Audio News for June 2 to June 8, 2013

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from June 2nd to June 8th, 2013.


Letter from Robert the Bruce asks English king to stop persecuting the Scots

Original Headline: Robert the Bruce Battle of Bannockburn letter discovered


Our first story is from Scotland, where a professor of Scottish history at Glasgow University accidentally discovered a copy of an unknown Robert the Bruce letter from the build-up to the Battle of Bannockburn. The letter, sent in 1310, asks English King Edward II to stop persecuting the Scots. It shows Robert asserting his God-given authority as king of the Scots and addressing Edward as his equal.

The missive reveals how Robert made an appeal for peace when faced with an English army marching into the heart of Scotland but with the understanding that Edward would recognize Scottish independence.

King Edward was growing increasingly unpopular with the nobles in his own court, according to historians, while Robert was slowly reclaiming power north of the border by winning the hearts and minds of the Scottish people.

According to Professor Dauvit Broun, who made the discovery at the British Library in a document that dates from about the turn of the 16th Century, the letter reveals a couple of things. Firstly, Bruce's tone is extremely conciliatory. He seems to be offering to do anything possible to establish peace. However, he is nonetheless plainly addressing Edward as one king to another.
Broun notes that there is no doubt that the bottom line here is that Edward should recognize Robert as king of the Scots, and the Scots as separate from the English.

He added that the writing of this letter may have been a bold move by Bruce who had perhaps recognized that the tables were turning and he could stand his ground in the face of an advancing English army and open negotiations with the king.

The letter, translated from its original Latin, states: “To the most serene prince the lord Edward by God's grace illustrious king of England, from Robert by the same grace king of Scots.” It adds: “Our humbleness has led us, now and at other times, to beseech your highness more devoutly so that, having God and public decency in sight, you would take pains to cease from our persecution and the disturbance of the people of our kingdom in order that devastation and the spilling of a neighbor's blood may henceforth stop.”

By the time of the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Bruce had taken all the strongholds except Stirling and those near the English border.

In the end, Bruce's move in 1310 paid off as King Edward took his army south again to Berwick where he remained until July the next year. The next time he returned north, three years later, Bruce's Scottish troops defeated the English army at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.


Evidence of first European contact found in Newfoundland

Original Headline:  New North America Viking Voyage Discovered


New evidence suggests that 1,000 years ago, the Vikings set off on a voyage to Notre Dame Bay in modern-day Newfoundland, Canada.

The journey would have taken the Vikings, also called the Norse, from L'Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of the same island to a densely populated part of Newfoundland and may have led to the first contact between Europeans and the indigenous people of the New World.

According to Kevin Smith, deputy director and chief curator of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology at Brown University, the area of Notre Dame Bay was as good a candidate as any for that first contact between the Old World and the New World. Smith presented the new research results in Honolulu at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

A combination of archaeological excavation, and chemical analysis of two jasper artifacts that the Norse used to light fires is evidence for the journey.

Archaeologists found the jasper artifacts at L'Anse aux Meadows, where the Norse explorers likely set out from that outpost. They would have headed due south, traveling some 230 kilometers to Notre Dame Bay. When they reached their destination, the Norse would have set foot in an area of Newfoundland that modern-day researchers know indigenous people inhabited.
This area of Notre Dame Bay is archaeologically the area of densest settlement on Newfoundland of the ancestors of the Beothuk, a people who, at the time, lived as hunter-gatherers.

At that location they not only probably encountered the ancestral Beothuk, but they also would have found an impressive landscape. The coastline had fjords, inlets, and offshore islands, with lots of forests. Birds, sea mammals, and fish also would have been plentiful.

Researchers do not know the specifics about the contact between the Norse and the ancestral Beothuk on this voyage, presuming it actually happened. It could have been a peaceful encounter, although the Norse sagas also tell of hostile meetings with people in the New World. In addition, while the possible meeting likely would have been one of the earliest Old World-New World encounters, researchers do not know if it was the very first.

The two jasper artifacts were key pieces of evidence that helped the researchers unravel the existence of the voyage. Archaeologists found the larger, and more recently excavated of the two, in 2008, only 10 meters away from an ancient Norse hall. The artifacts were the “matches” of the Vikings. The Norse would have struck them against a steel tool to make sparks to start a fire. As time passed, and after the users struck them repeatedly against steel, the jasper fire starters wore down and their owners threw them out.

The chemical composition of jasper varies depending on its origin. To figure out where the larger jasper fire starter came from, archaeologists looked for outcrops in the New or Old World that chemically matched it. They compared the fire starter with geological samples using a handheld X-ray fluorescence device that can detect the chemical signature of jasper.

The results suggested the jasper originated from the area of Notre Dame Bay, somewhere along a 71 km stretch of the coast. The closest chemical match was to a geological sample from modern-day Fortune Harbor.

Different tests run in 1999 on the second, smaller jasper piece piece suggested that it also came from the Notre Dame Bay area.


French have been wine connoisseurs for more than 2000 years

Original Headline: Earliest Archaeological Evidence of Winemaking in France Discovered


As told in a study published in the June 3, 2013, edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of sciences, a team of researchers from France and the United States uncovered evidence for the earliest winemaking industry in France, a country long known for its preeminence in the production of fine wines. According to the lead author of this study, Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology,June 10, 2013 the evidence points to the Etruscans as the origin of the French winemaking tradition.

While investigating the ancient port site of Lattara in southern France, archaeologists uncovered imported ancient Etruscan amphorae and a limestone press platform. The researchers determined that, based on their shape and other features, the amphorae belonged to a specific Etruscan amphora type, likely manufactured at the city of Cisra or modern day Cerveteri in central Italy.  They were found within what was identified as merchant quarters inside a walled settlement dated to between 525 and 475 BC. The researchers selected three of the amphorae to test for ancient content residue by extracting samples of suspected organic compounds and then identifying them using a combination of chemical or biomolecular techniques. They used liquid chromatography-Orbitrap mass spectrometry for the first time to analyze ancient wine and grape samples.

What they found was that all samples tested positive for a biomarker compound for Eurasian grape and wine indigenous to the Middle East and Mediterranean.

The ancient pressing platform found nearby, dated to 425 BC, also showed clear evidence of the compound, indicating that it was likely part of a winepress installation. Earlier research found several thousand domesticated grape seeds, flower stems, and skin near the press find, reinforcing the suggestion that the early French used it for crushing domesticated grapes for local wine production. This is the first clear evidence of winemaking on French soil, and points to Etruscan origin and influence.

Historians trace the origins of viniculture, or winemaking, to the ancient Near East around 7000 to 6000 BC. Researchers have found evidence for the earliest wine at the site of Hajji Firiz in what is now northern Iran, dating to around 5400 to 5000 BC.  Its production gradually expanded throughout the Near East, beginning with those who were in power and had the resources to invest in it.

The forerunners of the pharaohs first imported wine into Egypt from other locations in the Near East in the Protodynastic Period, around 3150 BC. But by 3000 BC, Canaanite winemakers cultivated winemaking locally within Nile Delta region. As the earliest merchant seafarers, the Canaanites were also able to take the wine culture out across the Mediterranean Sea, where it shows up on the island of Crete by 2200 BC. 


Decapitated ball player figure uncovered during water pipe repair

Original Headline: Ancient Ball Player Statue Found in Mexico


Our final story is from Mexico, where repair work to a water pipe line at the pre-Hispanic site of Piedra Labrada, in the southwestern Mexican state of Guerrero, has revealed an ancient granite statue representing a decapitated Mesoamerican ball player.

The 5-foot-4 inch tall sculpture dates back at least 1,000 years and portrays a bow-legged individual with his arms crossed. Mesoamericans painted sculptures and objects in red and then killed them by breaking them in pieces. They used them as offerings for the end of the calendar cycle rituals and then buried them.

According to Juan Pablo Sereno Uribe, an archaeologist at the National Institute of Anthropology and History, that statues attributes indicated that it is a ball player. He wears a carved helmet on his head, while his waist features a yugo. This is like a belt but stronger and designed to protect this part of the body during the ball game. Excavators found the statue in two pieces, the head sliced at the neck, as in a decapitation.

The Piedra Labrada site has so far revealed 50 buildings, five ball game courts and more than 20 sculptures of various sizes depicting anthropomorphic figures, snake heads and snails. The biggest ball game platform--an “I” shaped court about 131 feet long--was the burial location of the pre-Columbian ball player statue.

Historians know little about the game played at the courts. They know that the players used a very heavy ball made with rubber and they moved the ball from one side to the other of the court. Most commonly player struct the ball only with the hips, although some versions allowed the use of forearms, rackets, bats, or handstones. Indigenous people in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa still play a version of this game called ulama.

That wraps up the news for this week!
For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at, where all the news is history!
I'm Laura Pettigrew and I'll see you next week!