Audio News for June 17th to June 23rd, 2012

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from June 17th to June 23rd, 2012.


Medieval Uzbek site sees looting by both locals and officials

Source: l

Our first story is from Uzbekistan, where according to villagers in the Ahangaran Valley, officials working for the governmental agency charged with protecting ancient monuments appear to be working more like looters in some recent activity at the well known archaeological site of Suyritepa. The medieval town of Suyritepa, a trading and cultural center on the Great Silk Road during the time of the early state called Ilak, saw ground disturbance from a bulldozer in May, although archaeologists only recently have learned about the damage, thanks to residents of nearby villages.

According to a local shepherd, the ancient settlements of the region are well known, so when he saw a bulldozer remove the surface layer of ground on a hill, he decided to investigate. One of those present at the work showed an ID to the shepherd, told him they were conducting excavations, and made him leave the site, with a warning not to approach them again. The name on the ID turned out to be that of the director of the inspection department of Uzbekistan’s main directorate for the preservation of monuments. According to a Tashkent-based archaeologist, this official’s group was using the bulldozer to turn over the surface of the ground, and then scanning the upturned soil with a metal detector to look for metal items, in particular, for coins.

The ransacked citadel is a rectangular hill covering one hectare and has nine towers. Around the citadel, the ancient township covers 4.5 square kilometers, forming the Angren river valley’s largest township from the medieval state of Ilak. Initially, the township attracted archaeologists’ attention with its vast source of easily recoverable ancient objects, from pottery fragments to tools and coins that are practically lying on the surface. However, serious and basic research has not yet been conducted at Suyritepa. Some local residents, seeing what the official’s group was doing, began their own excavations, according to local reports, and removed at least three caches of coins as well as ceramics. No one knows where it has all ended up. Regional archaeologists have complained about looting of cultural monuments to prosecutors and local administrations in Angren and Ahangaran, but antiquities looting continues. Unfortunately, it appears that those who are supposed to guard ancient monuments are robbing them.


Rare pocket sundial found at Jamestown


In the United States, archaeologists at Jamestown have found a pocket-sized ivory sundial in the fill above a cellar dated to the early James Fort period of 1607 to 1610. The artifact was the lower leaf of an ivory pocket sundial known in the 17th century as a diptych (dip-tik) dial. Clearly bearing the name of its maker, Hans Miller, a 17th century artisan known to have made such sundials in Nuremberg, Germany, the sundial most likely made the journey from Germany to North America in the pocket of one of Jamestown’s upper class gentlemen

The ivory sundial is not unique within the Jamestown context. Another lower leaf section of a table dial was recovered in 1998 from a structure near one of the palisades of the original James Fort. The diptych dial, on the other hand, was found in a cellar near James Fort's first well, which was only 10 feet away from the cellar.  According to the discoverers at the Jamestown site, such dials have two leaves like a book, hinged together on one end so the leaves open out to form a right angle. Most diptych dials include a horizontal dial engraved on the inside of the lower leaf and a vertical dial on the inside of the upper. Between the two leaves is a pole with a string to serve as the gnomon (NO-mon), or the pointer that casts a shadow; measuring the length and position of that shadow indicates the hour of the day.

The most practical use for the instrument was to determine the time of day, but Jamestown curator Bly Straube believes that, more than telling time, it brought aesthetic and religious satisfaction, from making a device to simulate the heavens.  The presence of these dials at Jamestown represents the age in which they were produced, an age of exploration and discovery that was as much about philosophy as it was about science.


Oldest pearl found in Arabian cemetery


French researchers have unearthed the oldest natural pearl ever found at a Neolithic site in the Arabian Peninsula region, suggesting that pearl oyster fishing first occurred in this area of the world. The pearl comes from the Emirate of Umm al Quwain (oom al ku-wain), in the United Arab Emirates, and is believed to have originated between 5547 and 5235 BC. Gemologists and jewelers have popularized the idea that the oldest pearl is the 5000-year-old Jomon pearl from Japan. Discoveries made on the shores of southeastern Arabia, including this latest 7500-year-old pearl, change the picture dramatically, according to a recent article in the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy by Vincent Charpentier, Sophie Méry and colleagues at the French Foreign Ministry's archaeological mission in the UAE.

The newly discovered pearl measures 2 millimeters in diameter, and is the latest of a series of such finds at archeological sites in the Arabian Peninsula. Over the years, researchers have unearthed a total of 101 Neolithic pearls, coming from the large pearl oyster Pinctada margaritifera and from Pinctada radiata, a much smaller and easier to collect species that provides higher quality pearls.

According to the researchers, the discovery of archaeological pearls demonstrates ancient fishing and tool-making traditions that no longer exist today. Despite the difficult and dangerous nature of diving for pearls, mother-of-pearl was an important resource in the economy of local Neolithic societies. The large valves of P. margaritifera were used to make fish hooks to catch fish as large as tuna and sharks, while spherically shaped pearls were collected for their esthetic value and for funeral rites. The Umm al Quwain pearl, which was not drilled, was recovered from a grave. Finds at the local necropolis reveal that pearls often were placed on the deceased's face, above the upper lip. In the fifth millennium BC, half-drilled natural pearls were associated with men, and full-drilled pearls with women. Pearls still hold a special meaning in the culture of the region, and the new archaeological evidence shows just how ancient this significance is.


Alaskan lake sediment core data show ice-free travel was possible by 17,000 years ago


In our final story, a new study of lake sediment cores from Sanak Island, in the western Gulf of Alaska, suggests that deglaciation from the last Ice Age took place as much as 1,500 to 2,000 years earlier than previously thought, allowing for earlier coastal migration models for the Americas. The Sanak Island Biocomplexity Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, also concluded that the maximum thickness of the ice sheet in the Sanak Island region during the last glacial maximum was 70 meters, or about half that previously projected, suggesting that deglaciation could have happened more rapidly than earlier models predicted.

According to the study, led by Nicole Misarti of Oregon State University, and published in the professional journal, Quaternary Science Reviews, the new date is important because it suggests that the possible coastal migration of people from Asia into North America and South America could have begun as much as two millennia earlier than the generally accepted date of ice retreat in this area, which was 15,000 years ago. Well documented archaeological sites at Monte Verde, Chile, and Paisley Caves, Oregon, date back to around 14,500 years ago, giving little time for expansion if humans had not come to the Americas until 15,000 years ago, as many models suggest. The immense ice sheets that covered this part of the Earth during the last Ice Age would have prevented widespread migration into the Americas, most archaeologists believe.

According to Misarti, a post-doctoral researcher in Oregon State's College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, it is important to note that these results simply set the stage for an earlier entrance. The investigation did not find any archaeological evidence documenting earlier entrance into the continent. However, by collecting cores from widespread places on the island and determining the lake's age of origin based on 22 radiocarbon dates, they clearly documented that the retreat of the Alaska Peninsula Glacier Complex was earlier than previously thought. According to Misarti, glaciers would have retreated enough to pose no obstacle to the movement of humans along the southern edge of the Bering land bridge as early as almost 17,000 years ago.

The study began as a way to examine the abundance of ancient salmon runs in the region. As the researchers began examining core samples from Sanak Island lakes looking for evidence of salmon remains, they began getting radiocarbon dates much earlier than they had expected. These dates were based on the organic material in the sediments, which was from terrestrial plant macrofossils indicating the region was ice-free earlier than believed. The researchers were surprised to find the lakes ranged in age from 16,500 to 17,000 years old. A third factor influencing the find came from pollen, Misarti said. They found a full contingent of pollen that indicated dry tundra vegetation by 16,300 years ago, that would have been a viable landscape for people to survive on, or move through.

The Sanak Island site is remote, about 700 miles from Anchorage, Alaska, and about 40 miles from the coast of the western Alaska Peninsula, where the ice sheets may have been thicker and longer lasting, Misarti pointed out. The region wasn't one big glacial complex, but had spots where the ice was thinner and the glaciers retreated earlier. In their article, the researchers concluded that while the new data do not prove that early Americans migrated along this corridor, Sanak Island shows that human migration across this portion of the coastal landscape was unimpeded after 17,000 years, with a viable terrestrial landscape in place by 16,300 years ago, well before the earliest accepted habitation of sites in the Americas.

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