Audio News for January 22nd to January 28rd, 2012

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from January 22nd to January 28th, 2012.


Stone Age fishing equipment found in Russia


Our first story is from Russia, where a discovery is shedding new light on the industry of Mesolithic and Neolithic settlers. Stone Age technology among people living in Russia during the Mesolithic and Neolithic ages was relatively unimpressive, until now. An international team, led by Ignacio Clemente, a researcher with the Spanish National Research Council, uncovered a collection of fish seines (seyns) and traps in the Dubna Basin near Moscow, which are dated to more than 7500 years old. Despite being some of the oldest equipment found in Europe, the tools reportedly display an advanced technical complexity. The finds highlight the role of fishing among European settlements of the early Holocene, around 10,000 years ago.

According to Clemente, until now, researchers believed that the Mesolithic groups had seasonal as opposed to permanent settlements. Nevertheless, excavation results show, in both Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, the human group that lived in the Dubna river basin carried out productive activities during the entire year. The Neolithic and Mesolithic inhabitants of the region, known as Zamostje 2, engaged in hunting during the summer and winter seasons, while spring and early summer focused on fishing. Towards the end of summer and throughout the fall season, the Zamostje 2 people gathered wild berries
Clemente and colleagues suggest that fishing commanded a significant place in the inhabitants’ survival and prosperity. The study proposes that fishing played a vital role in the economy of these societies. Fish were a versatile product, easy to preserve, dry and smoke, and to store for later consumption.

After three years of excavation, Clemente’s team unearthed a number of artifacts at the site, including everyday objects such as spoons, plates, working tools, and hunting weapons made from flint and other stones as well as bone. Organic items of wood, tree leaves, fossil feces, and fish remains also make-up of the team’s finds.

The fish remains give the team an idea of the protein percentage provided by fish in the diet of the prehistoric population. Furthermore, according to Clemente, these remains will help the team conduct a survey from the point of view of species classification, catch amount and size, and fishing season. Such details are essential in assessing the role played by fishing in the economy of these human groups.

The documented fishing equipment shows a highly developed technology, aimed at practicing several fishing techniques. The team highlights the finding of two large wooden fishing traps, dating back 7,500 years, which makes them some of the oldest finds in the area. They are also some of them most well-preserved objects found, still maintaining some joining ropes, manufactured with vegetable fibers.

Workers building a channel through the Dubna River discovered the Zamostje 2 site in the 1980s. The site features four different time horizons, two representing the Mesolithic period and two representing the Neolithic period.

Vanished temple rediscovered in Sudan


In the Sudan, Czech archaeologists have found a long lost temple from the Meroe (MER-o-ay) period near the town of Vad Bon Naga. First noticed in the early 19th Century by European travelers, the temple remains later disappeared in the desert. According to Pavel Onderka, from Prague's Naprstek Museum of Asian, African and American Cultures, the large temple compound is located 130 km north of the Sudanese capital of Khartoum (Kar-toom).

The expedition revealed a signet ring featuring an image of the Nubian Lion god Apede-mak, an Osiris statuette, a stone with Meroe hieroglyphs, and parts of sandstone blocks. In the Meroe Kingdom period, from the Fourth Century BC to the Fourth Century AD, this area held one of ancient Nubia's largest towns. Around the turn of the millennium, the 25,000 residents built a large palace and at least five temples.

Previously, Czech archaeologists unearthed a palace belonging to Queen Amanishakheto, a ruler of the First Century BC. This, the best preserved of all Meroe palaces, is the focus of continuing conservation and restoration. The Czech exploration in the Sudan is just one episode in a long history of Czech archaeological and ethnographic research in the Nile Valley.


Unique “Winged” building dates to Roman Britain


In England, a recently discovered mysterious winged structure from the Roman period presents a puzzle for archaeologists. Researchers discovered the structure in Norfolk, just to the south of the ancient town of Venta Icenorum. The archaeologists say the building dates back 1,800 years and has no known parallels.

The structure features a rectangular room from which two wings spread out. The rectangular room in turn leads to a central room. According to William Bowden, professor at the University of Nottingham, who reported the find in the most recent edition of the Journal of Roman Archaeology, generally speaking, the Roman Empire people built within a fixed range of architectural forms. With no other examples of a such a building, the winged-shape structure appears to be unique in the Roman Empire.

The structure apparently is part of a complex. In addition to the wing-shaped building is a villa to the north and at least two other structures to the northeast and northwest. Aerial photography also suggests the existence of an oval or polygonal building with an apse located to the east.  With the foundation of the two wings and the rectangular room made of a thin layer of rammed clay and chalk, this suggests to researchers that the superstructure of much of the building was light, and probably made of timber and clay-lump walls with a thatched roof. This type of construction raises the possibility that the building was not intended for long-term use.

The central room, in contrast, was made of stronger materials, its foundations constructed of lime mortar mixed with clay and small pieces of flint and brick. That section likely had a tiled roof, which is very large and heavy.

At some point after the demise of the wing-shaped structure, another building was constructed over it. Archaeologists found postholes from it with painted wall plaster inside, suggesting the new building was decorated.

Bowden noted that few artifacts are found at the site and none that can be conclusively associated with the winged structure. Several factors contribute to the problem of scarce artifacts, including a plough that tore through the site and the possibility that people with metal detectors have located and taken away objects they’ve found. Still, even when the team found undisturbed layers, little came up in the way of artifacts. Bowden suggests that the builders didn't use the winged building for a particularly long time. Although its elevated position made it visible from the town of Venta Icenorum, the foundations supporting the radiating wings are weak. Bowden suggests that this may have been a temporary building constructed for a single event or ceremony–this might account for its insubstantial construction.

Adding to the puzzle of the structure is the ancient history of Norfolk, where the team found the structure. Historians call the locals who lived before the Roman conquest the Iceni. It may have been their descendants who constructed the winged building. Iceni architecture was quite simple and not as elaborate as Roman architecture. Iceni religion intertwined with nature, something that may help explain the wind-blown location of the site, as the Iceni gods tend to be associated with natural sites such as springs, trees and sacred groves.

Prehispanic kiln discovered in Oaxaca, Mexico


Our final story is from Mexico, where a 1300 year-old Zapotec kiln used to make ceramic pieces confirms the long tradition of pottery in the State of Oaxaca. Archaeologists discovered the Prehispanic kiln at Atzompa (at-zompa) Archaeological Site. The kiln is well preserved, better than those found at Monte Alban, where researchers previously found the best preserved kiln to date.

The kiln highlights the connection between the contemporary handicraft production at Santa Maria Atzompa community and the tradition of Prehispanic pottery production of their ancestors. Archaeologist Jaime Vera, from the National Institute of Anthropology, head of the excavations at the site, noted that the kiln was buried under a stucco floor of the platform known as Casa de los Altares or House of the Altars.

Researchers think that the kiln might date from the first occupation years of the site, between AD 650 and 900, more than 1,300 years ago, differing from associated ceramics found and the depth where the team found it, well below the stucco floor that covered it. The archaeologists first detected signs of the kiln after removing the façade of a small mound located to the north of the House of the Altars, where they found a hollow under broken stucco. A probe revealed the adobe walls, and it was during the next excavation when the team completely unearthed the ancient structure, consisting of a cylindrical adobe wall and the stacking ports. On the same platform, near the oven, they found related nine gray ceramic fragmented pots, whose dimensions vary: 1.2 meters in height and diameters near 90 centimeters. Three of them have marks at the neck that look like spines.

According to Vera, a circular adobe wall surrounds wraps the kiln. Although today’s kilns are not identical in their dimensions, they conserve essential elements and the function as a ceramic firing space.

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