Audio News for July 14th to July 20th, 2003

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from July 14th to July 20th.

American Park Service keeps its archaeologists

Our first story is from Washington D.C., where the U.S. Congress rejected an Administration proposal to privatize two National Park Service archaeological centers. The plan would have fired the archaeologists who work there and turned over to private firms the archaeological supervision of hundreds of national parks and landmarks. The plan was touted as a money-saving move. But critics charged that contractors are not equipped to cope with the complex Park system’s assortment of challenges, including influential outsiders trying to dictate local cultural heritage policy, never-ending congressional under-funding and serious personnel shortages. Park Service archaeologists currently mitigate those shortages by using thousands of volunteers, an option not open to a private company. The action late this week was a setback for the administration's "competitive sourcing" initiative, which seeks to hand over15 percent of all government jobs to private competition. The Interior Department had targeted the Midwest Archaeological Center, in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the Southeast Archaeological Center, in Tallahassee, to help meet its quota under the plan. A representative from Nebraska called the vote margin fairly remarkable, noting that the research center archaeologists do an outstanding job, with no reason to be closed down. Why the centers were targeted for elimination in the first place has remained a mystery to many of those who work there. John E. Ehrenhard, superintendent at the Southeast Center, said the centers have been under-funded and understaffed for so long, they’ve learned to be efficient. He concluded that the initiative was driven only by quotas. On a job-by-job basis, he pointed out, there are firms that could do the same work as the centers, but they lack the institutional history and archives. The centers have resources and expertise that can never be reassembled. Even more important, he said, the centers serve a watchdog function.

Modern agriculture destroying Silk Road city

In Turkmenistan (turk-MEN-i-stan), the ancient city of Merv, which survived the hordes of Genghis Khan, may fall to the consequences of modern meddling with nature. Water from Soviet-era irrigation projects is now seeping from the ground into ancient mud-brick castles, putting them on the verge of collapse. Preservation organizations such as World Monuments Fund and the UNESCO warn that the ancient city desperately needs protection. Structures that have stood for thousands of years won't last more than another decade without immediate conservation work. The site is unique because the ruins date from the 6th century B.C. to the 18th century A.D. and while representing five different settlements located here, sit side by side, spanning 3,700 acres, rather than being stacked on top of each other. Merv is an oasis located on the Silk Road trade route between the Mediterranean and Asia, guaranteeing it an important role in ancient Persia and in the Islamic empires of the Near East. It was a center for cotton textiles and played a role in early steel making. Merv’s golden age was in the 11th and 12th centuries, when it was one of the world's biggest cities. As legend goes, the blue dome of the mausoleum was visible a day's journey away. That era ended when Mongolian warriors led by Genghis Khan's son sacked the city in 1221. Today, the mausoleum is still Merv's crowning landmark, but the dome's blue tiles disappeared long ago. Soviet efforts in the 1980s to preserve the structure by capping the dome with concrete did more harm than good, trapping water inside and weighing it down. Some 20 other buildings at the site haven't received any attention, however, and now are threatened with irreversible damage. Two of the key remaining buildings dated from the 6th or 7th centuries A.D., walls are beginning to lean and are at risk of falling. The government has allowed international experts to work at the site, but the park director said he doesn't get much financing. Government workers at Merv sometimes go months without being paid. Preservationists funded by UNESCO have dug pits across Merv, looking for the right earth to build new bricks to help shore up walls. Once Merv's preservation is secure, experts hope to refocus on uncovering artifacts from the past.

Egypt wants Rosetta Stone returned

In another move to repatriate heritage, Egypt is demanding that Britain return the 2000-year-old Rosetta Stone. Officials have threatened to pursue the claim aggressively if the British Museum does not agree to give it back. The Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799 in the western delta of the Nile during Napoleon’s takeover of Egypt, was surrendered to Britain under the Treaty of Alexandria in 1801 and has been exhibited in the British Museum ever since. The Rosetta Stone, named after the vicinity where it was found, was carved with an official announcement in about 196 B.C. Its triple text provided the first clue to understanding hieroglyphics because the mysterious language was accompanied by a Greek translation. Now, Zahi (za-HE) Hawass (HA-wass), director of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo, has begun negotiations with the British Museum. Dr Hawass (HA-wass) said he had been discussing a three-month loan to the Cairo Museum, before the stone's permanent return to Egypt. Vivian Davies, keeper of the British Museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, indicated that a voluntary return was unlikely. The Egyptian Government has asked for the stone as part of a program to return stolen antiquities from all over the world. It also wants to retrieve the bust of Queen Nefertiti from the Berlin Museum, the statues of Hatshepsut (hat-SHEP-soot) in the Metropolitan Museum of New York and the obelisk in the Place (ploss) de la Concorde, Paris.

Cuba’s oldest tribe working to survive

Our next story is from Cuba, where archaeologists are working with the descendants of the ancient Taino (TIE-no) to revive their culture. For years, scholars thought a museum was about the only place one could find traces of the long-lost tribe. But the Tainos (TIE-no) survived the Spanish conquest, and 1,000 to 3,000 of their descendants can be found in eastern Cuba. The modern Taino (TIE-no) Indians, with help from supporters in the United States, Puerto Rico and other nations, are now on a quest to revive what's left of their indigenous culture and customs. A sign of modest international support came earlier this year when the Smithsonian Institution sent bone fragments of seven Taino (TIE-no) Indians to Cuba to be reburied. Research suggests that the Taino (TIE-no) people first came to Cuba from what is now South America about 300 years before Christopher Columbus arrived from Spain. During the Spanish conquest following 1492, many of the Taino (TIE-no) died of smallpox or malaria, ill-treatment, or starvation. Others were killed in battle. In the 1530's one Indian leader, Hatuey (AHT-way), tried to organize a rebellion against the Spanish. He was captured and burned alive. Today, he is listed as a hero in Cuban schoolbooks. In 1508, an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 Tainos (TIE-no) remained. By 1544, a Catholic bishop reported that only 60 were left. The surviving Tainos (TIE-no) intermingled with many other races over the years. Few people of 100 percent Taino (TIE-no) descent are thought to remain. However, experts say indigenous roots are likely to be abundant on the island, especially if one considers studies undertaken in Puerto Rico. There, scientists asked 56 people with Taino (TIE-no) features to volunteer for a DNA test, and a full 70 percent showed Indian DNA. Such studies have not been carried out in Cuba, but scholars believe the results would probably be similar. A census is being used to estimate how many people are of Taino (TIE-no) descent. Researchers have a fairly good description on the Tainos (TIE-no) at the time of Columbus. They know the Indians were of average height and had dark, flowing hair. They knew how to sail and make canoes. They fished, and grew potatoes, guava, garlic and other crops. They wove hammocks to sleep in, ate bread from yuca meal, and made maracas to accompany their music. They already suffered from attacks by an enemy before the Spanish arrived: the Carib tribe, after whom the Caribbean is named, often raided Taino (TIE-no) villages, captured women and girls for use as slaves and practiced cannibalism, while the Taino were comparatively peaceful.

The Archaeology Channel Film Festival gets rave reviews

Our last story this week is from Eugene, Oregon, where ancient cultures from across the world were celebrated and commemorated in The Archaeology Channel International Film and Video Festival. Over the course of four days, a thousand fans and judges enjoyed the screenings of 20 films from 10 countries, accompanied by talks from invited speakers Jean Clottes and Brian Fagan. More than 60 films were entered in the competition from 19 countries. The jury’s award for Best Film went to the American film, A Kalahari Family, Part 5: Death by Myth, produced by John Marshall and distributed by Documentary Educational Resources.  Honorable mentions in the Best Film category went to: The Last Days of Zeugma (produced by Gedeon Programmes, France); The Human Odyssey, Part 1: The Dawn of Man (produced by Tangram of Germany); The Lost Memory of Easter Island, from Gedeon Programmes of France; and A Kalahari Family, Part 2: End of the Road, by John Marshall and distributed by Documentary Educational Resources.  The Jury also awarded a Special Mention to The Last Days of Zeugma, for its artistry and sense of discovery. The Use of Animation prize was awarded to the American film, Ground Zero/Sacred Ground by Karen Aqua.  Honorable Mentions in this category went to: The Last Days of Zeugma; The Lost Memory of Easter Island; The House of Hermogenes (produced by Greek organization, Foundation of the Hellenic World); and The Human Odyssey, Part 1: The Dawn of Man.  The Audience Favorite Competition, which honored selections of the Festival-goers, gave the top award to: A Kalahari Family, Part 5. Honorable Mentions in the Audience Favorite competition went to: The Last Days of Zeugma; A Kalahari Family, Part 2: End of the Road; The Lost Memory of Easter Island, and the American film, Return to Belaye: A Rite of Passage (from Yellow Cat Productions and distributed by Documentary Educational Resources).  Next year’s film festival is already scheduled for July 14 to 17, 2004.  More information, including film clips, can be found right here on The Archaeology Channel website.

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