Audio News for June 3 to 9, 2012

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from June 3rd to June 9th, 2012.


Early Scottish settlement shows sophisticated strategies to cool food, heat homes


In our first story, ancient Scotland had fridges, state-of-the-art heating systems and maybe even a sauna. Archaeologists have discovered that Bronze Age people at a settlement on the west coast dating back 4,000 years had a range of conveniences that would be envied even today. A dig on the site of a housing development has uncovered six Bronze Age roundhouses that are blieved to be some of Scotland’s earliest cold storage larders.

According to a team led by Dr. Clare Ellis, from Argyll Archaeology, the roundhouses at Dunstaffnage ( DunSTAFnidge) are the first in Scotland to have ring ditches inside the structure used as cellars to cool food. There are also vents leading into the central hearths that would have allowed the residents to regulate their heating, and remnants found outside the dwelling could be a very simple form of sauna.

According to Ellis, the most significant find is the construction of ditches encircling the inside of the house, which is a design not previously seen in Scotland. The consensus until now was that ring ditches occur outside the timber roof supports of roundhouses, although still within the roundhouse structure, and were features where animals were kept. However, the ring ditches of these houses are inside the roof support area, and the theory is that they are low cellars that would have had wooden floors over them, and thus functioned as an early form of larder storage system.
Later houses, in the Iron Age, had well-built, banana-shaped cellars, and these would appear to be the precursor. The ditch larders are found on the northeast side of houses, the coolest side. They would work like an early form of refrigeration, to keep cheeses, milk, dried meat, salted fish, and grain.

Another important find for Scottish archaeology was the discovery of air vents coming out of the ring ditches and the hearths. These are wood-lined vents, which in the hearths, would allow air to channel into the base of the fire. According to Ellis, this is another new design, not found in Scotland before. The larder ditch vents would let air circulate into the stored food and also allow occasional washing out of some of the ditches.

The team has uncovered ancient burial pits in addition to the roundhouse sites. Other finds include a hammerstone, dating back 3,000 to 4,000 years, used for mashing up vegetable matter; a flint, imported or traded from Ireland, found in a burial pit; and several pieces of decorated pottery that may have held cremated human remains.

The area around Oban is believed to have been well populated in the Bronze Age due to its sheltered climate. Settlements have been found throughout the area, including one at Dunstaffnage, about four miles to the north, on the flat terraces overlooking the Firth of Lorn. The newly discovered roundhouse village originally had a larger ditch encircling the cluster of homes and dating back earlier than the roundhouses themselves. A burnt mound has also been uncovered at the site. Its use as an area where water was heated leads to interpretations that it may have been an early type of communal sauna. The finds all date to the Bronze Age, but radiocarbon dating will be used to determine a more precise date.

Israeli hoard of coins and jewelry dates to Bar Kokhba revolts


In Israel, some 140 gold and silver coins and a trove of jewelry are among new finds uncovered near Kiryat Gat. The jewelry is believed to date back to the Bar Kokhba revolt, the final and most catastrophic Jewish rebellion against Roman rule that took place from AD 132 to 136. The jewelry was likely hidden by a wealthy woman during the rebellion. According to Emil Aladjem, the excavation director, the jewelry stashed in the hoard included flower-shaped earrings, a ring with a precious stone marked with the seal of a winged goddess, and two sticks of silver that probably were used for beautification.

The nearly 150 coins date to the reigns of the Roman emperors Nero, Nerva and Trajan, who ruled the Roman Empire from AD 54 to 117. The coins bear the heads of the emperors and, on their reverse sides, cultic portrayals of the emperor, symbols of the brotherhood of warriors, or mythological gods such as Jupiter seated on a throne or grasping a lightning bolt in his hand.
According to Sa'ar Ganor, District Archaeologist of Ashkelon and the Western Negev for the Israel Antiquities Authority, the contents of the collection are typical of burials during a time of emergency. A wealthy woman wrapped her jewelry and money in a cloth and hid them deep in the ground prior to or during the Bar Kokhba revolt,but never returned to reclaim it. The artifacts are being preserved at the Israel Antiquities Authority's Artifacts Treatment Department in Jerusalem.

Early statue of Buddha found in Afghanistan


Farther east, in Afghanistan, archaeologists working in the ruins of a Buddhist monastery have uncovered a stone statue depicting the prince Siddhartha before he founded Buddhism. The stone statue was discovered at the Mes Aynak site in a ruined monastery in 2010, but only now has it been fully analyzed and described.

Gérard Fussman, a professor at the Collège de France in Paris, details his research in a newly released publication on "The Early Iconography of Avalokitesvara." The statue stands11 inches high and is carved from schist, a stone not found in the area, and depicts a prince seated alongside a monk. A bronze coin found nearby suggests an age of at least 1,600 years for the carving. Siddhartha lived 2500 years ago.

The prince is shown sitting on a round wicker stool, his eyes looking down and his right foot against his left knee. He is clad in a dhoti garment, the traditional men’s skirt of India, wears an elaborate turban, necklaces, earrings and bracelets, and is sitting under the foliage of a pipal tree. The monk stands at the prince's right side, his right arm raised to hold, in his right hand, a lotus flower or palm, while in his left hand he clasps a round object. 

Based on the iconography of the statue, particularly the pipal leaves, Fussman believes the prince is Gautama Siddhartha Sakyamuni, who is said to have achieved enlightenment and become the Buddha, someone of divine wisdom and virtue, and founded the religion of Buddhism. This statue shows him at an early point in life, before he has begun his journey to Buddhism. According to the story, Siddhartha's father wanted him to follow a worldly path and tried to keep his son enclosed in a palace. The prince's life would change upon venturing out of the palace and seeing the real world. As soon as he left the palace, he became pessimistic, Fussman notes, because by meeting people outside, he came to learn that everybody must work, everybody is susceptible to illness, and everybody will die. He grew disenchanted with palace life and left, becoming a poor ascetic.

According to Fussman, this statue supports the idea that there was a monastic cult, in antiquity, dedicated to Siddhartha's pre-enlightenment life. UCLA professor Gregory Schopen first proposed this idea in a 2005 article in the journal ”East and West.” Schopen found evidence for the cult while examining a document called Mulasarvastivada vinaya, which is the Tibetan version of the monastic code.

Excavations are continuing at the Mes Aynak site, where scientists are investigating the complex in an effort to salvage its artifacts and information before copper mining disturbs the area.

Shakespeare’s first theatre found


In our final story, archaeologists in London have discovered the remains of an early playhouse used by William Shakespeare's company. The first performances of "Romeo and Juliet" and "Henry V" were at this theater, which pre-dates the later, but better known Globe. The newly found Curtain Theater lay north of the river Thames in Shoreditch and was home to Shakespeare's company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men.

Researchers from Museum of London Archaeology have discovered remains of walls forming the gallery and the yard within the venue. According to Chris Thomas of the Museum, who is leading the dig, the site provides enormous insight into early Shakespearean theatres. The discovery also will delight historians and Shakespeare fans, as the excavations offer a picture of where the writer's early productions were performed.

The Curtain Theatre opened in 1577 close to London's first playhouse, which was called simply “The Theatre." The Curtain was one of a number of early theaters built outside the city's walls and took its name from a nearby street called Curtain Close. It was the main arena for Shakespeare's plays between 1597 and 1599 until completion of the Globe in Southwark, but it is not clear what happened to the playhouse after that, since it seems to vanish from historic records after 1622, although some scholars believe it may have remained in use until the English Civil War in the 1640s.

Archaeologists came upon the Curtain Theatre's remains on Hewett Street after work began on a redevelopment project last October. Soon after the remains were found on an exploratory dig, architects began drawing up plans to preserve them while allowing the development to go ahead. This is an outstanding site, and an unexpected find in the year of the worldwide celebration of Shakespeare, according to Kim Stabler, Archaeology Advisor at English Heritage. London has been celebrating its cultural heritage with a world Shakespeare festival taking place at the Globe theatre and across the UK, as part of a festival opening to coincide with the Olympics this summer, and scheduled to last to November.

That wraps up the news for this week!
For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at, where all the news is history!
I'm Laura Pettigrew and I'll see you next week!