Audio News for September 16th to September 22nd, 2002

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Claire Britton-Warren
and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from
September 16th to September 22nd.

Archaeological finds give truth to Icelandic legends


Our first story is from Iceland where archeologists say finds add
support to legends about the first person of European descent born in
the New World. Icelandic sagas from the 13th century tell the story of
first Scandinavian group that attempted to settle in Vinland, on the
Canadian coast, around AD 1000. The attempt failed and the family moved
to Iceland, but one son was born while they were there. The ''Vinland Sagas,'' which also tell the story of Leif Ericson, are among the
earliest recorded history of the Scandinavian people, but there has long
been a debate over whether they represent real events or are simply
mythology. The 1960 discovery of Vinlandic ruins in Newfoundland
provided some confirmation of the sagas, archeologists say. The
Icelandic site could provide more information. A large house was
unearthed, measuring 95 feet long and 30 feet wide with 5-foot thick
walls. The house is about 50 percent longer than Viking longhouses in
Newfoundland and Denmark, indicating prosperity. Such wealth was
necessary to support the four Viking voyages to the New World. The
second of the sagas recounts the story of a pagan who married a
converted Christian woman. With three boats containing 60 to 70 people,
livestock, seeds, and other supplies, they left for the New World around
AD 1000 to establish a colony. The continuing project in Iceland is a
survey of 26 farms in five areas in northern Iceland. The region is said
to be one of the few documented chiefdoms. The eventual goal is to
understand how such chiefdoms, in which private property rights were
enforced without a central government, eventually gave way to regional rule.

Large English Channel port predates Romans


In Britain, experts diving in Poole Harbor have found astounding
evidence of a working harbor built centuries before the Roman invasion.
Timber pilings excavated from a deep layer of silt on the ocean floor
have been dated at 250 BC. This evidence suggests an iron age trade
complex providing berths for the largest ocean going ships - raising the
possibility that Greek and Roman traders were already making the journey
from the Mediterranean to the Dorset coast. The scale of the harbor
construction was amazing, and implies a large, skilled and organized
workforce. Two jetties have been traced, one with a surviving length of
135 feet, but probably originally the same length as the other 240-foot
long jetty. Their surfaces were 24 feet across, and paved with shaped
flagstones. The jetties were built up from an estimated 10,000 tons of
rock and rubble, reinforced with hundreds of oak tree trunks, sharpened
at one end so they could be rammed into the seabed. The finds prove that
the Roman invaders did not found the harbor, but came to a place they
knew well through generations of trade. The merchants were probably
exporting local pottery, metal work, and shale jewelry, for which the
area was known, and importing luxury goods such as amber, finer
ceramics, and clay jars of products such as wine and oil.

Hieroglyphs say superpower struggle ended Mayan glory


From Guatemala, scientists who recently translated hieroglyphics on
stone stairs in an ancient pyramid say a bitter war between rival Mayan
city-states may have set the stage for the collapse of the once-great
civilization. A hurricane last summer began exposing the carvings at a
site known as Dos Pilas (dos PEE-las), and the story is forcing scholars
to rewrite history. What was once thought to be a series of separate
local conflicts in the seventh and eighth centuries turns out to have
been the equivalent of a ''world war'' for the Maya, with battle lines
formed by vassal states controlled by two superpowers. ''The hundreds of
new glyphs fill in a vital 60-year gap of unknown Maya history and
clarify many of the political and military relationships of this
critical period,'' stated Federico Fahsen (FAW-son), a Maya specialist
at Vanderbilt University. While many scholars believed the wars of this
time were local and unrelated, the discovery supports the theory that
this period in Maya history was a ''long world war'' between the
superpowers Tikal (tea-KAL) and Calakmul (cah-LAK-mul). This staircase
is overpowering confirmation of this theory. Dos Pilas (dos PEE-las) was
established as a military outpost of the great Maya city of Tikal in AD
629. By 760, Dos Pilas (dos PEE-las) had been abandoned.

Archaeologists prepare for Stiklestad foray


From Norway, the site where Olav the Holy fell in battle in AD 1030,
will be the focus of an autumn dig by eager archaeologists. Mass warrior
graves are one find that is possible. Archaeologists hope that the dig
can confirm the actual spot of the Battle of Stiklestad. Olav Haraldsson
(Olav the Holy) waged a campaign to Christianize Norway, an achievement
managed posthumously after he was defeated by an army of farmers at
Stiklestad. He was canonized and his remains, which legend says did not
decay, were interred in a Trondheim ( TRON-ham) Cathedral. The
archaeologists have not chosen the specific site based on calculations.
The excavation of the area is in advance of potential development, with
highways, motels, parking lots and a cultural center contemplated. A
find of exceptional interest could lead to the Directorate for Cultural
Heritage protecting the area and even bring building plans to a halt.
Legend has it that Olav Haraldsson was mortally wounded on the rock that
lies under the medieval church only a few meters away from where the dig
will start. In 1996 excavations in the area uncovered evidence of
settlement, with remains of fires, cooking pits and postholes. The
current dig will be the most comprehensive ever undertaken in the area.

Casket carving is new image of ancient Jerusalem


Our final story is from the United States, where an ancient artifact
displayed at the Cincinnati Art Museum is providing a new vision of
ancient Jerusalem. Professor Steven Fine noticed, on display, a small
stone burial casket of the type produced in Jerusalem between about 20
BC and AD 66. Fine had written extensively on these artifacts, known as
ossuaries (OSH-yoo-air-ease ) and was intrigued enough to look more
closely. That's when Fine made a discovery of his own. He found a unique
image carved into the surface of the ossuary (OSH-yoo-airie): a building
resting upon a broad pedestal and topped with three triangles
representing ancient pyramids, or cones, atop a tomb. He knew he was
looking at the stylized image of a massive Jerusalem tomb of the first
century. In recent years a few ossuaries showing mausoleums topped with
pyramids have also come to the attention of scholars. The Cincinnati
ossuary image is unique, however, in presenting three pyramids. Scholars
have long known that pyramids once graced the Jerusalem skyline. One
example is the Tomb of the Kings, the burial place of a royal family
from Central Asia that converted to Judaism during the first century.
Literary sources suggest this tomb also had three pyramids above it,
Fine says. But none of these multi-pyramid structures is still standing
in Jerusalem. In first-century Jerusalem, ossuaries (OSH-yoo-air-ease )
were commonly used to store the skeletal remains of loved ones after
they had decomposed for a year or so in a tomb or mausoleum. The ossuary
in this case measures 18.2 inches long, 6.7 inches wide and 8 inches high.

That wraps up the news for this week!
For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the
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I'm Claire Britton-Warren and I'll see you next week!