Audio News for September 30 th to October 6th , 2012


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from September 30th to October 6th, 2012.

Were there dentists in the Stone Age?


Our first story is from Slovenia, where a 6,500-year-old tooth packed with beeswax could represent the earliest evidence of a dental filling.  

The recipient of the treatment was most likely a 24 to 30-year-old man.  Early last century, excavations revealed his fossilized jawbone near the village of Loka.  At the time, curators for a museum in nearby Trieste, Italy, described, catalogued and filed away the find, one of the oldest human bones found in the region.  The jawbone remained in the museum for 101 years without anybody noticing anything strange until researchers happened to use the specimen to test new X-ray imaging equipment, and spotted an unusual resinous substance attached to a canine.  

Has revealed this substance to be beeswax, possibly used to alleviate pain and sensitivity when chewing on the broken tooth.  The team used a range of scientific techniques including 3-D high-resolution x-rays, radiocarbon dating, and infrared spectroscopy, to determine the age and composition of the filling.  They suggested that the wax might have had a therapeutic purpose, though they could not rule out application after the individual’s death.  

This finding is perhaps the most ancient evidence of prehistoric dentistry in Europe, and the earliest known direct example of therapeutic-palliative dental filling.  Prehistoric communities used bee products for technological, artistic, and medical purposes, but it is thanks to the Loka finding that we can now imagine people doing dentistry in Neolithic Europe.


Burial place of great Maya queen revealed by alabaster jar


Archaeologists in Guatemala have discovered the tomb of Lady K'abel, a seventh-century Maya Holy Snake Lord, during excavations of the royal Maya city of El Perú-Waka' in northwestern Petén.  Considered one of the great queens of the Late Classic period, K'abel ruled with her husband, K'inich Bahlam, for at least 20 years, from AD 672 to 692.  She was the military governor of the Wak kingdom for her family, the imperial house of the Snake King, and she carried the title of Supreme Warrior, higher in authority than her husband, the king.  K'abel also is famous for her portrayal on the famous Maya stela, Stela 34 of El Perú, now in the Cleveland Art Museum.  

Archaeologists concluded the tomb they found was that of Lady K'abel on the basis of a small, carved alabaster jar found in the burial chamber.  Carved as a conch [Konk] shell, the white jar shows a head and arm of an aged woman emerging from the opening.  The depiction of the woman, mature with a lined face and a strand of hair in front of her ear, as well as four carved glyphs, point to the jar as belonging to K'abel.  

The Classic Maya civilization is the only “classical” archaeological field in the New World, in the sense that, like archaeology in Ancient Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia or China, it offers access both to an archaeological material record and a historical record based on texts and images.  This makes the discovery significant, because not only is the tomb that of a notable historical figure in Maya history, but it also is a rare situation in which Maya archaeological and historical records meet.  

Researchers had not expected to discover the tomb.  The team had focused on uncovering and studying ritual features such as shrines, altars and dedicatory offerings rather than on locating burial locations of particular individuals.  In retrospect, it makes a lot of sense that the people of Waka' buried her in this particularly prominent place in their city, because it had been the location of a temple that received much reverence and ritual attention for generations after the fall of the dynasty at El Perú.  With the discovery, archaeologists now understand the likely reason why the temple was so revered: the people had buried their queen there.

El Perú-Waka', located approximately 75 km west of the famous city of Tikal, is an ancient Maya city in northwestern Petén, Guatemala.  It was part of Classic Maya civilization between AD 200 and 900 in the southern lowlands, comprising nearly a square kilometer of plazas, palaces, temple pyramids, and residences surrounded by many square kilometers of dispersed residences and temples.


Bronze Age jeweler turns out to be a woman


Moving on to Austria, a skeleton uncovered north of Vienna is causing archaeologists to take a fresh look at prehistoric sex roles after it appeared to be that of a female fine metal worker, a profession that previously was thought to have been carried out exclusively by men.  

According to the Museum of Ancient History in Lower Austria, the grave originates from the Bronze Age era around 4,000 years ago, and the bones belonged to a woman who would have been between 45 and 60 years of age.  The museum says archaeologists found tools used to make metal ornaments in the grave at Geitzendorf, northwest of Vienna, leading them to the conclusion that it was that of a female fine metalworker.  She would have been expected to take the items with her into the afterlife.  

The burial items included an anvil, hammers and flint chisels as well as some small items of dress jewelry possibly made by the woman herself.  Museum researcher Ernst Lauermann noted the woman would most likely have used the tools to make jewelry.  The grave was one of 15 found at the same site and currently under investigation by the museum staff.


Luxurious Minoan building found in Crete


In our final story, an accidental meeting 30 years ago between a well-known Greek archaeologist, Yannis Sakellarakis, and a shepherd from Crete has led to an archaeological discovery of great importance.

Zominthos, a settlement from the Minoan era on the plain by the same name, is at the foot of the highest mountain in Crete, Mount Psiloritis, eight kilometers from the village of Anogia along the road that led from Knossos to Ideon Andron, the cave where, according to Greek mythology, Zeus was born.  

The shepherd, who lived in Anogia, invited the archaeologist who was working at an excavation site nearby to visit the area of Zominthos.  Once Sakellarakis traveled to Zominthos the following day, he realized he was standing in front of a settlement from the Minoan era hiding behind the thick vegetation.  

A year later, in the summer of 1983, Sakellaris and his team started excavations that lasted until 1990.  They resumed them in 2004 and continue today.  In the past few years, the remains of an impressive and luxurious building from 3,500 years ago have seen the light.  The building is two or three stories high and contains some 80 rooms, including workshops and storage rooms over a surface of 1,360 square meters.  

It is the first Minoan mountain settlement built in the same period as the Palace of Knossos, as well as the largest summer residence found so far from the Minoan era.  The structure of the building shows that it was not a seasonal house for shepherds but a luxury residence for local leaders.  

The building was a great administrative center and built with large, elongated stones with different colored painted surfaces.
Researchers believe a violent earthquake destroyed the palace.  Excavations so far have shown that the Palace of Zominthos represents three time periods: its first construction in 1900 BC, the second around 1600 BC at the height of its prosperity, when it was presumably destroyed by an earthquake, and around 1400 BC when another building was built nearby.

Archaeological findings in Zominthos are numerous, including signets with scorpions or birds and ornamental objects in copper and ivory.  Researchers also found two beautiful copper statues indicating the area might be a place of worship.  Excavations have unearthed a metallic cylinder with snakes, which could have been the sceptre of a priest, and a copper cup.

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!