Audio News for July 29 to August 4, 2012

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from July 29th to August 4th, 2012.

Public sees Basque history uncovered in new Idaho excavation


Our first story is from the United States, where a new excavation in Boise, Idaho, will highlight the early domestic life of Basque settlers.  Investigations at the Cyrus Jacobs/Uberuaga Boarding House have uncovered many treasures through the years: marbles, silverware, shoes, and tobacco tins.  One of the few remaining standing examples of a Basque boardinghouse in the West, the site is part of the Basque Museum & Cultural Center, the only such museum in the United States.  A new excavation began at the site this week that promises to reveal even more about Boise's earliest days, when a University of Idaho archaeological team will spend the next two weeks digging out an old well found at the east side of the house.

According to Patty Miller, executive director at the Basque Museum, the museum staffers, historians and others were so excited about the discovery of a previously unknown well that they pulled the excavation project together in less than two months.  The archaeologists are removing the soil from around the well in hopes of uncovering items lost or thrown away by people nearly 150 years ago.  The house and well were built in 1864.  True to expectations, within the first couple of hours of the dig, just barely under the surface, the excavators found two shell buttons, a rust-red tin of Prince Albert Tobacco, a shard of porcelain with a pink flower design, canning lids with white glass tops intact, assorted bones and bottle caps, a porcelain doll head and more.  
Mark Warner and Stacey Camp, both anthropology professors at the University of Idaho, are leading the work.  According to Warner, one of the key things about this type of dig is that it tells the story of everyday life through items that are often lost because no one considers them notable at the time.  Empty jars, bottles and other everyday trash reveal what people ate, drank, collected and smoked.  Broken medicine bottles reveal their ailments.  

Archaeologists have done work at hundreds of African-American sites and hundreds of Chinese-American sites, but there's been little archaeological work done in the Basque-occupied areas in the U.S.  The Basques are an indigenous group of people who originated from northwestern Spain and southwestern France.  The migration of Basques began with the earliest explorers of North America, but the majority of migration came in the 1840s and 1850s.  Many Basques came to Idaho in the late 1800s to work as sheepherders.  Some also worked in mining and logging.  Basque immigration to Idaho peaked between 1900 and 1920.  

This project will give the public the chance to see urban archaeology in action.  The site will be open during the dig, with an observation area set up so visitors can watch the progress.

Turkish sculptures reveal early empires of 1000 BC


In Turkey, a beautiful and colossal human sculpture is one of the latest cultural treasures unearthed by an international team at the Tayinat Archaeological Project excavation site in the southeastern region of the country.  Also discovered was a large semi-circular column base, ornately decorated on one side.  Both pieces are from a monumental gate complex that provided access to the upper citadel of Kunulua, capital of the Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Patina between 1000 and 738 BC.  

According to Professor Tim Harrison, the project director and professor of Near Eastern Archaeology in the University of Toronto, these newly discovered sculptures are the product of a vibrant local Neo-Hittite sculptural tradition.  Their size and style provide a dramatic glimpse into the innovative character and sophistication of the Iron Age cultures that emerged in the eastern Mediterranean following the collapse of the great imperial powers of the Bronze Age at the end of the second millennium BC.  

The head and torso of the human figure, intact to just above its waist, measures approximately five feet or 1.5 meters high, suggesting a total body height of nearly four meters, or about 12 feet.  The figure is bearded, with magnificently preserved inlaid eyes made of white and black stone, and the hair is carved into an intricate series of curls aligned in linear rows.  Both arms extend forward from the elbow, each with two arm bracelets decorated with lion heads.  The figure's right hand holds a spear, and in its left is a sheaf of wheat.  A crescent-shaped pectoral adorns its chest.

A lengthy inscription in Luwian hieroglyphics is carved in raised relief across its back, recording the campaigns and accomplishments of Suppiluliuma, likely the same Patinean king who faced a Neo-Assyrian onslaught of Shalmaneser III as part of the Syrian-Hittite coalition of 858 BC.  
The second piece is a large semi-circular column base, approximately 3 feet, or one meter, high and nearly as wide in diameter, found lying on its side next to the human figure.  Carved on the front of the column is a winged bull, with a sphinx to its left.  The right side of the column is flat and undecorated, showing that it originally stood against a wall.  

According to Harrison, the two pieces appear ritually buried in the paved stone surface of the central passageway through the Tayinat gate complex.  The complex would have provided a monumental ceremonial approach to the upper citadel of the royal city.  Tayinat, a large low-lying mound, is located 35 kilometers east of Antakya or ancient Antioch.  The presence of colossal human statues, often astride lions or sphinxes, in the citadel gateways of the Neo-Hittite royal cities of Iron Age Syro-Anatolia continued a Bronze Age Hittite tradition that emphasized their symbolic role as boundary zones, and the role of the king as the divinely appointed guardian or gatekeeper of the community.  

By the ninth and eighth centuries BC, these elaborately decorated gateways, with their ornately carved reliefs, had come to serve as dynastic symbols, legitimizing the power of the ruling elite.  The gate reliefs also formed linear narratives, guiding their audiences between the human and divine realms, where the king served as the link between the two worlds.  The Tayinat gate complex was destroyed during the Assyrian conquest of the region in 738 BC, and the area was paved over and converted into the central courtyard of an Assyrian sacred zone.  The smashed and buried monumental sculptures at Tayinat include a magnificently carved lion discovered last year and a Luwian hieroglyphic inscribed stela.  Together these finds hint of an earlier Neo-Hittite complex that might have once faced the gateway approach.  The Tayinat Archaeological Project is an international project involving researchers from a dozen countries, and more than 20 universities and research institutes.


Traces of chocolate found on northern Maya dishes


Now we cross the Atlantic to Mexico, where archaeologists have found residues of cacao or chocolate on 2,500-year-old plate fragments from the northern Maya lowlands in the Yucatan.  Although cacao residue has been found in cups from other sites that are 1,000 years older, this is the oldest trace of cacao in this northern region.  More important, with the ancient residue on a plate rather than a cup, it is the first evidence suggesting the Maya used it as a condiment or sauce with solid food, as something other than as a drink.  Perhaps this was a precursor of the popular mole (MOLE- aye) sauce for meats, often made with chocolate, now widely used in Mexican cuisine.  

Researchers previously thought that the only uses for cacao by the Maya came from crushing the beans and dissolving it in liquid to make a drink something like hot chocolate, or fermenting the pulp that surrounds the beans in its pod to make an alcoholic drink.  The plate fragments were recovered in 2001 by archaeologist Tomas Gallareta Negron (guy-ya-RET-a nay-GROAN) of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History and his colleagues at Paso del Macho in the Southern Puuc (pooh-OOK) region of Mexico.  Paso del Macho, which dates from 600 to 500 BC, was a relatively small site, but important as it had several small mounds and a ball court, according to archaeologist George Bey of Millsaps College in Mississippi, who also worked at the site.  The fact that the inhabitants were able to acquire and use cacao indicates they were part of the larger Maya world even at this early date.  

Chemist Timothy Ward of Millsaps and his colleagues extracted the residue from the plate fragments and submitted it to mass spectrometry, identifying a ratio of theobromine (the-oh-BRO-meen) and caffeine that is characteristic of cacao.  According to Gallareta Negron, the combination of this evidence with other artifactual, architectural and settlement data, is providing us with a new view of this little known area of the Maya world during the earliest times.  The northern Maya world was just as complex and sophisticated as the far better known southern Maya area, and we can now add the consumption of cacao to this list of traits.


Egyptian First Dynasty funeral boat is oldest ever found


Finally, in Egypt, at the Abu Rawash archaeological site, research teams have discovered the oldest funerary boat ever found.  Situated eight kilometers, or about 5 miles, northwest of the Giza plateau, Abu Rawash contains archaeological remains that date back through various periods ranging from the prehistoric to the Coptic eras.  Abu Rawash displays a variety of funerary structures relating not only to the different ancient Egyptian periods but also to their differences in worship extending quite late in time.  

At the prehistoric necropolis dating from the archaic period and located at the northern area of Mastaba Number Six, researchers from the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo uncovered 11 wooden panels of a funerary boat, the earliest ever found and used by the ancients to transport the soul of their departed king to the afterlife right through eternity.  The boat is in a well-preserved condition and almost intact, thanks to the dry desert environment.  Each panel measures 6 meters in height and 1.50 meters in width, an impressive 20 by 5 feet each.  

According to Minister of State for Antiquities, Mohamed Ibrahim, early studies of the panels revealed that the boat belonged to King Den of the First Dynasty, who is not buried in Abu Rawash, but whose tomb is found at the royal necropolis of the Early Dynastic kings in the Upper Egyptian town of Abydos.  Because of his young age, King Den shared the throne with his mother, Meritneith.  

Den was the fourth King of the First Dynasty, dating back to around 3000 BC.  Archaeologically speaking, Den is perhaps the best attested ruler of this period.  He brought prosperity to the land, and many innovations in ritual and architectural styles are attributed to the time of his reign.  He was the first to use granite in construction and decoration, and the floor to his tomb is made of red and black granite.  During his reign, Den established many of the patterns of court ritual and royalty used by his successor kings.  The newly discovered panels of the boat have been transported to the planned National Museum of Egyptian Civilization for restoration and reconstruction in the museum's laboratories.

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!