Audio News for September 6th to September 12th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from September 6th to September 12th.

New Discovery in Mexican Cave Archaeology


Our first story is from the Caribbean where divers making probes through underwater caves have discovered what appears to be one of oldest human skeletons in the Americas. The report by a team from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History makes use of a new way of investigating the past. Most coastal settlements by early Americans now lie deep beneath the sea in places in which, during the Ice Age, were hundreds of feet lower than now. Arturo Gonzalez said his team discovered at least three skeletons in caves along the Caribbean coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula in 2001 and 2002. "It's something that I had been dreaming of for many years," said Gonzalez, who has combined diving and research since he was a teenager. "To find a person who had walked those caves was like a treasure." Gonzalez said the bones must date from before the time that waters gradually seeped through the caves 8,000 to 9,000 years ago as Ice Age glaciers melted and sea level rose by about 400 feet worldwide. Tests on charcoal found beside one female skeleton would place it at least 10,000 years ago. An expert at the University of California, Riverside, dated it as 11,670 radiocarbon years old, which would translate to well over 13,000 calendar years. The discovery helps prove that humans inhabited the Yucatan at least 5,000 years before the famed Maya culture began building monuments at sites such as nearby Tulum. Gonzalez said the skeleton did not appear to be Mayan, but with no tools yet found. Almost nothing is known of those first inhabitants. Gonzalez said cave divers had sometimes mentioned seeing skeletons, so he was able to convince skeptical officials to finance a survey of the water holes that dot the Yucatan, a limestone shelf.  Extensive, flooded caves wind off from some of those holes.  Many were above ground during the Ice Age and Gonzalez speculated people might have used them as paths down to fresh water. Gonzalez said the oldest find was made 404 yards into a cave, more than 65 feet below sea level, during expeditions that can be extremely dangerous. It took repeated trips to record the sites and excavate the bones, which then required two years of preservation.

The Kon-Tiki Sails Again!


It’s been nearly 60 years since the original trip of Thor Heyerdahl and his Kon-Tiki balsa raft across the Pacific to prove a theory about ancient mariners. A team that includes his grandson plans to recreate the 101-day voyage, but the modern craft will have the assistance of solar panels, a satellite navigation system and a link to the Internet. In 1947, Heyerdahl and team sailed a craft with basic equipment 4,900 miles from Peru to Polynesia to demonstrate that prehistoric explorers may have journeyed across stretches of ocean. Heyerdahl, who died at the age of 87 in 2002, documented the harrowing voyage in the best-selling book "Kon-Tiki.” The new team, backed by Norway's Environment Ministry, hopes to follow the route of the epic voyage aboard a balsa raft named for Tangaroa, the Polynesian god of the ocean. The Tangaroa will be primitive, but an expedition member said on Monday that it would showcase modern technology. The cabin roof will have solar panels to generate electricity, and the raft will have satellite navigation and communications and will be able to transmit Internet updates throughout the voyage, set to start on April 28, 2005. "Kon-Tiki is one of the world's best-known expeditions," said the team leader, Torgeir Saeverud Higraff, a teacher and journalist, at the Kon-Tiki Museum. They want to carry on Heyerdahl's tradition, he said. The rain forest in Peru where Heyerdahl harvested his balsa logs is gone, according to Higraff, and the river he used to float them to the sea has slowed to a trickle. The team plans to cut balsa trees in a nearby forest, starting in December. The crew plans to take the same amount of time as the Kon-Tiki, and as on the first trip, the sailors will include five Norwegians, a Swede and a parrot. At a news conference, Heyerdahl's son, Thor Heyerdahl Jr., said his father would have been delighted by the project and "his own grandson being part of it would have made him very happy." The Kon-Tiki was largely subject to the whims of wind and currents because it was not possible to sail it against the wind. At the end of its journey, the raft crashed onto a reef because the crew could not change course. The modern adventurers have found techniques for steering the boat that they hope will make it possible to guide it exactly where they want to go: Tahiti.

First Viking Burial Ground in Britain Discovered


In England, archaeologists have found a burial site of six Viking men and women, complete with swords, spears, jewelry, fire-making materials, and riding equipment. The site is believed to date to the early 10th century, and archaeologists working there called it the first Viking burial ground found in Britain. The only other known Viking cemetery was found in Ingleby. It was excavated in the 1940s, but the bodies had been cremated and not buried. The Vikings, who were residents of Scandinavia from 800 to 1100, traded with and raided much of Europe, often settling there. They invaded and conquered England in 1013. The burial ground was unearthed when Adams found two copper brooches. The grave of a Viking woman was found underneath, and further excavation led to the discovery of the graves of another woman and four men. The items found in the graves were weapons, spurs, a bridle and a drinking horn, as well as a jet bracelet and a copper alloy belt fitting.

Ceramic Balls Excite Archaeologists in China


Our final story is from China where four ceramic balls unearthed in the northeast are believed to be weapons of ancient hunters from some 3,000 years ago. Chinese archeologists discovered four balls, 2 to 4 cm in diameter, in the Gansu (GAN-SU) Province. Before the finding, people only knew of the ceramic balls from historical documents. The balls are red, yellow and black. Some are solid with slick surfaces, while some are hollow with clay grains inside. "These ceramic balls, in their shapes, sizes and weights, are very suitable for people to hurl by hand or with a rope," said Wang Donghai, deputy head of the provincial institute of colored pottery in Gansu. The four balls provide evidence about the life of ancient people recorded in historical documents. They are of great value also for studies on ceramic culture, the history of human development and the history of Chinese civilization, said Wang. Pottery in China has a history of more than 10,000 years, and pottery ware has been serving as human's daily necessity for thousands of years.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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