Audio News for June 30th to July 6th, 2003

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from June 30th to July 6th.

Location of aborigine cave paintings will remain a secret


Our first story is from Australia, where archaeologists have revealed the existence of a cave that contains rock paintings up to 4,000 years old. This highly significant Aboriginal art site has been kept secret for eight years, ever since a hiker stumbled on the cave in 1995. Officials at the Australian Museum said the inaccessibility of the area kept researchers from conducting a full-scale exploration of the find until this year. The cave has 203 paintings, prints and stencils that are in pristine condition. They depict humans and supernatural human and animal composites, including blendings of humans with mammals, birds, lizards and marsupials. There are life-size, delicately drawn eagles and kangaroos. One extremely rare depiction of a wombat is made up of 11 layers of paint, laid down from around 2000 BC to the early 1800s. The site is described as a rock shelter 36 feet long, 18 feet deep and 3 to 6 feet high. Its location will remain secret to prevent damage from either vandals or sightseers.

Inca knotted records may be secret alphabet

A new theory about South America’s mightiest ancient civilization has got researchers talking. For centuries, scholars have puzzled over how the Inca empire maintained its complex and sprawling economy without any system of writing. The Incas controlled territory up and down the Andes region using a sophisticated bureaucracy, and a trade and transport system that kept millions fed throughout the seasons. They built irrigation works, and stone temples in the clouds. Yet, they used no writing to record their beliefs or histories. Now, after more than a decade of work, a Harvard researcher believes he can show that their well-known khipu (KEY-poo) accounting system is more than just the abacus it has been compared to. Khipus (KEY-poos) are sets of strings, with knots that were carefully placed to indicate quantities. When gathered together, each set of string-and-knot records looks something like a mop. About 600 khipus (KEY-poos) that survived the Spanish invasion are in museums and private collections. Based on their study, Harvard professor Gary Urton has concluded that the khipus (KEY-poos) contain a wealth of previously overlooked information hidden in their construction details. The way the knots are tied could be the building blocks of a lost writing system that records the history, myths, and poetry of the Incas. The khipu (KEY-poo) mystery dates to the early 16th century, when Francisco Pizarro (pee-TSAR-roh) led the Spanish conquest that resulted in the near-total destruction of Inca culture. The Catholic missionaries that came to South America tried to eliminate all touches of the old ways, including the strange stringed textiles, which some of the Incas told them held their histories. The Spanish chroniclers often exaggerated, but they did record histories of tributes and other information that they said the surviving knot keepers ''read'' to them from the bundles of knotted strings.

Nazareth workers uncover Crusader Era cistern

In Nazareth, a construction crew digging near a major shrine discovered a cistern that crusaders might have built 1,000 years ago. Archeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority plan to excavate the site next week to learn more about the underground water reservoir, which is 40 feet deep in some places. The cistern is close to the Basilica of the Annunciation, where Christians believe the Angel Gabriel appeared before the Virgin Mary and foretold the birth of Jesus. Earlier this week, bulldozers were tearing out the foundations of a mosque that was being built without authorization next to the basilica when they broke into the giant hole. Researchers rappelled down ropes into the dark cavern to have a closer look, and found arches supporting the ceiling that indicate construction during Byzantine times. The investigation continues.

Philippines researchers fight to save ancient site from destruction

Our final story is from the Philippines, where officials in a major city on the southern island of Mindanao have allowed bulldozers to begin destroying much the site of the region’s oldest known prehistoric settlement. The site near the city of Cagayan de Oro (cah-guy-AN day OAR-o), is in the path staked out for a new highway that the city’s mayor says is essential to regional growth. For months, local historians and archaeologists have been protesting the dangers of the proposed construction, which they say is proceeding without the required government permits, and has even been issued cease and desist orders by the Philippines Department of Environmental and Natural Resources. The Huluga (huh-LOO-gah) Site includes not only the open area now under assault, but also a group of caves that have produced skeletons and artifacts dating from late Neolithic, Iron Age, and later periods. Burials, stone and iron tools, pottery, glass beads, and Chinese porcelain attest to the long span of occupation at the site complex. Amino acid racemization (RASS-uh-my-ZA-shun) dating on the bones of one burial was carried out by a U.S. lab, and placed it at about A.D. 300. Most of the research at Huluga (huh-LOO-guh) has focused on the caves, but surface finds across the many acres of open site how that it likely holds invaluable information on the history of settlement and trade in northern Mindanao. Following a visit to the site last week, however, anthropologist Erlinda Burton, director of the Research Institute for Mindanao Culture at Xavier University says that this knowledge is likely to be lost unless immediate salvage is ordered. Dr. Burton reported that construction equipment has already damaged or completely removed significant portions of the open areas of the site. The damage means the loss of an important and as yet poorly known part of Cagayan de Oro's (cah-guy-AN day OAR-oh’s) heritage, along with the valuable tourism potential of the site. A former member of the city’s Historical Commission, Antonio Montalvan (mon-tall-VON), has previously criticized the city’s Mayor Vicente Emano (eh-MAHN-oh) for his lack of concern for the city’s heritage, and failure to bring in archaeological consultants in advance of the high-profile construction. Following his resignation in protest, Montalvan (mon-tall-VON) formed a group called Heritage Conservation Advocates to monitor the expensive road and bridge project and seek help from higher authorities, which has now been circumvented by the city’s actions. The heritage group’s website is at

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