Audio news from August 7th to August 13th, 2011

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from August 7th to August 13th, 2011.

Cro-Magnon era pendant found in Spain


Our first story is from Spain, where archaeologists from the Sociedad Aranzadi have discovered a pendant some 25,000 years old at the Irikaitz dig in the northern Basque region. The piece is an oblong gray smooth stone measuring 10 centimeters in length with a perforation on one end to wear as a pendant on a thong or around a persons neck. The artist who created it shaped the other end into a tool to re-hone the edges of other tools made from flint, like arrows or scrapers.

Director of the excavation, Alvaro Arrizabalaga, notes that the pendant, from the Cro-Magnon era, is older than other such items found so far in the Praileaitz cave, which experts say are only 15,000 years old. Researchers have found 20 pieces from this same epoch on the Iberian Peninsula to date, always in caves.

The piece is very well preserved and researchers were lucky to be able to remove it without damaging it in any way. The dig leader said researchers will not need to do any more restoration on the pendant and it will eventually be put it in a public museum.

Twenty-five thousand years ago, human beings of our species came to this place, which functioned as a hunting place for nomadic groups. Groups of humans moved eight times per year to zones where there were specific types of resources. The Irikaitz deposit, where archaeologists began working in 1998, is the site of discoveries of pieces up to 250,000 years old, a period when the precursors of Homo sapiens were still in existence.

Shell midden reveals possible ancient Canadian village


In British Columbia, Canada, an anthropology professor and his students were digging in the forest floor on Calvert Island, expecting to find lots of clam and mussel shells. However, shortly after the team from the University of Northern British Columbia started to sink pits into a shell midden, the professor realized it was much bigger than previously believed. In fact it is so large that he now believes it is part of a long-lost, ancient village called Luxvbalis. (looks-bal-ease)

In the recently finished dig, anthropology professor at UNBC, Dr. Farid (fair-reed) Rahemtulla, has found evidence of human occupation that may date back 10,000 years. According to Dr. Rahemtulla, the process of uncovering the site is extremely slow because they are digging in shell bins and the screening takes a long time due to the abundance of material. The team was able to get down only about a meter and a half this year, but thanks to coring they can estimate that the site is probably between three and four meters deep, suggesting a very, very ancient time period. The team will not know exactly how old the site is until radiocarbon dating comes back.

Nevertheless, there is one intriguing bit of evidence. In the inter-tidal zone adjacent to the bank of the site, they found stone tools of a type dated at another site to between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago. This cannot give a positive date, but it does indicate that older parts of the site are yet to be found.

Dr. Rahemtulla worked in conjunction with the Heiltsuk (hail-stuk) and Wuikinuxv (wee-kin-au) bands, who claim the area as part of their traditional territory. The location originally drew him because it was the site of an exposed midden. Researchers find middens scattered all along the coast. They are sometimes signs of village sites, although many are small deposits left by transitory groups that harvested shellfish and then moved on.

Researchers from Simon Fraser University first documented the site about 40 years ago. Working with the Hakai Beach Institute, a non-profit organization that supports science and conservation work, Dr. Rahemtulla brought a team of students and began to dig this last spring. The big surprise was that wherever they put down excavation pits, they found they were on the midden. The site, spreading over 150 meters, is so extensive that only a large number of people could only have created it.

The researchers found ample evidence the people who once lived there subsisted largely on a marine diet of clams, mussels, salmon, herring, sea lions, and seals. Researchers also found a collection of implements made from deer antler bones, rocks used to grind points on hunting tools, and weights for fishing nets.

Iron Age houses colorfully painted


Across the Atlantic, in Germany, archaeologists in Saxony-Anhalt have discovered a 2,600-year-old wall painted in bright patterns, revealing that Iron Age houses were not drab, grey constructions.

According to state archaeologist, Harald Meller, we now know that prehistoric people painted their homes with the prevailing colors of red, beige, and white. For pigments, the prehistoric painters used substances such as iron oxide, which gives the reddish, ochre color.

The wall was apparently part of a sprawling, Iron Age human settlement. The design depicts typical ornamental patterns from the Iron Age such as triangles and S-shaped hooks, but also symbolic characters. Meller beleives it is the greatest Iron Age wall painting discovered north of the Alps. He noted the painted wall possibly decorated the front of an important house.

Archaeologists discovered the wall two years ago during an excavation of the site for a new high-speed train line, near the village of Wennungen, about 40 kilometers southwest of Halle. Time had broken the wall into about 1,500 individual pieces and researchers have spent much of the past two years putting the pieces back together. The final product is a section of wall measuring two meters long and 1.5 meters tall.
The prehistoric site near Wennungen was expansive, once covering a piece of ground the size of more than 200 football fields. The State Museum for Prehistory in the eastern German city of Halle put part of the prehistoric clay wall on display.

Evidence of ancient rebels found in Jerusalem tunnel


Finally, in our last story, the excavation of an ancient drainage tunnel beneath Jerusalem has yielded a sword, oil lamps, pots and coins abandoned during a war 2,000 years ago. Archaeologists are suggesting the finds were debris from a critical episode in the city's history when rebels hid from Roman soldiers crushing a Jewish revolt.

The two-thousand year old tunnel, underneath one of Roman-era Jerusalem's main streets, largely lies under an Arab neighborhood in the city's eastern sector. Inhabitants used the tunnel to drain rainwater, but rebels may also have used it as a hiding place during the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Roman legionnaires razed that temple, along with much of the city, by putting down the Jewish uprising in AD 70.

This week, archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority unveiled a sword found in the tunnel, measuring 60 centimeters in length complete with leather sheath. According to Eli Shukron, the Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist in charge of the dig, a member of the Roman garrison probably owned the sword. The archaeologists also found a bronze key from the same era, coins minted by rebels with the slogan "Freedom of Zion," and a crude carved depiction of a menorah, a seven-branched Jewish candelabrum that was one of the central features of the Temple.

The historian Josephus Flavius, a Jewish rebel general who shifted his allegiance to Rome during the revolt and penned the most important history of the uprising, described the flight of the rebels to tunnels like the one currently under excavation. As the city burned, he wrote five years afterward, the rebels decided their last hope was in the tunnels. They planned to wait until the legions had departed and then emerge and escape.

However, this proved to be a dream. The legionnaires tore up the paving stones above the drainage channels and exposed their hiding place. Josephus wrote that the legionnaires also found the bodies of more than two thousand, some slain by their own hands, some killed, but most dead by starvation.

The tunnel is part of the expanding City of David excavation in Silwan, which sits above the oldest section of Jerusalem. Excavators have named the dig for David, the biblical monarch thought to have ruled from the site. Archaeologists began excavation of the tunnel in 2007. Last month, a worker found a tiny golden bell that seemed to have been an ornament on the clothing of a rich man, or possibly a Temple priest, and which could still ring 2,000 years later.

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