Audio News for February 21st to February 27th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from February 21st to February27th, 2005.

Original Headline: Ta' Bistra catacombs rediscovered
New Headline: 2,000-year-old catacombs rediscovered in Malta


Our first story is from Malta, where part of a network of catacombs once thought to be lost has been rediscovered under a stretch of road in Mosta.  During road construction, workers discovered the area where the 2,000-year-old catacombs are located, known as Ta' Bistra.  The catacomb network was once used as a burial ground.  The network cuts into a ridge in the landscape and runs mostly under a field and measures about 300 feet long.  The whole network was previously
recorded and drawn by Charles Zammit in 1933.  But by then the site had long been looted by treasure hunters bearing licenses issued by the Knights of St John.  According to Tony Pace, Superintendent of Cultural Heritage, the catacombs represent an important phase in the history of Christianity and are of world heritage status.  Catacombs in Rome, Naples and Sicily early on were already on the map of historic landmarks, but the ones in Malta were not treated with the same reverence.  None of the catacombs found in Malta were ever recorded scientifically except for the ones at Tal-Barrani, excavated by Mr. Pace in1993.  These have since been buried under a new road.  Unlike the catacombs in Rabat that were dug underground, the ones at Ta' Bistra were cut by means of tunneling in the face of the ridge.  Road works have been stopped until a decision is taken on how best to preserve the burial site.  According to Tony Pace, the last survey of the numerous historical sites around the country was carried out in 1934.

Original Headline: Artifacts dug up at light rail bridge site
New Headline: Native American archaeological site discovered in Seattle


In the United States, archaeologists have made a significant find at a planned construction site for light rail bridge in the city of Seattle.  A significant Indian archaeological site has been uncovered on the banks of the Duwamish River and so far archaeologists have recovered more than 900 artifacts, including fire cracked rocks, stone tools, animal bones, and parts of a shelter with a hearth.  The site is believed to be more than several hundred years old, going back to a time before historic contact between Native Americans and outsiders in the Northwest.  According to University of Washington professor Julie Stein, a geoarchaeologist hired to analyze the geology of the site, the find is “miraculous.”  She said Duwamish valley sediments have seen so much human and natural disturbance that it is amazing that the construction zone had been preserved.  Only a handful of sites have been found on the Duwamish, and some of them have not been well preserved or yielded a large trove of artifacts.  The Duwamish River has functioned as a transportation route, providing the way inland from Puget Sound, the way to get to Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish, and across the Cascade Range.  Full-blown excavation is scheduled to begin March 7 and take about six weeks.  Philippe LeTourneau, archaeologist and principal investigator on the site, reported that the crew found 44 flakes from stone tool manufacture and three tools: a scraper and two flakes shaped into cutting tools.  They also found pieces of red ocher, iron oxide used throughout prehistory as a pigment for coloring things, according to LeTourneau.  Red ocher is not a normal component of the soil in that area.  They also found two separate remnants of one or more hearths.  LeTourneau projected that the excavation is expected to recover about 11,000 prehistoric artifacts, of which just under 9,000 will be fire-modified rock.  The Muckleshoot, Duwamish and Suquamish Indian tribes have been notified.  The Federal Highway  Administration has declared the site to be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places because it is likely to yield important information.

Original Headline: A Place to Rest for German Kings
New Headline: Piece of Emperor Charlemagne’s royal chair identified


In Germany, an engraved stone dug up nearly a century ago on a building site didn't excite many people.  But now an archeologist has determined that it's actually part of the country’s oldest throne, sat in by Emperor Charlemagne.  An archaeologist at the Roman-Germanic Museum in Mainz has identified it as part of an armrest that supported Charlemagne's royal left arm when he was visiting the city of Mainz.  The piece was actually discovered in 1911, when it was dug up while a clothing store was being constructed.  It was handed over to museum officials, who apparently were not very impressed.  It was catalogued, briefly described and archived in a museum storeroom.  Decades later, the piece was pulled out of storage because a museum archaeologist, Mechthild Schulze-Dörrlamm, was researching stone monuments from the Carolingian period.  After seeing the engravings on the piece, she realized she had more than a medieval signpost on her hands.  Further research and comparisons with other royal artifacts showed that the object supported the royal arm in the year 790 or even earlier, making it older than the marble throne in Aachen which dates from around 800.  That royal chair previously held the record for the oldest extant throne.  Aachen was the favorite residence of the Emperor Charlemagne and served as the principal coronation site of Holy Roman emperors and German kings from the Middle Ages to the Reformation.

Original Headline: Digs at Archontiko, Pella uncover more gold-clad warriors
New Headline: Gold-clad warriors and aristocrats unearthed at Archontiko, Pella


Our final story is from Greece, where artifacts from 141 tombs are painting a picture of ancient Macedonia.  At the excavation in the ancient necropolis of Archontiko in Pella, the gold of the ancient Macedonians still shines on the soldiers’ uniforms while being unearthed.  Fully armed Macedonian aristocrats,women in elaborate jewelry, highly decorated idols and clay vases of outstanding beauty lay hidden for centuries in 141 simple rectangular graves.  In the tombs, Macedonian officers wore armor of the late Classical and early Hellenistic periods and were equipped for the journey after death with coins for Charon, copper utensils made by local metalworkers, and rare incense or oil containers decorated in relief. These are not the first discoveries ofgold-embroidered uniforms at Archontiko. Researchers found the first warriors in full armor four years ago while excavating the cemetery.  The typical Archontiko tomb contained gold masks, gold breastplates, clothes and shoes adorned with gold strips, helmets, shields, swords, spears and knives embellished with gold strips or rosettes.  The dozens of finds help form an image of the culture, burial rituals, high living standards, aristocratic origins and leading role of the families in one of the most significant centers of ancient Macedonia from prehistoric times until the end of the fifth century BC. The ancient settlement was built in the middle of the plain of Bottiaia, close to the ancient route connecting East and West, and was one of the most important urban centers before the foundation of the capital of Pella. The 541 tombs dating from the Iron Age and up to the early Hellenistic era confirm this.  In the recent finds, the men were mostly in full armor and interred with spears and knives, helmets adorned with gold strips, and steel swords with gold on the handles.  Gold foil-embossed ornamentation adorned the leather breastplates, clothing, footwear and hand coverings of the warriors. Numerous other objects, such as bronze and clay vases, clay idols, and metal likenesses of farm carts were also discovered recently.  Furniture and spits accompanied the burials as well.  These objects present the first impression of a warrior, while the other grave offerings reveal the deceased’s personal and social prestige, two centuries before the rule of Phillip II and Alexander III.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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