Audio News for October 11th to October 17th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from October 11th to October 17th.

Chinese tomb traces early “study abroad”


Our first story is from China, where the tombstone of a Japanese student sent to China during the Tang Dynasty era, 618-907 AD, has been found in Xi’an (SHE-an), the ancient Chinese capital. The two stone tablets are the first of their kind found in the nation.  According to Wang Jianxin, an archaeologist at China’s Northwest University, Chinese inscriptions carved in the stone prove that the tomb’s owner was Japanese and a classmate of Abe Nakamaru, a famous Japanese envoy and student who used the Chinese name of Huang Heng. According to the inscription, the Chinese name of the tomb owner was Jin Zhencheng, who died in the year 734 AD at the age of 36.

According to this report, experts have concluded that Jin and Abe were members of the 8th Japanese delegation of envoys and students who came to China during AD 702 to 704. That delegation, considered the largest ever, had some 557 envoys, students, and monks. The discovery shows that over 1,000 years ago China and Japan had a high level of exchange. The 15-inch square tombstones have 171 Chinese characters in 12 lines on them. Despite several blurred words, the overall meaning of the inscription is clear.

Ancient Austrian salt mine yields up ancient staircase


At Hallstatt, in northern Austria, a 3,000-year-old wooden stairway has been found immaculately preserved in a Bronze Age salt mine. Hans Reschreiter, the director of excavations, stated that the wooden stairway, which dates from the 13th century BC, is the oldest one discovered to date in Europe, possibly even in the world. The steps and casing are in perfect condition because the damaging microorganisms that cause wood to decompose do not exist in salt mines. The stairway is about 3 feet wide and is made of pine and spruce. It was used during the Bronze Age to go down into the salt mine and was found some 300 feet below the surface. The salt mine lies about 600 feet from a necropolis which was the seat of what is known as the Hallstatt Civilization, one of the most important and advanced cultures of the Iron Age, which flourished around 700 BC. For now, only about 21 feet of the stairway has been uncovered, but it extends further in both directions. The previous oldest wooden staircase in Europe was from the fifth century BC.

Mesa Verde water works explained by engineers


In the United States, almost a century after Mesa Verde National Park’s establishment, strange earthen formations near the cliff and mesa-top dwellings are finally explained.  One mysterious dirt mound, 200 feet across, rises 16 feet.  A 1,400-foot path or channel extends from it.  And there is the large depression on Chapin Mesa.  Labeled for years as either a prehistoric amphitheater, now researchers know it was part of an elaborate water storage system.  They have dubbed it Far View Reservoir.  The elevated mound in the canyon was also a strangely shaped storage facility, and could have held 120,000 gallons.  After a decade of investigation by a large team of private water engineers and government scientists, it is accepted that the ancestral Puebloans who lived here until A.D. 1300 were amazing water engineers.  The people of this high desert, without benefit of metals, wheels or written language, maintained at least four massive waterworks from A.D. 750 to 1180 to survive the devastating droughts of the region.  The last of them wasn't discovered until a 2002 wildfire burned off dense sagebrush.  But scientists had been confused for decades over how Morefield Canyon, high above the bed of a desert stream that rarely flows, could have served as a reservoir.  Many guessed it was a terrace for ceremonial dances.  Denver water engineer and author Kenneth Wright, known for his studies on ancient Incan waterworks in the Peruvian Andes, joined forces with engineers and researchers to cut a deep trench through the mound and finally solve the mystery.  The team concluded that the Puebloans had started with a shallow depression that was originally along the bottom of an irregular stream.  They used the small impoundment to capture water during rare big storms. These floods eventually filled the reservoirs with as much sediment as water, and ancient workers had to scoop them out.  The reservoir bottom slowly rose above the canyon floor despite some 350 years of scooping. The Puebloans compensated by creating a long canal to divert flood flows. It had the proper slope to continue to fill the rising reservoir.  A thousand years before it was a public monument, Mesa Verde was an amazing public construction project, or a series of them, from the stone cliff dwellings to the newly appreciated water system.  Modern engineers recently honored the Puebloans' Mesa Verde reservoirs by naming them a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.

Afghani artworks under reconstruction


Our final story is from Afghanistan, where the world reacted swiftly to the sad news of the destruction of the Great Buddha of Bamiyan, when Taliban forces dynamited the colossal statue in 2001.  This was, however, just a part of the Taliban's strategy.  Excavations that had unearthed Persian and Hellenistic levels at Bagram were bulldozed.  The once-proud Afghan National Museum in Kabul was looted and the building destroyed.  This is now slowly changing.  Seventy years of hard work and research have been lost through the chaos and anarchy of war.  Now in 2004, one finds new construction everywhere, as foreign investment and returning Afghanis rebuild a new country, constructed on a new set of laws.  Fortunately, many of the museum's treasures are apparently still in the country, and the building is being refurbished.  Soon the National Geographic Society and the French government will assist the Afghan Culture and Information Ministry to take an inventory of the museum's objects as rehabilitation continues. Excavators from Japan are working to map an important Buddhist temple complex in the Bamiyan valley.  A team from the Republic of Korea is assessing sites for excavation in and around the capital city of Kabul.  Australian and Italian archaeologists are considering sites for new excavation elsewhere in the nation.  Current prospects for reopening excavations in and around Bagram are complicated, however, by the fact that it is one of the largest areas of land mines in the world.  More and more areas are being cleared of mines and explosives, but renewed excavation in this area remains a future hope only, with the safety of excavation personnel remaining a serious issue in many parts of the country.  Site protection is an equal problem. Afghanistan has a rich cultural and historical heritage, with over 2,800 large and significant archaeological sites.  The biggest problem currently is looting and destruction at these sites.  The Interior Ministry wants to deploy up to 500 guards for antiquities sites, but has no budget to hire and train them.  There is an urgent need for more excavation, for cultural and historical preservation of the excavated sites, and for financial assistance to fund these efforts.  Afghanistan's past is part of the world's cultural treasure.  This land was near the eastern limit of Alexander's Hellenistic empire.  Opportunities for research will grow as peace and stability are gradually restored and strengthened in all provinces of the nation.  Until then, archaeological institutions and foreign governments are being asked to help.  Joining so far are institutions from Berlin, Rome, Tokyo and Sydney, along with funding and research groups from the US and the European Union.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I’m Laura Kelley and I’ll see you next week!