Audio News for June 23rd to June 29th, 2003

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these
are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from June 23rd to
June 29th.

High Tibet reveals relics of ancient life

Our first news item is from Tibet, where a collection of relics that could
help explain early Tibetan life have been unearthed. Along the
high-altitude railway line from Qinghai(CHING-HAI) to Tibet, archaeologists
have recorded 37 areas of ancient monuments and artifacts, including tombs,
military watchtowers, and caches of stone tools. A large-scale sacrificial
site excavated in Nagqu (NAG-gu) County was the first find of its kind in
Tibet, and a cache of stone tools found in Damxung (DAM-sung) County is the
largest ever uncovered. Stone tools for hunting and farming have now been
found at altitudes of more than 16,000 feet, showing that ancient Tibetans
were already comfortably adapted to life on their high plateau. Sacrificial
relics also revealed more about Tibetan religion. Before Buddhism enteredthe region, Tibetans worshipped natural spirits like sacred stones, lakes,
megaliths and woods, according to historical records. Archeologists found a
megalith circle with a diameter of 12.2 feet near a lake in Amdo County,
which is believed to have been used for lake worship.

Russia continues dig at horse nomad burial mound

In Russia, a team from the State Hermitage Museum is heading for a region
south of western Siberia. Their mission is to continue digging Arzhan-2
(AR-zhonn) Hill, a unique burial site of high-ranking members from an early
nomadic society. In 2001, the archeologists found an intact grave. At the
bottom of the burial chamber were the bodies of a man and a woman. Their
costumes were decorated with almost five thousand golden sequins shaped
like animals. The man's trousers were covered in fine golden beads, and his
boots were lined with golden sheet. His headgear was decorated with golden
plates in the form of horses, deer and snow leopards. Golden hairpins
crowned the woman’s headgear, engraved in the Scythian animal style. Last
year, the scientists returned and found the remains of 14 horses, together
with bronze bridles, mane decorations and tail embellishments cut out of
golden plate. Overall, they explored 19 burial complexes dug around the
hill. In the central part of the hill, however, they were surprised to find
no burials. Most of the graves contained bodies and numerous metal
artifacts -- knives, arrowheads, mirrors, and beads. Felt and fur clothes
were tattered, but in surprisingly good preservation. This year,
specialists plan to complete the study of the hill, which dates to the
second half of the 7th century BC. The work is being done as part of a
joint project with the German Archaeological Institute. All finds of the
expedition are in temporary storage in the Hermitage, where they are being
examined, restored and conserved.

Fate of ancient Mayans may be warning to present

Analyses of satellite images by NASA are providing scientists with new
clues about the mysterious collapse of the Mayan civilization. The research
may also provide hints about the fates of other ancient civilizations that
tried, and failed, to control their environments with huge public works
projects. Images suggest that, at least in the northern area of Guatemala,
the Maya made major ecological mistakes. Those, in turn, led to the
collapse, around AD 800, of one of the most densely populated civilizations
of the New World. From careful analysis of hundreds of newly discovered
cities and towns, a field, roadways, canals and man-made reservoirs,
researchers are beginning to see the rise and fall of Maya civilization in
a new light. To supply the water that once had been stored naturally, the
Maya built hundreds of man-made reservoirs. For a while, engineering seemed
to be the answer. However, with a population density equivalent to that ofChina and every arable acre under cultivation, there was no reserve for bad
years. Sometime between AD 800 and 900, a series of severe droughts hit the
region. The reservoirs dried up and the crops failed. On the other side of
the globe, a similar story of environmental stress is being investigated in
ancient Cambodia. The Angkor region, whose sites were rediscovered by
French missionaries in the mid-1800s, is known primarily for its ornately
decorated temples and stone sculptures. Archaeologists now estimate that
the population of Angkor may have reached 1 million at its peak. They don't
yet know the exact cause of its collapse, but an eco-disaster like that
which befell the Maya is one of the leading possibilities.

Postwar chaos makes museum losses hard to tally

In an update, the chaos of postwar Iraq continues to delay the tally of
missing antiquities, including determining how many artifacts were lost,
looted, or tucked away for safekeeping. In the most detailed public
accounting yet of the pillage of Baghdad's Iraqi National Museum, one
archaeologist said several thousand museum pieces are still missing, but
warned that the exact number won't be known for months, until a detailed
inventory is complete. Still missing are 32 of the museum's most valuable
pieces -- now believed to have been removed some days before U.S. forces
reached Baghdad in early April -- and the museum's entire collection of
nearly 5,000 clay cylinder seals. Such seals are small, easily
transportable artifacts, highly prized by collectors. Out of the estimated
170,000 items the museum owned, many of its greatest treasures have been
recovered from a flooded vault in the basement of a Baghdad bank. Thousands
more have been found in museum storage rooms that were not looted. More
than 4,000 objects, at least some of them believed to be from the museum,
were seized at the Jordanian border. Nevertheless, Selma al-Radi, an
archaeologist who has just returned from a UNESCO fact-finding mission to
Iraq, says it isn't the number of missing artifacts that disturbs experts.
It’s the irreplaceable uniqueness of each one. She pointed out that if the
Mona Lisa were missing, it wouldn't matter that it was only one object.

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