Audio News for November 1st to November 7th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from November 1st to November 7th.

On the hunt for an Etruscan king and his magnificent city


Our first story is from Italy where one expert say researchers are looking in the wrong place for the tomb of Etruscan king Lars Porsena. Porsena ruled in central Italy around 500 BC and his tomb has been sought for centuries in the rubble under the Tuscan city of Chiusi, which is believed by most to stand on the site of Porsena's capital, Clusium. No sign of it has ever been found. According to Giuseppe Centauro, of the University of Florence, everybody is looking in the wrong place. Lars Porsena is known in history for his interference in the revolution that made Rome a republic. There are conflicting accounts of whether Porsena succeeded in capturing and ruling Rome. Most accounts agree that he was eventually buried in a magnificent tomb near his home city of Camars, or Clusium as the Romans called it. The Etruscans were big on tombs, but Porsena's was purportedly the biggest. According to one ancient source, it was a monument of rectangular masonry with a square base whose sides were about 300 feet long and 45 feet high. On this base stood five pyramids, four at the corners and one in the center, and the points of these pyramids supported a ring from which hung bells whose sound reached for miles when stirred by the wind. From this level rose five more pyramids, and from these, another five. Chiusi was clearly once an Etruscan city, but the evidence that it was actually Clusium comes down to the fact that the two names mean the same thing (“closed”). Dr Centauro prefers his evidence to be more concrete, and believes the most credible ruins are actually on a mountainside near Florence. Currently, he is awaiting permission from the authorities to start digging there. He believes he has identified two concentric walls about ten miles in circumference. These are big enough to qualify as the largest city in Italy before the rise of Rome; a reputation that Clusium had. Such a site has not completely escaped archaeological attention in the past. A dig in an outlying part of the site has been under way since 1998. Foundations of what was evidently a wealthy settlement on the banks of the Bisenzio River have been unearthed. This, Dr Centauro believes, lends credence to his theory. In his view, this riverside settlement was an affluent suburb situated on reclaimed land outside the city walls. Built to cope with later expansion, it is younger than the site he now calls Clusium. The outer walls of the main site are 9 feet thick and several yards high. From the style of the masonry, Dr Centauro is convinced the remains are Etruscan. The question of the tomb of Porsena still remains open. In 89BC Cornelius Sulla, a Roman general, sacked Clusium and razed it to the ground. But if the ancient descriptions of the tomb’s size are even small fraction of the truth, it is unlikely that amount of masonry disappeared. If Dr Centauro's hunch is right, the old king's secret may soon be dug up.

Discovering a glorious ancient kingdom in South Africa


In South Africa, an ancient sophisticated kingdom that was ignored by the government is getting its recognition. A decade after apartheid in South Africa, the Mapungubwe Kingdom will be the centerpiece of a new national park aimed at highlighting a civilization that further dispels the myth that Africans were inferior to their European peers. Archaeologists in the 1930s discovered Mapungubwe, which reached its pinnacle between AD 1220 and 1290. But like other chapters in South Africa's black history, it was never taught in schools for fear it would contradict the government's doctrine of white supremacy. The park will eventually become part of a "transfrontier" conservation area shared among Zimbabwe, South Africa and Botswana, benefiting all the countries where Mapungubwe once had influence. The Mapungubwe Kingdom covered an area of 12,000 square miles. With a capital city of 5,000 people, the kingdom was recognized as an economic, political and cultural center for the region before its society disintegrated, probably because of a disastrous climate change. Charred remains of sorghum, millet and well-preserved ceramic spindle whorls used to spin cotton were found in the area, suggesting a booming agricultural lifestyle. Although its inhabitants were not the first to use gold in the region, experts say their delicately carved artifacts are evidence of a unique skill for manipulating the metal. The artifacts include royal household symbols such as a palm-sized golden rhino, possibly belonging to the king, and an 8 inch-long scepter, probably his adviser's. The discovery of foreign beads, pottery, ivory, bone, ostrich eggshells, and the shells of snails and freshwater mussels indicates a trade network stretching as far away as East Africa, Persia, Egypt, India, and China. The kingdom, whose name means "the place of the jackal" in the local Venda language, is also believed to have been the first in the region with a complex social structure built around a king, who would have enjoyed a demigod-like status.

Tiwanaku ceramics reveal cultural insights from the Andean highlands


In Bolivia, an archaeological research team from the University of Helsinki has discovered a ritual offering site with well-preserved pieces of ceramics. Excavations on Pariti Island in Lake Titicaca are adding to what is known about the Tiwanaku culture, which flourished before the Incas. The island was probably an important religious site for the Tiwanaku. According to Antti Korpisaari, an archaeologist from Renvall Institute, the dig recovered approximately 600-700 pounds of deliberately broken ritual ceramics. Radiocarbon dating has the pieces buried sometime between AD 900 and 1050. Some twenty vessels have been preserved intact and are compared to the best china of a royal household or sacramental communion vessels. Many of the ornamental elements of the ceramics are completely new to scientists. Depictions of people are very realistic, providing extraordinary insight into the life of the Tiwanaku. According to Korpisaari, by comparing small details, such as clothing, headgear, jewelry and even facial characteristics, to other finds from the highland area, we could actually start drawing conclusions about the ethnic identities of the people who used the place. The discovery also provides new information on the relationship between the Inca and Tiwanaku cultures.

Beneath a parking lot lies the home of an Edinburgh legend


Our final story is from Scotland where the remains of a house occupied by one of Edinburgh’s most respected 18th-century judges have been uncovered. Experts believe the home, buried for more than a century underneath a parking lot, was that of the eccentric Lord Monboddo, a pioneer of evolutionary theory. Archives suggest the area was the location of grand residences for 18th-century luminaries such as the lawyer and philosopher Lord Kames. Archaeologists have excavated substantial foundations, which they believe may form part of the house belonging to Lord Monboddo. His 1773 book, Of the Origin and Progress of Language, articulated evolutionary theory almost a century before Charles Darwin. According to city archaeologist John Lawson, this is an important opportunity to record a part of Edinburgh’s rich industrial heritage. The discovery of the foundations for several buildings, including that of Lord Monboddo’s house, broadens our understanding of 17th and 18th-century Edinburgh. Lord Monboddo was known for his eccentric ways and was a friend of Robert Burns. Historian Jan-Andrew Henderson, said: "He was an extraordinary figure. When he said man was derived from animals and that orangutans were capable of speech he was ridiculed. But he was right - almost a century before Charles Darwin.”

That wraps up the news for this week!

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