Audio News for February 18th to February 24th, 2002.

This is Rick Pettigrew for The Archaeology Channel.  And welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm filling in for Claire Britton-Warren and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from February 18th through the 24th.



Orkney sites washing away




Archaeologists in Scotland worry that climate changes and coastal erosion will destroy important prehistoric landmarks in Orkney and elsewhere in the country unless urgent action is taken.  Experts have pinpointed 12,000 examples of sites under threat from the sea.  Already, sections of Bronze Age forts have succumbed to the sea, skeletons have been washed out of Iron Age burial chambers, and part of a Viking grave ship, uncovered on the island of Sanday during a winter storm in 1991, has disappeared without a trace.  A seawall built in 1926 to protect Skara Brae is crumbling at both ends under the force of the waves.  With so many archaeological landmarks at risk, the Orkney Archaeology Trust is urging the Government to spend more money protecting them.



Edible nuts and nutcrackers found at 780,000-year-old Isreali site

Original Headline:  Remains of seven types of edible nuts and nutcrackers found at 780,000-year-old archaeological site


From Israel, the remains of seven types of 780,000-year-old nuts and stone tools have been found in the Hula Valley.  Seven species of highly nutritious edible nuts were found at the site including wild almond; prickly water lily; acorns; pistachios; and water chestnut.  All are covered with a hard shell.  The pistachios and water chestnuts found are similar to those available today.  The nuts, and the tools found with them, are the first evidence that a variety of nuts formed a major part of the human diet 780,000 years ago and that prehistoric people developed tools to crack them open.



Silbury Hill gives up secrets



In England, experts working on Silbury Hill, a mysterious Neolithic monument in the southwest region, may have solved the mystery of its construction after revealing traces of a spiral path leading to its summit.  Engineers built a 3D map of the 550 foot-wide chalk hill in a seismic survey that began last year as part of repairs to shore up a vertical 18th century shaft.  English Heritage said the survey showed the mound had been built in a spiral fashion, rather than terraced as previously thought. The finding indicates a possible ceremonial use for the 92 feet high mound, believed to have been constructed over 4,500 years ago.  A fragment of an antler pick found during excavations before the seismic survey firmly dates the top of the hill to between about 2490 and 2340 BC.   English Heritage promised to reveal more details from the surveys in the coming months, giving the most detailed look inside the hill.   



Museumgoers can see virtual artifacts



A recently developed computer system will allow visitors to museums to see exhibits in all their glory, with missing pieces restored or dull colors improved.  The "virtual showcase" devised at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics in Germany resembles an inverted glass pyramid, sitting on a glass table.  The damaged artifact sits in the middle.   A 3D computer model fills in the missing sections based on information from old pictures of the item or by asking archaeologists or historians to make an educated guess.  To see the reconstructed artifact, viewers wear glasses containing a tiny radio transmitter that sends out signals using sensors in the table to track the position and motion of the viewer's head.  Angie Geary, a lecturer with the Victoria and Albert Museum and Royal College of Art in London, says virtual reconstruction has certain advantages.  Conservation experts don't have to make permanent changes to the object, which may or may not be correct reconstructions, and people can still see the genuine relic simply by taking off the glasses.   



Chinese lotus seeds germinate after centuries



A team led by UCLA scientists germinated lotus seeds nearly 500 years old recovered from an ancient lotus lake in northeastern China.  The group traveled in 1996 to Liaoning Province in search of the seeds in the lakebed, which had dried over the centuries because of a series of immense earthquakes, and collected 20 lotus seeds and soil from the region.  All of the lotus seeds that were tested for feasibility sprouted, all dating to 200 and 500 years old.  All showed abnormalities, particularly in their leaves, stalks and underground stems.  All soils are radioactive and the soil in which the lotus seeds were found releases low quantities of possibly harmful, mutation-causing radiation.  Apart from of the abnormalities, the low-dose radiation does not affect lotus seed germination; they still sprout.  The research represents the longest natural experiment of low-dose radiation ever recorded, and the first time scientists have seen examples of the effects of radiation exposure over centuries.  



Fish bones reveal the arrival of El Nino

Original Headline:  Fish bones give clues to the beginning of El Niño


Researchers say that ancient fish bones and the remnants of a complex civilization on the coast of Peru may help determine when modern El Nino weather patterns developed.  According to the model being developed, rapidly changing weather, which followed several thousand years of post-Ice Age stability, set off a new temple building culture in South America.  Scientists at the University of Georgia and the University of Maine looked at a tiny sensory framework in the inner ears of fish that grows in a way that reflects sea temperatures. 5,000 years ago, sea temperatures off Peru were around four degrees warmer than they are today.  El Nino's arrival made the climate unstable, and cooler weather in the intervening years increased the number of small fish and shellfish.  A change in the El Nino frequency and a related increase in upwelling about 5,000 years ago may be related to more abundant fish resources and increased cultural complexity.  The researchers stated that an apparently small climate change can have a profound impact on the overall ecosystem, and on the human economy that relied on that ecosystem.  



Ship half mile down may be the Sussex

Original Headline: 'Eureka!' Off Gibraltar: A Trove From 1694?


In our final story, a wreck found at the bottom of the Mediterranean could be the remains of the 17th century warship HMS Sussex.  The ship is believed to have been carrying large amounts of gold worth millions of dollars. The ship's captain, Sir Francis Wheeler, was taking a load of gold and silver coins to the Duke of Savoy, whom Britain wanted as an ally against France's King Louis XIV.  In 1694, the ship sank in stormy seas near the Strait of Gibraltar before reaching its destination.  Odyssey Marine Exploration has approached the Ministry of Defense about a possible salvage operation.  The size and number of cannons found on the seabed, where the wreck lies half a mile down, match those thought to have been on the missing warship. Researchers have no idea if the treasure is still on board, but from an archaeological point of view, the find is of great interest.  We’ll see who gets the gold.  I guess it’s’ no surprise that ships with lost treasure always seem to receive the greatest attention.  Let’s hope that in this case the archaeology is the first priority.



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!  Log on again for next week’s edition, when Claire Britton-Warren will return for another batch of fascinating Audio News stories!