Audio News for December 16th to December 22nd, 2012

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from December 16th to December 22nd, 2012.

Early Japanese warrior died facing wrath of the volcano

Original Headline:  Armour-clad remains from 6th century unearthed at Japanese volcano


Our first story this week is from Japan, where the remains of a high-ranking man wearing armor, buried by ancient hot ash, was found in an area known as the "Pompeii of Japan."  The well-preserved body was that of a man in armor from the Sixth Century AD, who had apparently bravely faced the flow of molten rock as it gushed into his town.  

According to Shinichiro Ohki, of Gunma Archaeological Research Foundation, while any normal person would flee if lava flows were rushing toward him with their waves of tremendous heat, this man died facing it.  His armor indicates that he was a person of high rank, so he might have been praying in the direction of the volcano or otherwise attempting to appease its anger.  

The warrior’s remains, along with a part of an infant's skull, were revealed in the Kanai Higashiura dig in Gunma prefecture, some 75 miles, or 110 km, northwest of Tokyo, at the site of the volcanic Mount Haruna.  The area is known as the "Pompeii of Japan" after the ancient Roman town buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.  

The Japanese man’s body is clad in a relatively sophisticated type of armor made by artisans who bound small iron plates with thin leather strips, representing the latest technological import from the Korean Peninsula.  This flexible form of armor was brought to Japan after the practice of horse riding was introduced in the late Fifth Century AD.  The new armor was not only more technically advanced than the single-plate type that was previously the only kind used, but it also indicates the person wearing it was someone of a high position, like a regional leader.  

Researchers will conduct additional studies conducted to see if the man was related to occupants of ancient tombs dotting the region.  Archaeologists will also examine the bones to determine whether the man and the child were related.

Cemetery in Sonora shows 1000-year-old culture influenced by Mesoamerica

Original Headline:  Mexican archaeologists discover 1,000 year old cemetery in the State of Sonora


In Mexico, in the southern part of the northwestern state of Sonora, which is immediately south of Arizona, archaeologists have discovered the first pre-Hispanic cemetery of the region.  Dating back approximately 1000 years, it holds 25 individual burials.  Among the burials, 13 have intentional cranial deformities, and five have dental mutilations, which are cultural practices linking the new find to pre-Hispanic groups farther south, in the neighboring state of Sinaloa (SEEN-ah-LOW-a) and still farther south in the state of Nayarit (nigh-ah-REET).  

To archaeologists, the importance of the discovery is the evidence of customs not previously seen in ancient cultural groups in Sonora.  According to archaeologist Cristina Garcia Moreno, director of the investigation project by Arizona State University, the finding displays unique characteristics because it mixes the cultural expressions of groups from the northern part of Mexico, such as the use of shells and spiral shells originating from the Gulf of California, with western traditions never before seen in Sonora.  With this discovery, the limit of influence of the Mesoamerican people is shown to be more extensive than what had been registered in archaeology.  

According to Garcia Moreno, there is no other site in Sonora with similar cranial and dental modifications, nor are these practices found in the southwestern part of the USA that shares the cultural area with Sonora.  The closest cultural groups that had developed these traditions were in the northern part of Sinaloa and the Marismas Nacionales area, an area south of Sinaloa and north of Nayarit, where people had adopted some western and Mesoamerican customs.  However, the cemetery does not show any evidence of belonging to some Mesoamerican migratory group, but rather was established by a sedentary local group, one which had developed locally, at some point in its history came in contact with Mesoamerica, and subsequently incorporated some Mesoamerican ideas into its own culture.  

Researchers are in the process of confirming if there was a relationship between this Sonoran group and those in Sinaloa and Nayarit.  According to Cristina Garcia, the cranial deformity in Mesoamerican cultures served either of two purposes: to differentiate social groups or as a mark of certain rituals.  The dental mutilation in the Nayarit cultures was practiced in adolescents as a rite of passage, which coincides with the findings in Sonora, where the five bodies that bear this mutilation are over 12 years old.  Of the 25 skeletons recovered, 17 belong to minors and 8 belong to adults.  

Garcia Moreno also suspects that the high number of infants and adolescents identified in the cemetery could indicate malpractice of cranial mutilation, which might have caused their death through excessive pressure on the cranium.  Skeletal analyses may support this hypothesis if the results do not indicate any diseases as a cause of death.  


Ramses III: a murder wrapped in a mummy

Original Headline:   Ramesses III: unwrapping an ancient murder


This week, archaeologists turned Sherlock Holmes in announcing that Ramses III was murdered in a palace coup led by his wife and son.  A number of ancient Egyptian documents, including the record known as the Judicial Papyrus of Turin, record an attempt on the 20th Dynasty pharaoh’s life in 1155 BC, the final year of his reign.  

According to the accounts, the chief conspirators were Tiye (TEE-ya), one of Ramses’ secondary wives, and her son Pentawere (PEN-ta-WEIR-a).  The coup, known as the ‘harem conspiracy,’ failed, and the throne later passed to the king’s designated successor, Ramses IV, but researchers have long debated whether the assassination attempt was successful.  

Now a team, led by Dr. Albert Zink from the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman of the European Academy of Bolzano in Italy, has carried out CT scans of the pharaoh’s mummified remains, revealing a deep cut across his throat that severed the trachea, esophagus, and major blood vessels.  The extent and depth of the wound indicated that it could have caused the immediate death of Ramses III, the team concludes.  Their research, published in the British Medical Journal, gives clues to the authenticity of the historically described harem conspiracy and finally reveals its tragic outcome. 

The researchers’ forensic investigations suggest that the damage to Ramses III’s throat was unlikely to have occurred after his death, and no accounts of ancient Egyptian embalming methods suggest that opening the throat was part of the mummification process.  Further evidence of foul play came with the discovery of a wedjet (WED-jet), an amulet of the eye of Horus, carefully placed inside the wound, perhaps by embalmers who hoped that its healing properties would restore the king in the next world.  After inserting the Horus eye amulet, the royal embalmers gently wrapped the injury with a thick collar of linen layers.  

The research team not only identified the ghastly wound that killed the king, but they also may have identified the mummy of one of the culprits, Prince Pentawere, who is said to have taken his own life after being found guilty of conspiracy against his father.  The remains of an 18- to 20-year-old man, designated ‘Man E,’ had been found in the same royal cache as Ramses III at Deir el Bahri, but it was unclear who he was.  Analysis of bone samples taken from both mummies reveal identical Y chromosome DNA, and other genetic similarities strongly suggesting a father-son relationship between the two individuals. 

While this evidence cannot establish which of Ramses’ many sons this could be, unusual aspects of his mummification suggest that he was not laid to rest with the honors expected for a 20th Dynasty royal.  No evidence indicates that the man’s internal organs or brain were removed, the team say, and his body had been covered with a goatskin, a material considered ritually impure by the ancient Egyptians.  This could be interpreted as a post-mortem punishment, the team suggests, although his cause of death remains subject to speculation.  His inflated thorax and compressed skinfolds around the neck could suggest violent actions such as strangulation preceding his death.

World’s oldest wood structures provide new insight on Neolithic expansion into Europe

Original Headline:  World's Oldest Wood Architecture Revealed


In our final story, wooden water wells made out of oak timbers dated to over 7,000 years ago in eastern Germany show workmanship suggesting an unexpected sophistication in carpentry skills for Neolithic farming communities of the time.  The oak timbers, 151 in all, were preserved by a waterlogged environment and date to between 5469 and 5098 BC.

The new report on this discovery of early Neolithic craftsmanship, published by Willy Tegel and his colleagues from the University of Freiburg, Germany, in the online journal PLOS ONE, suggests that the first farmers were also the first carpenters.  Moreover, these wells were made long before the introduction of metal tools that would have been used to fashion and construct the wells.  Thus, it challenges previous assumptions that metal tools were required to create complex wooden structures, such as these wells.  So without metal tools, how were they made?

The method of construction involved using stone adzes of at least two different sizes to produce finely cut timbers and then employing sophisticated wooden corner joining and log constructions through wedged tusk tenon joints and interlocked corner joints.  Examination of tool marks also suggests the use of bone chisels in the process.  Even today, some of these carpentry methods are still employed in this fashion without nails, screws and power tools, although metal tools are most often used.  

The new evidence confirms the conclusion of previous investigations, showing that the first central European farmers fanned out northwestward from the Great Hungarian Plain about 7,500 years ago.  Their expansion left behind settlements characterized by longhouses, stone tools, and a form of pottery from which they are known as the Linear Pottery Culture, or LBK, for the German words Linear Band-Keramik (lin-eh-ar BOND kair-AM-ik).  Archaeologists have uncovered their history in various locations across the more fertile areas of present-day Europe.  
Generally, little remains of the wooden longhouse construction other than posthole stains, their characteristic footprint in the soil.  However, the wells, surviving nearly intact after thousands of years below ground in waterlogged soil, leave a comparatively well preserved record of the techniques used by the Neolithic farmer-carpenters.  Knowledge of these early settlers, their environment, technology and culture has been relatively scanty.  Now, thanks to the oak timbers of the wells, a record in the form of tree rings can be read off to know more about the environment in which they lived.  This promises to reconstruct a picture of the world in which the early Neolithic settlers lived, 7,000 years ago, and what natural resources would have been available for their early expansion across Europe.

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