Audio News for October 27th to November 2nd

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from October 27th to November 2nd.

Romans Rise from the Waters

Our first story is from Serbia, where after a lapse of 15 years, excavations have resumed in an area rich with Roman sites along the Danube and Sava (SAH-va) rivers. Work includes the first underwater effort in the Danube itself, which forms the border between Serbia and Romania. Dives have confirmed the existence of the Trajan (TRA-jen) Bridge, which once was a 3200-foot span across the river, some 100 miles east of Belgrade. The Roman emperor Trajan (TRA-jen) is said to have started to build the bridge in the year 103 AD as a part of his campaign against the kingdom of Dacia (Day-she-a), today's Romania. The remains of 16 massive support pillars for the Trajan (TRA-jen) Bridge had been located originally in 1932. Fifty years later, in 1982, archaeologists were able to map 12 of them. During the recent expedition in September, a three-member diving team filmed the remains of a square base of the pillar covered with engraved stone plates. A memorial plaque that hails Trajan's (TRA-jen’s) conquest of Dacia (DAY-she-a) and his victory across the Danube still stands on the Serbian side of the river. Romanian archaeologists will join the quest for the secrets of the Trajan (TRA-jen) Bridge next year. One aim of the research is to determine how it fell. One historical account says Trajan's heirs destroyed the bridge several centuries later to prevent incursions of tribes into the Roman Empire. Another says the bridge collapsed due to the decay of the riverbed. Excavations have also resumed in the nearby town along the Danube. The town was the site of ancient Roman camp of Viminacium (VIM-in-AUK-ee-um). Several hundred yards of aqueduct and a mausoleum were dug up, proving the first-century site was a very important Roman camp. Excavations this past summer also focused on the site of ancient Sirmium (SEAR-mee-um), the Roman fortress close to the Sava (SAW-vaw) river that dates back to the first century. The marble head of a statue of goddess Diana came to surface only two days before the end of season. Digging will continue here next summer with the help of the French government. Experts believe that the location hides temples and homes of wealthy residents of Sirmium.

Ancient Maya altar rescued from looters in Guatemala

In Guatemala, an elaborately carved Mayan altar more than 1,200 years old, was recovered after archaeologists turned detective and joined police to rescue it from looters. The recovery of the 600-pound artifact gives researchers vital information on the closing years of the Mayan civilization, said archaeologist Arthur Demarest of Vanderbilt University. The altar was erected in the year 796 as a marker at the end of the royal ball court in the Mayan city of Cancun (can-KOON), site of one of the largest royal palaces ever found. The altar from the other end of the court had been found in 1915. The newly recovered altar, which retains much more of its carved details, was encountered by looters after a violent rainstorm eroded the soil that covered it. They took it away and offered to sell it to collectors. Demarest said the elders of a village told him about the theft and he called the national police. After months of effort on the part of police in several countries, and villagers who stepped in to report the traffickers’ efforts to market the altar, its location was disclosed and the looters were arrested. The importance of the altar is both scientific and archaeological, since it happens not only to be a masterpiece of Maya art, but also tells the story of the final days of this kingdom, and its greatest king. Much is being learned as the text on the altar is deciphered, including the news that the last king of the city is buried nearby. Archaeologists will be looking for that burial site this year. A carving on the altar shows king Taj Chan Ahk Ah Kalomte (tahj chan-AUK ah-ka-LOM-te) playing ball with another king. For the Maya, playing the sacred ball court game was part of finalizing a treaty. At the time this altar was made, other Maya kingdoms were collapsing but this kingdom was thriving and appears to have taken over a large city nearby. An interpreter of the writing on the altar, said in a statement that Taj Chan Ahk (tahj chan-AUK) was the greatest in Cancun's (can-KOON) long dynasty of rulers, and his titles on the altar show his aspirations to take control of the whole region during these final decades of classic Maya civilization. His strategies allowed him to stay in power and even expand his authority at a time, about A.D. 800, when most of the other Maya kingdoms of the west were collapsing.

Welsh beach find linked to Saxon king

In Wales, a man on a beach with a metal detector has found a rare gold sword belt ornament from the time of the seventh century Saxon king Caedwalla (cad-WALL-ah). Discovery of the intricate gold decoration encrusted with garnets is regarded as being especially historically significant because it comes from the time of a king reputed to have put a quarter of the area’s population to the sword in his attempt to convert them to Christianity. Official review declared the piece an artifact, enabling museums to bid for it. An expert said the spectacular gold pyramidal sword belt ornament is the most important artifact to have been found here since the excavations of the mid-19th century. The gold piece has an octagonal base and is decorated with 16 panels divided into cells. Originally these were inlaid with garnets, only one of which now survives. The eighth-century historian, the Venerable Bede, credits Caedwalla (cad-WALL-ah) with converting the population of the area to Christianity. It is speculated that a belt ornament so finely made belonged to Caedwalla (cad-WALL-ah) himself, and it is also possible there is another under the beach because they were worn as pairs.

Inner Mongolian tombs yield clues to early nomads

Our final story is from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, a territory in western China, where archaeologists have found bronze articles in ancient tombs suggesting nomadic tribes had contacts with Western civilizations approximately 2,500 years ago. Archaeologists point to a bronze mirror and a bronze plate at the two ancient tomb sites that they believe could not be the work of ancient northern peoples in China. The semi-circle button of the mirror and the plate design of a beast with a bird's head and a tiger's body resembled very much the style excavated in the surrounding area of the Eurasian plains around the Black Sea. The round mirror is approximately 4 inches in diameter and its semicircle button, through which archaeologists believed the mirror was tied to its user for convenience, is only about half an inch in radius. More than 80 tombs were unearthed from the two sites and some 200 ornaments, numerous bone utensils, and bones of sacrifice animals were found in the tombs. The tombs date to the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 B.C.) and the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.). Archaeologists said the animal sacrifice showed that the tombs belonged to nomads ancestral to the famous Huns.

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