Audio news from July 24th to July 30th, 2011.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from July 24th to July 30th, 2011.

Mosaic of Greek god found near Coliseum


In our first story, archaeologists working near the Coliseum in Rome have unearthed a 2,000-year-old mosaic depicting the Greek god Apollo. The well-preserved late First Century mosaic was found in an excavation on the interior of an ancient Roman hill. The figure is nude, except for a colorful cloak over his shoulder, and is surrounded by muses. Son of Zeus and Leto, Apollo was the god of light and the sun, truth and prophecy, medicine, healing, plague, music, poetry, and arts.

The mosaic-covered wall is 16 meters wide and at least 2 meters high. Officials believe the wall continues underground an additional eight meters more. According to researchers, the wall appears to be part of a tunnel constructed to help support Trajan's Baths, which were named for the emperor who ruled from AD 98 until AD 117.

Excavators found the image shortly after they unearthed a number of unique frescoes in the same cellar space. The mosaic apparently embellished a room where wealthy Romans might have gathered to hear music and discuss art. So far, the mosaic appears to be made with various shades of bronze-colored tiles. Archaeologists are hoping that there are more mosaics to be uncovered, requesting an extra 680,000 Euros to finish the excavation.


Civilizations might develop as result of war


Next we turn our attention to South America, where a new UCLA study is showing that warfare, triggered by political conflict between the fifth century BC and the first century AD, likely shaped the development of the first official civilization in the Titicaca basin of southern Peru.

Charles Stanish, director of UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, and Abigail Levine, a UCLA graduate student, conducted the excavation between 2004 and 2006 as part of a world-wide research effort to figure out the factors that lead to the development of civilizations. They used archaeological evidence from the basin, home to a number of thriving and complex early societies during the first millennium BC, to trace the evolution of two dominant states in the region: Taraco, along the Ramis River, and Pukara, in the grassland pampas. Stanish notes that war, regional trade, and specialized labor are the three factors that keep coming up as predecessors to civilizations all over the world.

The excavations in Taraco unearthed signs of a massive fire that raged sometime during the First Century AD, reducing much of the state to ash and architectural rubble. The authors compared artifacts dating before and after the fire to conclude that agriculture, pottery and the obsidian industry, all of which had flourished in the state, greatly declined after the fire. The archaeologists propose that the fire was a result of war, not of an accident or a ritual. This hypothesis is based on the range and extent of the fire’s destruction and the lack of evidence supporting reconstruction efforts.

Iconographic evidence of also suggests that the destruction of Taraco was preceded by several centuries of raids. This includes images of trophy heads and people dressed in feline pelts cutting off heads. Because the downfall of Taraco corresponds with the rise of neighboring Pukara, the researchers suggest that warfare between the states may have led to the raids, shaping the early political landscape of the northern Titicaca basin. Stanish notes that war appears to have played a similar civilizing role in Mesoamerica, as well as Mesopotamia.

Inhabited between 500 BC and AD 200, Pukara was the first regional population center in the Andes highlands. During its peak, it covered more than two square kilometer and housed approximately 10,000 residents as diverse as bureaucrats, priests, artisans, farmers, herders, and possibly even warriors. The civilization's ruins include monolithic sculptures with a variety of geometric, zoomorphic, and anthropomorphic images, as well as intricate, multi-colored pottery.


Altar indicates ancient Philistines and Jews may have been cultural cousins


Our third story comes to us from Israel, where a team of researchers led by Professor Aren Maeir of the Land of Israel and Archaeology studies at Bar-Ilan University has found a stone altar from the 9th Century BC. The discovery was made at a dig on Tel Tzafit, a site identified with the biblical Philistine city of Gat. The altar is redolent of Jewish altars from the same period and sheds light on the cultural links between the two peoples, who fought each other for centuries.

The altar measures approximately one meter tall, half a meter wide, and half a meter long. The most intriguing features are a pair of horns on its front and a cornice in the middle. The temple alter described in Jewish scriptures is said to have four horns, while the Gat alter has only two, however that seems to be the most notable difference between them.

According to Maeir, the altar demonstrates the cultural closeness between the two nations, traditionally cast as the most bitter of enemies in the Hebrew Scriptures. The altar is a small, but unique window into the Philistine and Israelite cultures of the time in general, and their rituals in particular.

Maeir has led the excavation project at Tel Tzafit, in the southern coastal plain, for 15 years, with much of his work concentrated on the Philistine layer of the site. Gat was the most prominent and powerful city of the Philistines for most of that culture's existence. Meir believes that it was at times the largest city in the Land of Israel, until Hazael, king of Aram-Damascus, finally sacked it in 830 BC. He notes that the fall of Gat was the single most important geopolitical event of the century, leading to the rise of the Kingdom of Judea and the golden era of Judean kings in the 8th and 7th century BC. Testimonies of the destruction, including a layer with thousands of potshards, were evident in every dig at Tel Tzafit.


2800 year old images of cats found in Mexico


In Mexico City, the National Institute of Archaeology and History stated that a team of archaeologists has discovered a one and a half ton stone relief from the Olmec culture created more than 2,800 years ago. The discovery was made at the archaeological site of Chalcatzingo in Morelos state, the only pre-Columbian site known in central Mexico with large low reliefs.

The piece, measuring more than 1.5 meters tall, was discovered in late April on the north slope of Chalcatzingo as archaeologists were building a containing wall and protective roofs for the other monoliths in the area. It took experts two months to restore the relief, which was found broken into 11 pieces. Completed restoration revealed that the sculpted stone shows three cats sitting in profile, looking west and surrounded by elaborate scroll decorations.

Since the first explorations of the region in the 1930s, some 41 monuments have been discovered in Chalcatzingo, four of which include cat figures. The Olmecs, who inhabited the area during the Middle Pre-Classical period between the years 800-500 BC, feared and worshipped felines. Scientists believe that the Olmecs built a frieze all along the Chalcatzingo hill. The Olmec civilization flourished between 1800 BC and AD 400 in the region occupied today by the states of Veracruz and Tabasco.

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