Audio News for May 27th to June 2nd, 2012


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from May 27th to June 2nd, 2012.


Ancient Roman shipwreck challenges theories that ancient mariners stuck to coastlines


In our first story, from Greece, two Roman-era shipwrecks challenge the conventional notion that ancient mariners followed routes along the coast rather than risk sailing in the open sea. Antiquities experts found the two Third Century wrecks earlier this month during a survey for a Greek-Italian gas pipeline. Found between 0.7 and 0.9 mile deep in the sea between Corfu and Italy, the two ships are among the deepest known ancient wrecks in the Mediterranean.

According to Angeliki Simossi, head of Greece's underwater antiquities department, ancient shipwrecks are generally found in 100 to 130 feet of water. Most scholars believe that ancient traders were hesitant to veer too far offshore, contrasting with warships which were unburdened by ballast and cargo. As Roman-era trading vessels were small, up to 80 feet long, the conventional model held by researchers is that the ships did not have the capacity to navigate far from the coast, so that if there was a wreck, they would be close enough to the coast to save the crew.

The latest discoveries are crucial hard data showing the actual patterns of ancient seafaring and commerce. The remains were located during an investigation that spanned 77 square miles of seabed off the islands of Corfu and Paxoi (pahx-ee). A Greek oceanographic vessel using side-scan radar and robot submarines took footage of scattered cargo, including amphorae, cooking utensils for the crew, anchors, and ballast stones. The team also recovered samples of pottery and a marble vase. The ship was carrying the kind of amphorae produced in North Africa, and Simossi commented it might have sailed from there and headed for Greece after a stop in Italy.

Deep wrecks are very important because they are usually more intact than those found in shallow water and contain far more archaeological and historical information than other sites.

Mexican altar representing rain dates back 2500 years


Moving around the world to central highland Mexico, archaeologists have found an altar and a stela estimated to date from as early as 800 BC at the Chalcatzingo archaeological site.

According to the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History, the altar is rectangular and covered with engravings representing rain. A few meters away from the altar was an unfinished stela measuring 1.7 meters tall. Researchers believe both pieces date to between 800 and 500 BC, about the same age as another altar and a relief portraying three cats that archaeologists found at Chalcatzingo less than a year ago.

According to archaeologist Carolina Meza, the latest discoveries came during excavations of a residential area that appears to date from the Late Classical period of the Olmec culture, from 700 to 500 BC. She explained that the difference in age between the new pieces and their surroundings could be because the Olmec repurposed and, in some cases, decommissioned architectural elements. They would have buried the altar and stela from the Preclassical period inside buildings in order to disassociate them from their original significance in Olmec rites.

The latest finds bring to 44 the number of altars, stelas and reliefs archaeologists have discovered at this particular site. Chalcatzingo is a Mesoamerican site in the Valley of Morelos dating from the Formative Period of Mesoamerican chronology. Researchers value the site for its extensive array of Olmec-style monumental art and iconography. Archaeologists estimate the Olmec settled Chalcatzingo as early as 1500 BC. The inhabitants began to produce and display Olmec-style art and architecture around 900 BC. Researchers estimate that at its height between 700 and 500 BC, Chalcatzingo's population was between five hundred and a thousand people.

Social inequality is more ancient than we think


In the British Isles, archaeologists from three British universities have discovered that social inequality began as much as 7,000 years ago. By analyzing 300 human skeletons from the early Neolithic era, which began about 6500 years ago, researchers have uncovered evidence of members of society having unequal access to land and possessions, and indicates that the concept of inherited wealth started in the times of the first farmers.

Researchers also found that, for late Stone Age women, it was the norm to leave their families and move in with the families of their new husbands; a social structure known as patrilocality.
The archaeologists, from the universities of Bristol, Cardiff and Oxford, discovered that farmers buried with tools had access to better land than those buried without.

Isotope analysis on the skeletons determined their place of origin. Those men buried with stone tools for smoothing or carving wood, known as adzes, had access to close, and better, lands than those buried without the tools. According to Professor Alex Bentley, archaeologist at the University of Bristol, the men buried with adzes appear to have lived on food grown in areas of loess, the fertile and productive soil favored by early farmers. This indicates they had consistent access to preferred farming areas.

The strontium isotope analysis also revealed that early Neolithic women were more likely than men to have come from areas outside those where researchers found their bodies. The scientists believe this is a strong indication of “patrilocality,” a social system by which women move to live in the location of their husband when they marry. Isotope ratios in teeth stay constant from childhood, matching to the geology where they grew up and yielding evidence on the location of their birth.

Other archaeological, genetic, anthropological, and linguistic evidence backs up the theory of patrilocality in Neolithic Europe. The study authors believe the new research has implications for genetic modeling of how human populations expanded, and believe status differences are crucial for this modeling. It seems the Neolithic era introduced inherited property, such as land and livestock, into Europe, and that wealth inequality started when this happened.

Looters damage burial mounds in Illinois


Our final story is from the United States, where someone damaged and possibly looted ancient American Indian burial mounds in southern Illinois, prompting the state's historical agency to call for the public's help in identifying the culprits.

Last month, someone dug several holes in a portion of Kincaid Mounds State Historic Site, a town and religious center of the Mississippian culture of 1,000 years ago. The perpetrators were probably searching for grave goods buried with the dead, although it's unclear if the looters took any artifacts or human remains. Trespassers did more damage to the site recently when they drove an all-terrain vehicle or truck on one of the mounds, where officials have posted "No Trespassing" signs and prohibited ATVs.

According to Amy Martin, Director of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, the criminal disturbance of these human burials in Kincaid Mounds is unconscionable. They hope to apprehend those who are responsible, which will serve as a deterrent to others who may be considering the desecration state heritage.

Looters already have targeted the site, which is about 170 miles southeast of St. Louis. In 2008, three holes several feet wide and deep appeared in the side of one of the nine mounds, with two of the holes in spots looters had struck the previous year.

The disturbance of archaeological sites or skeletal remains on state-owned property can be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, a $10,000 fine, reparations, and forfeiture of any vehicles or equipment used in the misdeed. Disturbance of burial sites on public land also may be a felony carrying a three-year prison term and $25,000 fine.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Kincaid Mounds is significant as one of two major political centers of the Mississippian period in the lower Ohio River Valley and was one of the first areas in southern Illinois where intensive, large-scale agriculture was developed.

Looting of such such site has produced federal charges in recent years. In 2010, Leslie Jones pleaded guilty to excavation, removal or damage of archaeological resources without a permit after investigators found more than 13,000 artifacts from southern Illinois' Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge at his home. The collection included pottery, clay figurines, stone weapons, tools, and more than 200 pieces of human skeletal remains dating from roughly 6000 BC to AD 400. The court sentenced Jones to a month in jail, five years of probation, and 500 hours of community service and ordered him to pay more than $150,000 in restitution.

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