Audio News for August 26th to September 1st, 2012


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from August 26th to September 1st, 2012.


Tibetan tomb is from early, pre-Buddhist kingdom


In our first story, four tombs recently unearthed in southwest China's Tibet autonomous region revealed artifacts from an ancient Tibetan kingdom that thrived more than 2,000 years ago.  The tombs, found in Gar County of Ngari Prefecture, held wooden caskets with human remains, copperware, swords, and the skeletons of cattle that may have been sacrificial items.  

According to Dr. Tong Tao, from the archeological institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, researchers believe the tombs mark the center of the ancient Shangshung Kingdom, a once-powerful tribe over taken by Songtsen Gampo to become part of Tibet in the Seventh Century.  All four tombs were found near a Bon monastery in Gar County.  Bon was a religion that prevailed in Tibet before Buddhism was introduced from India in the Seventh Century.  Its followers worshipped natural spirits, like mountains and lakes.  According to Tong, Shangshung is widely believed to be the cradle of the Bon religion and therefore a cultural and political center for the plateau.  

Most of the sacrificial items inside the tombs apparently came to the plateau from India, such as a gold mask from one of the tombs that is similar to gold masks prevalent in northern India.  However, the swords appear to be from central and northern Chinese regions.  Tong and his colleagues believe the items show that the ancient Shangshung kingdom carried out diverse cultural exchanges and population movements, which made it one of the earliest centers of civilization on the Tibet plateau.  

None of the four tombs was newly discovered, but scientific excavation and research for conservation purposes did not start until June.  In 2005, monks in Gar County unearthed combs, firewood, copper kitchen utensils, carbonized plants, and pieces of silk, some of which bore handwriting and paintings.  Jin Shubo, a senior official in Tibet with an interest in archaeology, sent the samples for carbon dating and found they dated back 1,800 to 2,200 years, putting them somewhere between the Western Han Dynasty, from 206 BC to AD 24, and the Wei Kingdom of AD 220 to 265.  According to the Book of Han, which recorded the history of the Han dynasty, emperors of that dynasty often presented gifts of silk to the western kingdoms to help keep friendly foreign relations.  The pieces of silk unearthed from the tombs are very likely such gifts from Chinese emperors.  

A large quantity of horse, cattle and sheep skeletons indicates that the tomb's owners held high economic status.  One of the tombs housed the remains of four to five people, while the other three had one corpse each.  Researchers have taken samples of the remains to Beijing for DNA analysis to determine whether the tomb's occupants are related.  Tong and his colleagues are planning to conduct large-scale excavation and research in the tombs next year.


Giant jaguar sculpture found in site that pre-dates the Maya


In Mexico, a one-ton monolithic sculpture representing a jaguar lying down was discovered recently in the pre-Hispanic site of Izapa, in the State of Chiapas.  The engraved sculpture, estimated to be about 2,000 years old, was found in a riverbed and due to its weight, was not taken out until a few days ago.  The removal from the riverbed was carried out by the National Institute of Anthropology and History, and took more than seven hours.  

This is the 91st sculpture registered in the archaeological zone of Izapa, one of the pre-Hispanic sites in Chiapas that holds the largest quantity of discovered monuments, 284 up to now, including sculptures, altars, thrones and stelas.  Some of these monoliths are plain while others have engravings of extraordinary iconographic richness and complexity of carving.  

Izapa’s monuments capture the worldview of the people that built the city approximately 2,500 to 2,000 years ago, possibly from a blend of the Mixe and Zoque (MEE-shay and SO-kay) peoples and cultures, which preceded Maya culture.  Attesting to this are some images, which illustrate diverse myths narrated in the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Maya.  

According to Emiliano Gallaga Murrieta (ay-MEE-lee-ah-no GUY-ah-ga moor-ee-AY-tah), director of the Institute's Chiapas center, the new monument is approximately 5 feet by 3 feet by 2 feet in size.  Only one of the faces is engraved and shows the features of a jaguar, with both the front and back legs bent as if it were lying down.  Gallaga Murrieta emphasized that this piece not only increases knowledge of the archaeology of Izapa, but it also underscores the importance of this animal in the ritual beliefs of Mesoamerican cultures.  In addition, it shows how Izapa’s people embodied such concepts in stone.  

Gallaga Murieta believes that this bulk sculpture was probably in the process of construction since three sides of the stone are plain.  The Izapa sculptures were made with stone tools, as metal tools did not come into use until the Spanish arrived..  Hard jade chisels sometimes were used to sculpt the softer volcanic and sedimentary monoliths.  The new jaguar monolith came to light at the end of the 2011 season of the Regional Reconnaissance Project of Izapa, directed by archaeologist Robert M. Pinter Rosenwig of the University of Albany.  The project examined only the surface of the Izapa settlement, which covers 127 acres running from the coast to the edge of the mountains.


Lost language comes to light on ancient clay tablet from Turkey


Now we travel to Turkey, where a tablet found at the Ziyaret Tepe excavation area is creating excitement among scientists and archaeologists for its evidence of a previously unknown language.  According to Nevin Soyukaya, director of the Diyarbakir Museum and supervisor of the excavation, the tablet is from the eighth century BC.  The settlement at Ziyaret Tepe, consisting of 32 hectares near the Tigris River, dates from eighth to third centuries BC, making it one of the oldest settlements in the region.  It was an important center for the Assyrians, who called it Tushan.  It served as both a military base and the seat of regional government, as shown by a large palace where the state governor resided.

Researchers uncovering the palace remains found the tablet in the burnt ruins of the throne room.  The first evaluations and translation of the tablet were conducted in England.  The translator of the tablet, Dr. John MacGinnis of Cambridge University, notes the tablet was written in Assyrian cuneiform and was highly significant for historians and archaeologists.  The translation of the tablet took a very long time.  They finally realized that women’s names are listed in the text and it is highly probable that these are the names of women who once worked in Tushan.  

According to MacGinnis, the most surprising thing was that the names on the tablet were not Assyrian.  To determine the origins of these names, the researchers made contact with many specialists and compared it with many languages in the Middle East.  However, this language did not match any of them.  It is not Persian, Elam, Egyptian, Arabic, Hebrew, or Aramaic.  

The names on the tablet include Impane, Ninuaya, Sasimi, Bisunume, Malinayasi, and Pinda.   According to MacGinnis, the most likely possibility is that these are Shubrian.  Shubria was one of the names of this region before the Assyrians arrived. The Shubrian language is not well understood and as far as we know never was written.  Another possibility is that the women whose names are listed had been relocated to the area from the Zagros Mountains on the Iraqi-Iranian border.  One of the standard practices of the Assyrians was to relocate groups of people, and often women were sent to work in palaces of other regions.  The excavation is part of a project called “World Heritage Threatened by the Ilisu Dam Lake”, a joint effort by the Turkish Culture Ministry and the General Directorate of State Hydraulic Works.  The Ilisu Dam project has been controversial in part because its reservoir will inundate many important cultural heritage sites.


Oklahoma team excavates early bison kill site


Our final story is from the United States, where this summer, a team of Oklahoma University archaeologists finished excavating a bison kill site that hadn’t been touched by humans in thousands of years.  According to K.C. Carlson, field director of the excavation, humans last visited the site in the Folsom Age, which was more than 10,000 years ago.  According to university archeologist Leland Bement, the team uncovered the skeletal remains of more than a dozen bison, some Folsom points, weapons used to kill bison, and some of the butchering tools Paleoindians used to cut up the animals.  

The Badger Hole kill site excavation was a continuation of Oklahoma University's project to excavate a number of bison kill sites along the Beaver River in northwest Oklahoma.  This was the second year the team had been excavating the site, so they knew what to expect when they were digging around in the red dirt, but that didn’t diminish the excitement of finding so much.  The exact number of remains and artifacts that were found is as yet undetermined, because the team is still analyzing its findings.  

In June, a group of students from the nearby town of Woodward, Oklahoma, who were participating in the Time Team America field school, also joined the team.  The students were led through the bone beds in the kill site and made their own spear points.  As part of the field school, the University's team helped butcher a bison using the kind of flaked stone tools the Paleoindians would have used.  Having that hands-on experience helped them understand more of what they were seeing when examining butcher marks.  They worked side by side with members of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes, who donated the bison.  

The sites the team have excavated date back to right after the extinction of the mammoth at the end of the last ice age.  According to Bement, they are particularly important fand their descendants continued to use for over 10,000 years.  Bison behave far differently from mammoths, which forced Paleoindians to change their style of hunting.  They developed a hunting strategy by which they chased a herd of bison into a dead end gully, where they would then kill and butcher the animals.  

The team is finished with excavating the Badger Hole site for now, but they will continue to monitor the area for any new discoveries made.

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