Anthropology and History, archaeologists have known about the tomb since 1999, but were unable to enter it because the pyramid standing above it is unstable. Moreover, breaking into the chamber could damage the murals. The camera footage shows a floor that appears to be covered with debris. It is not completely clear whether the tomb contains recognizable human remains. However, archaeologist Martha Cuevas said the jade and shell fragments seen on the video are part of a funerary costume.

The floor of the early period tomb occupies about 5 square meters, with a low, Mayan-arch roof of overlapping stones. A shaft found near the top of the ruined pyramid, leading downward, revealed the tomb's existence. However, it was too narrow to provide any kind of view of the chamber without the use of remote-controlled digital technology. While the public has not seen images of the interior of the tomb, the images have circulated among researchers and were posted on the internet.

The chamber, located within a heavily deteriorated pyramid complex known as the Southern Acropolis, was found in a jungle-covered area of Palenque not far from the Temple of Inscriptions, where the tomb of a later ruler, Pakal, was found in the 1950s. While Pakal's tomb featured a famous and heavily carved sarcophagus, no such structure is seen in the footage of the tomb. The institute said it is very probable that the fragmented bones are lying directly on the stones of the floor. Nevertheless, Cuevas believes the discovery sheds new light on early rulers, and its proximity to other burial sites suggested the tomb may be part of a funerary complex.

Palenque was an important western Maya capital in the Early Classic, but continued building and development, especially by Pakal and some of his successors, buried the works of the earlier rulers, making them quite difficult to access. The later rulers wrote almost obsessively about Palenque's history in long stone inscriptions, but finding archaeological confirmation of the earlier kings has been extremely difficult.

Some evidence suggests the tomb is the burial of a noted female ruler of Palenque named Ix Yohl Ik'nal, based on the date and on the identities of ancestral figures painted on the walls. It would not be the first tomb of a female noble found at Palenque; in 1994 archaeologists found the tomb of a woman dubbed The Red Queen because of the red pigment covering her tomb. But it has never been established that she was a ruler of Palenque, and her tomb dates from a later period, between AD 600 and 700.

Crusader town emerges from under Israeli port


Next we go to one of Israel’s richest archaeological sites: the walled port of Acre. This uniquely intact Crusader city is now being rediscovered under the busy alleys of the Ottoman-era town built over it. Evidence of the city’s bustling medieval life is carved into the plaster of one wall, where a coat of arms was left as a kind of graffiti by a medieval traveler. Nearby are a cobblestoned main street with a row of shops that once sold clay figurines of saints and tiny flasks for holy water, both popular souvenirs for pilgrims. All were last used by residents in 1291, the year a Muslim army from Egypt defeated Acre's Christian garrison and leveled its remains.

The modern city, built by the Ottoman Turks starting around AD 1750, effectively preserved the earlier town, hidden for centuries under the rubble. According to Eliezer Stern, the Israeli archaeologist in charge of Acre, it is like Pompeii, a complete city. In 2001, Acre became Israel's first UNESCO World Heritage site.

Acre has existed for at least 4,500 years, but reached the height of its importance with the Crusader conquest in 1104. Under Christian rule, the city became an unruly trading hub home to combative orders of soldier-monks. European groups that distrusted each other so much they sometimes fought in the streets, rival merchants from cities like Genoa, Venice and Pisa, and small local populations of Jews and Muslims, all shared an enclosed area that at its height was barely the size of two football fields.

A French bishop, Jacques de Vitry, reached Acre after a perilous sea journey in 1216 and was appalled. Acre, according to the bishop, was depraved, with murders taking place regularly, many prostitutes, and residents that included outlaws who had fled their own lands. Thanks to Israeli excavations starting in the 1990s, some remnants of the city that de Vitry knew can already be visited. One is the fortress of the Hospitaller knights, with its pillared dining hall and storerooms, an orderly latrine and a dungeon whose stonewalls still have holes for attaching shackles. Also open is an underground passage constructed by the knights of the rival Templar order, leading from their own fortress to the port. Some may have used this tunnel on the day of Acre’s fall to successfully flee on ships to Europe as their city, and the two-hundred-year-old Crusader kingdom, collapsed around them. Underwater digs in Acre's harbor have revealed sunken fortifications and more than 20 lost ships. The most recent fortress to be found, armed with cannons and special shot used to shred enemy sails, dated to Napoleon Bonaparte's failed siege of the city in 1799.

Because of Acre's importance and the complexity of conducting archaeological work in a living city, the government's Israel Antiquities Authority has made Acre something of a laboratory for conservation work. The authority recently turned an old Ottoman mansion into a conservation center for local and international students. According to Shelley-Anne Peleg, who heads the center and serves as a liaison with local residents, archaeologists have shown clearly that Acre's history cannot be separated from the people who live there. The newly excavated area, part of a Crusader neighborhood, is set to open later this year.

Stone Age finds in Ukraine suggest a more northern migration into Europe


Our final story is from the Ukraine, where newly found ancient remains may represent some of the oldest evidence of modern people in Europe. Archaeologists working at the Buran-Kaya cave site in the Crimean Mountains found 32,000-year-old human bones and teeth, accompanied by tools, ivory ornaments and animal remains. The human bones bear cut marks suggesting they were defleshed as part of a post-mortem ritual.

Archaeologist Dr. Alexander Yanevich, from the National Ukrainian Academy of Science in Kiev, discovered the four Buran-Kaya caves in 1991. Since then, roughly two hundred human bone fragments have been unearthed at the site. Among the shards of human bones and teeth, archaeologists have found ornaments made from ivory, along with the copious remains of animals. The artifacts made by human hands at the site allowed archaeologists to tie the ancient people to a cultural tradition known as the Gravettian. This culture, which spanned the entire European continent, is named after the site of La Gravette in France, where it was first studied.

Archaeologists analyzing the Ukrainian site were able to directly date the human fossils using radiocarbon techniques. The shape and form of the remains told the scientists they were dealing with modern humans or Homo sapiens sapiens. One thing that fascinated researchers was the scarcity of human long bones, or bones from the limbs, in caves that held countless limb bones from antelope, foxes and hares. Cut marks on the human bones show where stone tools were used to remove flesh from surviving vertebrae, teeth and skull bones. None of the cranial bone fragments are larger than 12 cm, or 3 inches. The most telling evidence is that the positions of cut marks on the human fragments are distinctly different from those used on animal bones. In addition, while the bone marrow had been removed from butchered animals, it had been left alone in the case of the human remains at the site. According to co-author Sandrine Prat, from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, or CNRS, in Paris this probably demonstrates that human bones were processed differently from those of animals because human flesh was removed as part of a ritual cleaning, not for eating.

The finds offer anthropologists a glimpse into a very early and important human culture. These people had knives, lightweight tools, and open air camps, with mammoth bones providing the structural support for tents. The Buran-Kaya sites are the earliest example of the Gravettian cultural tradition. Uncovering evidence of this culture in Ukraine gives weight to the idea that early modern people spread into Europe from the Russian plains, not north through the Balkans from the Middle East.

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