Audio News for June 23rd to June 29th, 2013.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from June 23rd to June 29th, 2013.


Evidence of 2000 year old famine found near Western Wall

Original Headline: Archaeologist Find 2,000 Year Old Evidence of Siege in Jerusalem


Our first story is from Israel, where archaeological excavations near the Western Wall have unearthed three complete cooking pots and a small ceramic oil lamp that are the first pieces of evidence of the Jewish famine during the siege of Jerusalem 2,000 years ago.

The Israel Antiquities Authority is excavating the drainage channel that runs from the Shiloah Pool in the City of David to Robinson’s Arch, at the southern end of the Western Wall.
According to excavation director Eli Shukrun, this is the first time archaeologists have been able to connect archaeological finds with the famine that occurred during the siege of Jerusalem at the time of the Great Revolt against the Romans.

A small cistern in a drainage channel concealed the complete cooking pots and ceramic oil lamp. Apparently, the people went down into the cistern where they secretly ate the food that the pots contained, without anyone seeing them.

This is consistent with the account provided by Josephus. In his book, The Jewish War, Josephus describes the Roman siege of Jerusalem and in its wake the dire hunger that prevailed in the blockaded city.

In his description of the famine in Jerusalem, he tells about the Jewish rebels who sought food in the homes of their fellow Jews in the city. Josephus said that the Jews concealed food out of fear the rebels would steal it, and they ate in hidden places in their homes.

As the famine grew worse, the frenzy of the partisans increased with it. Men broke into the houses and ransacked them, looking for grain. If they found some, they maltreated the occupants for saying there was none; if they did not, they suspected them of having hidden it more carefully and tortured them.

Many secretly exchanged their possessions for one measure of wheat; wheat if they happened to be rich, barley if they were poor. They shut themselves up in the darkest corners of the their houses, where some through extreme hunger ate their grain as it was, while others made bread, with necessity and fear being their only guides.


1200 year old untouched imperial tomb found in Peru

Original Headline:  First Unlooted Royal Tomb of Its Kind Unearthed in Peru


In Peru, an archaeologist from the University of Warsaw in Poland has discovered the first unlooted imperial tomb of the Wari [wahr-EE], the ancient civilization that built South America's earliest empire between AD 700 and 1000.

Milosz Giersz realized at once that if word leaked out that his Polish-Peruvian team had discovered a 1,200-year-old “temple of the dead” filled with precious gold and silver artifacts, looters would descend on the site in droves.

So Giersz and project co-director Roberto Pimentel Nita kept their discovery secret. Digging quietly for months in one of the burial chambers, the archaeologists collected more than a thousand artifacts, including sophisticated gold and silver jewelry, bronze axes, and gold tools, along with the bodies of three Wari queens and 60 other individuals, some of whom were probably human sacrifices.  

The later Inca have long overshadowed the Wari lords. However, in the 8th and 9th centuries AD, the Wari built an empire that covered much of present-day Peru. Their Andean capital, Huari, became one of the world's great cities. At its apex, Huari boasted a population conservatively estimated at about 40,000 people.

Just how the Wari forged this empire, whether by conquest or persuasion, is a long-standing archaeological mystery. The pure sophistication of Wari artwork has long attracted looters, who have ransacked the remains of imperial palaces and shrines. Unable to stop the destruction of vital archaeological information, researchers faced many more questions than answers. 

The impressive new finds at El Castillo de Huarmey, four-hours north of Lima, will go a long way toward answering some of those questions. Although grave robbers have been digging at the 110-acre site off and on for decades, Giersz suspected that a mausoleum remained hidden deep underground. In January 2010, he and a small team examined the area using aerial photography and geophysical imaging equipment. On a ridge between two large adobe-brick pyramids, they spotted the faint outline of what appeared to be a subterranean mausoleum.

Tomb robbers had long dumped rubble on the ridge. Digging through the rubble last September, Giersz and his team uncovered an ancient ceremonial room with a stone throne. Below this, 30 tons of loose stone sealed a large mysterious chamber. Inside the fill was a huge carved wooden mace that served as a tomb marker for the main mausoleum.

As the archaeologists carefully removed the fill, they discovered rows of human bodies. Mourners had buried the bodies in a seated position and wrapped them in textiles that were now poorly preserved. Nearby, in three small side chambers, were the remains of three Wari queens and many of their prized possessions, including weaving tools made of gold.

Mourners had also interred many other treasures in the room: inlaid gold and silver ear-ornaments, silver bowls, bronze ritual axes, a rare alabaster drinking cup, knives, coca leaf containers, brilliantly painted ceramics from many parts of the Andean world, and other precious objects. Giersz and his colleagues realized they had found the first unearthed royal imperial tomb.

However, for archaeologists, the greatest treasure will be the tomb's wealth of new information on the Wari Empire. The construction of an imperial mausoleum at El Castillo shows that Wari lords conquered and politically controlled this part of the northern coast, and likely played a key role in the downfall of the northern Moche [MOW-chay] kingdom. Intriguingly, one vessel from the mausoleum depicts coastal warriors battling axe-wielding Wari invaders.

The Wari also waged a battle for the hearts and minds of their new vassals. In addition to military might, they fostered a cult of royal ancestor worship. The bodies of the entombed queens bore traces of insect pupae, revealing that attendants had taken them out of the funerary chamber and exposed them to the air. This strongly suggests that the Wari displayed the mummies of their queens on the throne of the ceremonial room, allowing the living to venerate the royal dead.


Egyptologist exposes looting of antiquities

Original Headline: Egyptologist risks life, career to expose looting


As reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review newspaper, Monica Hanna's reputation as an archaeologist has grown far beyond her native Egypt and not without risk.

As she and several journalists documented looting at an ancient burial site here, several men, one with a shotgun over a shoulder, threatened her. She overheard one man say to beat her and take her camera. When the men phoned for police, she hid her camera's memory card in her shirt. After 45 minutes of argument, they allowed her to leave. As Hanna describes it, the locals, who are a part of the looting, don't want the photos out there because then their business stops.

Thirty-year-old Hanna is a leader in exposing the antiquity looting that has exploded since Egypt's 2011 revolution. She appears on Egyptian television debating government officials, takes reporters to looted sites, and encourages Egyptians to protect their heritage.

When she was 14, Hanna took a school trip to the Egyptian Museum, which holds some of the country's best antiquities, including the King Tut collection. She sneaked inside the mummification lab and saw its director at work, was fascinated, and asked him if she could come and help. She volunteered twice weekly after school; a year later, she helped with mummy restorations. She helped repair the toes of Thutmose III, who ruled Egypt nearly 3,500 years ago.
She graduated from American University in Cairo with a bachelor's degree in Egyptology and archaeological chemistry, and then earned a master's degree in teaching English, followed by a doctoral degree in archaeological sciences from the University of Pisa, Italy. She is doing post-doctoral studies at Humbolt University in Berlin.

Not everyone appreciates her work; she often receives threatening phone calls from people believing she has a foreign agenda or is doing this for personal glory.

Salima Ikram, Hanna's former teacher and head of American University's Egyptology unit, is not surprised by the threats. As he sees it, this means Hanna is doing her job well. She is scaring some of the syndicate people who live around and feed off of the antiquities.

Hanna concedes she may be risking her career and she might not get future permits to work on archaeological sites from the antiquities ministry. However, in that case it's ethics versus career. If she cannot talk about this, then she feels she really has no place to teach her students one day that she and other Egyptologists did their best to protect their heritage.

She is working with three groups to monitor archaeological sites. A Web site will allow people, including tourists, to report damaged antiquities anonymously.

Her commitment arose because foreign archaeologists were afraid of losing work permits if they spoke up and officials usually ignored antiquities inspectors who reported looting. As experessed by Salima Ikram, Hanna’s work is a service not just to Egypt but to humanity, because Egypt's heritage is part of the world heritage.


Stories of Tuscaloosa’s past unearthed during hotel construction

Original Headline: Unearthing Tuscaloosa’s early history


Our final story is from the United States, where University of Alabama archaeologists are getting a glimpse of what life in Tuscaloosa might have been like more than 180 years ago. From bottles, porcelain pieces, soil, and flotation samples taken from privies, the analysts are discovering many stories of Tuscaloosa’s past.

For the past two months, the University’s Office of Archaeological Research has been analyzing artifacts from the former City Fest lot. The City of Tuscaloosa contracted the University to perform an archaeological investigation per federal guidelines in preparation for construction of a new Embassy Suites hotel.

Beginning in January, project director Brandon Thompson and his team began investigating the Bank of the State site. In February, they stripped the remaining parking lot and exposed some incredible features, including many foundation remains from buildings that date to before 1820, according to Matt Gage, director of the Office of Archaeological Research.

Initial occupation of the site dates to 1816 when Revolutionary War veteran John Click built a log cabin on the property. However, according to Gage, Click never got a deed to the property and lost it to John McKee in 1823. McKee was the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw agent at the time, as well as a land surveyor, and he had helped lay out the city of Tuscaloosa.

Over the years, the property was home to numerous businesses, including Augustin Lynch’s cabinet manufactory. Known as one of the most important Antebellum furniture makers of the time, Lynch provided furniture for the Capitol building, at the time located only a few blocks to the west, and for some of the early University of Alabama buildings.

He also created ivory billiard balls and sold them to people in Washington, D.C. Gage reported that the archaeological team discovered ivory on the site, as well as rusted tools such as saw blades and drills.

The property became the site of the Bank of the State in 1829, and the archaeologists found decorative pieces from that building, as well as a few Spanish coins. The coins are reals [ree-AHLS] minted in Brazil, Guatemala City and Mexico City. They found coins in pits containing British gun flints and early bottles closer to where Click’s log cabin had been, so Gage predicted they were either associated with traders coming through Tuscaloosa or early dealings with the Bank of the State.

In the early 1800s, people used foreign currency as frequently as coinage minted in the country. So few mints existed in the U.S. at the time that people exchanged any currency of monetary value made of gold, silver or copper as easily as currency minted in the United States.

The property also housed an ice factory, numerous shanties and other dwellings, a hotel, and the Drish building, which served as a warehouse and then a Civil War prisoner-of-war facility. Artifacts recovered from the site include various bottles, including those that held food as well as drink and medicine, buttons, porcelain pieces, printing press letters, early smoking pipes, architectural elements from the buildings, and more.

According to Gage, wells and privies at historical sites are a gold mine for archaeologists. The excavators found several of these on this site, including some that had been used by the Union soldiers housed at the Civil War prison. Using soil and flotation samples from the privies, analysts can determine everything from what individuals were eating to how the guards treated prisoners.

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