Audio News for February 19th to February 25th, 2012


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from February19th to the 25th, 2012.


Brazilian stick figure may be earliest rock art in the Americas


Our first story is from Brazil, where archaeologists have discovered a carving of a stick figure believed to be the earliest example of rock art in the Americas. This new figure could shed new light on when the settlers first arrived in the New World. Archaeologists believe the male figure, carved into a cave in Lapa do Santo in central-eastern Brazil, is between 10,000 and 12,000 years old. The figure sports an oversized phallus, leading researchers to nickname him “the horny little man.”

According to Walter Alves Neves, the archaeologist and biological anthropologist leading the team from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, the figure shows that about 11,000 years ago, there already was a very diverse manifestation of rock art in South America, so humans probably arrived in the Americas much earlier than previously has been accepted.

The figure is about 12 inches tall from head to foot and about 8 inches wide, and is depicted in a squatting position with outstretched arms. The phallus is around 2 inches long, about the same length as the man’s left arm. Investigators think the creators of the figure may have used it in some kind of fertility ritual.

The engraving appears to be about 10,000 to 12,000 years old according to radiocarbon dating and other tests of the sediment surrounding the petroglyph. Should the dating prove accurate, it makes the figure the oldest reliably dated example of such engraved rock art found in the Americas.

From the same series of caves in which the figure was discovered, researches also unearthed buried human remains, tools made from stone and bone, hearth ash, and leftovers of fruit and small game from meals. The oldest human skeleton found to date in South America is also from the region which produced the carved figure. Dubbed Luzia, the 20-year-old female’s face was reconstructed based on her skull and its distinctive characteristics. According to Neves, but disputed by others, the facial reconstruction showed Luzia to have a cranial morphology almost identical to Australian Aborigines.


20,000 year old hunter-gatherer huts discovered in Jordan


In Jordan, archaeologists working in the eastern region have found 20,000-year-old hut structures. The finding suggests that hunter-gathers once intensively occupied the area and that the origins of architecture in the region date back twenty millennia, much earlier the emergence of agriculture.

The research describes huts that hunter-gatherers used as long-term residences. The houses indicate some of the behaviors associated with later cultures and communities, such as a growing attachment to a location and a far-reaching social network, existed up to 10,000 years earlier than agriculture.

The Kharaneh IV excavations are giving archaeologists a new perspective on how humans lived twenty millenia ago. Although Jordan today is largely dry and barren, during the last Ice Age the region’s deserts were awash with rivers, streams and seasonal lakes and ponds that supported a rich environment for hunter-gatherers to settle in.

Dr. Jay Stock from the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Cambridge explained that the site indicates an enormous concentration of people in one place. According to Dr. Stock, people lived in this spot for considerable periods of time when they built these huts. They exchanged objects with other groups in the region and even buried their dead at the site. These activities far precede the settlements associated with the emergence of agriculture, which replaced hunting and gathering later on. For three season, archaeologists excavated the 2 hectares open-air site, unearting hundreds of thousands of stone tools, animal bones and other finds from the area.

Based on the size and density of the site, the researchers had long suspected that large numbers of people frequented the area for long periods of time and these latest findings now confirm their theory. So far, the team has fully excavated two huts, but there may be several more hidden beneath the desert’s sands.

One of the project’s co-directors, Dr. Tobias Richter of the University of Copenhagen, described the structures as measuring about 2 to 3 meters in maximum length and dug in the ground. The builders made the walls and roof of brush wood, which then burnt and collapsed leaving dark colored marks. According to radiocarbon dating, the huts are between 19,300 and 18,600 years old. Inside the huts, scientists found intentionally burnt piles of gazelle horn cores, clumps of red ochre pigment and a cache of hundreds of pierced marine shells. Researchers believe inhabitants brought these shell beads to the site from the Mediterranean and Red Sea over 250 km away. Alternatively, regional social networks may have linked people who exchanged items across considerable distances.

Ancient Mayans enjoyed board games


Archaeologists carrying out restoration at the Dzibilnocac (DZEE-bill-NO-cock) site in the southeastern state of Campeche (kahm PAY chay) in Mexico, discovered a Mayan game board dating from more than 1,000 years ago, according to the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History.

Heber Ojeda (o-HEY-da), an archaeologist and a member of the team that found the artifact, estimates the Mayans used the board between the 7th and 10th centuries during the Late Classic period of Dzibilnocac. According to Ojeda, it is an etched scoreboard of approximately 50 centimeters on each side. Researchers discovered it on the floor of the second highest space in the building referred to as A1. The board has 58 rectangles of various sizes etched into it, and Ojeda believes players would have used beans as game tokens.

One of Ojeda's colleagues, Judith Gallegos (ga-YEA-gohs) Gomora, said the Maya designed the board for patolli, a game of chance described in Mayan codices and colonial Spanish chronicles. She added, however, that the board bears a resemblance also to the Maya quincunx (kwin-kunks), a schematic representation of the universe, that the Mayan may have used for divination.

Should artifacts from the Titanic be sold?


In the United States, one Oregon archaeologist is making a stand against the forthcoming auction of thousands of artifacts from the ocean-bottom site o the Titanic. Dr. Richard Pettigrew, President and Executive Director of Archaeological Legacy Institute and founder of The Archaeology Channel, released a commentary about the auction in the most recent edition of the Video News from TAC, in which he compares the treatment of the Titanic artifacts to treasure hunting. This monthly newsmagazine show, designed for cable TV as well as Internet distribution, can be found at

Pettigrew points out that the private salvage company leading the removal of artifacts, RMS Titanic Inc., for most if its time removing artifacts from the debris field around the ship, has not treated the site archaeologically. And although professional archaeological organizations participated in a 2010 mapping project, RMS Titanic’s primary motive is in fact profit, not the preservation of history. In 27 years of artifact collection from the site, the company has issued no publication and no record of where each artifact was found.

The auction, to be held at Guernsey’s in New York on April 11, the 100 year anniversary of the day the ship set sail, is appraised at 189 million dollars. The collection comprises a highly diverse array of personal objects as well as parts of the ship, including a section of the hull. According to Pettigrew, these artifacts, taken from what is essentially a grave site where 1500 people lost their lives, have not been treated scientifically or with the respect that they deserve.

On the RMS Titanic Web site, the company claims its dedication to the preservation of the Titanic for educational and historical purposes. But Pettigrew finds the partnership of professional organizations with what effectively is a treasure-hunting company with little interest in responsible scientific recording of the site is shocking and unethical. He congratulates the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the Titanic’s survivors were taken initially after their rescue in 1912, for declaring they would never exhibit the artifacts to be auctioned. The Titanic wreckage site is in international waters, which is why companies have been able to profit from it since its discovery in 1985, even after the US Congress declared it a cultural heritage site and urged international action for its preservation.

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