Audio News for April 5th to April 11th
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from April 5th to April 11th.
Roman arms cache offers weapons for new understanding
Our first story is from Germany, where a Roman weapons depot is being described as a "sensational find" of rare and informative military artifacts. Discovered in a wood near Göttingen (GURT-in-gun) in 1985 by metal-detecting hobbyists, the site has remained unexcavated until just now. But already, the finds include more than 250 metal objects, weapons or tools used by Roman legionnaires in the First Century BC. The weaponry includes several rare examples of a soldier’s axe, an all-purpose Swiss army knife of its day. Also found at the site is a rare example of a pilum (PEA-lum), the favored javelin-type spear of the legionnaires, which they used to deadly effect before engaging in close combat with their swords. Other items include catapult balls, lances, axe heads and knives. The site served as an ordnance depot for Roman troops fighting Germanic tribes farther north. Experts believe it was one of many the Romans built in Germany, which was a wild and densely forested land inhabited by tribes not eager to bow to the empire. The Romans gave up trying to pacify Germania (jer-MAIN-ee-uh) around 70 BC. Although looters might have taken some objects, the archaeologists are hopeful the depot still has much more to offer up.
Cyprus grave yields most purr-fect evidence yet of first pet cats
In Cyprus, scientists have found the earliest evidence yet discovered of cats kept as pets. In a grave from at least 9500 years ago, a Stone Age pet cat was found carefully placed alongside a human corpse, along with offerings including jewelry and stone tools. Historians have long thought the ancient Egyptians were the first to actually domesticate cats, about 4000 years ago. But evidence shows that cats were culturally important outside Egypt long before that. Stone and clay figurines of cats up to 10,000 years old have turned up in Syria, Turkey and Israel. Analysis shows that the cat from the newly found grave belonged to the species Felis (FEE-lis) silvestris (sil-VES-tris), a wild cat from which domestic cats descended. Several aspects of the grave indicate the cat was a pet. Its remains lie inside the grave just 16 inches from a 9500-year-old human skeleton. The grave contained other symbolic offerings as well, such as polished stones and seashells. Furthermore, the human and cat skeletons have identical states of preservation. The skeletons were positioned symmetrically, with both heads pointing west, which may have been intentional. The cat died when it was about eight months old, and while the cause of death is a mystery, there are no signs on the bones that the animal was butchered for food. Researchers think the nearness of the human skeleton suggests a strong bond with the cat, which might have been killed to go to the grave with its master. It would have made sense for early agricultural societies to mingle with cats, because of their ability to kill the rodents attracted to the grain stored against the winter months.
Archaeologists wage new battle over ancient Maya city
In the Guatemalan jungle, fourteen centuries ago, Maya kings fought for control of Waka (WA-ka), a city on a crucial river route westward out of Maya country. Today it is the location of a different kind of battle, to preserve some of Central America's last intact rain forest and its treasures. Dallas archaeologist David Freidel (fre-DELL), a Maya specialist at Southern Methodist University is working with Guatemalan colleagues to begin the first modern survey of Waka's (WA-ka’s) ruined temples and palaces. After more than a millennium hidden in the jungle, this city, one of the last great Maya sites, is suddenly in danger of being lost forever. Last spring, people illegally clearing the land for cattle set fires near Waka (WA-ka) that turned the rain forest air into a smoky haze and threaten the integrity of the site. In theory, the site should be immune to attack. It lies within Guatemala's Laguna del Tigre (la-GOON-ah del TEE-gray) National Park, the largest such park in Central America and a focus of conservation work. In response, Dr. Freidel has proposed an unusual collaboration of scientists, conservationists, residents and the government. The group will soon ask the government to set aside 230,000 acres within the national park for special protection. Before the ancient Maya civilization collapsed in the ninth century, several million people lived in the northern part of Guatemala, building giant temples and pyramids out of native limestone. Many of the workers at the Waka (WA-ka) site are of Maya descent. The dig is in the second year of three years' work and involves 20 archaeologists, 11 of them Guatemalan. Discovered by oil prospectors in the 1960s, Waka (WA-ka) has been professionally studied only once, by Harvard archaeologist Ian Graham in 1971. He mapped about 650 buildings in just less than 250 acres. Waka's (WA-ka) importance in the ancient world lay in its location, south of one Maya capital, Calakmul (CAH-luck-MOOL), and west of another, Tikal (tee-KAL), as well as on a key river route. Pulled between Calakmul (CAH-luck-MOOL) and Tikal (tee-KAL), Waka (WA-ka) found itself switching allegiances back and forth over time. The city has an unusually rich history - 22 kings in all, running from AD 150 to AD 850. The most coherent stories are told on its 40 giant stelae (STEE-lee), some of the largest known in the Maya world. Up to 15 feet high, they significantly dwarf the stelae (STEE-lee) at Tikal (tee-KAL). If the proposed alliance with conservationists succeeds, the site could become famous far beyond the small circle of Maya archaeologists. Project scientists envision area residents running an ecotourism business to keep the park intact.
Ancient temples off Spain were likely sites of healing
Our final story is from the Mediterranean island of Menorca (me-NOR-ka), where archaeoastronomer Michael Hoskin says the mysterious T-shaped monuments were probably places of healing. Each monument, locally known as a "taula" (TAU-la), is formed by two immense stone blocks positioned in the shape of an upright "T". The taulas (TAU-las) are typically positioned to face the opening of a surrounding ring of stones. All but one of these 30 structures on Menorca (me-NOR-ka) face roughly south. Hoskin knew that these sanctuaries are notable for the large number of bones of sacrificial animals that litter the sites. A few bronze statues have also been found associated with them, including a bull figurine, Egyptian in style, with an inscription in hieroglyphics reading, "I am Imhotep the god of medicine". Even more interesting, bronze horse hooves have also been found. The hooves have long been puzzling, because there is no known horse god in ancient Mediterranean cultures. Hoskin was invited to study the sites' direction to understand the significance of the bronze statues and determine why no taulas (TAU-las) are found on the nearby island of Mallorca (ma-YOR-ka). Hoskin began by considering why the taulas (TAU-las) had a southern orientation. In 1000 BC, when the taulas (TAU-las) were constructed, the night sky would have looked different. At that time, the entrances to the taulas (TAU-las) enclosures framed the seasonal rise of a constellation known as Centaurus by the ancient Greeks. Today, it is split into the constellation of the Southern Cross, followed by the bright stars Beta and Alpha Centauri. In Greek mythology, however, the Centaur - who had a man's head and a horse's body – was revered as the being who taught medicine to Asclepius (a-SKLEE-pee-us). Asclepius (a-SKLEE-pee-us) became the god of medicine, and healers worked in temples dedicated to him. Myths such as this circulated around the Mediterranean and Near East even before the age when the taulas (TAU-las) were built, due to migration and trade, so it is entirely possible that the Menorcans had a similar view of Centaurus as the ancient Greeks. The association with healing could explain the bronze hooves; they could be the remains of a statue of the Centaur. Steve McCluskey, a historian of astronomy at West Virginia University, says Hoskin's astronomical and archaeological evidence combine to provide strong indications of a healing cult at this site. McCluskey also said Hoskin has transformed archaeoastronomy by showing that the builders of these monuments were not concerned with the precise orientations formerly taken as the cornerstone of archaeoastronomical investigations. Pointing their constructions in roughly the right direction appears to have sufficed for the ancient Menorcans (me-NOR-cans).
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I’m Laura Pettigrew and I’ll see you next week!