Audio News for November 13th to November 19th, 2011.  

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from November 13th to November 19th, 2011.

Royal kitchen found at Mayan city of Kabah


Our first story is from Mexico, where recent excavations at the site of Kabah (ka-BAH) in Yucatan uncovered the royal kitchen of this ancient Mayan city.  The cooking facilities and utensils found there are an estimated 1,000 years old.  Researchers from INAH (EE-nah), the National Institute of Anthropology and History, have been digging for a year in a part of the city inhabited by the elite, searching for evidence of the royal residence at Kabah.  The newly found kitchen area measures over 40 meters long by some 14 meters wide, and still shows the remains of masonry architecture, traces of fireplaces, large amounts of pottery and stone artifacts.
According to INAH archaeologists, the material discovered spans the years AD 750 to 950, a period when the Mayan city reached its highest development.  The arrangement of the objects found shows that the royal kitchen was organized into areas for different functions.  Two areas held huge pottery vessels nearly a meter in diameter, with nearby areas producing cooking tools, and in other areas, the remains of stone fireplaces.  More than 30,000 pieces of pottery have been found, along with 70 stone artifacts used to butcher animals and prepare vegetables, including metates(meh-tah-tehs) or grindstones, hammers, knives, blades and scrapers.  According to the institute’s Lourdes Toscano, the pottery found at Kabah, and previously discovered in the interior of palaces in the mountainous region of Yucatan, is similar in construction to that found in common houses.  However, the quantity and size of the vessels differs considerably.  Large amounts of food were cooked in the palaces, so the dishes were larger, and they had more tools of various forms for different uses.

Toscano said the investigation of the royal kitchen of Kabah was assisted by biochemical studies conducted by specialists from the Department of Anthropology at the Autonomous University of Yucatan.  They were able to confirm the existence of two areas of cooking fireplaces with evidence of organic matter, corresponding to the remains of animals, but have not been able to identify the species because they only found a very small piece of bone.  One of the big questions for researchers is why they have not found more animal bones.  Since this is a place where large volumes of food were cooked, more bone waste should be expected.  Toscano suspects that this was a preparation area, and that waste was disposed of elsewhere.  This hypothesis has led the team of archaeologists to expand the excavations in search of waste disposal locations.


Greek colony town in Sicily shows careful planning for early commerce and industry


In Sicily, German archaeologists have discovered a very large commercial area from the ancient Greek era.  Under the direction of Professor Dr. Martin Bentz, archaeologists from the University of Bonn have been unearthing one of the largest craftsmen's quarters of its era in the Greek colonial city of Selinunte, which dates from the 7th to the 3rd century BC.  

According to Bonn archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Zuchtriegel, a research associate who coordinates the project together with Dr. Jon Albers, to what extent the Greeks of that time had something like commercial areas has been a point of discussion in scholarly circles.  A concentration of certain industries and craftsmen in special districts not only presumes proactive planning, it is also based on a certain idea of how a city should best be organized, taking into account the practical as well as social and political issues.  For ancient as well as modern authorities, there was always the question of who will be allowed to live and work where?  The Selinunte excavations are now contributing to finding a new answer to such questions.             Potteries in Selinunte were concentrated in a certain city district, and were contained on the edge of the settlement in the very shadow of the city wall, so that their smoke, stench and noise did not inconvenience the other inhabitants as much.  At the same time, this allowed several artisans to use kilns and storage facilities together.  The excavations showed that the potters joined cooperatives that shared in the use of gigantic kilns with a diameter of up to 20 feet, or 7 meters.  The craftsmen's district in Selinunte probably stretched for more than 600 meters along the city walls and is among the largest ones known today.

The Bonn researchers were surprised to find even older remnants of workshops under the fifth-century kilns.  While these finds have not been completely excavated yet, indications are that pottery workshops existed in the same location during the city's early phase in the fifth century BC.  This means that craftsmen were probably intentionally housed on the edge as early as during the design of the city, which was, like many colonies, planned on the drawing board.  The finds from the craftsmen's district are ordinary materials, but they are valuable for reconstructing the past.  In the early period, excavations also found widely varied kinds of clay vessels, tiles and bronzes, among them imports from Athens and Sparta, indicating that living and work quarters were together at that time.  Over the course of the 5th century, however, living and work areas became more separate, perhaps indicating that increasing commercial success led to changes in individual lifestyles as well as the layout of business and residential districts.

Bronze object in early Eskimo house points to Asian origins


In Alaska, a team of researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder has discovered the first prehistoric cast-bronze artifact ever found in Alaska, in the shape of a small, buckle-like object found in an ancient Eskimo dwelling on the Seward Peninsula, and likely originating from East Asia. According to CU-Boulder Research Associate John Hoffecker, who is leading the excavation project, the artifact has two parts, a rectangular bar, connected to an apparently broken circular ring, measures about 2 inches by 1 inch, and is less than an inch thick.  

The bronze object was found by a team excavating a roughly 1,000-year-old house that had been dug into the side of a beach ridge on Cape Espenberg by early Inupiat, or Eskimos.  Both sections of the artifact are beveled on one side and concave on the other side, indicating that it was manufactured in a mold.  A small piece of leather wrapped around the rectangular bar yielded a radiocarbon date of roughly AD 600, although that does not necessarily indicate the original age of the object.  Hoffecker was astonished that the date makes the object older than the house they were excavating by at least a few hundred years.  According to Hoffecker and his colleague Owen Mason, the bronze object resembles a belt buckle and was possibly part of a harness or horse ornament prior to its arrival in Alaska.  

While they speculated the Inupiat Eskimos could have used the artifact as a clasp for human clothing or perhaps as part of a shaman's regalia, its exact function on both continents remains a puzzle.  Since bronze metallurgy from Alaska is unknown, the artifact was likely produced in East Asia, reflecting long-distance trade from production centers in Korea, China, Manchuria or southern Siberia.  According to Mason, the buckle may have been traded from the steppe region of southern Siberia, where people began casting bronze several thousand years ago.

Alternatively, some of the earliest Inupiat Eskimos in northwest Alaska, the direct ancestors of modern Eskimos, are thought to have migrated into Alaska from adjacent Siberia some 1,500 years ago. During their migration they may have brought the object with them from the other side of the Bering Strait.  The Seward Peninsula is a prominent, arrowhead-shaped land mass that abuts the Bering Strait separating Alaska from Siberia.  The peninsula was part of the Bering Land Bridge linking Asia and North America during the last ice age when sea level had dropped dramatically, and was probably used by early peoples as a corridor to migrate from Asia into the New World some 14,000 years ago.  The Cape Espenberg site has yielded a treasure trove of several thousand artifacts, including sealing harpoons, fishing spears and lures, a copper needle, slate knives, antler arrow points, a shovel made from a walrus scapula, a beaver incisor pendant, ceramics, and even toy bows and toy harpoons.  The bronze artifact unearthed in August is currently under study by a prehistoric metallurgical expert, H. Kory Cooper, who is an Assistant Professor at Purdue University.


Crusader inscription finally deciphered in Israel


Our final story is from Israel, where a rare Arabic inscription from the Crusades has been deciphered.  Scientists found that the marble slab bears the name of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, a intriguing Christian ruler known for his acceptance of the Muslim world.  Part of the inscription reads:  1229 of the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.  The 800-year-old inscription had been set into the wall of a building in Tel Aviv many years ago, though the researchers think it originally sat in Jaffa's city wall.  No other Crusader inscription in the Arabic language has been found in the Middle East to date.  

According to Moshe Sharon, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Frederick was a Christian king who came from Sicily, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, but he wrote his inscription in Arabic, which would be like the U.S. president traveling to a region and leaving an inscription in that region's language.  Until now, others who had examined the inscription had thought it came from a 19th-century gravestone, not realizing the date in the last line referred to the Christian calendar.  According to Sharon, the difficulty in translating the engraving includes the challenge of reading Arabic inscriptions, particularly this one, which was written in an unusual script on stone, and is 800 years old.  

Though Frederick II, known to have a deep familiarity with Arabic, likely specified what words were to appear, the artist who carved the inscription decided to create a special script for this royal statement and it was not clear for some time that it was in fact a Christian inscription.  Sharon and Hebrew University colleague Ami Shrager are preparing to submit a manuscript describing the work to the scientific journal Crusades.  The inscription includes the emperor’s name, together with a list of all the countries that he rules, which is not usual in inscriptions.  

The Crusades were religious wars whose goal was to restore Christianity to holy places in and near Jerusalem, with the First Crusade beginning in 1095 and the Seventh and Eighth Crusades ending in 1291.  Frederick II led the Sixth Crusade, and succeeded without resorting to violence.  In essence, the emperor went as a crusader to the Holy Land in 1228 in order to conquer that part of the Holy Land, but instead of fighting held discussions with the sultan of Egypt, who eventually ceded to the emperor several territories including the city of Jerusalem.              

Before signing the agreement, the emperor fortified the castle of Jaffa, and left in its walls two inscriptions, one in Latin and the other in Arabic.  The small bit of the Latin inscription that remains was previously recognized as that of Frederick II.  In the Arabic inscription, Frederick II refers to himself as the king of Jerusalem, suggesting that, although Pope Gregory IX had excommunicated him for not starting the Crusade earlier, Frederick II came to power with consent from the sultan.  According to Sharon, it was all through diplomacy.  Although Frederick got Jerusalem, what he didn't get or perhaps even want was the temple mount, which as a Muslim sanctuary, he may have thought should remain in Muslim hands.  History also records Frederick’s colorful personality, which led him to open a zoo and a university, as well as setting up a harem that included a Muslim woman.

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