Audio News for April 18th to April 24th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from April 18th to April 24th, 2005.

Genetic tests show Chinese mummies had “Caucasian” ancestors


Our first story is from China, where after years of controversy, archaeologists have been able to use genetic testing to prove that people who some classify as Caucasians roamed China's Tarim Basin 1,000 years before East Asian people arrived.  The research finding is based on a cache of ancient mummies that have been found around the Tarim Basin in recent decades.  The most important discoveries came in the 1980s with the find of the well-preserved, 4,000-year-old "Beauty of Loulan" and the 3,000-year-old body of the "Charchan Man".  These discoveries along the ancient Silk Road have a significance for science on a par with the Egyptian mummies.  The dehydrated corpses avoided natural decomposition because of the dry atmosphere and alkaline soils in the Tarim Basin.  Now they have given historians a glimpse of life in the Bronze Age.  Victor Mair, a University of Pennsylvania professor who played a pivotal role in bringing the discoveries to Western scholars in the 1990s, has struggled to take samples out of China for genetic testing.  One recent expedition was allowed to take five samples out.  Separatists in Xinjiang have embraced the Caucasoid mummies as evidence that the Uighurs (WEE-GURS), a Muslim group, do not belong in China, which has forced Beijing to slow the research.  East Asian peoples began showing up in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin only about 3,000 years ago, while the Uighurs (WEE-GURS) arrived after the collapse of the Orkhon Uighur Kingdom, centered in modern-day Mongolia, about the year 842.  A study last year by Jilin University also found that the mummies' DNA had Europoid genes.  Meanwhile, Yingpan Man, a nearly perfectly preserved 2,000-year-old Caucasoid mummy, was allowed this month to leave China for the first time, and is being displayed at the Edo-Tokyo Museum.  The Yingpan Man, discovered in 1995 in the region that bears his name, has a gold foil death mask, in the Greek tradition, covering his blond bearded face, and wears elaborate golden embroidered red and maroon garments with seemingly Western European designs.  His nearly 6-foot-6 body is the tallest of all the mummies found, and the clothes and artifacts discovered in the surrounding tombs suggest the highest level of so-called Caucasoid civilization in the ancient Tarim Basin region.

Egyptian tombs hold pre-Dynastic evidence


Our next story is from Egypt, where researchers say they have found the largest funerary complex so far dating from the earliest era of ancient Egypt.  The necropolis is more than 5,000 years old. A joint U.S. and Egyptian team in the Kom al-Ahmar region discovered this new preciinct of the dead around 370 miles south of Cairo.  Inside the tombs, the archaeologists found the remains of seven people and a cow's head carved from flint.  They believe four of them were buried alive as human sacrifices.  The remains survived despite the fact that the tombs were plundered in ancient times.  Egypt's monuments chief Zahi Hawass said the discovery would add greatly to knowledge of the elusive pre-dynastic period, when Egypt was first becoming a nation.  The complex is thought to belong to a ruler of the ancient city of Hierakonpolis around 3600 BC, when it was the largest urban center on the Nile River.  Egyptologists say the city probably extended its influence northwards, defeating rival entities.  The unification of Upper and Lower Egypt eventually led to the establishment of rule by the Pharaohs.  Excavations at the site started in 2000 under the leadership of Egyptologist Barbara Adams, who died in 2002.  The site contains some of the earliest examples of mummification found in Egypt.

U.S. dig explores Shaker history


In the New York state, a team of archaeologists methodically but quickly shook their sifters recently in an attempt to document newly discovered artifacts of a Shaker settlement.  The find could reveal the industriousness of the 18th-century religious sect at their first known American settlement, but it also lies directly in the path of a new sewer line for the local airport.  A work crew digging a trench for the line struck the foundation wall of what experts say is probably a seed house, a building in which the Shakers dried and stored seeds they later packaged and sold.  The discovery brought construction to a halt while researchers were called in to assess the extent and historical significance of the find.  Starlyn D'Angelo, executive director of the Shaker Heritage Society, said historians knew the building existed based on drawings and photographs, but she said they were not sure exactly where it was and had believed it might have already been
destroyed by earlier construction.  Before construction on the sewer line began about a month ago, the airport paid for an archaeological study of the areas to be disturbed that were most likely to hold artifacts.  But because the seed house was located beneath what is now an asphalt parking lot, no testing was done there.  The masonry and wood-frame building was used to dry and store seeds and, for at least a few years, raise silk worms for silk cloth.  Records show it was built sometime before 1826, replaced in 1852, and then torn down by the county in 1929.  Seven archaeologists worked with trowels, brushes, and sifters in the shoulder-deep trench, uncovering artifacts such as coal, pottery shards, animal bones, metal stands for some kind of press, and what appeared to be a kind of metal drive shaft.  Records show the building might have once contained a water-driven printing press to print seed bags.  D'Angelo said the find underscores the efficiency and industry of Shaker settlers, who sold their plant seeds throughout the state.

Indian dig seeks traces of early martyr queen


Our final story is from India, where the Archaeological Survey Agency’s 20-year search in Old Goa has finally located the burial site of Queen Ketevan of Georgia amidst the ruins of the St Augustine complex.  But the queen's remains were not at the site.  Site archaeologists have located the stone surround that according to historical accounts once held the black coffer containing the queen’s remains.  But the coffer itself and the relics are not there.  Some fragments of bone and stone inscriptions have been sent for scientific analysis.  But archaeologists doubt these would be related to the queen.  Taher believes that the findings are conclusive enough to end the long-drawn debate over the 16th century queen's relics.  Elevated to sainthood, the martyred Queen Ketevan of Georgia is held in high regard in her country to this day, and teams of experts from Russia and Georgia have been dispatched to Old Goa in the past to help locate her remains.  Taken prisoner by emperor Shah Abbas of Persia in 1613, Queen Ketevan was held captive for 10 years in Shiraz. She was tortured and strangled to death on September 22, 1624, for refusing to convert to Islam, say historical accounts.  Jesuit priest and history researcher Fr. Moreno D'Souza, who has spent years poring over historical records related to Old Goa, concludes that an arm and hand of the Georgian queen were brought to Goa by Augustinian friars in 1627 and encased in a black box in the chapel of the huge complex.  So where did the relics go?  The suspicion is that the Augustinian friars, who held the queen in high reverence, took away the black box when they were expelled from Goa in 1832 by the Portuguese government.  After that time, the complex fell into ruins.  The vault collapsed in 1842 and its towers and facade crumbled by 1938.  A 20-year excavation project has painstakingly brought to light the ruins of what was once an architectural marvel.  In the search for the 16th century queen, state archaeologists have also unearthed the ruins of five altars, eight side chapels, a cloister, six tombs and the interior of a church profusely decorated with glazed tiles.  The excavation can only add to the significance of this world heritage site.

That wraps up the news for this week!
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I’m Laura Kelley and I’ll see you next week!