Audio News for December 30th, 2012 to January 5th, 2013.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from December 30th, 2012, to January 5th, 2013.
New work begins at famous Roman shipwreck
Original Headline: Famed Roman Shipwreck Could Be Two
In our first story, a dive to the undersea cliff where a famous Roman shipwreck rests has turned up evidence that either the wreck is enormous or not one, but two sunken ships are resting off the Greek island of Antikythera (an-tee-KITH-er-a). Either way, it is an exciting result, according to researcher Brendan Foley, an archaeologist at Woods Hold Oceanographic Institution who presented the findings at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America.
The Antikythera wreck is known for the massive number of artifacts pulled from the site over the past century. The most amazing find so far is the Antikythera mechanism, a complex bronze gear device used to calculate astronomical positions. The wreck has also produced numerous bronze and marble statues, jars and figurines.
The ship went down in the first century BC, coming to rest on a steep undersea cliff in water too deep for standard scuba gear. Its underwater landscape also makes deploying remotely operated submersibles impossible. In 1976, Jacques Costeau led a diving expedition to the site. Since then, it has been unexplored, thanks in part to its remote location in the strait between Crete and the Peloponnese.
Now, in a new effort led by Aggeliki Simossi, the director of the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, Foley and colleagues from Greece and Woods Hole began by reexamining footage and logs from the 1976 dive. With so many artifacts already taken from the site, they knew there would be little evidence of the shipwreck exposed on the ocean floor. They'd have to match the underwater geology to find the wreck.
In October, diving with technical scuba gear and diver propulsion vehicles, the team found the sweet spot, marked by a scattering of amphora, or large curved jars. Intact artifacts from the wreck covered a huge area, about 60 meters long, or 180 feet, at depths ranging from 35 to 60 meters, or 90 to 180 feet down. That's a large area for an ancient shipwreck, Foley noted, suggesting either a huge ship or perhaps more than one wreck. The team’s preliminary findings also suggest they may have been working as much as 300 meters, or nearly 1000 feet, away from the site explored by Cousteau. If this is the case, they may have found a separate wreck, which was probably part of the same fleet and went down in the same storm.
One reason for the researchers' uncertainty is that Costeau's Antikythera expedition videos include shots that were almost certainly staged, leaving it unclear where the dive boat was really anchored in 1976. Either way, the new research team found that the site of the shipwreck, or wrecks, has many more artifacts to offer. They pulled one jar to the surface, which will undergo testing to determine its contents. Next year, they’ll use metal detectors to check the spot 1,000 feet away where Costeau's team really may have been. No artifacts are visible on the ocean floor other than at the spot where Foley and his colleagues explored, but metal detectors should pick up on remnants under the sand at the other site if in fact the site contains two wrecks.
New site holds eight million mummies, mainly dogs
Original Headline: Eight million dog mummies found in Saqqara
Egypt’s Saqqara necropolis includes a dog catacomb. There, an excavation team led by Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at The American University in Cairo, working with an international team under Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University, has uncovered almost 8 million mummies of dogs and other animals.
According to Ikram, researchers currently are working to record the animal bones and identify the mummification techniques used to prepare the animals. Studies on the mummies revealed that some of them were old when they died, while the majority were buried just hours after their birth. She reported that the mummified animals were not limited to canines but also included cat and mongoose remains. The dogs are from different breeds, but the full range has not been identified yet.
The Saqqara dog catacomb was first discovered in 1897, when well-known French Egyptologist Jacques De Morgan published his map of the Memphis necropolis showing two dog catacombs in the area. However, mystery has followed the map, as it was not clear who first discovered the catacombs, nor who mapped them, and whether they were really for dogs. The proximity of the catacombs to the nearby temple of Anubis, the so called jackal or dog-headed deity associated with cemeteries and embalming, makes it likely that these catacombs are indeed for canines.
The archaeologists are trying to understand how the animal mummies fit in with the cult of Anubis, to whom the catacomb is dedicated. What’s known is that a mummified dog's spirit would carry a person's prayer to the afterlife, in the same way that worshippers now might light a candle to lift their prayer up on its smoke. According to Nicholson, writing on his website, Saqqara held a number of other animal cults as well, connected with both burials and temples for bulls, cows, baboons, ibises, hawks, and cats. All of these were thought to act as intermediaries between humans and the gods.
Despite the great quantity of animals buried in these catacombs and the immense size of the underground burial places, however, Egyptologists have focused on the temples and on inscriptional evidence rather than on the animals themselves and their places of burial. The mysteries behind De Morgan’s mapping were unsolved until 2009, when the new team started excavations at the cemetery with a focus on the layout and history of the site. According to Nicholson, the results of the first season showed that De Morgan’s map has substantial inaccuracies, so a new survey is under way. The animal bones themselves have been sampled and preliminary results suggest that, beyond actual dogs, other canids may be present as well. Furthermore, the researchers are examining the age profile of the animals to identify patterns of mortality.
New Maya city excavations show continuity, then abrupt abandonment
Original Headline: Maya 'fat god' platter found in ruins
Moving on to Mexico, an international archaeology team reports that a well-known Maya ruin site had its origins further back in time than previously supposed. Located in the interior of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, the ruin of Kiuic (kee-WEEK) turns out to boast a pyramid of surprising antiquity, dating back to 700 BC, as shown by radiocarbon dating. Long seen as a transitional corridor between the ancient Maya cities of Central America and the later ones of the Yucatan coast, the hilly Puuc (poo-OOK) region around Kiuic and other sites begins to look instead like an early home of the vanished culture.
According to the new team’s leader, archaeologist George Bey of Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, the Puuc was occupied from way back. The Kiuic pyramid was first described by writer John Lloyd Stephens, who visited Kiuic's ruins in the 1840s. The final four-story pyramid dates after AD 800, when the site was at its peak. But new excavations at its foot have helped pin down its earlier dates, and show that it started out many centuries before as a ceremonial platform, as was typical in ancient Maya towns and cities. Scholars generally divide ancient Maya eras into a Classic one that started after AD 200 and a "Pre-Classic" one that dates back to 900 BC, but according to Bey, the latest finds point instead to more continuity between the two eras.
In 2010, Bey and Mexican archaeologist Tomás Gallareta Negrón of the Mexican Institute of Anthropology and History reported that artifacts left at Kiuic indicated the site had undergone rapid abandonment around AD 880, part of the well-known collapse of ancient Maya cities at the time. More than 6 million Maya still live in Central America today, but the rulers of the era abandoned their cities in a dispersion that modern-day scholars have tied to long-term drought, over-farming and other related problems. At one of the houses showing signs of rapid abandonment on a hilltop overlooking Kiuic, the team has found inscriptions on a keystone block that confirm the dates, along with the remains of a large feasting platter left behind, more evidence of abrupt abandonment.
Earlier discoveries at the site included grinding stones left tilted against doorways, kitchen implements left stacked in rooms and remains of ancestors left behind that Maya traditions would typically have required removal if a place faced permanent abandonment. Instead, it looks as though the residents just left, expecting to return shortly. The three-foot diameter feasting platter depicted the Maya "fat god," a patron of feasting. Next to it were tools for applying stucco to house walls. Apparently, the heavy feasting platter was too big to take when the homeowner left, although such a valuable object would have been taken in a planned permanent move.
The team hopes that analysis of Kiuic, now slowly being unearthed by archaeologists, will provide insight on the process of abandonment at that site and shed light on abandonment elsewhere.
New find in Meroë shows stylishly plump princess
Original Headline: Ancient Carving Shows Stylishly Plump African Princess
Our final story is from Sudan, where a 2,000-year-old relief carved with an image of a stylishly overweight royal woman has turned up in a fragile palace in the ancient city of Meroë (MAIR-oh-AY). When the relief was first carved, Meroë was the center of the kingdom of Kush, its borders stretching as far north as the southern edge of Egypt. It was not unusual for Meroe’s rulers to be queens, sometimes referred to as Candaces, and such queens often faced down the armies of an expanding Rome.
The newly documented sandstone relief depicts a woman smiling, with her hair carefully dressed and an earring on her left ear. She appears to have a double chin and a bit of fat on her neck, something considered stylish at the time among royal women from Kush. Researchers do not know the identity of the woman, but based on the style of the relief, it appears to date back around 2,000 years and to show someone royal.
Team leader Krzysztof Grzymski presented the relief, among other finds from the palace at Meroë, at an Egyptology symposium held recently at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. According to Grzymski, it is similar to other images of princesses. However, the part showing her headdress has not survived, so it cannot be definitively proven that it actually depicts a queen.
Why royal women in Kush preferred to be depicted overweight is a long-standing mystery. One strong possibility is that the large size of the Candaces represented fertility and maternity, according the late Miriam Ma'at-Ka-Re Monges, a professor at California State University, Chico, and an expert on Kush.
The discovery occurred in 2007 as Grzymski's team was exploring a royal palace in the city, trying to determine its date. The palace builders had re-used blocks from buildings of earlier times and the team found that the palace dated to a time late in Kush's history. But the re-used sandstone becomes increasingly fragile, and when the team uncovered the relief, it was falling apart. The team faces serious challenges with many other decorated blocks as well, because of their re-use in antiquity. Identifying their dates and function in the palace, as well as the earlier buildings they come from, is like working several giant jigsaw puzzles at once. According to Grzymski, an ideal plan would be to dismantle the whole wall of the foundation and take out the decorated blocks to see if they can reconstruct some earlier structures from which the blocks came. Meroë is one of the largest archaeological sites in Africa.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Pettigrew and I'll see you next week!