Audio News for March 4th to March 10th, 2012


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from March 4th to the 10th, 2012.


Oldest evidence of prehistoric hunting by humans found in Ohio


Our first story is from the United States, where Ice Age bones from a museum collection in Ohio indicate that people hunted and scavenged animal meat earlier than previously known. Dr. Brian Redmond, curator of archaeology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, is the lead author on the research published in the recent online issue of World Archaeology.

Redmond analyzed 10 animal bones from the collections of the Firelands Historical Society Museum in Norwalk, Ohio. The bones, discovered in the collection in 1998 by society member and co-author Matthew Burr, are from a Jefferson’s Ground Sloth, a large plant-eating animal that became extinct at the end of the last Ice Age, about 10,000 years ago.

Cut marks found on the bones include a series of 41 incisions on the animal’s left femur. The marks are not the result of damage incurred during the unearthing of the bones, because no traces of modern metal cutting tools are evident. Instead, microscopic analyses of the cut marks revealed that sharp stone tools made them. The arrangement of the distinct incisions and their location on the femur indicate the filleting of leg muscles.

Radiocarbon dating of the femur bone estimates its age to be between 13,435 and 13,738 years old.

According to Redmond, this research provides the first scientific evidence for hunting or scavenging of Ice Age sloth in North America. The significant age of the remains, dating to the Late Pleistocene period, marks the oldest evidence of prehistoric human activity in Ohio.

The “Firelands Ground Sloth,” as it has been dubbed, is one of only three specimens of known ancient sloths from Ohio. Measurements of the sloth’s femur, tibia and other bones makes it one of the largest individuals of this species on record, with an estimated body mass of 2,855 pounds.
Geologist Oliver Hay first described the sloth bones in a 1915 scientific paper. Roe Niver, a University of Illinois student who lived in Huron County and died in 1915, introduced Hay to the museum’s collection. Papers found with the bones, which were donated to the Firelands Museum before 1925, suggest that they are from a swamp in Norwich Township, though the exact locality of their first discovery is unknown.


Dramatic evidence of slave trade unearthed on remote island of Saint Helena


University of Bristol archaeologists have unearthed a massive slave burial ground on the remote island of Saint Helena, located 1,000 miles off the coast of southwest Africa. Taking place in advance of the building of a new airport on the island, the excavation has provided a compelling look at the victims of the Atlantic slave trade during the infamous Middle Passage. Dr Andrew Pearson and his team from the University’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, are now publishing the results of their discoveries of the human remains on Saint Helena and the associated grave goods buried with them.

Between 1840 and 1872, the British Royal Navy used the tiny Saint Helena island as a landing place for the slaves they rescued from intercepted ships during the suppression of the slave trade. Around 26,000 freed slaves came to the island during this period. The terrible conditions aboard the slave ships meant that many did not survive the journey. At the same time, Rupert’s Valley, where they landed, was arid, without shade, and windy -- poor conditions to support a refugee camp for the large number of people.

At least 5,000 people are interred in the burial ground. Archaeologists first investigated the cemetery between 2006 and 2008, prior to the construction of a new road that provided access to the airport.  They uncovered some 325 bodies in a combination of individual, multiple, and mass graves. Only five individuals were in coffins, the rest thrown into shallow graves.

Bone analysis shows that 83 percent of the bodies are those of children, teenagers, or young adults, ideal for slaves with an anticipated long working life.  The actual cause of death is largely unclear. The main killers aboard slave ships were dehydration, dysentery and smallpox, which leave no pathological trace. However, scurvy was widespread on the skeletons, and several showed indications of violence.

Despite its appalling nature, those buried within the graveyard are more than victims.  Evidence shows these people had a rich culture, displaying a strong sense of ethnic and personal identity exemplified by dental alterations achieved by chipping or carving of the front teeth. The excavators found jewelry on several skeletons, despite the physical stripping process that would have taken place after their capture. Burial conditions also allowed for the survival of textiles, including ribbons. Metal tags found on the bodies identified the slaves by name or number.

According to Dr. Pearson, studies of slavery usually deal with unimaginable numbers, work on an impersonal level, and, in so doing, overlook the individual victims. In Rupert’s Valley, however, the archaeology brings us face-to-face with the human consequences of the slave trade.


New king of Egypt is discovered


In Egypt, a long list of ancient pharaohs is welcoming a new king. The king's name, Senakht-en-Re (sen-AHKT en-RAY), appeared on the engraved remains of a limestone door discovered by a French-Egyptian team in the Temple of Karnak complex on Luxor’s east bank.

Led by French Egyptologist Christophe Thiers, of the French National Center for Scientific Research, archaeologists produced a fragmented lintel and an impressive doorjamb during routine excavations at the temple of Ptah.

Dating to the mysterious 17th Dynasty, about 1634 to 1543 BC, the hieroglyphics of the limestone reamins indicate the door was dedicated to the god Amun-Re.

However, the hieroglyphics also revealed who ordered the construction of this structure: the pharaoh Senakht-en-Re. One of the least-known kings of the 17th dynasty, Senakht-en-Re is mentioned in only three documents written one or two centuries after his reign. Until now, no objects or monuments with his name have been found, and his tomb has yet to be discovered.

According to the hieroglyphics, Senakht-en-Re had the monumental gateway constructed from limestone blocks that came from Tora, now known as the modern city of Helwan, south of Cairo. At that time, the town was under the rule of the Hyksos.

The Hyksos infiltrated Egypt and came to dominate the Nile valley for over a century during the Second Intermediate Period of 1664 to1569 BC. The Hyksos were expelled from Egypt by Kamose (KAH-moz) , the last king of the 17th Dynasty, and his brother Amhose (AH-moz), the first king of the 18th Dynasty.

According to the Minister of State for Antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim, the finding is a groundbreaking discovery for the history of the 17th Dynasty because the succession of kings of this dynasty and the length of their rule remain vague.

Ibrahim notes that the excavation will continue, and the Temple of Karnak still no doubt contains many more secrets.


Ancient graffiti of Israel sheds light on culture, society and history


Much of what we know about the past comes from official sources like military records and governmental decrees.

However, an international project now is gaining a new view into the history of ancient Israel. Analyzing a collection of inscriptions and pieces of common writing is allowing archaeologists a peek into the lives of ordinary people or antiquity. The writings include everything from love poems to a single word, and encompasses epitaphs, declarations, questions of faith and anything that is not found in a book or on a coin.

Professor Jonathan Price of Tel Aviv University's Department of Classics says such writing, as found on a wall, or on a column, stone, tomb, floor, or mosaic, is essential to a scholar's toolbox. Along with his colleagues, he is a contributing editor to a series of volumes that presents the written remains of the lives of common people in ancient Israel. His work also provides important information about regional administration and religious institutions during the period between Alexander the Great and the rise of Islam, roughly the fourth century BC to the seventh century AD.

In antiquity, the part of the world that is now modern Israel was intensely multilingual, multicultural, and highly literate. When the volumes are complete, they will include an analysis of about 12,000 inscriptions in more than ten languages.

The project is the result of countless hours spent researching in museum storerooms, church basements, caves and archaeological sites. The team already has discovered a great amount of material never published before.

Researchers face numerous challenges in translating incomplete inscriptions. The writings are often partially eroded from their canvas with time, and sometimes sport poor use of grammar and spelling, representing different levels in education and reading and writing capabilities or simply the informal nature of the text. Average people, their names not recorded anywhere else, wrote most of these inscriptions, making them valuable for social, cultural, and religious history. According to Dr. Price, the inscriptions provide information about what people believed, the languages they spoke, relationships between families, their occupations, and daily life.

Graffiti, which make up a significant amount of the collected inscriptions, were a common phenomenon throughout the ancient world, as in the world today. The walls of the city of Pompeii were famously covered with graffiti, including advertisements, poetry, and sketches.
People in Israel also left behind traces of their lives in the form of public inscriptions and the discussion of belief systems, personal appeals to God, and hopes for the future.

Although today’s graffiti may be considered irritating and disrespectful, in two thousand years, it will be interesting to scholars. These are, after all, the tweets of antiquity.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Pettigrew and I'll see you next week!