Audio News for May 13 to May 19, 2012


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from May13th to the 19th, 2012.


Cyprus is home to dogs, cats and oldest farming village in the Mediterranean


Our first story is from Cyprus, where archaeologists have discovered the oldest agricultural settlement ever found on a Mediterranean island. Scholars previously thought, that due to the island's geographic isolation, the first Neolithic farming societies did not reach Cyprus until a thousand years after the emergence of agriculture in the Middle East around 9500 to 9400 BC.

Now, the discovery of Klimonas, a 11000 year old village, proves that early cultivators moved to Cyprus from the Middle Eastern mainland shortly after the beginning of agriculture there. These early Neolithic migrants brought with them wheat, as well as dogs and cats.

The findings, which also highlight the early development of maritime navigational skills in these populations, is consistent with the understanding that sedentary villagers of the Early Neolithic began cultivating wild grains in the Middle East around 9500 BC. Recent excavations have shown that human groups visited Cyprus during that period, but until the discovery of Klimonas, the earliest traces of cereal crops and village construction there did not predate 8400 BC.

The latest findings from the excavations of Klimonas suggest that organized communities built on Cyprus between 9100 and 8600 BC. The site has yielded the remnants of a half-buried mud brick communal building, 10 meters in diameter and surrounded by dwellings, possibly used to store the village's harvests. Researchers also found a few votive offerings inside the building, including flint arrowheads and green stone beads.

Additionally, remnants of other objects, including flint chips, stone tools and shell adornments, turned up in the village.

The stone tools and the structures built by these early villagers resemble other Neolithic sites from the same period on the nearby mainland. Ancient agricultural findings include the remains of carbonized seeds of local plants and grains introduced from the Levantine coast, including emmer, one of the first Middle Eastern wheats.

The analysis from the bone remains found on the site revealed that the villagers hunted and consumed a small wild boar indigenous to Cyprus at the time and that they had introduced small domestic dogs and cats to the island. This would indicate that these early farming societies migrated from the continent shortly after the emergence of agriculture there. In addition, their ability to move a whole group of people long distances shows that they had already mastered maritime navigation at the beginning of the Neolithic period.


Earliest wall art discovered on French limestone


Moving on to France, researchers working in the southern region have determined that a 1.5 metric ton block of engraved limestone is the earliest known evidence of wall art. Their research shows the art on the piece to be approximately 37,000 years old and offers an intriguing look into the role art played in the daily lives of Early Aurignacian humans.

The team, comprising more than a dozen scientists from American and European universities and research institutions, has been excavating at the site of the discovery, Abri Castanet (AH bree CAS tan ay), for the past 15 years. Abri Castanet and its sister site Abri Blanchard (AH bree Blan SHARD) long have been recognized as being among the oldest sites in Eurasia containing artifacts of human symbolism.

The team has also uncovered hundreds of personal ornaments, including pierced animal teeth, pierced shells, ivory and soapstone beads, engravings, and paintings on limestone slabs.
According to New York University anthropology professor Randall White, early Aurignacian humans functioned, more or less, like humans today. They had relatively complex social identities communicated through personal ornamentation, and they practiced sculpture and graphic arts. Aurignacian culture existed until approximately 28,000 years ago.

The team discovered the engraved block of limestone in 2007 in a rockshelter that had previously been occupied by a group of Aurignacian reindeer hunters. Geological analysis revealed the ceiling had been within arms’ reach for the Aurignacians who used the rock shelter, with the ceiling being about 2 meters above the floor.

Carbon dating determined that both the engraved ceiling, which includes depictions of animals and geometric forms, and the other artifacts found on the living surface below were approximately 37,000 years old. This art appears to be slightly older than the famous paintings from Chauvet Cave (Sho VAY) in southeastern France. However, unlike the Chauvet paintings and engravings, which are deep underground and away from living areas, the engravings and paintings at Castanet are directly associated with everyday life, with proximity to tools, fireplaces, bone and antler tool production, and ornament workshops.

900 year-old-pot discovered on middle school field trip


Shifting hemispheres to the United States, a group of seventh-graders on a field trip exploring caves in a rural stretch of New Mexico came upon a ceramic artifact that could be 900 years old.

The students discovered the Native American pot on New Mexico Bureau of Land Management land, which scientists had extensively explored in the past. The last archaeological find in the area was a decade ago. The pot, measuring approximately 18 inches in height and about 15 inches wide, came to light, literally, when a teacher shone a flashlight into a dark cave.

According to Anthony Schoepke, a computer and filmmaking teacher at Sandia Preparatory School, the light caught something bright near the floor. It was the pot underneath a pile of rocks. He described the pot as being cream colored with a complicated design of diagonal lines in either black or dark brown. One of the parents on the trip had considerable knowledge of artifact law and Native American pots and the group agreed not to touch or remove the pot, and to notify authorities.

Teachers immediately contacted U.S. National Park Service representatives who then contacted the Bureau of Land Management. Archaeologists removed the pot and estimate the age to be 800 to 1,000 years old based on clues from the pot by way of its size, shape and design and comparisons to other artifacts already dated.

Stephen Baker, BLM public affairs officer, explained that, because the pot is nearly intact, it offers many clues and with previous other archaeological studies, researchers can look at it and estimate its place in history. Students expressed amazement when informed that the pot could be 900 years old.

State officials are not publically revealing the artifact until they consult nearby pueblos.


Ancient Mesoamericans were big time sports fans


In our final story, from Mexico, we learn that ancient Mexicans may have been very big sports fans. Scientists working near Oaxaca (Wa-HA-ka) have discovered a figurine of an athlete that indicates the activity known simply as the ballgame was more widespread in Mesoamerica than previously thought.

Mesoamerica spanned the region from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. The partial figurine is about 5 centimeters of a male ballplayer's chest, with the head and legs broken off. It appears to be wearing a ballgame costume, including a wide belt covering the abdomen and an elaborate mirrored collar similar to those worn in other examples of ballplayers known in other areas of Mesoamerica. People in ancient Mexico and Central America have played the game since 1400 BC.

According to study author Jeffrey Blomster of George Washington University, because the ballgame is associated with the rise of complex societies, understanding its origins also illuminates the evolution of socio-politically complex societies. Exploring the origins and spread of the ballgame is central to understanding the development of the Mesoamerican civilization.

Mesoamericans played the ballgame in large courts, by tossing or hitting a ball, usually with one's hips, though it is believed that other body parts may have been used. They may even have used rackets, hitting the ball through a circular hole several feet up and sticking out from a vertical wall. Themes of life and death, mortals and underworld deities, or symbols of the sun and moon were tied to the symbols on the costumes or uniforms worn by participants. In some instances, the ball court itself represented a portal to the underworld.

Evidence from other areas of Mesoamerica indicates that the ballgame developed during the Early Horizon period, sometime between 1700 and 1400 BC. Carbon dating from the area around the newly discovered figurine places the figurine between 1399 and 899 BC.
According to Blomster, ball courts found in coastal Chiapas and the Gulf Coast indicate Mesoamericans played earlier versions of a ballgame before the Early Horizon period, but the institutionalized version of the ballgame, a feature of Mesoamerican civilizations, developed during the Early Horizon.

Evidence for the ballgame in Mesoamerica is quite diverse. For example, researchers think a Mayan artifact shaped like a monkey skull was a hand guard used for the game. However, the artifact seemed to be for use in the afterlife and was placed in a tomb between AD 250 and 600.

Before the discovery of the newest figurine remnant, researchers didn't think the ballgame had reached the areas of Mexico inhabited by the Mixtec (MISH-tek) people during that time. This discovery emphasizes how the ancient Mixtecs were active participants in the larger Mesoamerican phenomenon.

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