Audio News for May 19th to May 25th, 2003

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from May 19th to May 25th.

More burials found near Stonehenge


Our first story is from southern England, where archaeologists have found another ancient burial near Stonehenge. Last year, the remains of a Bronze Age man were found near the ancient ring of monoliths. Now, a burial of four adults and two children has been found about half a mile from that of the archer, about three miles from Stonehenge. The group is believed to have lived around 2300 B.C., which is the time when Stonehenge was being built. Radiocarbon tests will be done to find out more precise dates for the burials. The new find is unusual. It is exceptionally rare to find the remains of so many people in one grave like this in southern England. The grave shows evidence of having been reopened for burials at different times, so it is possible that these people were from different generations. The grave contained four pots belonging to the Beaker Culture, some flint tools, one flint arrowhead and a bone toggle for fastening clothing. The Beaker Culture flourished in the region of the Swiss Alps during the Bronze Age. Although multiple burials in a single grave is something more commonly found in the Stone Age, the Beaker style pottery identifies these as later, Bronze Age, burials. The archer found last year was called that because of the flint arrowheads found by his body. The archer’s grave had far more artifacts in it than the few pots and tools found with the new burial. His grave contained about 100 artifacts, including two gold objects, three copper knives, flint arrowheads, wrist guards and pottery. The exceptionally large number of burial artifacts indicate he was a man of social significance, possibly involved in constructing the monument. The copper knives came from Spain and France. The gold objects dated to as early as 2470 B.C., and are the earliest dated gold artifacts found in Britain.

Possible world’s oldest sculpture found in North Africa


In Morocco, a 400,000-year-old stone object could be the world's oldest attempt at sculpture. The object, which is around 2 1/2 inches in length, is shaped like a human figure, with grooves that suggest a neck, arms and legs. On its surface is a red substance that could be remnants of paint. The object was found 45 feet below the eroded surface of a terrace on the bank of a river near the town of Tan-Tan. It was discovered in 1999, during a dig directed by Lutz Fiedler, a German archaeologist. The Tan-Tan object was reportedly lying near stone hand axes in ancient geological strata (STRAY-ta) that date to the Middle Acheulian (a-SHOO-lee-an) period, 500,000 to 300,000 years ago. The Tan-Tan find is likely to increase debate over the timing of humanity's discovery of symbolism. Sculpture and other arts require the ability to think symbolically, using complex mental processes that appear to be unique to humans. There is little current agreement on exactly when ancestral humans developed this ability, in large part because few examples of early art have been found. The Tan-Tan object dates to the Acheulian (a-SHOO-lee-an), and the hominids that lived then, such as Homo heidelbergensis (HIDE-el-berg-EN-sis), are thought to have been incapable of the symbolic thought required to create art. Thus, one expert suggests that the overall shape of the Tan-Tan object results from natural processes, not human work. But he agrees that the conspicuous grooves on the surface of the stone, which appear to emphasize its humanlike appearance, are partially man-made.

Bulgarian origin suggested for Dionysus


In southern Bulgaria, experts believe they may have found one of the ancient world’s most famous sites of prophecy sites, a temple of the Greek god of wine, Dionysus (die-uh-NYE-sus). Research began in 2000 at the site of the ancient village of Perperikon (pare-PARE-i-con), specifically to search for such evidence. The village was built by the Thracians (THRAY-shians), whose civilization existed alongside that of the ancient Greeks, until finally being overrun by invading Slavs in the third century AD. The name Perperikon (pare-PARE-i-con) comes from the Greek word meaning incendiary. Archaeologists see this as a pointer to the sanctuary of Dionysus (DI-e-NYE-sus), where rituals of wine and fire were performed. So far, at the site, archaeologists have discovered an oval hall that had no roof but contained a round altar shaped out of the rock. The discovery matches a description by Roman historian Suetonius (sue-TOE-nee-us) who wrote that the Dionysian (di-oh-NEE-zee-an) rituals were performed on a round altar in a vast, roofless oval temple. Another historic lead linking the site to Dionysus is the discovery of a cavern that matches the description of those where orgies took place during Dionysian wine festivals. The site contains an altar shaped like a womb. Water runs onto it from the walls and at midday a ray of sun shines onto the soil. The shape of the ray is like a phallus, a mythological symbol of fertility that is associated with Dionysus (DI-e-NYE-sus).

Four Corners farmers may have been mobile agrarians


Our final story is from the United States, where archaeologists in southern Utah have uncovered evidence that suggests some of our ideas about early farmers may have missed the mark. A 1300-year-old farmstead found in the juniper forest of southern Utah appears to have been occupied regularly, but not year-round. Evidence from pottery shows that it was used for about a century, by people who belonged to the culture known as the Anasazi (AWN-ah-SAH-zee). Experts say the site is so well preserved it looks as though the prehistoric people who built it could still live here. There are intact sandstone walls and fire hearths. Remnants of bone reveal the Anasazi hunted rabbit and deer. Large quantities of charred corncobs and kernels, however, indicate that corn was the agricultural core of their diet. Although the farmstead does not appear to have been lived in year-round, neither was it a temporary camp. This find adds evidence to the theory that Anasazi families maintained several small farmsteads and moved among them, increasing their chances of survival in this arid land, where rain falls seldom and its locations are hard to predict. Unlike modern farmers, who set up production where the people live, these ancient Anasazi moved the people to the production. Anthropologists have been puzzling out for years the subtle ways that the Anasazi thrived as farmers in an arid ecosystem. One increasingly accepted theory is that the Anasazi were farmers who did not simply settle down. They kept the capability to pick up and move either when the land was used up beyond growing capacity, or another group moved in. The Anasazi were able to leave the area, let it regenerate itself and then come back.

That wraps up the news for this week!
For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at , where all the news is history!
I'm Laura Pettigrew and I'll see you next week!