Audio News for October 25th to October 31st.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from October 25th to October 31st.
Museum begins reuniting artifacts from ancient Iraqi city
In our first story, the Field Museum of Chicago is embarking on a two-year project that could help bridge cultural and scientific barriers weakened by the Iraq war. With the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the museum recently began to study, catalog and reconcile the scattered, priceless collections of materials from the famous 5,000-year-old archaeological site of Kish, 50 miles south of Baghdad. Kish is one of the world's oldest cities, and the site of the earliest evidence of wheeled transport. The museum plans to create a digital catalog of the more than 100,000 Kish artifacts held in Chicago, London and Baghdad. The catalog will be made available in English and Arabic on the Internet and in print. A more complete database of all the
objects will be created and made available on the Internet. From 1923 to 1933, archaeologists from The Field Museum and Oxford University's Ashmolean Museum explored several of the 40 mounds at the 9-square-mile Kish site located in the floodplains of the Euphrates River. The artifacts found were divided among the two excavating museums and the Iraq Museum in Baghdad. Ever since, the collections have remained divided, stopping the production of a full report for this Mesopotamian city and obstructing a full understanding of its historical and archaeological significance. The grant will allow The Field Museum to catalog uncataloged objects, reconcile the entire collection with excavation records and field notes, distribute the information to scholars and others around the world, and more. Work has already begun with collections at the Field Museum and Oxford University. Once political and security risks are resolved in Iraq, the work will continue at the Iraq Museum, which was heavily looted at the start of the war. During the third millennium B.C., Kish was Mesopotamia's dominant major regional power. It set the stage for the development of a long succession of important Mesopotamian seats of power, including modern day Baghdad and ancient Babylon. The Field Museum holds about 32,000 objects from the Kish excavations, including cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, stone tools, pots, sculptures, figurines and metal implements. Original field cards will be used to determine the archaeological context of many of these objects, which is vital to understanding their use and meaning. Initial excavations at Kish centered on the Uhaimir mound, the location of a famous ziggurat, which is a temple tower in the form of a terraced pyramid of successively receding stories. Later, workers turned to a cemetery, where they uncovered Kish's famous chariot burials. In these, chariots pulled by teams of live oxen were buried alongside high status individuals to provide a means of transport in the afterlife.
Geosciences aid excavation of Roman fort
In Jordan, a University at Buffalo geophysicist is proposing that some 21st-century technologies, like tablet PCs equipped with navigational software, ought to be standard archaeological research gear. For centuries, trowels and handpicks have been traditional tools of the trade for archeologists. Non-invasive geophysical techniques allow researchers to image what's under the ground without digging, and real-time Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology can provide archeological teams with significant benefits. The new technology could save time and money by helping archeological teams target with greater accuracy. This past summer, Gregory Baker, associate professor of geology, successfully used these techniques at the excavation of an ancient Roman fort in southern Jordan. He has submitted a proposal on this methodology, which he calls "synergistic archeogeophysics," to the National Science Foundation. Archeologists at the Jordanian site are looking for evidence that the Roman fort may have included a large kiln site, indicating that as the Romans moved into a new area and conquered territory, they established a local means for producing pottery. They look for a magnetic signal under the surface, because once you heat earth past a certain temperature, as in the case of the firing process, it acquires a permanent magnetic signal that persists even today. Using magnetometers, researchers surveyed the area in an effort to identify subsurface areas with magnetic signatures. If the archeologists had not used the real-time GPS, Baker said the best they could have hoped for would have been to pinpoint coordinates to within 20-30 meters, which would have made finding the "hot spots" practically impossible. The archeologists now are excavating up to three meters below the earth's surface, which is where Baker's data indicate they should find the kiln.
Scientific surprise proves existence of second human species
In Indonesia, a new human-like species has been found. It is a dwarfed relative, who lived just 18,000 years ago on an isolated island in the company of pygmy elephants and giant lizards. Skeletal remains show that the hominids were only 3 feet tall, had a brain one-third the size of that of modern humans, and lived on in their island isolation long after Homo sapiens had migrated throughout the South Pacific region. The find has excited researchers with its implications of unexpected branches of humanity still to be found. The species' small stature indicates that humans are subject to the same evolutionary forces of genetic drift that leads other mammals to shrink or grow larger in size when genetically isolated, such as on this island with limited resources. Australian and Indonesian scientists found the new species in a rock shelter called Liang Bua on the island of Flores. The team unearthed a near-complete skeleton of a female, including the skull, jaw and most teeth, along with bones and teeth from at least seven other individuals. The hominid bones were not fossilized, but in a condition the team described as being like "mashed potatoes", a result of their age and the damp conditions. "The skeleton had the consistency of wet blotting paper, so a less experienced excavator might have trashed the find," says Richard Roberts of the University of Wollongong, Australia. The discovery is prompting increased scrutiny of sites on other Southeast Asian islands, both to look for more of the same species and to place it in context with Homo sapiens and Homo erectus, our closest relative. Homo erectus was found to have lived on the nearby island of Java as long as 1.6 million years ago; the team suggests that the Flores hominids may be their descendants. Dating more bones could help determine whether the species was a short-lived branch of human evolution or survived for longer. Preliminary dating places it at about 70,000 years ago, but it may extend back 800,000 years. In the meantime, researchers are hoping to find DNA in the bones, which would help to clarify the relationships between species.
Virginia excavation reveals Thomas Jefferson’s civic architecture
Our final story is from the United States, where evidence of an original courthouse built by Thomas Jefferson is being revealed after 130 years. The county courthouse in Buckingham, Virginia, was built between 1822 and 1824 following a design by Thomas Jefferson. Archaeologist Brian Bates is a Buckingham, Virginia, native and a professor at Longwood University. He has been pursuing the traces of Jefferson’s building foundation since 2003. That original building burned down in 1869, and the current courthouse was built on top of the ruins three years later. Since Jefferson left no detailed architectural drawings for the building, all Bates and his co-workers had to go on were letters between the former president and county commissioners, plus whatever evidence they could find in the Virginia clay. By this year, Bates had found where three of the walls had stood and were back to find out how the fourth wall fit in, working in a 4-foot-wide space between the current, post-Civil War era courthouse and a 1960s-era addition. Discovery of the foundation trenches shows that the courthouse was 52 feet wide by 65 feet deep. The building's height can be inferred from the size of column bases found scattered around the courthouse's front yard -- and, in one case, in front of a church down the street. It was likely a two-story structure, with 20-foot-high walls. The research adds information on one of the most influential architects of his time. Knowing more about Jefferson's design may help scholars better understand his approach to civic architecture. The third president didn't just want to design buildings, he wanted to influence history. Along with at least one other courthouse in Charlotte County, Va. (1823), Jefferson designed the Virginia State Capitol (begun in 1785), his own residences at Monticello (1796-1809) and Poplar Forest (begun in 1806), and the original buildings at the University of Virginia (begun in 1817). In a 1775 letter, the young Jefferson had discussed his belief in the connection between architecture and civic virtue with fellow future president James Madison. "How is a taste in this beautiful art (of architecture) to be formed in our countrymen," Jefferson asked, "unless we avail ourselves of every occasion when public buildings are to be erected, of presenting to them models for their study and imitation?" The recent Buckingham, Virginia, excavations add evidence of what models Jefferson hoped the citizens of the new country would follow. The modest but elegant two-story building held the courtroom and three jury rooms. A balcony provided coolness and relief and the elegant columns in front formed a portico 27 feet deep. Two pavilions, one on each side, were added subsequently, in consultation with Jefferson, to provide additional office space.
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I’m Laura Kelley and I’ll see you next week!