Audio News for March 31st to April 6th, 2003

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and
these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from March
31st to April 6th.

Scottish town identified as ancient Norse assembly place


Our first story is from Dingwall, in northeastern Scotland, where five
years of historical research have furnished new evidence making it one
of the most important Viking sites in the country. It has long been
believed that Dingwall took its name from the Norse word, Thingvoll,
meaning meeting place, but the actual site of the ancient court of
administration was never found. Now, local historians David and Sandra
MacDonald say they have definitive proof of the site of the Norse court.
The pair has spent months in the National Archives of Scotland and the
National Library in Edinburgh poring over ancient documents written in both Scots and Latin. They unearthed documents, both national and local,
dating between 1500 and 1820, which clearly identifies the site as the
long-lost "Thingvoll" of Dingwall's Viking past. Initially, the
MacDonalds were looking evidence of the location of the court of the
leaders of the Norsemen, who invaded Scotland around 800 AD. But, from
their painstaking research, they believe they have a bigger Norse site
in Dingwall, the "Thingvollr," or the assembly area where the Norsemen
would have gathered to take orders from the leaders. The Norse court met
in Dingwall from 1035 to 1065 when Earl Thorfin the Mighty, a son of the
Earl of Orkney, ruled Ross-shire. Dingwall was the center of his
administration in Ross-shire. Mr and Mrs MacDonald now plan to contact
Highland Council archaeologists and Historic Scotland to inform them of
their findings. Dingwall is already well-known as the place where the
famous Macbeth was born about AD 1010, in a fortress later rebuilt by
the Earl of Ross.

Nile drought theory to be studied at headwaters lake

For hundreds of years, many theories have been brought forth in an
attempt to explain the rise and decline of ancient Egyptian
civilization. Some of the theories have included political conflict and
an assault from Asia. But most believe the initial breakdown of the Old
Kingdom, shortly after the time when the great pyramids were built, was
caused by a dramatic fall in the level of the Nile River over the period
of two or three decades. The low river levels, believed to be caused by
drought, plunged Egypt into severe famine. Dr Richard Bates, of St
Andrews University's School of Geography and Geosciences, plans a new
approach to finding out whether drought was indeed the cause. His team
will study Lake Tana, in northern Ethiopia, to retrieve and analyze
sediment in the lake, whose only outflow is the Blue Nile. Previous
scientific studies have shown a short-lived but pronounced decline in
rainfall and reduced water flow that extended from central Asia westward
to Italy around 2150 BC, towards the end of the Old Kingdom but before
the time of Tutankhamen, Ramses and Queen Nefertiti. The Lake Tana study
will show if this drought struck northern Africa as well. This will be
the first study of its kind of Lake Tana, whose waters helped provide
the stable and fertile environment for the great Egyptian dynasties. The
analysis will enable the team to paint a historical picture of climate
change, which could establish why there was a catastrophic reduction in
the floods of the Nile. The group also hopes to use the data to
establish whether the same, or worse, could happen today.

Ft. Pitt dig turns up colonial American evidence


In the United States a six-member student team is excavating part of
Pittsburgh's colonial past. The Fort Pitt Blockhouse, Pittsburgh's
oldest building, has seen a lot in its 239 years, from its days as a
Colonial stronghold, to its long run as a 19th century dwelling, to,
finally, a 21st century museum. The student team, under the direction of
anthropology professor John P. Nass have turned up a child's pendant
necklace bearing the address 91 Liberty St., shards of 18th- and
19th-century pottery; clasp knife, gun flints and musket and pistol
balls; and two brass buttons, which could have come from the greatcoat
of a Colonial soldier. Also seeing the light of day for perhaps the
first time in two centuries was a small brass-tinkling cone, a Native
American ornament often attached to the ends of fringe on clothing,
pouches and moccasins. The five-sided, two-story blockhouse is thought
to have been built about 1764 by Col. Henry Bouquet to strengthen Fort
Pitt against Indian attacks after Pontiac's War of 1763, when the Ottawa
chief rallied local tribes and put the fort under heavy fire. Bouquet
built three blockhouses to protect the earthen fort because floods had
weakened some of its walls in 1762 and 1763. With the student dig
complete, Nass and crew will clean the sturdier artifacts and send the
more fragile, corroded pieces to a conservator before returning
everything, along with Nass' written report, to the Daughters of the
American Revolution, which has owned and administered the building since

Hellenistic city unearthed near Ashkelon


From Israel, the remains of a Hellenistic city have been uncovered in
the region of Ashkelon (ASH-ke-LON). The dig has revealed a number of
two- and three-room mud buildings built around a common yard that
contained cooking facilities, dating back to the third century BCE. A
nine-foot wide road connecting some of the buildings has also been
unearthed. The Antiquities Authority was called in to examine the site
after bulldozers belonging to a construction company rammed into the
houses while trying to build a road that would have crossed what
appeared to be a hill. A local archaeologist, who is leading the dig,
which is employing 16 local residents, said the buildings were unusually
high. He said they appeared to have been preserved due to a sandstorm
that may have covered them in ancient times.

Reheating trick for bricks may be better method for dating


In our final story, archaeologists have put a new twist in the technique
of thermoluminescence, which is used on ceramics to reveal when clay
minerals were last heated or when they were fired in a kiln. The
technique is accurate only when artifacts are at least a few hundred
years old. However, a new method might work for more recently fired clay
materials or settle debates about older ones. Bricks swell very slowly
as they age, because they absorb moisture. Heating dries them out. Now,
researchers at the University of Manchester, in England, argue that the
extent to which bricks shrink under heating indicates how old they are,
because it is proportional to how long they have been wicking up water.
To test this potentially useful technique, Moira Wilson and colleagues
at the Institute of Science and Technology performed a series of
experiments with new and old bricks. First they found that newly fired
bricks, aged naturally in air over several months, contract to their
original dimensions after a couple of hours of heating at 450ºC. Next,
they artificially aged new bricks by exposing them to very hot steam. A
few hours' steaming seemed to have a similar effect to a few centuries
of normal aging. Dry heating nonetheless restored the bricks to their
original size. This suggests that heat treatment might return even old
bricks to their freshly fired state. Finally, the team was pleased to
find the connection between shrinking and age held good for building
blocks 20 years old, 120 years old, or Roman samples 1,900 years old.
This is despite the fact that the technological process of firing clay
has changed considerably over the past two millennia. The new
information may not only help archaeologists estimate the dates of both
recent and older brick construction, it will also be valuable to
engineers of modern buildings, who must plan for brickwork expansion
over long future timescales.

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 Laura Pettigrew and I'll see you next week!