Audio News for December 2nd to December 8th, 2002

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Claire Britton-Warren
and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from
December 2nd to December 8th.

Elegy inscribed on Egyptian ostrich egg


Our first story is from Egypt, where archeologists have found a 500-year
old ostrich egg covered in Arabic. The egg was found in a Red Sea port
that, in the 15th century, had been a central location for trade between
the Middle East and India as well as a stop on the pilgrim route to
Mecca. The port city was built on the remains of a Roman port that
occupied the same site for the previous millennium. The shell is covered
with quotations from the Koran and poetry, which experts say is a
memorial description of the soul's journey from death to life. Eggs bearing Arabic writing are rare, although another was found in the same
region 20 years ago. The ancient Egyptians used ostrich eggs for perfume
containers and drinking cups, and the Coptic Christians hung them as
lanterns in their churches. No name is mentioned, but the translation
team believes the writings commemorate a young man.

Great Zimbabwe may be African Stonehenge


From Zimbabwe, in the wake of this week's eclipse,
archaeologist-astronomer Richard Wade released evidence that a medieval
African site was an astronomical observatory. The mysterious stone ruins
of Great Zimbabwe, from which the country took its name, were built
about AD 1200. At its heart is the Great Enclosure - a wall comprised of
over 5000 cubic meters of stone and marking a perimeter 720 feet long.
Experts had assumed it was once a royal residence. Wade theorizes
instead that Great Zimbabwe was similar in function to Stonehenge in
England, though more recent in date. Central to his conclusion is the
location of stone monoliths on the eastern arc of the Great Enclosure.
According to Wade, they line up with the rising of the Sun, Moon and
bright stars at certain, astronomically significant times of the year.
He also believes that one monolith could also be a predictor of
eclipses. Other experts warn, however, that with so many stones on the
walls of the Great Enclosure, some random alignments are to be
anticipated. They say more work is needed before Great Zimbabwe's use as
an observatory is proven.

Pre-BC stones mark Olmec invention of writing


In Mexico, symbols carved on stones 2,600 years ago are suggesting that
the Olmecs invented the first writing system in the Americas, which was
adopted by later cultures such as the Maya. The carved symbols were
found on chips from a stone plaque and on a cylinder stone, recovered
from an archaeological dig at the site of an ancient Olmec city near La
Venta. These symbols have a very close resemblance to symbols from a
later period found on Mayan artifacts. The most complete of the early
writing specimens is a cylinder with raised carvings on the outside. The
researchers believe it was a rolling imprinting device, probably used to
apply the symbols to cloth or even to human skin. On the cylinder is a
symbol of a bird, wings extended, with lines leading from the mouth to additional symbols to one side. Site dating suggests the artifacts were
deposited in about 650 BC, some 350 years before the date of what were
previously known as the earliest examples of Mesoamerican writing. The
Olmecs established a large and complex culture starting in about 1300
B.C. They built massive pyramids, carved intricate and detailed
sculpture and built large cities with thousands of people. The Olmecs
grew to a state level of political complexity, ruled by royalty and a
formal government, before their collapse around 400 BC.

Ancient grave in Taiwan held double burial


Archaeologists in Taiwan have unearthed pieces of a 5,000-year-old
coffin and the skeletons of a couple at a site where a science institute
is being built. In the past, the team has found stone sarcophagi, not at
all similar to the wooden coffin now found. The coffin is believed to be
nearly 5,000 years old. The team unearthed two wooden coffin slats, each
measuring 40cm long and 10cm wide, made of a dark hardwood of as-yet
undetermined type. Also discovered were the skeletons of a man and a
woman, both of whom were in their 20s when they died. This is the first
time that a couple buried together in a single grave has been discovered
in the region. Also unearthed in the grave were more than 20 cord-marked
pots and many pottery shards. Over the past six years, researchers have
unearthed more than 370 human skeletons and a large quantity of pots and
shards at nine archaeological sites in the science park, which is still
under construction. The newly discovered grave was found beneath the
ninth archaeological site. The relics belong to the Tapenkeng
(TAY-pen-kang) culture that dates back 5,000 years.

Miami Circle bones suggest ritual beheading


Our final story is from the United States, where Florida archaeologists
may now have proof that the Miami Circle was a burial site, as they have
long suspected. "We think we have found evidence of mortuary activities
at the Circle,'' said archaeologist Robert Carr, one of the discoverers
of the mysterious 38-foot-wide stone feature unearthed four years ago in
downtown Miami. Two vertebrae, from different people, have now been
found within five feet of each other inside the eastern arc of the
circle, an area that faced the rising sun and any enemies approaching
from Biscayne Bay. Such vertebrae frequently are associated with
decapitations. Researchers believe the discovery of the human bones
indicates that decapitations may have taken place, with the Tequesta (te-KES-ta) people positioning the severed heads near the water to warn
away enemies. Spanish explorers who arrived in the early 1500s reported
seeing ''trophy heads'' exhibited on the other side of the river, where
the Tequesta (te-KES-ta) maintained a large and vibrant community on the
north bank. The Miami Circle is formed by 24 irregularly cut basins,
which almost certainly were constructed by the now-extinct Tequesta
(te-KES-ta) tribe or their ancestors, according to archaeologists. The
Circle's age has not yet been established, but experts say the
surrounding site has been inhabited for at least 2,400 years.

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!