Audio News for June 30th to July 6th, 2013.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from June 30th to July 6th, 2013.
Developers destroy Peruvian pyramid in grab for land
Original Headline: 5,000-year-old pyramid destroyed in Lima
In our first story, from Peru, two private real-estate companies have partially destroyed an ancient pyramid in the Lima district of San Martin de Porres (san mar-TEEN de POHR-rez).
The pyramid of El Paraiso, located near the river Chillon (chee-YONE), is one of the oldest structures constructed in the Americas. It is part of an early urban site covering over 64 hectares.
According to archaeologist Frederic Engel, the town around El Paraiso could have held between 1500 and 3000 inhabitants. The town had a total of 12 pyramids, which used over 100,000 tons of rock to construct, and clearly had religious and ritual importance to the culture living there during the Late Preceramic Age, dating between 3500 and 1800 BC.
Despite its obvious importance, the main pyramid at El Paraiso was recently knocked down by real-estate company workers who entered the site over the weekend.
According to archaeologist Marco Guillén (ghee-YEN) Hugo, who was in charge of the research and excavation of this site, as reported to the Associated Press, this is not the first time they have tried to take the property. The companies claim to be the owners of the land, even though, according to the Ministry of Culture, it is actually under state control.
The destruction of this pyramid, as expressed by Peruvian archaeologists, was an irreparable loss for the culture and history of Peru.
Peruvian authorities are pressing criminal charges against the two real-estate companies. Company workers using heavy machinery reportedly had attempted to destroy three other pyramids, but had been stopped by onlookers.
Twelve-thousand-year-old graves were lined with flowers
Original Headline: Mysterious Pair Buried With Flowers—Oldest Example Yet
Next, we travel to Israel, where imprints of stems and blossoms stamped into the dirt of ancient graves are the oldest definitive proof of flowers decorating graves, according to a new study.
Scented flowering plants, such as mint and sage, imprinted themselves in soft mud before they decomposed some 12,000 years ago in graves dug in a cave on northern Israel's Mount Carmel.
Ancient mourners lined four graves with the flowers, most notably one that holds the bodies of two people. The pair, an adult male and an adolescent of undetermined sex, belonged to the primitive Natufian culture that thrived between 15,000 and 11,600 years ago in the modern area of Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.
According to study leader Daniel Nadel, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa in Israel, the Natufian society was possibly one of the first to transition from a roaming hunter-gatherer lifestyle to permanent settlements, and was also the first to establish true graveyards. In some cases, groups lived in a camp for a few years, but some of the Natufian sites known were used for thousands of years.
The new discovery indicates that the Natufians also were among the first to use flowers to honor their dead.
The only potentially older instance of funerary flowers is a dusting of pollen found at the site of an approximately 70,000-year-old grave of a Neanderthal at Shanidar Cave in Iran. However, some scientists have argued that holes found at that site were made by burrowing rodents, and it could be the rodents that stored seeds and flowers in the grave.
From the Neanderthal example until the Natufians, a period spanning some 50,000 years, the record shows not one example of flowers decorating graves, according to Nadel, whose study appears this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
He noted, however, that this doesn't necessarily mean that people weren't using flowers at graves during that entire time. More likely, the flowers decayed over time.
Finding such flowers is very difficult, given how likely it is that they will not be preserved.
The Mount Carmel evidence has preserved many details of the burial process. The grave that held two people was prepared with great care. First, a pit was dug, and then a thin veneer of mud was used to cover the sides. The bottom of the grave was lined with the plants, including blooms of lavender, before the bodies were placed inside.
The scented flowers probably were chosen as much for their aromas as their appearance.
Based on items found in other graves at the cave cemetery, animal bones and such, Nadel thinks the pair was buried with great pomp and circumstance.
According to Nadel, the bodies were not just placed inside the graves and left. The mourners may have taken part in a colorful ceremony that included dancing, singing, and eating. They may have hunted a few animals, had a big meal around the graves, and then threw bones or meat inside.
If Natufian burial practices were anything like those of modern cultures, the grave flowers were intended not only for the dead, but also for the living. Nadel and his team are currently working to identify the age, sex, and relationship of the individuals in the flower-lined graves.
Copper toe rings on Egyptian skeletons may be for medical reasons
Original Headline: Mysterious Toe Rings Found on Ancient Egyptian Skeletons
Moving on to Egypt, archaeologists have discovered two ancient skeletons, dating back more than 3,300 years, each buried with a toe ring made of copper alloy, the first time such rings have been found from ancient Egypt.
The toe rings likely were worn while the individuals were still alive, but the discovery leaves open the question of whether they were worn for fashion or possibly medicinal reasons.
Supporting the medicinal interpretation, one of the rings was found on the right toe of a male, age 35 to 40, whose foot had suffered a fracture along with a broken femur.
Both skeletons were found in a cemetery just south of the ancient city of Akhetaten. Now called Amarna, the city of Akhetaten was a short-lived Egyptian capital built by Akhenaten, the pharaoh who tried to focus Egypt's religion around the worship of the sun disc, the Aten.
After Akhenaten's death, his attempt to change Egyptian religion unraveled, as his successors denounced him and the city became abandoned. According to Anna Stevens, the assistant director of the Amarna Project, the newly discovered rings are unlikely to be related to the religious changes Akhenaten introduced.
The findings do appear to be the first copper alloy toe rings discovered in ancient Egypt. A gold toe ring was found previously on a mummy named Hornedjitef, a priest at Karnak more than 2,200 years ago.
The man whose right foot was injured was likely in great pain when he was alive. He showed signs of multiple pre-death fractures, including several ribs, the left radius, right ulna, right femur, and the right foot, on which the toe ring was found. According to Stevens, the fracture of the right femur healed at an angle that must have caused this individual considerable ongoing pain. The ring was placed on the toe of the injured foot, suggesting perhaps it was intended as a medicinal healing device of sorts.
As related by Stevens, the act of 'binding' or 'encircling' was a powerful device in ancient Egypt, and a metal ring, which can be looped around something, lends itself well to this kind of action. This is a possibility that the researchers intend to look into further, checking for parallels through sources such as the corpus of magico-medical spells that have survived from ancient Egypt.
However, the skeleton of the second individual with the toe ring, found in 2012, bore no visible signs of a medical condition. According to Stevens, this individual has yet to be studied in depth by bio-archaeologists and its sex is unknown.
Figuring out who these individuals were in life is tricky, as the cemetery appears to represent a wide slice of the city's society. These people were not wealthy enough to be buried in a rock-cut tomb but could afford, and were allowed, the simple burials seen at this cemetery.
In the case of the male with multiple fractures, his life appears to have been especially difficult and he also has signs of degenerative joint disease. This suggests a life of labor was more likely for this individual than the easier life of, say, a scribe. In both cases, however, the individuals' lives ended with each having a copper alloy ring on one toe.
The case of the man with the toe ring was published in the most recent edition of the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology. More information can be found on the Amarna Project website.
Carving of Roman god found in early English trash pit
Original Headline: Archaeologists unearth carved head of Roman god in ancient rubbish dump
Our final story is from England, where an 1,800-year-old carved stone head of what is believed to be a Roman god has been unearthed in an ancient rubbish dump.
Archaeologists made the discovery at Binchester Roman Fort, near Bishop Auckland in County Durham.
First year Durham University archaeology student Alex Kirton found the artifact, which measures about 20 by 10 centimeters, or 4 by 8 inches, in buried late Roman rubbish within what was probably a bathhouse.
Researchers believe it is probably the head of a Roman god, but it does have similarities to the head of the Celtic deity Antenociticus, which was found at Benwell in the 19th century.
The newly discovered sandstone head dates from the 2nd or 3rd century AD. According to Dr. David Petts, Lecturer in Archaeology at Durham University, the head comes from near the location of a small Roman altar found two years ago. It may have been associated with a small shrine in the bathhouse and dumped after the building fell out of use, probably in the 4th century AD.
Regardless of the true identity of this small head, researchers are continuing to explore the building from which it came to help understand late Roman life at Binchester, on the Roman Empire's northern frontier in northern England.
Antenociticus is one of a number of gods known only from the northern frontier, a region that seems to have had a number of its own deities. Antenociticus is thought to have been worshipped as a source of inspiration and intercession in military affairs.
The style of the sculpture provides insight into the life and beliefs of the civilians living close to the Roman fort. The carving combines features from classical Roman art and more regional Romano-British traditions. Thus, the population of the settlement seems to have taken classical artistic traditions and made them their own, whether depicting classical or native regional gods.
According to Dr. David Mason, Principal Archaeologist with the site's owner, Durham County Council, the head is a welcome addition to the collection of sculpture and inscriptions from Binchester. Previous religious dedications from the site feature deities from the classical pantheon of gods and goddesses such as the supreme god Jupiter and those associated with healing and good health such as Aesculapius, Salus and Hygeia.
This one, however, which appears to represent a local Romano-Celtic god, demonstrates a finding frequent in the frontier regions of the Empire, the conflation of a classical deity with its local equivalent. The similarity with the head of Antenociticus is notable, but this could be a different deity still, one local to Binchester.
The Binchester head also may suggest African features, but according to Dr. Petts, who is also Associate Director of Durham University's Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, experts are unsure whether these features were deliberate or coincidental. If researchers somehow could confirm it is an image of an African, it would be extremely important.
The find was made as part of a five year project at Binchester Roman Fort which is shedding new light on the twilight years of the Roman Empire.
The Binchester dig is a joint project among Durham University's Department of Archaeology, site owner Durham County Council, Stanford University's Archaeology Centre, and the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Pettigrew and I'll see you next week!