Audio News for April 19th to April 25th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from April 19th to April 25th.

Roman emperor’s marble head found in ancient Arabian city


Our first story is from the ancient Nabatean (NAB-e-TEE-en) city of Petra, where French archaeologists have unearthed a flawlessly preserved portrait of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (MAR-cus aur-EEL-yus). The monumental white marble head of the 2nd century Roman ruler was found in the "temenos" (teh-MAIN-os), a sacred courtyard around one of the main temples in Petra. It is theorized that it must have fallen during an earthquake that struck the region in the 4th century. The head is larger than life-size, at 20 inches high and 14 inches wide. Other fragments of the sculpture have previously been unearthed at the site, including a thumb, and -- last year -- a foot. The Nabateans (NAB-e-TEE-en) were Arabs who dominated the Transjordan region during pre-Roman times, but their growing economic and political power worried the Romans, who dispatched a force to subdue Petra in 63 BC. Marcus Aurelius was the last of the "five good emperors" who ruled over the widest expansion of the Roman Empire in the second century A.D. Although he spent most of his career holding the German frontiers against invading tribes, Marcus Aurelius preferred the tranquility of his favorite Stoic (STOE-ick) philosophy, and was sometimes called the "philosopher-king" for his famous writings, called the “Meditations.” With his death and the short rule of his hated son, Commodus (COMM-oh-dus), the Golden Age of Rome reached its end.

Mayan games depicted on newly found monuments


In Guatemala, a team of U.S. and Guatemalan archeologists has discovered important Mayan monuments covered with texts from the ceremonial ball court in northern Guatemala. The researchers said the discovery is providing new information about the final years before the collapse of the ancient Mayan civilization. Cancuen (CAN-ku-win), one of the largest Mayan palaces found so far, was built between 765 and 790 A.D. by King Taj Chan Ahk (TAHJ chahn OCK). The ruined city lies along the banks of the River Pasion (pah-see-OHN), about 120 miles north of the Guatemalan capital. Its position along the river gave it control over trade between the southern highlands of Central America and the Mayan city-states further north, which thrived between 500 BC and 850 AD. A 500-pound altar stone was the third such artifact found at the site. The first, removed in 1905, is in Guatemala's National Museum of Archaeology. The second was stolen from the site in 2001 but was recovered in October. The three monuments depict King Taj playing against visiting rulers. Also discovered was a 100-pound stone panel from the same ball court, which is covered with hieroglyphs and images of Mayan royal ceremonies. A project expert on hieroglyphs called it one of the greater masterpieces of Maya art ever discovered in Guatemala. It showed Taj Chan Ahk (TAHJ chahn OCK) appointing a subsidiary ruler during a ceremony in his other capital some 25 miles to the north. The panel was dated to the end of the eighth century. The Vanderbilt-National Geographic project is leading the excavation the Cancuen (CAN-ku-win) palace, which had more than 200 masonry rooms and 11 plazas.

Egyptian find compared to Rosetta Stone


In Egypt, a 2,200-year-old granite stone that bears an identical inscription in three languages, similar to the famous Rosetta Stone, was found in the Nile Delta. Called the most significant find in 120 years, the trilingual stone dates to Ptolemaic Egypt around 238 BC. German and Egyptian archeologists excavating the ruined city of Bubastis, about 56 miles northeast of Cairo, unearthed it. Measuring 50 inches high and 40 inches wide the granite stone was found purely by accident. A royal decree in ancient Greek, Demotic and hieroglyphs is written on the stone. The subject is bureaucratic, the announcement of a revision of the Egyptian calendar, along with praise for the ruler who enacted it, King Ptolemy III (TAH-le-mee the third). The inscription consists of 67 lines of Greek text and 24 lines of Demotic text along with traces of Hieroglyphics. Demotic is a form of ancient Egyptian. Hieroglyphs are figures of objects that stand for a word. The dig is at a temple, which was probably destroyed by an earthquake, in Bubastis, the capital city of Egypt in the 8th Century BC. The newly discovered stone is similar to the Rosetta Stone, named for the delta city near which it was found in 1799.

Library opens the books on mysterious ancient people of NW China

Our final story is from China where the mystery of the ancient ethnic Xixia (SHIN-she) regime that once reigned over part of the northwest region will be revealed as some 100,000 pages of historical documents collected in Russia become accessible to Chinese experts for the first time. Experts will get a complete copy of the manuscripts collected in the St. Petersburg Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, all of which are precious firsthand historical materials for research on the history of the dynasty that ruled from about AD 1038 to 1227. The Xixia (SHIN-she) Dynasty was established by the Dangxiang (DANG-shyang), a branch of the Qiang (chang) nationality, an ancient ethnic group in China. It is well known that this group formed a counter-balance to the power of the Northern Song Dynasty in central China and the Liao (liou) Dynasty in northeast China, the Southern Song Dynasty in south China and the Jin Dynasty in central and northeast China. But the history of Xixia (SHIN-she) regime itself, despite its importance, remained a mystery to Chinese historians because of the lack of historical records. Unlike later dynasties in China's history, Xixia (SHIN-she) had no official history written in the following regimes, because the Mongolian soldiers who overthrew the Dynasty after six wars subsequently destroyed most evidence. But at the beginning of the 20th century, Pyotr Koslov (PY-otr KOS-lov), a Russian commander, discovered in the desert of today's north China's Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, the ruins of a Xixia (SHIN-she) period city. There Koslov (KOS-lov) excavated a large amount of cultural relics and documents and sent them to Russia. Among them were a huge number of manuscripts on Xixia (SHIN-she) Dynasty, containing priceless historical information. About 100,000 pages of such information were sent to Russia, amounting to more than 80 percent of the total documents unearthed by Koslov (KOS-lov). For years, Chinese experts had to look for clues of the Xixia (SHIN-she) Dynasty from those documents still in Chinese hands, amounting to less than 10 percent of the total. Thus, for Chinese researchers on the Xixia (SHIN-she), access to all the 100,000 pages collected holds the promise of answering many questions. The opportunity was secured by China’s offering funds and experts for the repair of thousands of pages of the manuscripts collected. Among those documents are the oldest typographic presswork known, and a large corpus (CORE-pus) of manuscripts on politics, military affairs and culture. On the ground, the most famous evidence of the Xixia (SHIN-she) regime consists of their cone-shaped tombs in the northern desert of the Ningxia (NING-shi) Hui Autonomous Region. Also called the "Oriental Pyramids", those tombs were the burial sites for nine of the twelve emperors of the Xixia (SHIN-she) Dynasty.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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I’m Laura Pettigrew and I’ll see you next week!