Audio news from October 23rd to October 29th, 2011

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from October 23rd to October 29th, 2011.

Beer and a goat to go, at ancient Anatolian takeout windows


New research in the mountains of western Iran suggests that people may have been using takeout windows to get food and weapons some 5,200 years ago.  It appears the inhabitants of the site ordered up goat, grain and even bullets, among other items.  

The find was made at Godin Tepe, an archaeological site excavated in the 1960s and 1970s under the direction of T. Cuyler Young Jr. of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada.  When Cuyler Young died in 2006, a team of researchers took up his work and recently published the results, along with more recent research on the artifacts, in the book "On the High Road: The History of Godin Tepe."  

The notion that these finds are takeout windows, first proposed by Cuyler Young, is based mainly on their height and location beside the central courtyard.  The windows were positioned in a way that suggests use by passersby, or perhaps soldiers, who could come through to grab some food or ammunition.  The research shows that Godin Tepe began, in prehistoric times, as a simple settlement.  According to Hilary Gopnik of Emory University, for about 1,000 years a small village of farmers and shepherds occupied the mound of Godin.  Then, sometime around 3,200 BC, somebody razed those houses and built an oval enclosure in their place.  The mud-brick structure comprises a central courtyard surrounded by buildings, including one particularly prominent structure with two windows.  The windows and the walls of the main building are very unusual for architecture of this period, which led to the interpretation that they had a different function.  

Inside the building, researchers discovered beveled-rimmed bowls, food remains, a fireplace and 1,759 sun-dried clay bullets or pellets for slings; weapons that were used for both warfare and hunting.  The building shows the only example of framed windows known from this time period.  In fact, the early buildings of the Middle East usually have no windows at all.  According to Clemens Reichel, a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum, while archaeologists do find openings whose purpose may have been air vents or cubbyholes, windows are rare and are hard to identify.

So if these windows were for takeout, what were people serving?  Found at Godin Tepe is a wide variety of food remains, including lentils, bones of goats and sheep, and residues of beer and wine.  Bevel-rimmed bowls found at the site were probably used to hold rations of grain.  Near the end of the building’s life, sling bullets appeared, along with a spear point and mace head, possibly for distribution through the windows.  The compound was abandoned and partially burned in about 3,000 BC.  Whether this was purposeful or a peaceful abandonment remains a mystery.  

According to a doctoral student of Young's, Virginia Badler, soldiers would have been the main patrons of the structure and the compound’s purpose could have been to protect trade routes in the area.  Arguments supporting a military function for Godin Tepe include the small, enclosed nature of the oval, making it easier to protect the compound and see who was coming inside.  Badler hypothesizes that the beveled-rim bowls found were actually for water rations, not grain, due to the fact that a few of the bowls had linings of bitumen: a substance used for waterproofing.  Thus the windows, under the military scenario, were used to issue provisions to the troops.  Artifacts from the site are now part of an exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Japanese shipwreck attests to 13th Century defeat of Mongol invaders


Next, we travel to Japan, where underwater exploration may have revealed the reality behind the original legend of the kamikaze, or the divine winds.   In the 13th Century, this powerful force destroyed two separate massive Mongol invasion fleets.  Marine archaeologists now say they have uncovered the remains of a ship from the second fleet, launched against Japan in AD 1281.  This fleet, believed to have comprised 4,400 vessels, is located a meter below the seabed, in 25 meters of water off the coast of Nagasaki, Japan.  

The Mongols ruled China from AD 1271 to 1368.  The kamikaze winds, perhaps better known through the nickname given to the Japanese suicide pilots of the Pacific War, were a nation-defining event for Japan that set the limits of Mongol expansion in the east.  Scientists are hoping they will be able to recreate the complete Yuan Dynasty vessel from Kublai Khan's lost fleet using a 12-meter, or 35 foot, section of keel.  According to Yoshifumi Ikeda, a professor of archaeology at Okinawa's University of the Ryukyus, and research team lead, the section could go a long way to helping researchers identify all the characteristics of the 20-meter long warship.
In a news conference, Ikeda noted that this discovery was of major importance to their research.  They are planning to expand search efforts and find further information to assist in restoring the whole ship.  The research team discovered the wreck, the first wreck from the period to have an intact hull, with ultrasound equipment. Surprisingly, archaeologists found the vessel with the planks still attached to the keel with nails.  Sand that covers the shipwreck has provided what the archaeologists found to be a good state of preservation, so good that divers could even establish that the planks were originally painted a whitish-gray.  

From study of the wreck, researchers will be able to understand more about shipbuilding skills of the time as well as the actual situation of exchanges in East Asia.  Near the wreck were more than 4,000 artifacts, including ceramic shards, bricks used for ballast, cannonballs, and stone anchors; evidence that links the ship to the Yuan Dynasty invasion fleet.

Baja site shows occupation up to 11,000 years ago


Moving to Mexico, archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have located a site containing hundreds of tools made in the Cape region of Baja California.  The discovery of these artifacts, 11,000 to 8,000 years ago, further supports the premise regarding a coastal migration route for the first settlers of the Americas.  The site, called El Coyote, joins a growing number of similar sites in the region, suggesting that people moved down the coast and arrived in what is now the peninsula of Baja California, during the early years of the Holocene or even before that.  

Archaeologist Isaac Aquino, director of research, and Leticia Barajas, field chief, have released the progress of the study conducted at the site three years ago. Their work shows that El Coyote contains a substantial history of early and late human occupation on the peninsula, a view several researchers in the region had previously suggested.  From analysis of archaeological materials found, specialists in stone and shell tool manufacture agree that they fit into a type found elsewhere in the area, and fall into the same chronological framework.  The researchers propose that the same cultural group, yet to be identified, traveled down the coast of the Gulf of California from the north to the south occupying coastal sites on both the islands and mainland.  

The El Coyote site covers about one hundred acres and is located on the shores of the Gulf of California or Sea of Cortez.  The artifacts discovered consisted of worked stone tools and shells.  Charred clams were also recovered, as well as the remains of many other marine and land animals.  The fishing equipment represents another interesting group of finds, and three hooks made of mother of pearl are particular standouts.  Researchers found artifacts at various points around the El Coyote area that archaeologists have identified as camps.   

The initial study of materials by researchers shows two distinct periods.  The first dates from the early Holocene or Proto Desert period, 11,000 to 8,000 years ago.  The second span of occupation began after a gap of 5,000 years, running from 2,700 years ago until the arrival of the first Spanish expedition to the Baja California peninsula in the Sixteenth Century.  So far, little material evidence of the long intervening period in the region has been found.  Scientists have successfully identified 51 species of marine life in the zones examined at El Coyote, represented by bivalves and snails, as well as fish vertebrae and sea mammal bones.  Deer and hare are the predominant land animals, along with the remains of various types of birds.  So far, there are no human remains, making it impossible to determine what specific human population the ancient inhabitants of El Coyote belonged to.

Roman army camp was key position on Germanic border


In our final story, German archaeologists have unearthed exciting evidence of a lost Roman camp that formed a vital part of the frontier protecting Rome's empire against the Germanic hordes.  Historians believe the camp, located on the River Lippe near the town of Olfen and once home to an estimated 1,000 legionaries, may have served as a key base for the Roman General Drusus, who waged a long and bloody war against the tribes that once inhabited what is now western Germany.  

The find came after the discovery of a bronze Roman helmet near Olfen that indicated the presence of ancient remains, but it took another century of searching to discover the exact location of the camp.  According to Wolfgang Kirsch, one of the archaeologists involved in the discovery, it is a sensational discovery for Roman research in Westphalia because the camp is the missing link in the chain of Roman defenses.  Researchers dug up Roman coins, fragments of pottery and the remains of old defenses, while aerial photography revealed the pattern of moats that once protected the camp from German tribes trying to drive the invaders out of their land.  

Between 11 and 7 BC the Romans occupied  the military installation, which is larger than seven football fields, and used it to control crossings points on the River Lippe and as a supply depot for outlying posts.  The site has, up to this point, survived largely undisturbed for over 2,000 years, which makes it an equal rarity and, from an archaeological point of view, absolutely ideal.

According to Dr. Michael Rind, the chief archaeologist working on the camp, the main goal right now is to protect and preserve the camp.  Exploration of the installation, according to Dr. Rind, could take decades.

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