Audio News for April 14h to April 20th, 2003

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and

these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from April 14th through April 20th.

Rare find marks second Jewish rebellion

Our first story is from Israel, where archaeologists have discovered coins they believe date back to a failed second-century Jewish rebellion against Roman rule. They were discovered in caves near the Dead Sea, which families passed through as they fled the brutal oppression that ended the three-year rebellion, led by Shimon Bar Kochba (SHEE-mon bar KOKH-ba) in 132 AD. The nine coins marking this period were found under a rock, and are a significant piece of evidence, given the scarcity of archaeological findings from this event. Particularly rare is the silver Petra Drachma (PET-ruh DROKH-ma), which at a weight of 12 grams, or one-half ounce, is the largest Jewish coin ever minted. On one side it shows Jerusalem's second temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, stamped on top of a portrait of a Roman emperor. The other side shows the four plant species used during ceremonies for the festival of Sukkot (soo-KOT). According to Hanan Eshel (hah-NAHN ESH-el), head of the Jewish Studies and Archaeology Department of Bar-Ilan (bar-ee-LAHN) University in Tel Aviv, "Bar Kochba never minted his own coins, so what we have here is a Roman coin with the temple and the four species stamped over the portrait of the Roman emperor." Although some 2,000 coins from the rebellion are known to exist, this is only the second time any have been discovered on site by archaeologists, he said. "Neither the Jews or the Romans considered the rebellion to be a success, so very little was written about it," said Mr Eshel. The coins will go on public display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Carving suggests earlier origins for Andean religion

In Peru, a four-thousand-year-old gourd fragment found in coastal site may push back the appearance of ancient Andean religion by a thousand years. A small, undecorated piece of the gourd was radiocarbon dated to 2250 B.C. Archaeological teams were conducting surface collections of looted cemeteries in Norte Chico (NOR-teh CHEEK-oh), a region some 120 miles north of Lima (LEE-ma), when they found the painted and carved fragment, once part of a gourd bowl. It features a fanged creature with splayed feet whose left arm appears to end in a snake's head and whose right hand holds a staff. Versions of this Staff God appeared in Andean iconography in succeeding centuries and spread farther throughout Latin America, with the deity later depicted in gold, clay, textiles, and stone. The Staff God was known as the creator god, or Dira Cocha (DEER-a CO-CHA), by the Inca, by the time of the Spanish invasion in the 15th century. Also found in the area were mounds 75 feet, or 25 meters, high, with staircases and ceremonial hearths on them. Plazas at the base of the mounds were surrounded by housing for various strata of society. Some 26 communities have been found that likely contained thousands of residents each, reflecting a much more complex civilization compared to earlier hunting and gathering bands that populated the Peruvian highlands, or small fishing villages along the coast.

Penn archaeologists rush to document stolen Iraqi treasures


In an effort to assist with the return of looted Iraqi artifacts, archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania hope to help catalog the losses using the museum’s own collection of artifacts from the region as a reference. The University sponsored 19th and 20th century excavations in Iraq, and holds a large collection of royal jewelry, gold vases, clay writing tablets and other objects dating back to 3000 to 4000 B.C., which includes replicas of many items thought to have been stolen from the National Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad. Scholars hope to organize an Internet database of the missing items to foil their sale on the black market. They also hope to offer to repair items damaged by looters and push for a plan to buy back artifacts and artworks if necessary. From 1922 to 1934, the University of Pennsylvania and the British Museum co-sponsored Sir Leonard Woolley’s famous excavations, which unearthed a royal grave site and other important finds at Ur, in southern Iraq. The ancient metropolis of Ur is recorded in the Bible as the birthplace of Abraham. The British Empire controlled Iraq between the two world wars, and under terms of an antiquities agreement, the two museums in Britain and the US split half of Woolley's finds, while the other half stayed in Iraq. While Iraqis have started returning a handful of items, researchers believe that more than 70,000 museum pieces could be missing. Scholars also worry about the fate of tens of thousands of clay tablets that contain some of the earliest written language, and of early manuscripts lost when Iraqi libraries were burned in the looting. The written material may be even more valuable than the jewels and pottery, they said. Archaeologists, meanwhile, hope the 10,000 or more archaeological sites yet to be unearthed in Iraq will be protected from similar looting. The materials are most useful if they're kept together, so scholars can understand them in context.

Phoenix uncovers new Hohokam ruins


From the southwestern United States, a surprise discovery last fall of an ancient Hohokam (HO-HO-kahm) village and the remains of several of its inhabitants has astonished archaeologists, who had believed there was little chance of finding more Native American ruins within the densely built modern city of Phoenix, Arizona. The discovery was made last November but kept secret for several months while archaeologists completed their work, to protect the site from vandals and looters. Archaeologists thought the more than 700 currently known sites would be all that was ever mapped before the region’s prehistoric past was covered over. The discovery has raised the prospect that more Hohokam (HO-HO-kam) ruins lay undiscovered in south Phoenix. The human remains will be turned over for reburial to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa (PEE-mah MAH-ree-CO-pa) Indian Community, who are the descendants of the Hohokam (HO-HO-kam). Spiritual leaders from the tribe blessed the remains before archaeologists removed them from the ground. State law requires human remains to be repatriated to the descendants of prehistoric peoples for reburial. The Phoenix city archaeologist said the information gathered by archaeologists at the site will be useful in further understanding the Hohokam people. From about A.D. 1 to 1450, the Hohokam engineered hundreds of miles of canals in the desert to irrigate their fields. Johna Hitira (hi-TEER-a), who led the team of archaeologists that conducted the study, said the site was used for farming. Archaeologists knew canals constructed by the Hohokam existed under the surface there, but they had no idea the area also included ruins and human remains, she said. In all, archaeologists discovered two clusters of pit houses the Hohokam had constructed out of brush and mud. Each cluster included about five or six pit houses that were inhabited by 15 to 20 people.

Early necropolis is found in Egypt


Our final story is from Egypt, where a team of French archaeologists has unearthed a complex of tombs south of Cairo which date back to between 2350 BC and 2180 BC. The discovery of the tombs, hewn out of the rock in the Saqqara region, 15 miles south of Cairo, was the fruit of a three-year dig, antiquities. One of the tombs is believed to be that of a priest of the Sixth Dynasty pharaoh, Pepi I. The tomb was decorated with colored scenes showing the tomb's owner in different settings with his family and various deities. Sculptures of the priest, his wife and 13 children were found in the walls. A dozen sculptures of another priest from the same period were unearthed nearby.

That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Pettigrew and I'll see you next week!