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

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

Roman era arts center excavated in the center of Rome

Original Headline:  Hadrian's hall: archaeologists finish excavation of Roman arts centre


Our first story is from Italy, where archaeologists have completed the excavation of a 900-seat arts center under one of Rome's busiest roundabouts.  The center, built by the emperor Hadrian in AD 123, included massive halls where nobles flocked to hear poetry, speeches, and philosophy while reclining on terraced marble seating.  With the dig now completed, the terracing and the massive brick walls of the complex, as well as stretches of the elegant gray and yellow marble flooring, are newly visible at bottom of a 5.5-meter hole in Piazza Venezia.  

According to Rossella Rea, the archaeologist running the dig, Hadrian's auditorium is the biggest find in Rome since the Forum was uncovered in the 1920s.  The excavations are next to a taxi stand and squeezed between a baroque church and the Vittoriano, an imposing monument to Italy's defunct monarchy.  

Excavations to build a new underground railway line that will cross the heart of Rome exposed the complex.  Archaeologists keeping a careful eye on construction have proved to be a mixed blessing for railway engineers, who have had to scrap plans for two stations in the heart of the center of Rome when the researchers discovered planned exits to the surface cut straight through Roman remains.  

With the discovery of Hadrian's complex at Piazza Venezia, the line risked losing its last stop in the city center and appeared to be forced to run into the heart of Rome from the suburbs and straight out the other side without stopping.  However, Rea points out that the station and the ruins could coexist.  She believes the subway builders can run one of the exits from the station along the original corridor of the complex where Romans entered the halls.  

The site sheds new light on Hadrian's love of poetry: he wrote his own verse in Latin and Greek.  It also displays his taste for bold architecture: an 11-meter-high arched ceiling once towered over the poets in the central hall.  Today, the performing space, riddled with pits dug for fires, is revealing how after three centuries of celebrating the arts, the halls fell into disrepair with the collapse of the Roman Empire.  Later residents of the area used the metal in the complex for smelting ingots.  

At the center of the main hall is a massive, nine-by-five-meter chunk of the monumental roof that came crashing down during an earthquake in AD 848.  Following the quake, earth gradually covered over the halls until 16th century Romans built a hospital on top and dug down into the ruins for cellar space.  Diggers found pots lobbed down a well after the patients using them died.  These were datable because the designs on the glaze were the same we see on implements in Caravaggio paintings from around AD 1600.


4000 year old weapons found near Mazatlan

Original Headline:  Mexican archaeologists find 60 arrows estimated to be more than 4,000 years old in Sinaloa


Our next story comes from a spot fifty kilometers north of Mazatlan, Mexico, near the beach featuring a group of rocks with more than 600 petroglyphs known as Las Labradas.  At this location, in the state of Sinaloa, Mexican researchers have discovered an archaeological site of the archaic era, finding 60 arrow and spearheads dating between 2500 and 1000 BC.  

The objects found in the site are of great importance to Mexican archaeology because they will change the chronology of human occupation in the northwestern part of the country.  Archaeologist Joel Santos Ramirez, from the National Institute of Anthropology and History, director of the project in Las Labradas, indicated that part of the investigation, started in 2009, is to determine where the creators of the petroglyphs lived.  

To date, researchers have recorded 22 places close to the group of rocks with evidence of human occupation  Archaeologists studied four of these places between 2010 and 2012: La Flor del Oceano, La Puntilla, Lomas del Mar, and Arrollo La Lomita.  Before the current discoveries, within northwestern Mexico they had found tools belonging to the Middle Archaic, around 2000 BC., only in one site in northern Nayarit, just south of Sinaloa.

The Archaic period –which is divided into three parts--Early, Middle and Late--has largely been measured chronologically by the types of arrow and spearheads found on the surface or in caves.  However, it’s been very difficult to find them in the ground.  Researchers now have discovered sufficient material to confirm that the archaic tools in La Flor del Oceano are significant.  

In addition to the remains of the Middle Archaic, Santos Ramirez and his team discovered preHispanic remains of the Aztatlan era, from AD 750 to 1250.  These are consistent with the remains of ceramic objects and the multiple burials of five individuals: two male adults, two young adults (a female and male) and an apparently female infant.  All of them, except for the infant, have “V” shaped dental deformations and two of them have cranial deformations.  

This culture has been named Chicayota because of its proximity to a stream that bears the same name.  Concentric circles that are of part of the symbolic elements present in the petroglyphs of Las Labradas decorate a partially complete ceramic piece.  However, it’s still difficult to associate the petroglyphs of Las Labradas with the Chicayota culture or other settlers of Sinaloa.  

Archaeologists also excavated another site called La Puntilla.  La Puntilla is located in front of La Flor del Oceano, around an estuary; there archaeologists found further evidence from the Aztatlan period, mainly ceramic pieces.  In Lomas del Mar they discovered ceramic pieces and shell waste, also from the Aztatlan period; meanwhile in Arroyo La Lomita, they discovered ceramic pieces of unknown antiquity on the surface near the petroglyphs.


Ritual building uncovered at biblical site near Jerusalem


In Israel, archaeologists have discovered a 2,750-year-old Hebrew temple along with a collection of sacred artifacts.  The Israeli Antiquities Authority announced that the temple came to light west of Jerusalem, at the Tel Motza archaeological site, during preparations for highway work.  

Among the finds were ceramic figurines, fragments of chalices and decorated pedestals, all of which indicate that the site was the gathering place of a ritual cult.  

According to excavation directors, the ritual building at Tel Motza is an unusual and striking find, in light of the fact that hardly any remains of ritual buildings in Judaea date to the time of the First Temple.  The uniqueness of the structure is even more extraordinary because of the vicinity of the site's proximity to the capital city of Jerusalem, which acted as the Kingdom's main sacred center at the time.  The region surrounding the site has been a key archaeological locale for the past two decades after the discovery of numerous buildings including a storehouse, which archaeologists believe high-ranking officials ran at the time for Jerusalem's grain supplies.  The Book of Joshua mentions the settlement of "Mozah" and describes it as a town in the tribal lands of Benjamin bordering on Judaea.  The latest excavation has revealed a new structure with massive walls and a wide, east-facing entrance, which conform to the tradition of temple construction in the ancient Near East.  

Such finds are rare because King Solomon banned alternative ritual practices after the construction of the First Temple in Jerusalem about 3000 years ago, according to archaeological estimates.  The directors believe the site must have existed prior to the religious reforms throughout the kingdom at the end of the monarchic period at the time of Hezekiah and Isaiah, around 700 BC, which abolished all ritual sites, concentrating ritual practices solely at the Temple in Jerusalem.


Native American ritual burial ground discovered in Maryland

Original Headline:  Centuries old burial rituals uncovered at Pig Point


Our final story is from the state of Maryland in the United States, where Anne Arundel County’s Lost Towns Project archaeologists have uncovered a trove of prehistoric Native American artifacts along the Patuxent River, indicating the spot was a gathering place for thousands of years.  The dig at Pig Point uncovered what appears to be a ritualistic burial place with five or more oval pits containing human bone and artifacts dating from 230 BC to AD 620.  

According to county archaeologist Al Luckenbach, it looks as though this was a ritual central for 850 years or more.  Earlier finds suggested that the area’s bounty, especially the fishing along the Patuxent River, lured bands of tribes to the site.  Now it appears that the rituals surrounding the sacred dead are also a key part of the continued occupation.  

Luckenbach and other Lost Town staffers were amazed to find Adena artifacts at Pig Point on a bluff overlooking the bay.  Adena Culture is well known in Ohio between 1000 and 200 BC, but has not been known for Maryland.  The excavators discovered layer after layer of artifacts, one period of material stacked atop another, and yet another.  The first big find indicating the prehistoric sweep of time was wigwam post holes built on top of one another and indicating this was a living site with houses.  The youngest was from the 16th century, the oldest possibly 3,000 years old.  They are the oldest structures ever uncovered in Maryland.  

Other finds included pottery dating more than 2,000 years ago and a Palmer point that could be 10,000 years old, as well as other points that are 1,000 to 5,000 years old.  

Lost Town archaeologists initially were not sure whether to pursue a fourth year digging at Pig Point.  When they did, the decision was to dig test pits on an adjoining property just uphill from the previous work.  Of the numerous test pits, five proved fruitful.  Archaeologists spent most of the 2012 season on just one of the 20 by 25 foot oval pits.  Researchers did not know the bones they found were human until they saw teeth.  All the bones they found are arm and leg bones and skull fragments.  So fare they have identified no pelvic bone, vertebrae,or rib bones.  The long bones did not appear to include any children under the age of 10, although excavators found some children’s teeth.  

One explanation for the collection is that early Native American tribes engaged in reburial rituals.  Every so often, a group would gather the remains of their dead and commit them to a common burial ground.  Iroquois tribes often engaged in reburial rituals, as did the Nanticoke who took their ancestors’ remains with them when they moved to Pennsylvania from the eastern shore.  Ossuaries generally held both skeletons and fresh remains.  Nevertheless, the bodies at the Pig Point site were intact, or mostly so.  The difference at Pig Point is that at some point, someone deliberately smashed or broke all the bones.  

The excavated pit, which was filled with ash and the fractured bone, points, pottery and other debris, shows evidence that people returned to the same pit, uncovered it and added more material over the years.  Once studied, the remains will be re-buried yet again.  

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