Audio News for September 23rd to September 29th, 2012


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from September 23rd to the 29th, 2012.


German site offers unique insights on Aurignacian culture


Our first story is from Germany, where an international project in Saxony-Anhalt is excavating the 35,000-year-old site of Breitenbach and has unveiled the world’s oldest ivory workshop.  During this year's campaign, the team led by site directors Dr. Olaf Jöris and Tim Matthies found the evidence for clearly distinct working areas that are interpreted as standardized workshops for working mammoth ivory.  The remains featured one zone where pieces of ivory were split into lamella, or blanks, and another area where the pieces were carved and their waste was discarded.  
Some ivory beads and rough-outs of unfinished products were found amongst this debris, including a decorated rod and fragments of a three-dimensionally modified object, very likely an object of art.  The manufacturers were early modern humans similar to ourselves, carving mammoth ivory which had probably lain around at this site for some time, either from the carcasses of mammoths which had died here naturally or from animals killed by expert hunters.  In the case of the latter scenario, the mammoths could have been hunted by modern humans or even by Neanderthals, since Neanderthals had only become extinct a few thousand years before modern humans occupied the site.  

The settlement at Breitenbach covers an area of at least 6,000 square meters, about one and a half acres, and possibly as much as 20,000 square meters, or five acres, making it one of the largest sites known from the Aurignacian period of the later Palaeolithic.  The first archaeological excavations were carried out in the 1920s; the more recent campaigns have investigated some 70 square meters of the site, or nearly 800 square feet.  Many students from 25 countries have helped to excavate the site.  Close to 3,000 finds came to light this year alone.  

Other sites of the same age as Breitenbach are most commonly found in caves, where the use of space was constrained by the natural limits of the cave walls.  This led to restrictions on, and compromises by, the cave inhabitants.  In addition, the same areas of caves were repeatedly inhabited over a long period of time, superimposed over and often blurring details of earlier settlement remains.  In the open, as at Breitenbach, humans had the possibility to organize their space more or less free of restrictions and establish structures that allow us to reconstruct the daily life of this period at the highest resolution.  

Field work at Breitenbach has provided new insights into the spatial organization of settlement sites and thus of daily life during the Aurignacian period, around 40,000 to 34,000 years ago. This is ultimately of great importance for our understanding of the roots of modern human behavior itself, since indications for organizing activities in a well defined manner, which we are accustomed to today, are recognized for the first time worldwide through the new features discovered at the site of Breitenbach.  Due to the unparalleled large size of the settlement area, the Breitenbach site offers a unique opportunity to undertake a detailed investigation of an open site of the Aurignacian period.  The size of the site also inspires hope for future evidence of personal adornment, art, music or even burials, which are little known from this period.

Battlefield found from Oregon’s Indian wars


In the rugged mountains of southwestern Oregon, anthropology professor Mark Tveskov, of Southern Oregon University, has identified the site where in 1855, more than 500 Native American warriors, pioneer militiamen, and U.S. Army dragoons waged a desperate battle for control over southern Oregon.  Although it was the largest battle of the Rogue River Wars and one of the largest of the Indian wars of the American West, the details of this battle have, until now, been lost to history, and the location of the fight forgotten.  The battle was the worst defeat, particularly in terms of the total number of casualties, suffered by the combined force of U.S. Army and Oregon Volunteers in Oregon during the Indian wars.  

After three years of documentary and archaeological research, the Southern Oregon University Laboratory of Anthropology has discovered the location of the Battle of Hungry Hill, also known as the Battle of Grave Creek Hills.  The team led by Dr. Tveskov included Colonel Daniel Edgerton of the U.S. Army Center of Military History and historian Robert Kentt of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, along with other scholars.  Their work included combing through documents in archives in Washington D.C.; Seattle; Berkeley, California; and elsewhere, as well as extensive field survey by Southern Oregon University students and community and tribal volunteers.

The Hungry Hill site yielded its secrets through a process that, more than anything else, resembled detective work to solve a 150-year old mystery.  According to Tveskov, in the pre-Civil War decade of the 1850s, the conflict over states rights and federal power was already being played out on the frontier in places like southern Oregon.  Locally organized militias and federal Indian Agents and U.S. Army officers were frequently in opposition over the proper way to interact with the Indians who lived in lands being colonized by the United States.  As a significant defeat, the events of October 1855 exacerbated these tensions and and participants in the battle might have deliberately let the details of the defeat go by the wayside. 

Information about the battle comes mostly from second hand or brief contemporary reports, later memoirs by veterans and other participants, and pioneer and Native American oral histories.  Despite concentrated efforts by historians starting in the 19th century, no detailed, contemporary first-hand report about the Battle of Hungry Hill by any army officer has surfaced.  The exact location of the fight remained lost.  The southern Oregon team’s research into the history of the Battle of Hungry Hill began in 2009, and their archaeological survey included a 24 square mile search area on BLM-administered lands that covered steeply mountainous and heavily timbered terrain.  The battle’s location finally came clear in September 2012. 

In part, the site emerged with the aid of maps found in archives by the project researchers.  One of these documents was a hand-drawn map used by military scouts found in the papers of pioneer Jacksonville lawyer Benjamin F. Dowell in the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, California.  Another was a map drawn by an army lieutenant, found in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  The field team confirmed the battlefield site on the ground through the recovery of .69 caliber lead musket balls used by the U.S. Army in their model 1842 Springfield musketoons, as well as by a lead stopper to a gunpowder tin manufactured by DuPont de Nemours & Company of Wilmington, Delaware, the leading supplier of gunpowder to the U.S. Army in the mid-19th century.  These artifacts are identical to others found during the University's excavations at Fort Lane on southern Oregon’s Rogue River, where the U.S. Army dragoons that participated in the battle were stationed, and at earlier excavations of the Camp Castaway site on the Oregon Coast near Coos Bay, where a regiment of dragoons was marooned for several months after a shipwreck in 1852.


Spanish Bronze Age fortress shows eastern Mediterranean influence


Now we go back to Europe, specifically to Spain, where archaeologists from the Independent University of Barcelona have announced that Europe’s biggest fortified Bronze Age settlement, from 4,200 years ago, may represent the pinnacle of architecture and engineering for that time.  The site, known as La Bastida, not far from the coast of southeastern Spain, was protected by 20-foot high walls and towers designed to keep its elite residents protected and in power.  The design of these structures suggests that those who built it were from Asia Minor and the Middle East.  

One of the key clues to the ancestry of La Bastida is the pointed arched postern gate, or secondary door, near the main entrance.  The arch is the first one found in Europe from this period, and its style connects it to Troy, in modern day Turkey, and to urban locations in Palestine, Israel and Jordan.  The construction techniques found at La Bastida do not show up elsewhere in Europe until 400 to 800 years later when Mycenaeans in Southern Greece used them in their military architecture.  The structure suggests that people from the Middle East had a hand in the construction of the fortification.  The archaeological record shows that people living in Jordan and Israel at the time abandoned the safety and security of settlements for pastoral life.  

The fortification of La Bastida is impressive because of its size, but the fortifications also point to the builders’ origins.  The expertise demonstrated in architecture and engineering is extremely innovative for the time and suggests the knowledge of more advanced military tactics seen in Eastern warfare at the time.  The towers and exterior walls would be extremely effective for a defending force, with an incline of over 40%.  The mortar used provided an unusually strong material for construction by tightly binding stones together and making the wall impermeable.  The builders also made the exterior surfaces very smooth so that attackers would be unable to scale them easily.  In addition, the postern demanded extensive planning and design to fit it perfectly into the wall.  

Although the fortifications are the most significant discovery at La Bastida, they are not the only one.  Over the span of the last three years, researchers unearthed several large domiciles measuring over 750 square feet, or 70 square meters.  Another measure of the city’s size and affluence is the large water reservoir capable of holding over 100,000 gallons of water.  According to the archaeologists, the discoveries at La Bastida reveal the existence of a sometimes violent and stratified society, which lasted about seven centuries and probably dominated the socio-economic politics of the Bronze Age Iberian Peninsula.  Based on the excavations and carbon dating analysis, the Barcelona research team expressed the view that the discovery highlights the origins of economic and political inequality in Europe, as well as the role played by violence in these early societies.


Bronze Age trade shown by chemical analysis of stinging nettle cloth


Our final story is from Denmark, where a new find suggests that cloth retrieved from Denmark's richest known Bronze Age burial mound, Lusehøj, may actually come from Austria.  The fragment of cloth made from fibers of the stinging nettle around 800 B.C. tells a unique story about long-distance Bronze Age trade connections of the time.  

Over 2,800 years ago, one of Denmark's wealthiest men died.  His body was cremated, and then the bereaved wrapped his bones in a cloth made from nettle fiber and placed them in a stately bronze urn.  Now, the results of new analysis suggest that the man's voyage to his final resting place on the island of Funen may have been longer than such voyages usually were during the Bronze Age.   The nettle cloth wrapped around the dead man’s bones was not made in Denmark, and the evidence points to present-day Austria as the place of origin.  

According to post-doctoral researcher Karin Margarita Frei, from the Danish National Research Foundation's Center for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen, although the nettles had been assumed to be locally grown on the island of Funen, her analysis of the plant fiber strontium isotope levels showed that the nettles grew in an area with geologically old bedrock.  The only rocks with similar levels of strontium are found in Sweden and Norway as well as in Central Europe.  Frei had to conclude that Bronze Age Danes did not use local stinging nettles for their nettle textiles, at least in this case.  

Strontium is an element that exists in Earth's crust, but its prevalence is subject to geological and topographical variation.  Humans, animals, and plants absorb strontium through water and food.  By measuring the strontium level in archaeological remains, researchers can determine where humans and animals lived, and where plants grew.  The new findings result from collaboration among an international team of researchers from the Danish National Research Foundation's Centre for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen, the University of Bergen in Norway, and the National Museum of Denmark, and escribed in an article just published in Nature's online journal Scientific Reports.  Karin Margarita Frei's work and the grave's archaeological remains suggest that the cloth may derive from as far away as the Alps.  The bronze container used as the urn for the burial is definitely of Central European origin, probably from the Kärnten-Steiermark region in Austria.  The strontium isotope analysis of the cloth confirms the same region as a possible origin.  This is further supported by the results so far of ongoing analyses of pitch found in the Lusehøj grave.  

According to textile archaeologist Ulla Mannering from the National Museum of Denmark, one way an Austrian cloth could have ended up in Funen, Denmark, is through the metals trade.  Bronze Age Danes got their bronze from Central Europe, and rich and powerful men controlled this import.  So we can imagine how a bronze importer from Funen in Denmark died on a trading trip to Austria.  His bones possibly were wrapped in an Austrian nettle cloth and placed in a stately urn that his travel companions transported back to Denmark.  

The new evidence also adds further details to Danish textile history.  According to Mannering, the use of fine nettle cloth for a high-ranking person’s burial shows that Central Europeans still used wild plants for textile production during the Bronze Age while at the same time, they were already cultivating textile plants like flax on a large scale.  Nettle textiles apparently could compete with textiles made from flax and other materials because top quality nettle fabrics are as supple and strong as raw silk.  

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