Audio News for October 28 to November 3, 2012


Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from October 28th to November 3rd, 2012.


Archaeologists party in 1400-year-old Anglo-Saxon feasting hall


Our first story is from England, where a team from the University of Reading has found the foundations of a spectacular Anglo-Saxon feasting hall, a place where a king and his warriors would have gathered for days of drinking and eating, inches below the village green of Lyminge in Kent.  Heaps of animal bones buried in pits around the edge of the hall gave testimony to epic parties of the past.  

Uncovered by excavators under the curious gaze of drinkers in the garden of a nearby pub a few meters away, the great hall is the first from the period discovered in more than 30 years.  Measuring 21 meters by 8.5 meters, it would have been the most imposing structure for miles, large enough to hold at least 60 people.  

According to the director of the excavations, Gabor Thomas, this undoubtedly would have been the scene of many Beowulf type activities: great assemblies for feasts that lasted for days, drinking and story-telling, with the wealthy presenting rich gifts like arm rings.  A great leader could put up no more visible sign of wealth and status than raising a hall like this.  The royal family and entourage would have visited sporadically.  In a time before tax collecting and too early for royal palaces as such, to keep control, royalty had to keep on the move, stopping at significant places, literally feeding off the land, off the rich food offerings that subjects brought everywhere the king arrived.

Excavators found a rare piece of beautifully decorated and gilded horse harness, broken in antiquity, in the foundations.  It is the first such find from a domestic setting, although similar isolated finds by metal detectors, or from graves, help date the hall to the late Sixth or early Seventh Century.  Other finds include pieces of jewelry, bone combs, and a remarkably well preserved manicure set comprising three little bronze rods, probably for cleaning fingernails or ears, strung on to a piece of wire.  

Last summer, when the archaeologists moved on to the village green, which has been open land for almost 1,000 years, ground-penetrating radar suggested some structures lay beneath but gave no hint of anything as significant as the hall.  Postholes from long-gone timbers and the slots for planks laid horizontally to form the walls clearly traced the outline of the huge building.  It had a partitioned space at one end, either a sleeping place or a private chamber for the most aristocratic.

Evidence suggests that fire damaged if not destroyed the building, but Gabor believes the tribe deliberately abandoned the hall, as they, with the other Anglo-Saxons in Kent, soon turned to Christianity.  The hall did see one last candlelight celebration, however, as archaeologists marked the find by placing lit candles along the outline of the hall, lighting up the end-of-excavation party.

Mysterious Princess’s tomb found near Cairo


Our next story comes from south of Cairo, where Czech archaeologists have unearthed the 4,500-year-old tomb of a Pharaonic princess, in a finding that suggests other undiscovered tombs may be in the area.  

According to the head of the Egyptian and Greco-Roman Antiquities department at the Antiquities Ministry, Princess Shert Nebti's burial site dates to around 2,500 BC in the Abu Sir complex near the famed step pyramid of Saqqara.  

Inscriptions on the four limestone pillars of the Princess' tomb indicate that she is the daughter of King Men Salbo.  She is the daughter of the king, but only her tomb is there, surrounded by the tombs of four high officials from the Fifth Dynasty.

Egyptologists know nothing about her father, the king, or her mother, but hope that future discoveries will answer these questions.  The current excavation also has unearthed an antechamber containing the sarcophagi of the four officials and statues of men, women, and a child.  

The archaeologists working at the site are from the Czech Institute of Egyptology.  The discovery comes weeks after the Egyptian government reopened a pyramid and a complex of tombs that officials had closed for restoration work for a decade.


Cave home of the Island of Blue Dolphins’ woman may have been located


Next, we travel to the United States, where archaeologists might finally have found the cave of the Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island, whose solitary 18-year stay on a tiny island off the California coast inspired the children's classic "Island of the Blue Dolphins."  According to Navy archaeologist Steven Schwartz, the cave, completely buried under several meters of sand and quite large, would have made a very comfortable home, especially in inclement weather.  

One of the most famous people associated with the Channel Islands, the Lone Woman belonged to the Nicoleño (nik oh LAYN yo), a Native American tribe who lived on the remote wind-blasted island of San Nicolas off the Southern California coast.  Sea otter hunters from Alaska decimated the tribe in 1814.  By 1835, less than a dozen Nicolenos lived on the island.  At that time, the Santa Barbara Mission arranged a rescue operation that brought to the mainland all Nicoleños but the Lone Woman.  The most likely explanation for the abandonment is that a panicked crew, caught by a storm, turned the rescue schooner, named Peor es Nada or "Better Than nothing," toward the mainland without much head counting.  The woman lived alone on the island until a fisherman and sea otter hunter found her in 1853 and brought her to the Santa Barbara Mission.  

They found her in a brush enclosure on the west end of the island, but she probably lived in a cave during most of her 18 years of isolation, Schwartz said at the California Islands Symposium.  Schwartz has been investigating the island for more than 20 years.  Since they knew of no habitation cave on the tiny island, now a Navy base, the archaeologist concluded that the cavern must have collapsed and been buried.  

The search took a new twist recently, when Schwartz obtained a unique document: a government survey map of the island dated from 1879 that pointed to an "Indian Cave" on the southwest coast.  Preliminary excavation revealed a cave measuring at least 75 feet long and 10 feet high.  According to Schwartz, ground-penetrating radar might show a layer of relics from the Lone Woman's era, perhaps even markings she is said to have made on the walls.

 Further evidence for some sort of struggling existence emerged two years ago from a steep cliff on the north coast of the island in the form of two redwood boxes.  The boxes contained more than 200 objects, including shells, bone tools, harpoon points, bone fishhooks, and a smoking pipe.  University of Oregon archaeologist Jon Erlandson said it is a reasonable hypothesis that the Lone Woman left the boxes.

Although the Lone Woman managed to live alone for 18 years on the wild, tiny island, she did not last long when she came back to civilization at a possible age of 50.  She died from dysentery only seven weeks after she arrived to the Santa Barbara Mission, unable to communicate, but totally fascinated by the new life she was discovering.  Missionaries baptized her and christened her Juana Maria on her deathbed.  All her personal possession, including the bone tools from San Nicolas Island, became part of the collections of the California Academy of Sciences, but the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed them.


Oldest European prehistoric town excavated in Bulgaria


Our final story is from Bulgaria, where archaeologists say they have uncovered the oldest prehistoric town found to date in Europe.  The walled, fortified Neolithic settlement, thought to have been an important center for salt production, is located near the modern town of Provadia.  Researchers believe that the town was home to some 350 people and dates back to between 4700 and 4200 BC, well before the start of ancient Greek civilization.

The residents boiled water from a local spring and used it to create salt bricks, which they traded and used to preserve meat.  Salt was a hugely valuable commodity at the time, which experts say could help to explain the huge defensive stone walls that ringed the town.  Excavations at the site, beginning in 2005, also have uncovered the remains of two-story houses and a series of pits used for rituals, as well as parts of a gate and bastion structures.  
Archaeologists are still studying a small necropolis, or burial ground, at the site.  According to a researcher with Bulgaria's National Institute of Archaeology, this was not a town like the Greek city-states, ancient Rome or medieval settlements, but what archaeologists agree constituted a town in the fifth millennium BC.  

The residents built tall, stone block walls around the settlement, something unseen in excavations of prehistoric sites in southeastern Europe to date.  Salt sources appear to have been very important for regional civilizations during Neolithic times, and salt mines near Tuzla in Bosnia and Turda in Romania fit in with a series of civilizations that also mined copper and gold in the Carpathian and Balkan mountains during the same period.  This latest discovery almost certainly explains the treasure excavators found exactly 40 years ago at a cemetery on the outskirts of Varna, 35 km away: the oldest hoard of gold objects found anywhere in the world.

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