Audio News for August 2nd to August 8th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Pettigrew and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from August 2nd to August 8th.

Bronze Age temple in Jordan reveals early religious shrine


Our first story is from Jordan, where workers with the Madaba Plains Project have discovered a 3,500-year-old temple from the Late Bronze Age just south of Amman. The walls of the temple tower up to fifteen feet, and inside are four rooms. The largest room is about 15 by 24 feet in size, and has a whitewashed recess in the wall containing an apparent religious display: a smooth, dome-shaped standing stone in the center flanked by four smaller stones, two on each side. An antechamber is east of the large main room, and two other rooms were attached on the
south side. The discovery is exciting because the Late Bronze Age has yielded few structures of any kind in the central hills of Jordan, few that are at all well-preserved, and very few places of worship. This tower temple adds to the belief that there were more inhabitants settled in the area by this time than was previously thought. The discovery is most notable for its clear indications of the mode of worship. In the main room, the bottom of the alcove holding the stone objects was over three feet above the floor of the room, forcing worshippers to look upward, the common stance of prayer as depicted in ancient artwork on seals and in tombs. According to the excavators, the smooth stones of the niche are unlike any other stones at the site and probably symbolized deities in the ancient world. The large central stone is taken to indicate the main deity of the temple, with the four smaller, flanking stones suggesting associated, minor deities. Within the recess and above the stones, the excavators found several ceramic vessels, which probably contained gifts for the gods. Research has only begun on the discovery and many more pieces of the puzzle need to fit together before the excavators can tell the full story. To preserve the mud-brick and whitewash ruin from destruction, the archaeologists will cover the niche until 2006, when restoration for public viewing can be properly accomplished.

Mississippi mounds yield rapid detail to air survey


In the United States, Tommy Hailey, an assistant professor of archaeology from Northwestern State University in Louisiana, has taken the drudgery of an archaeological dig to newer and greater heights. While other studies have been done from the air, this is believed to be the first use of a power parachute by an archaeologist to photograph and survey a site. On one recent day, the specially equipped, dual-seat powerchute took to the sky and headed toward the Winterville Indian Mounds of Mississippi. At a cruising speed of about 30 mph, it didn't take long for the 65-horsepower engine and 550-square-foot parachute to move into position for work before the sun dropped into the western sky. Quickly, the professor and a student circled over the landscape of the Winterville Indian Mounds, digitally photographing one of the state's most important sites. Such a map offers a new angle on the culture and history of the Native Americans who once lived in the Mississippi Valley. With some basic ideas on what the mounds looked like from the air, Hailey and local archaeologists at the Mounds site and the University of Mississippi can make concise plans for the next trip’s readings. In the next stage, they will use a thermal camera for infrared imaging. With an aerial view, the thermal camera can sense temperature differences of 10 degrees Celsius under the surface of the park. And by using the powered parachute, the research team can cover the entire grounds in about an hour where a ground team would have to take hours or even days. These data will be cross-referenced against other data acquired in the summer of 2003. The data now being compiled from sound and resistance-metering studies will later be compared with data recovered by archaeologist Jeffrey Brain in his late-1960s dig at the site.

Bronze Age artifact appears to be early child’s toy


In Italy, archaeologists say they have discovered the remains of what may be the world's oldest toy set. The 4,000-year-old stone doll was found on the Mediterranean island of Pantelleria (PAN-tell-ah-REE-a), between Sicily and Tunisia. The one-inch head is roughly carved to show the eyes, nose and mouth and wavy hair. It was found with a miniature set of terracotta cooking pots in the remains of two huts on the site of a fortified Bronze Age village at Mursia (MOOR-see-uh). Researchers wondered whether the head might be a religious symbol. But that has been ruled that out on the basis of the artifact’s context; the location in which the 'toys' were found was a village residence, with no evidence of the artifacts being placed in a religious niche, shrine, or even a special storage location. Pantelleria (PAN-tell-ah-REE-a) is thought to have been inhabited by North African peoples who came in search of its abundant obsidian, a dark glassy volcanic rock prized for making tools and weapons. The island, known as the Black Pearl of the Sun, was invaded and settled by the Romans in 217 BC, and by Arab forces ten centuries after that.

Welsh hill fort tells story of life in the Iron Age


Our final story is from Wales, where a 24-year archaeological dig that has transformed the Welsh view of the Iron Age is wrapping up. The site at Castell Henllys (CAS-tuhl HEN-less), has become one of the largest and most important excavations in the UK. Welsh ancestors occupied this hillside some 2500 years ago. But prior to this dig, little was known about them or how they lived. Now their fort has revealed evidence of their daily life, including well-made artifacts such as hand mills for grinding grain, spindle whorls for weaving, brooches, spearheads and horse harnesses. This year the students, led by York University, have already found an almost perfectly preserved fifth-century-BC bowl, as well as glass beads. Further work will consist only of small-scale digs around the fort’s outer defenses. Discoveries at the Welsh fort have helped prove that areas like West Wales were not, as previously thought, outposts of a culture centered on southern England, but instead part of a thriving cultural community trading along the western seaboard of Europe and Britain. Castell Henllys (CAS-tuhl HEN-less) has unveiled a well-developed regional society largely based on agriculture, but which also traded a great deal. It could also be barbaric. Human sacrificial remains were uncovered beneath the gateway. More than 2,000 slingshots found near ramparts show the occasional need to defend against raiders. And experts learn as much from what's missing as from what's found. For instance, very few animal bones and no evidence of butchery shows that food must have been prepared elsewhere and brought into the fort. This additionally suggests that the fort’s occupants were an elite group, served by those who produced goods elsewhere. The directors of this Pembrokeshire National Park dig are pleased at the knowledge gained by the twenty-year project. Information on the fort’s structure, together with the many artifacts found in their context, have added rich detail to the picture of Welsh life in the Iron Age.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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