Audio News for March 15th to March 21st.

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

Space dust to unlock Mexican pyramid secrets

Our first story is from Mexico, where researchers are using space dust to unlock the secrets of a 2,000-year-old pyramid where the rulers of a mysterious civilization may lie buried. Deep under the huge Pyramid of the Sun, physicists are installing a device to detect muons (MYOO-onz), subatomic particles that are left over when cosmic rays hit Earth. The particles pass through solid objects, leaving tiny traces, which the detector will measure, like an X-ray machine, in a search for burial chambers inside the structure. Since there are fewer muons (MYOO-ons) in an empty space than in solid rock, scientists will be able to spot holes inside the pyramid. The pyramid is in the city now called Teotihuacan (TAY-o-TEE-wa-KAN ), which rose and fell around the same time as ancient Rome. Archaeologists would then likely tunnel into the pyramid in the hope of finding a burial chamber and solving the riddle of who ruled the city. Housing 150,000 people at its peak, Teotihuacan (TAY-o-TEE-wa-KAN) exerted influence over territory stretching hundreds of miles, to modern-day Guatemala, but no one knows its true ancient name or who its founders were. The name Teotihuacan (TAY-o-TEE-wa-KAN), which means “The Place Where Men Become Gods,” was given to the ruins by Aztecs who migrated into the area around A.D. 1300, about 700 years after the city was abandoned. Muon (MOO-on) technology has been used in archaeological exploration before, in Egypt. In the 1960s, the technique proved that there were no hidden chambers in the Khephren (KEF-ren) pyramid. To scan Mexico’s Pyramid of the Sun, the muon (MYOO-on ) detector will be installed in a cave that exists 206 feet below the pyramid’s peak in the coming months. The dark, humid cave was used for religious ceremonies several thousand years ago, and is linked to the outside by a tunnel so narrow that only one person at a time can pass through it. A prototype detector set up in the cave has already found the first muons in the pyramid overhead. Muons are born when energy particles from space collide with the Earth's troposphere. They constantly bombard us but are harmless and almost unnoticeable. When they pass by a detector, muons ionize gas trapped between two plates, which in turn cause an electric current that can be measured. The muon-scanning method is more accurate, cheaper, and more versatile than X-rays but has only been developed in recent decades following advances in subatomic physics. At Teotihuacan (TAY-o-TEE-wa-KAN), archaeologists hope the muon (MYOO-on ) detector will be able to show whether the pyramid, as well as being the city's state temple, is the last resting place for a king, or perhaps several.

Unique New Zealand find reveals ancient weaver’s art

In New Zealand, the remnants of a 500-year-old flax cloak woven by an ancient Maori (MOW-ry – sounded like “ow”) were found in an archaeological excavation at Kaitorete Spit, a narrow shoal by Lake Ellesmere on the east coast of the South Island. The cloak was among a number of rare artifacts discovered in the site, and both archaeologists and local Maori are regarding it as an important archaeological and cultural find. Also unearthed were unusually well-preserved albatross bones, tools, kokowai (a red dye), and pieces of a hut. The site, which dates to the mid-1400s, was so well preserved because a fire leveled the area just before it was smothered by sand. But the cloak is the focus of interest. So fragile that a sneeze could destroy it forever, it is the first evidence of how clothing was made in the first centuries of Maori settlement in New Zealand. When Polynesians settled in New Zealand in about AD 1200, they quickly realized tapa (TOP-uh) cloth was not hardy enough f or these islands’ colder climate. The intricate detail of the cloak’s manufacture can be seen right down to the fine threads used to bind the flax. It shows that weaving techniques were developed very early and stood the test of time. The cleaning and preservation of the artifacts from the site was a delicate job and involved three weeks of careful work at Canterbury and Auckland museums using blower brushes, paintbrushes and special chemicals. Although there were once hundreds of sites in the well-traversed area where the cloak was uncovered, many of them have been damaged by the harsh nature of the seaside environment. The cloak site is in continual danger of erosion by the sea.
30 Egyptian grave shows some died to serve their king in afterlife
In Egypt, an American excavation mission in Abydos uncovered a grave believed to belong to servants of King Aha (A-ha), the first king of the ancient first dynasty. The enclosure contains an extremely well preserved chapel surrounded with six secondary graves belonging to courtiers who expected to serve the king in the afterlife. The enclosure lies about one mile away from King Aha’s tomb, which was discovered in 1900 by British archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie (PET-ree). Study of the skeletons found in the grave led archaeologists to conclude that these servants were most likely sacrificed to be buried near King Aha (A-ha). An expedition expert said the discovery was significant because the reign of Aha is connected with major changes in royal architecture. The form and plan of Aha's (A-ha ) enclosure as well as the chapel within is set as the model followed by all subsequent royal enclosures at Abydos. The archaeologists also uncovered another enclosure of an unknown first dynasty king that included three graves. Curiously, these did not contain human burials but were packed with bodies of ten donkeys that were intended to meet the king's transportation needs in the afterlife. The culture ministry said the discoveries were initially detected by a sub-surface magnetic survey.

Renaissance painting is musical masterpiece too

In our final story, a Renaissance artist’s masterpiece has unveiled startling evidence of what may be a new piece of music from the period. An exhibit in Florence, Italy, displays a little-seen 15th century work by Filippino Lippi (LIP-ee): "Madonna and Child with Singing Angels." Scholars had long thought that the angels were holding a scroll on which the notes were painted randomly, with no relation to any music. Yet, while scrutinizing the score, Timothy McGee, professor emeritus in music at the University of Toronto, Canada, discovered that the painted score indeed contains unknown music. McGee’s work shows that the first several notes of the composition are exactly the beginning notes of a popular Renaissance song, 'Fortuna Desperata.' After the first few notes, however, the piece does not resemble Fortuna. Probably written to commemorate the death of Simonetta Cattaneo ( see-moh-NETT-a cah-ta-NAY-o), the lover of Giuliano de Medici (me-DEE-chee), "Fortuna Desperata" became the most popular song in 15th century Italy and one of the most used musical models in the Renaissance. Unfortunately, what we have is only the first half of the piece. The music continues into the portion of the scroll that is painted as rolled up, at the foot of the angels. McGee searched all known manuscripts from the period and could not find this piece anywhere — so this is the only copy. The composition has been given its first modern performance at the art exhibition. Visitors can admire the painting and listen to the music at the same time in a remarkable multimedia experience. It is the first time this music has been heard in 500 years. Filippino Lippi was born in 1457 in Prato (PRAH-to) , near Florence, surrounded by scandal. He was the son of a young nun and a Carmelite friar in his 50s who was a chaplain in the nunnery and a well-known artist. At the age of 12, Filippino became the pupil of Botticelli (bah-tih-CHELL-ee). The Florentine exhibition is the first show to trace the intertwined careers and lives of the two artists, both known for their linear, poetic and delicate style.

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