Audio News for April 14 to April 20, 2013

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from April 14th to April 20th, 2013.


French burials shed light on Celtic civilization

Original Headline: Iron Age warriors point to glories of Gaul

Our first story is from France, where, in a field located southeast of Paris, archaeologists have uncovered a graveyard that they believe will shed light on the great yet little known civilization of Gaul.  The find also raises several questions, for no trace of major Celtic settlement has ever appeared before in this neighborhood.

The site, earmarked for a warehouse project on the outskirts of Troyes, is yielding an array of finds, including five Celtic warriors, whose weapons and adornments demonstrate membership in a powerful elite group.

One of the remains is that of a tall warrior, complete with a 70-centimetre iron sword still in its scabbard.  A metal-framed shield whose wood-and-leather core has long rotted away lay with the warrior.

Researchers found the graves of several women next to those of the warriors.  The women wore twisted-metal necklaces known as torcs and large bronze brooches with coral decorations.  All in all, their jewelry speaks of high status.  The jewelry also suggests that the burials occurred between 325 and 260 BC, in a period known as La Tene.  Another clue may come from analysis of the scabbards, whose decoration changed according to military fashion.  Designs in this period typically had two open-mouthed dragons facing each other, with their bodies curled.

In one of the graves, a woman’s body lay next to a man’s, separated by a layer of soil, suggesting a close but as yet not understood bond.

La Tene, whose name comes from an archaeological site in Switzerland, ran from about the 5th century BC to the first century AD, marking the glory years of the Celts.  During this time, the Celts expanded from their territory in central Europe to as far as northern Scotland and the Atlantic.

They clashed with the rising Roman Empire, whose writers recorded the invaders as being pale-skinned with bleached hair, dressed in breeches and ready to cut off their enemies' heads, preserving those of high rank in cedar oil.  Historical research has dispelled that negative image.  Instead, it has revealed a complex civilization that had a mastery of metal and a trading system that spanned Europe and generated great wealth.

Excavators uncovered the graves at a depth of about two meters, but if the graves had any external markers, none remains.  In addition, the excavation has yet to find any pottery or evidence of food, items often added to burials to sustain the dead in the spirit world.  Finally, the graves held no remains of children, although this absence is common to Celtic necropolises and something that anthropologists are at a loss to explain.


Aboriginal artwork dates back tens of thousands of years

Original Headline: Burrup Peninsula rock art among world's oldest


Around the world in Australia, a new study confirms that a vast collection of Aboriginal engravings may be tens of thousands of years old.

Research into the rate of erosion of some of Earth’s oldest rocks in the vast Pilbara region of northwestern Australia has put an upper limit on the possible age of up to a million ancient Aboriginal engravings in the Burrup Peninsula, also known as Murujuga, in the state of Western Australia.

The peninsula and surrounding Dampier Archipelago have the highest concentration of rock art in the world.  The carvings, called petroglyphs, include portrayals of human-like figures, human faces, and animals that no longer inhabit the region, including the Tasmanian tiger.

Archaeologists have not been able to date engravings directly, but previously have estimated some of them to be up to 30,000 years old based on the style of the art and weathering patterns.  They believe one group of petroglyphs showing land-based animals date from a time during the last ice age, when sea levels were higher and the area was inland.

The new study, led by Professor Brad Pillans, a geologist at the Australian National University, shows that rocks here have some of the lowest recorded rates of erosion in the world.
According to Pillans, the combination of hard rock and low rainfall means low erosion, so there is the potential for preserving rock art for much longer periods of time than in many other places.
Researchers came to that conclusion by measuring levels of Beryllium 10.  This radioactive isotope accumulates in the surfaces of rocks because of radiation from space and indicates the length of exposure to the elements.

These findings support the idea that some of the rock art predates the last ice age, which occurred around 22,000 years ago, notes Dr. Ken Mulvaney, an archaeologist with Rio Tinto who produced the most recent age estimates based on the style of the art and weathering patterns.
The erosion is such a slow process that the petroglyphs could remain visible for 60,000 years, according to Mulvaney, although researchers do not think the art is that old.  Based on current evidence, people inhabited this part of Australia at least 40,000 years ago and possibly as long ago as 50 to 55,000 years.


Retaining wall points to pre-Columbian Gulf Coast port

Original Headline:   First discovery of a pre-Columbian port on the Gulf Coast

We go now to Mexico, where archaeologists have found a retaining pier wall, four shrines, and an unusual circular structure dating to more than 1000 years old in the pre-Hispanic site of Tabuco in Veracruz.  These remains indicate a mooring pier or dock controlled by elites where goods and maritime traffic would land .  These features represent the first discovery of a pre-Columbian port on the Gulf Coast.

This evidence changes the perception of the settlement, as archaeologists previously knew it only as a ceremonial area.  Even the name “Tabuco” represents a portable altar with conical roof in the language of the Tuxpan [TOOSH-pahn].  Tabuco is located on the southern bank of the Tuxpan River 5 kilometers from the sea, on a narrow strip of land.

In the northeast section of the excavation, researchers uncovered a wall built on large slabs of beach rock.  White plaster from powdered shells coated the wall.  This wall acts as the retaining wall of the great platform and so far archaeologists have measured it as being 15 meters in length.  However, the structure continues on a slope towards the shoreline and is likely part of a pier for transferring goods to and from riverboats.

Parallel to the wall are three circular shrines, 3 meters in diameter and constructed from the same materials.  Additionally, the team uncovered a large circular structure 15 meters in diameter and 60 centimeters in height, possibly with a function relating to the elites’ occupation, as excavators found a fire pit at the top.  Also, a stairway and a ramp lead up to a plaster floor.

The complex evidence all contributes to the theory that this ceremonial centre had the function of controlling maritime traffic in the area of the river and the mangroves.  Some scholars have suggested it was an important port, where the marketplace was so large that the 15th Century Aztec Triple Alliance made a serious effort to hold it as a tributary province, an area also important for cotton production.

Across most of the floor surfaces is a layer of organic matter, evidence of traces of an ancient flood that might explain why residents abandoned the area for occupation and repurposed it as a pier.

The team also uncovered 50 burials of men, women and children.  They found the bodies at different levels cut from the surface.  The burials show that the area served as a cemetery in the final phase of occupation.

The precise dating of all the strata remains unclear.  However, most artifacts are from the early Postclassic period, which began 1000 years ago, and suggest a short-lived activity of less than a hundred years.


800-year-old recipes to be taste-tasted

Original Headline:  Medieval recipes unearthed in Durham manuscript to be tasted once again


In our final story, postgraduate students from Durham University in England plan to serve up a selection of recently uncovered 800-year-old recipes at a special restaurant workshop.  Professor Faith Wallis of Canada’s McGill University discovered the recipes hidden among instructions for medical ointments and cures while reexamining a Medieval Latin manuscript at Cambridge University.  The recipes predate the previous oldest examples by 150 years.  Scribes in the Priory of Durham Cathedral composed the manuscript around AD 1140.

According to Dr. Giles Gasper, associate director of Durham University’s Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, some of the medical recipes in this book seem to have stood the test of time and some categorically have not, but the food recipes could be judged only by tasting them.

The 12th Century recipes are mainly for sauces to be an adjunct to mutton, chicken, duck, pork, and beef, and include a chicken dish named “Hen in Winter,” denoting the use of older birds during the winter months.  The sauces include some Mediterranean flavors and feature ingredients such as parsley, sage, pepper, garlic, and coriander.  The ancient text describes one recipe as deriving from central western France.

Dr. Gasper added that this shows the extent to which international travel and exchange of ideas took place within the medieval period.  

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