Audio News for May 17th to May 23rd.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  Laura Pettigrew is on vacation this week.  These are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from May 17th to May 23rd.

Archaeologists use high-tech tools to unearth Balkans history


Our first story is from Croatia, where archaeologists working in a key wetland in the southern region have switched their shovels for a ground-penetrating radar unit in search of clues that could shed light on 10,000 years of Balkan history. The cart with the ground-penetrating radar circled around a village playground pulled by a small four-wheeler. Several feet beneath the concrete, the device indicated the remains of a medieval church. Three-dimensional maps produced by the radar technology are being used in planning future excavations set to begin next year. As part of preparations that started three years ago, the radar was used to make a grid of the complete length of the valley, which is about three and a half miles long. The valley lies in a strategic part of Croatia's southern Adriatic region, which was for centuries a major crossroads linking western Europe with Asia. It was a border area between the Romans and Slavic Croatian tribes, and later between the Ottoman and Venetian empires. The area has the greatest known density of finds of all periods from Neolithic forward. At the wetland where the ground penetrating radar was used, all the artifacts found so far were exceptionally well-preserved by the waterlogged soils. The organic material preserved in the wetland also holds a complete environmental record for the region for up to 10,000 years. The finds include dozens of Bronze Age swords and some 30 Greco-Illyrian helmets. Also found were timbers from a series of communities built right onto the river. Unlike in the rest of Europe, this river-dwelling practice continued in Croatia until the 18th century. The river appears to have had a spiritual meaning for people of Bronze Age Cetina (che-TEEN-a) culture, one of the first metal-using groups spreading from Croatia to Albania. A large number of swords appear to have been deliberately thrown into river as part of a ritual. But archaeologists complain that the state should do more to protect the area from looters. So far, one third of the finds have been stolen from archaeological sites, ending up in private collections.

Ancient English mound may lose protection


In England, an attempt is being made to reclassify Silbury Hill in Wiltshire, Europe's largest man-made mound, as open countryside under the right-to-roam legislation. Lord Avebury said he objected to the agency's attempt to reclassify the 130-foot high Silbury Hill, one of the complex of Neolithic monuments in the area, as "unimproved chalk grassland"  As it was man-made, it should be declared a building, he said. The hill is undoubtedly a human manufacture. Archaeologists believe the work took up to a century, with 35 million baskets of chalk carried from around the area to build up the artificial hill. Lord Avebury noted that the closure was carried out under the Ancient Monuments Act of 1979, which has precedence over the new Countryside and Rights of Way Act. English Heritage authorities back the protest, saying they support continued restriction of public access to the hill. The guardians of the 4,700-year-old mound have been trying to persuade people to keep off Silbury since 1974, without destroying its appearance by putting up fencing. The monument came close to destruction three years ago when torrential winter rain seeped into shafts left by earlier excavation, which collapsed. Although English Heritage has carried out repairs, the whole structure is vulnerable. Silbury Hill was one of the first British monuments to be given official protection, under the Ancient Monuments Act introduced in 1882 by Lord Avebury’s grandfather, Sir John Lubbock, the famous geologist. Despite folklore that includes legends of a king in a golden crown buried on horseback, no burial has ever been found inside the mound. As a unique structure, it is difficult to date, but it is clearly pre-Roman. The Roman road nearby, a route still followed by the modern road, was curved around Silbury Hill to avoid it. The hill may have been a platform for ceremonies or just a very large status symbol.  You can learn more about Silbury Hill by viewing the video of the same name right here on The Archaeology Channel!

Halley's comet tracked on ancient coin


Armenian and Italian researchers are reporting that a rare ancient coin may feature an early record of Halley's comet. The coin features the head of the Armenian king Tigranes (ti-GRAIN-eez) II the Great, who reigned from 95 to 55 BC. A symbol on his crown that features a star with a curved tail may represent the passage of Halley's comet in 87 BC. Halley's comet, which was last visible in 1986, has cropped up periodically in the Earth's history, with regular observations in 1531, 1607 and 1682. This led Edmond Halley to declare in 1705 that these sightings were all the same comet that has an orbit taking it past the Earth about every 76 years. He predicted successfully it would return in 1758, and the comet was named after him. Now researchers have found further evidence that the comet was significant thousands of years before Halley was born. Tigranes (ti-GRAIN-eez) could have seen Halley's comet when it passed closest to the Sun on 6 August in 87 BC, according to the researchers, who said the comet would have been a "most recordable event". The appearance of the comet in Armenia, which borders Turkey and Iran, could thus be useful for dating the coin accurately. While the coin dates back to before 83 BC, when Tigranes (ti-GRAIN-eez) conquered the ancient city of Antioch, the capital city of Syria at the time, researchers have not had a precise date for it. Astronomer Vince Ford, from the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said the comet would have been bigger and brighter 2000 years ago. Ford said the oldest confirmed observation of Halley's comet was from Chinese recordings on 25 May in 240 BC.

Pre-Inca cemetery found near capital of Peru


Our final story is from Peru, where a well-preserved graveyard possibly 1,000 years old has been discovered at an archaeological complex of Inca and pre-Inca temples on the outskirts of Lima (LEE-ma), the country’s capital. Archeologists this week unearthed the remains of 30 people, including 19 still-intact mummies, dating from between AD 1000 and 1500. This makes them some of the oldest mummies ever found in Peru. Experts said the discovery was exceptional because the site had not been plundered by grave robbers and because some of the dead appear to be religious sacrifices. The discovery shows the remains of several cultures buried on top of each other, with dates ranging from between 1000 and 1500. It was not clear to which cultures the mummies belonged, but they were likely to have been farmers and craftspeople who lived before the Inca Empire. The graveyard is within the boundaries of the Pachacamac (pah-cha-CAH-mac) archeological complex, and its discovery came during a long excavation project. The Pachacamac (pah-cha-CAH-mac) complex has been looted for valuable artifacts many times since the first significant discoveries of mummies there over a century ago. Four of the newly discovered mummies are thought to have died as sacrifices, either buried alive, killed by blows to the head, or strangled. Archeologists have uncovered thousands of mummies in recent years that date mainly from the Inca period, including about 2,000 unearthed from under a shantytown near the capital in 2002. In February, two mummies predating the Inca were found under a school in southern Peru.

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