Audio News for December 15th to December 21st

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Pettigrew
and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from
December 15th to December 21st.

Is the World's Most Mysterious Book a Fake?


Our first story is from London, where a computer scientist thinks that
the Voynich (VOY-nick) manuscript might be a hoax. The mysterious
sixteenth-century book has stumped code-breakers and linguists for
nearly a century. Researcher Gordon Rugg employed techniques of
Elizabethan espionage to recreate the Voynich (VOY-nick) manuscript.
He suspects that English adventurer Edward Kelley produced the
document to con Rudolph II out of a fortune in gold. Rudolph II was
Holy Roman Emperor and a collector of antiquities. Some scholars say
the explanation is plausible, but not conclusive. The manuscript ishand-written in a unique alphabet, about 250 pages long, and contains
pictures of unrecognizable flowers, naked nymphs and astrological
symbols. The manuscript first appeared in the late 1500s, when Rudolph
II bought it in Prague from an unknown seller. The book passed from
Rudolph to noblemen and scholars, before disappearing in the late
1600s. It surfaced again around 1912, when US book dealer Wilfrid
Voynich (VOY-nick) bought it. No one has worked out whether the
manuscript is a code, an eccentric translation of a known tongue, or
gibberish. The text contains some features that are not seen in any
language. But this complexity could have been produced easily with an
encryption device invented around 1550 called a Cardan grille. This is
a table of characters. It functions by moving a card with holes cut in
it over the table, which then creates words. Gaps in the table ensure
different-length words. It seems that the Voynich (VOY-nick) resists
deciphering attempts because its author knew enough about codes to
make the text plausible yet hard to crack. The book appears to contain
cross-referencing, just the kind of thing that cryptographers look
for. The characters of Voynichese (VOY-nick-ese) are also ambiguously
written, so it is hard to work out how large the alphabet is, and the
drawings of naked figures makes it impossible to date the text by
styles of dress.

Impressive and Extensive Finds Along the Mississippi River


In the United States, an archaeological site west of the Cahokia
(ka-Ho-ke-a) Mounds is proving so rich in artifacts that excavators are
hauling them out by the sack full. Two vacant stores in a local town
were needed just for storage and study. The finds included ornamental
alligator and shark teeth, quartz crystals from Arkansas, copper
jewelry and a mystifying, decorated carved bison scapula, or shoulder
bone. During the spring and summer, more than a hundred diggers worked
at the acre-sized location. They unearthed about a third of the
ancient fishing village, which test drilling indicated lay three to
four feet below the surface. The site is being hailed as a major find
and one of the largest Mississippian villages unearthed in the area.
About 600 people called this village home. About 30 percent of the
site has been exposed, including 50 dwelling sites. Now
archaeologists must analyze thousands of bits and pieces of life from
the village's beginnings in about 600 A.D., its intermittent
occupation, and its abandonment around 1200. As teams of
archaeologists label and study thousands of potsherds, animal bones
and stone tools, one surprising facet is beginning to emerge. Life
was probably pretty easy on the banks of the prehistoric finger of the
Mississippi. There was an abundance of fish and game. It's doubtfulthat people had to work more than just a few hours a day to live well.
The discoveries include thousands of chunks of limestone, believed to
be used to sharpen bone and antlers into tools. The excavation is to
continue into the spring.

Exhumation of Medici Family May Unlock Old Secrets


In Italy, 50 bodies, all members of Florence's Medici dynasty, are to
be exhumed for forensic tests to determine how they lived and died.
Some were believed to have been poisoned. The first members of the
family who ruled Florence from the 15th century to 1737 will be
removed from the Medici Chapels in San Lorenzo in June. Experts say
DNA testing could yield some "sensational surprises" and also provide
a true family tree, showing who was related - and who not - and who
their natural fathers were. Under a program run by two Universities
and museum authorities, the bodies will be submitted individually to
medical and scientific tests for biological and genetic data. The
purpose is to tap into the secrets and reconstruct the lifestyle of
the colorful family of uncertain origin who went on to decide the
destiny of Florence. Through the enormous wealth they reaped from
commerce and banking, the Medicis rose to power and influence in the
city, then the whole of Italy and finally Europe, producing three
popes and two queens of France. Specialists expect to discover what
they ate, their health problems and the causes of death. It is
estimated that it will be at least a couple of years to complete the
project.A laboratory will be set up in the crypt, where the first
tests will be carried out. Samples taken from the remains will then be
transferred to the University of Pisa for more in-depth tests.
Another possible outcome of the exhumations is that the faces of some
of the family will be reconstructed in 3D.

Ancient Artwork Discovered in Germany


Our final story is from Germany, where small figurines carved from
mammoth ivory more than 30,000 years ago have been discovered. Among
the earliest undisputed artworks ever found, they are providing new
clues into the migration and religious beliefs of early modern humans.
The figurines portray a water bird, what appears to be a horse's
head, and a lion-man. The one-inch lion-man is similar to a nearly
foot-long figurine previously found in a nearby valley, which had been
cited as evidence of shamanism. Birds, especially water birds, are
known to be favorite shamanistic symbols. The two-inch bird isextremely lifelike, with a well-formed head and eyes and the neck
stretching out as if in flight. The researchers believe early
anatomically modern humans and not their Neanderthal forerunners
created the figurines. They are among the earliest examples of
figurative art — which represents human or animal forms — and are
as old as the well-known French Lascaux (la-SKO) cave paintings.
Radiocarbon dating used to date the carvings is inexact, but the
objects were almost certainly made between 28,000 and 35,000 years
ago, and possibly between 32,000 to 34,000 years ago. The trio joins
a group of more than 20 ivory figurines found in the area, which
experts called the oldest body of figurative art in the world.
Isolated older finds have been described as artwork, a claim that is
disputed in many cases. If modern humans created the figurines, this
could support the theory that modern man moved into the interior of
Europe via the Danube river corridor.

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