Audio News for April 21st to April 27th,2003 

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

these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from April 21st to April 27th.

Midwestern topsoil reveals top quality prehistory


Our first story is from the United States, where crews have found hundreds of artifacts, 1,200 years old, buried under 3 feet of earth on a grassy Illinois hillside. The hillside where the artifacts were found last week was chosen for excavation because the landowner wants to sell its dirt to the state as fill for a nearby highway project. State law requires that an archaeological team first carry out a search for artifacts, and excavate any that might be found. The search team discovered a keyhole-shaped house, part of what appears to be a small village. ''Keyhole'' houses are dwellings made of clay and logs with rooms half submerged in the ground. The name "keyhole" describes the house shape – a long, straight, covered entrance gives access to the large, dome-shaped living area at one end. Microscopic examination of debris from the village’s ancient garbage pits shows the inhabitants ate venison and turkey, plus nutritious native plants – which Europeans, unaware of their value, considered weeds. One common dish was a flat cooked cake, like a pancake, made from the seeds of knotweed. The village dates from the Late Woodland period, from about A.D. 600 to 800. What is learned from the dig will be integrated with knowledge gained from other finds in Illinois in recent years, including the 2001 discovery of 70 handmade ceremonial stone ax heads beneath a field in Shiloh.

Virtual reality keeps stone-age Scottish art alive


In the England, 3-D modeling at the University of Warwick is set to revolutionize how we learn about history by digitally recreating archaeological sites and ancient monuments. Around the Kilmartin (KIL-martin) Valley, Argyll (AR-guile), Scotland's most spectacular and richest prehistoric landscape researchers from "E-lab," a University facility, have begun applying virtual reality technology to recreate ancient rock art. The computer reconstruction assembles dynamic 3-D models of historical artifacts, such as ancient carved cup-and-ring marks made by prehistoric artists on rocks. The virtual reconstruction includes data on the cultural and geographical landscapes, from 5000 years ago to today, to demonstrate to the viewer how vegetation and landscape have changed through time. This places the site within the wider context of the landscape to show how it related to its immediate surroundings when first built, and over the additional centuries of its existence. Scotland's E-lab has also produced a 3-D interactive model of one of Scotland's best-known ancient sites, Dunadd (DUN-add) fort. Established by emigrants from Ireland in the 5th to 6th century AD, the hill fort was once the center for the long-lost Gaelic Kingdom of Dal Riata (dale RE-ata). Extensive archaeological investigation has been carried out at this site. The results have now been used to generate a 3-D computer game designed to help viewers experience its panoramic outlook and navigate around the site, as our ancestors did thousands of years ago. The E-lab has only received funding so far to reconstruct two of 298 ancient monuments around the Kilmartin (KIL-martin) area. They hope funding will be secured to digitally rebuild the remaining monuments, so their history and significance will be preserved and made available to all.

Archaeoastronomy links early Irish tomb builders with sun


In Ireland, research at the prehistoric Passage Tomb Cemetery at Loughcrew (LOK-crew) is revealing new data on the astronomical orientations of the tombs and associated monuments by analyzing their layout. Using techniques from archaeoastronomy, the research has already identified important astronomical orientations in the larger tombs and significant patterns in the comparative direction of the monuments. "By examining the relationship between the landscape and astronomy, we can complement existing archaeological knowledge and hopefully gain insight into how prehistoric communities might have perceived their place in the cosmos," says Frank Prendergast from the Dublin Institute of Technology. Loughcrew (LOK-crew) is a nationally important archaeological landscape located 70 km northwest of Dublin. It is the site of one of the four major passage tomb cemeteries in Ireland, and dates from the Middle Neolithic (3600-3100 BC) and later. The principal type of monument is the passage tomb, some 30 of which survive in varying condition. Characteristically, a passage tomb has a prominent circular cairn retained by a stone curb wall. On stones within the tomb, megalithic period art is often inscribed. Previous investigations by archeologists indicate that these monuments were landmarks on the Neolithic landscape, and the larger focal tombs and their smaller surrounding satellite tombs would have had a major impact on prehistoric communities and their ritual and ceremonial practices. Prendergast's investigations show that two of the largest central tombs are oriented towards the rising Sun at the equinoxes. On these days, at dawn and for a period of some 20 minutes afterwards, a shaft of sunlight spectacularly illuminates the interiors of the tombs. At these times, the elaborate engravings on some of the stones within both chambers are clearly visible in the otherwise dark interior. Equinoctial orientations are actually quite rare, and their interpretation is controversial. The question not yet answered is the exact significance of this orientation for the tomb builders. The Loughcrew (LOK-crew) archaeoastronomy research also shows that many of the smaller satellite tombs are oriented towards each other as well as towards the two central tombs.

Wisconsin research untangles clues to cultural relations


From the United States, debate continues over the suggestion that people from two well-known local prehistoric cultures merged into an entirely new culture through meeting and exchanging food, ideas, and manufacturing styles. University of Wisconsin archaeologists have pointed to gradual likening of pottery types at the Onalaska (on-a-LAS-ka) site as evidence for the intermingling of two early cultures, the Late Woodland and Middle Mississippian, at about AD 1050, into the precursor of the later Oneota (OH-nee-OH-ta) culture, which is established in the record around AD 1200. David Overstreet, director of the Center for Archaeology Research in Milwaukee, disagrees. He believes that these three cultures are separate; that there was no "marriage" or "birth" in any combination between any of the groups. He points to radiocarbon dates that he collected from Oneota pottery in northeastern Wisconsin, which show this group's presence as early as A.D. 900. The controversy focuses on the archaeological history of the region between A.D. 1000 and 1200, which has been unclear. The University of Wisconsin researchers believe the Onalaska (on-a-LAS-ka) site, with its evidence of two distinct cultural pottery types at the same hearth, may help end that confusion. The Late Woodland peoples lived throughout the area before A.D. 1000, then this culture vanished. Around 1200 a new one, called Oneota (OH-nee-OH-ta), took its place. These later people were quite different. They were agricultural, raising corn as a dietary mainstay, and were sedentary. Whether this represents a dramatic shift in a single culture’s lifeway, or their displacement by intruders from outside, is the point of debate. Some believe the Late Woodlanders became Oneota, under the influence of outside agricultural groups. Others think the Oneota were a marauding and expanding group from farther East, who pushed them out. During this same transitional period, the impressively complex and thriving city called Cahokia (ca-HO-kee-ah) arose in what is now Illinois. With its temples, central plaza, and fortified walls, it was a powerful and influential center. Its people, known by archaeologists as the Middle Mississippians, lived throughout the Midwest and Southeast. It is believed that modern Native American tribes, such as the Creek, Chickasaw and Natchez, are the historical descendants of this culture. In Wisconsin, the Middle Mississippians established a fortress village at the site known as Aztalan (AZ-ta-lan). Artifacts from the site suggest that peoples following the Late Woodland culture lived at Aztalan (AZ-tah-lan) too. An as-yet unanswered question, therefore, is what role the Middle Mississippians may have had on the transition of Late Woodland to Oneota culture – a marriage of cultures, or a conquest by the powerful Cahokian way of life.

Wine-tasting brings back taste of Pompeii’s ancient fame


Our final story is from Pompeii, where some 2,000 years after Mount Vesuvius buried it in fire and ash, the ancient city has renewed a long-lost winemaking tradition. Cultivated using ancient techniques in plots where vineyards thrived until the eruption, wine-makers have now presented a red wine produced from local grape varieties. "The ancient world was not made up only of statues and objects we see in museums. It was made up of all the facets of daily life, and wine was an important one," stated the archaeological director of Pompeii. The ancient Pompeiians cultivated vineyards in the surrounding areas as well as inside the city walls, in their gardens and courtyards, and their wines were traded everywhere. Archaeological and botanical studies, including the molding of imprints left in the soil by vine roots, allowed modern wine-makers to identify where vineyards were located and what kinds of grapes were grown. The frescoes and mosaics that decorate many of the houses of Pompeii also provided precious information about the ancient vineyards, with images of vines and bunches of grapes helping archaeologists identify varieties and growing techniques. Based on those findings, researchers established an experimental plot of 200 square meters, or about 2000 square feet, inside the archaeological site, in 1996. It was planted with eight different types of native vines that were well known to the ancient Pompeiians. Following ancient vine-growing techniques, the modern wine-makers planted the grapes in the exact spots where they stood 2,000 years ago, in close rows, supported with stakes made of chestnut wood. In 2001, a first substantial harvest provided wine-makers with enough grapes to produce 1,721 bottles of a wine that was named "Villa dei Misteri" (VEE-la day-ee mee-STAIR-ee), after the "Villa of Mysteries", one of Pompeii's world-famous frescoed houses. The wine will be sold at auction, with all proceeds going to fund the restoration of an ancient wine cellar at one of the recreated vineyards.

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