Audio news from June 26th to July 2nd, 2011.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from June 26th to July 2nd, 2011.


Stone Age style ribs on the grill


In our first story, from the Netherlands, a new study suggests that Stone Age barbecue eaters first went for the bone marrow and then for the ribs. The leftovers of an outdoor 7,700-year-old meal provide direct evidence for a prehistoric hunting, butchering, cooking and feasting event.

The meal occurred more than 1,000 years before the first farmers with domestic cattle arrived in the region. Although basic barbecue technology hasn't changed much over the millennia, this prehistoric meal centered around the flesh of an aurochs, a wild Eurasian ox larger than today's cows.

The people who killed the animal lived during the Late Mesolithic, the latter part of the middle Stone Age. Hunting game was an important part of the subsistence activities of these hunter-gatherers. The researchers suspect these people lived in large settlements and frequented the site for aurochs hunting.

According to Wietske Prummel, an associate professor of archaeozoology at the University of Groningen, the diners either caught the animal in a pitfall trap and then clubbed it on the head, or shot it using a bow and arrow with a flint point. Prummel and colleague Marcel Niekus pieced the scenario together by studying an unearthed flint blade found near the aurochs’s bones. This evidence shows that after they killed the female aurochs, the hunters cut off its legs and sucked out the marrow. Finally, they skinned the animal and butchered it, reserving the skin and large hunks of meat to carry back to a nearby settlement.

Chop marks left behind by the flint blade show that they painstakingly separated the meat from the bones and removed it. Burn marks reveal that the hunters cooked the substantial ribs, and probably other smaller parts, over an open fire. The worn blade was also slightly scorched in the cooking fire.

Aurochs must have been tasty, since other prehistoric evidence also points to hunting, butchering and feasting on these animals. A few German sites have yielded aurochs bones next to flint tool artifacts. Aurochs bones also have been excavated at early dwellings throughout Europe.
At a Mesolithic site in Onnarp, Sweden, scientists found the remains of aurochs killed with arrows. The wounded animals escaped their pursuers before later dying in a swamp.
The aurochs became extinct due to the destruction of their habitat with the arrival of the first farmers in Europe about 7500 years ago. These farmers used the area inhabited by the large beasts for their dwellings, arable fields and meadows.


22nd dynasty building blocks may lead to long-forgotten lake


Our next story comes from Egypt, where French excavators working at the San El-Hagar archaeological site have unexpectedly discovered hundreds of painted limestone blocks. Researchers believe the blocks once were used in the construction of a Twenty-Second dynasty temple for King Osorkon II, who lived around 875 BC.

According to Zahi Hawass, Minister of State for Antiquities, studies reveal that builders from the Late Ancient Egyptian period and the Ptolemaic era dismantled the blocks to be reused. French archaeologist Philip Brissaud, head of the French mission, believes that later builders used the newly discovered blocks in the construction of the enclosed wall of the 30 meter-wide, 12 meter-long and six-meter deep sacred lake of the goddess Mut, which the mission has been working hard to locate since last year. The French mission plans to reconstruct the newly discovered blocks according to the paintings and decorations engraved on them to discover what kind of edifice they form.

Brousseau reports that 78 of the 120 blocks were skillfully painted, decorated and engraved with the names of Kings Osorkon the Third or the Fourth. Other blocks bear hieroglyphic text with the name of the goddess Mut, the lady of Usher lake. This makes finding the sacred lake at San El Hagar temple, which was similar to one at Karnak's temples, even more important. 

Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, general supervisor of the minister’s office, says this discovery adds to the history of Lower Egypt. The site displays monuments from the Ramesside period that were once transferred in antiquity from King Ramses the Second’s capital Per-Ramses. It also has monuments dating to the Graeco-Roman and Ptolemaic eras.


1200 year old cemetery uncovered in Mexico


Next, we travel to the Mexican state of Tabasco, where archaeologists have uncovered a cemetery that dates back as early as AD 811. According to the National Anthropology and History Institute, the discovery, made near the Great Acropolis of Comalcalco, holds the remains of 116 people. The find is the largest skeletal sample ever recovered in this region of Mayan territory, which suggests that it could be a pre-Columbian cemetery.

Project coordinator Ricardo Armijo noted that 66 burials in urns correspond to individuals belonging to the Mayan elite and the other 50, placed in different positions around them, correspond to their companions in the afterlife. Additionally, researchers found instruments and figures associated with the burials, such as ceramic whistles and rattles in the form of animals and of richly dressed men and women, dozens of razors and knives, plus chips of flint and obsidian, many metal fragments, and more than 70,000 shards of pottery.

An analysis of the objects revealed that the burials took place anywhere from 1161 to 1200 years ago, although a complete study must still be done to confirm these dates. Furthermore, an analysis of a skeleton showed characteristics of the Mayan culture such as skull deformation and tooth fillings.

Armijo believes that the 50 burials located around the urns correspond to people expressly placed there to accompany Mayan nobility on their journey to the underworld. The archaeologist added that the contents of the urns must still be studied to determine the presence of organic materials such as fabrics and feathers, which will help researchers learn whether the individuals were richly garbed at the moment of being interred. The analyses of the bones and DNA will determine their age and sex as well as their pathological, nutritional and genetic patterns.

World’s largest 3-D puzzle reveals Cambodian temple


Our final story takes us to Cambodia, where archaeologists have completed the renovation of an ancient Angkor temple. The restoration of the 11th Century Baphuon ruin is the result of decades of meticulous work. Tropical rains and civil war hampered the researchers, who were trying to take apart hundreds of thousands of sandstone blocks and put them back together again.

The history of the renovation began in the 1960s when a French-led team of archaeologists dismantled the pyramidal building because it was falling apart, largely due to its heavy, sand-filled core that was putting pressure on the walls. The workers numbered some 300,000 of the sandstone blocks and laid them out in the surrounding jungle. However, efforts to rebuild the crumbling towers and ornamental facades abruptly came to a halt when Cambodia convulsed into civil war in 1970. The hard line communist Khmer Rouge, who took power in 1975, destroyed the records, including the numbering system need to reassemble Baphuon. In 1995, when the area was again safe to work in, the French government-funded project restarted under the leadership of architect Pascal Royere. The team carefully measured and weighed each block and then relied on archive photos stored in Paris, drawings and the recollections of Cambodian workers to figure out where each part fit.

According to Royere, there is no mortar that fills the cracks, which means that each stone has its own place. No two blocks have the same dimensions, so the temple is essentially a three-dimensional puzzle, without a picture guide. Built around 1060 in honor of the Hindu god Shiva, Baphuon was the country's largest religious building at the time, standing 35 meters high and measuring 130 by 104 meters. In the 16th Century, worshipers built a 70-meter long reclining Buddha statue into a wall on the second level using stones from the top of the temple. These two phases of construction, hundreds of years apart, further complicated the restoration.

Cambodian restorer Ieng Te, who joined the project as a young student in 1960 and was tasked with numbering the stones, noted that when he first saw how devastated the monument was, he never thought they would be able to put it back together. Now 66 years old, he was able to oversee the final construction activities at the site.

Recently workers added a final layer of paint to newly installed wooden staircases at Baphuon, one of the country's biggest temples after Angkor Wat, the largest structure in the famed Angkor complex. This is one of the last jobs before the temple reopens to the public.

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