Audio News for July 8 th to July 14th, 2012


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from July 8th to July 14th, 2012.


De Soto’s route through Florida found on archaeologist’s land


Our first story is from the United States.  When Spanish Conquistador Hernando de Soto stepped on the shores of Tampa Bay, Florida, with visions of gold, he had no mapped route, no idea of what lay in front of him and not an inkling that this trip would end in his death.  As De Soto and more than 600 troops set off into the humid Florida interior, they cut a path following Native American trails as they searched for wealth, food, and shelter.  Lured by promises of riches to the north, the Spanish militia ended up plundering and killing indigenous populations along the way.  

De Soto never found the gold or the land route to China that he was seeking.  Instead, the first European to cross the Mississippi River found a watery grave when a fever took his life somewhere on the river’s western banks in either present day Louisiana or Arkansas.  
With De Soto’s passing, his route through Florida and into the southeastern United States became obscured in history and given over to interpretation.  Until recently.  

A local Florida archaeologist uncovered what some of his colleagues claim has been more elusive that the prized gold De Soto searched for--evidence of his journey through Florida that could redraw the Spanish explorer’s path and help expose more archaeological sites in the region.  According to Ashley White, the archaeologist who found the site in Florida’s Marion County, we now know for sure De Soto came up through the Black Sink Prairie to Orange Lake and looped around through Micanopy.  

White, who lives on a 700-acre property owned by his bioarchaeologist wife, Michelle White, came across the discovery of De Soto’s encampment almost by luck.  While for years he had found Native American artifacts on the property, it wasn’t until a series of hurricanes and storms in 2005 thrashed Florida that he found something out of the ordinary: a coin minted before De Soto's 1539 expedition.  Nearby, White also came across a 16th Century structure that turned out to be the mission of San Buenaventura de Potano, established a number of  years after De Soto made his way through the area.  

On that site, White uncovered white copper coins and brown streaks where the church’s post used to be.  The original thought was that it was a Spanish ranch outpost.  On closer examination of the first site, however, White began to come across handmade beads and other coins similar to those found on other Florida mission buildings along Native American trails.  Missionaries most likely used De Soto's records to establish their churches along the paths.  Now archaeologists have reached a consensus that this is where De Soto camped in August 1539.

White’s discovery now opens the door for more research both at his site and in other sites around the region where De Soto may have camped on his way to his demise.


Germany may be home to earliest Viking town in historical record


Across the Atlantic in Germany, a battle-scarred, Eighth Century town may be the earliest Viking settlement in the historical record.  Ongoing excavations at Füsing, near the Danish border, link the site to the lost Viking town of Sliasthorp, first recorded in AD 804 by royal scribes of the powerful Frankish ruler Charlemagne.

According to team leader Andres Dobat, of Aarhus University in Denmark, the earliest Scandinavian kings used Sliasthorp as a military base.  Its location was unknown until now.  
Whether it proves to be the historic town or not, the site offers valuable insights into military organization and town planning in the early Viking era, according to the study team.  Some 30 buildings have been uncovered since excavations began in 2010.  Aerial photographs and geomagnetic surveys indicate about 200 buildings in total.  

Chief among them is a Viking longhouse measuring more than a 30 meters long and 9 meters wide.  The longhouse's burnt-out remains seemingly bear witness to a violent attack: Arrowheads found embedded in its charred wall posts suggest the communal building was set on fire and shot at.  The excavators also found a caltrop, a type of small, spiked iron weapon that attackers scattered on the ground so that people running out of the burning building would run into them.  Other finds include precious jewelry, glass beads, and silver coins.  

Researchers date the town to the same period as a nearby fortification known as the Danevirke, a 30-kilometer-long system of defensive earthworks the Danes built beginning in the Eighth Century.  It's clear from the relation of the site to the Danevirke structure that the newfound town was of great military importance as well, Dobat notes.  

According to the AD 804 account, the Viking king Gøtrik, also known as Godfred or Gudfred, used Sliasthorp as a base, Gøtri repaired and reestablished the Danevirke in the early 800s due to the threat posed by the northward-expanding Frankish Empire.  Though the town itself wasn't fortified, water and wetlands surround the site, so a narrow land bridge limited access.  Viking fighters may have used small wood-and-earth dwellings, or pit houses, as accommodations.  From the town, Viking kings or their chieftains would have controlled trade and access to the region, the study team suggests.  

Hedeby, an international port and trading center in Viking times, lay just 4 kilometers away.  While the Füsing site is Scandinavian in character, the buildings down the road in Hedeby are German and Slavonic in style.  Füsing's strategic location likely means traders needed permission from Viking leaders to enter Hedeby.  As for whether the newfound site is Sliasthorp, Jessen urged caution—but conceded it's the best candidate we have for now.


First humans in Americas apparently were not Clovis!


In our next story from the US, a discovery in an Oregon cave apparently has put that last nail in the coffin of the often bitterly debated Clovis-First concept.  The Clovis First hypothesis states that no humans existed in the Americas prior to Clovis, represented by Clovis fluted projectile points, which dates from 13,000 years ago, and that the distinct Clovis lithic technology is the mother technology of all other stone artifact types later occurring in the New World.

Now new international research published in the journal, Science, offers strong evidence that people of another culture and technology were present concurrently or even previous to those of Clovis.  An international team of researchers from the USA, the UK, and Denmark has found traces of a non-Clovis culture that was present in North America at least as early as Clovis people themselves and likely before.  

The evidence for a pre-13,000 year old non-Clovis culture in North America includes flaked stone artifacts known as Western Stemmed projectile points, and DNA-profiling of dried human excrement, more accurately known as coprolites.  Archaeologists excavated both obsidian projectile points and coprolites from sediments in the Paisley Caves, located in the sagebrush high desert country of southeastern Oregon not far from the small town of Paisley.  Previous investigations found that human coprolites in the caves predated the Clovis culture by over 1,000 years; however, critics questioned the interpretations by saying that researchers had not sufficiently examined the cave strata and had not found Clovis-age stone tools with the coprolites.  Critics also questioned whether or not younger human DNA washed down through the cave's sediments could contaminate non-human coprolites and make them appear to be human.  

The new study refutes every one of the critics' arguments and uses overwhelming archaeological, stratigraphic, DNA, and radiocarbon evidence to show in a way convincing to many researchers that humans, and ones totally unrelated to Clovis peoples, were present at Paisley Caves over a millennium before Clovis.  The new results severely contrast with the Clovis First theory for the early peopling of the Americas and are consistent with the more recent hypothesis that the first humans in the Americas arrived from Asia after migrating along the Pacific coast.  A site even a bit older than the Paisley Caves, Monte Verde, is located on the Pacific coast of southern Chile.

Dr. Dennis Jenkins from the University of Oregon led archaeological excavations at the Paisley Caves.  Dr. Loren Davis of Oregon State University mapped the stratigraphy.  Dr. Paula Campos and Professor Eske Willerslev from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, profiled the many DNA finds from the caves.  Dr. Thomas Stafford, Jr., also from Centre of GeoGenetics, was in charge of the radiocarbon geochronology and biogeochemistry.  


Research in North Sea reveals long-lost world


In our final story, the North Sea swallowed up a huge area of land thousands of years ago.  Now this land, called Doggerland, is on display.  Doggerland was an area bounded by Northern Scotland, Denmark, and the Channel Islands.  Historians believe it was home to tens of thousands of people before it disappeared under water.  Now a 15-year-project involving St Andrews, Dundee and Aberdeen universities has pieced together its history by artifacts recovered from the seabed.

Dr. Richard Bates at St Andrews University organized the story behind Doggerland.  Water slowly submerged the area between 18,000 BC and 5,500 BC.  According to Dr. Bates, a geophysicist, Doggerland was the real heartland of Europe until sea levels rose to give us the UK coastline of today.  

Researchers have speculated for years on the lost land's existence from bones dredged by fishermen all over the North Sea, but it's only since working with oil companies in the last few years that they have been able to re-create what this lost land looked like.  

Scientists now have been able to model its flora and fauna, build up a picture of the ancient people who lived there and begin to understand some of the dramatic events that subsequently changed the land, including the sea level rise and a devastating tsunami.  

Ancient tree stumps, flint used by humans and the fossilized remains of a mammoth helped form a picture of how the landscape may have looked.  Researchers also used geophysical modeling of data from oil and gas companies.  Findings suggest a picture of a land with hills and valleys, large swamps and lakes with major rivers dissecting a convoluted coastline.  As the sea rose, the hills would have become an isolated archipelago of low islands.  

By examining the fossil record, such as pollen grains, microfauna and macrofauna, the researchers could tell what kind of vegetation grew in Doggerland and what animals roamed there.  Using this information, they were able to build up a model of the carrying capacity of the land and work out tens of thousands of humans could have lived there.  The research team is currently investigating more evidence of human behavior, including possible human burial sites, intriguing standing stones and a mass mammoth grave.

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