Audio News for May 16th to May 22nd

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from May 16th to May 22nd.

Original Headline: Mother Goddess figurines found in Tamil Nadu
New Headline: Evidence of Mother Goddess cult at Tamil Nadu, India


Our first story is from the southern Indian peninsula, where four terracotta figurines of the Mother Goddess have been found in Tamil Nadu during excavations conducted by the State Archaeology Department.  One figurine dates to the pre-Christian era and another, which is in two pieces, belongs to the 8th- 9th century AD.  Archaeologists estimate that two more figurines belong to 8th to 12th century AD.  They also found three potsherds with Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions. Epigraphists date one inscription between the 4th and 5th centuries A.D.  The other two Tamil-Brahmi inscriptions, written on pot lids, may belong to an earlier period.  According to T.S. Sridhar, Special Commissioner, the dig yielded a cornucopia of artifacts.  The finds
included a figurine of the Goddess Durga, a bull, black and red pottery ware, a few pieces of Roman pottery, terracotta beads, an iron knife and nails, copper objects, an incomplete well, and human torso made of terracotta.  The Mother Goddess cult is one of the earliest cults in India.  It was prevalent during the Harappan period around 3,500 B.C. and it was a fertility cult.  Mother Goddess figurines have been found in several places in Tamil Nadu.  All of them are made of terracotta.  A regional archaeologist stated that if the figurine is depicted in the nude, it definitely signifies a fertility cult.  Fifteen trenches were dug at the Modur region of Tamil Nadu.  They yielded spectacular objects such as celts, polishing and grinding stones, hammers made of stones and cylindrical pestles belonging to the Neolithic period.  Artifacts such as terracotta figurines, decorative potsherds, spindle whorls, shell bangles, well crafted smoking pipes and graffiti potsherds belonged to the historical period after 1st century A.D.  The Neolithic culture in Tamil Nadu is datable to 2,800 to 500 B.C., and megalithic culture from 500 B.C. to A.D. 100.

Original Headline: Tombs uncovered at Peruvian ruins

New Headline: Exciting new finds shed light on the Inca pilgrimage site of Pachacamac


In Peru, archaeologists have uncovered a multi-level gravesite in the ancient ruins of Pachacamac. The find included mummy bundles containing whole families.  According to Peter Eeckhout of the Free University of Brussels, the cemetery is interesting in that it is totally intact.  It contains mummies from different epochs and periods and each has burial goods with it. There were also bodies of pilgrims who presumably sought cures from an oracle deity for diseases like syphilis, tuberculosis and cancer.  Pachacamac, 20 miles south of the capital, Lima, was a sprawling ceremonial center of 18 mud-brick pyramids with ramps and plazas ruled by the Ychsma (EESH-MA) lords from AD 900 to 1470.  Today, the ruins are a major tourist attraction.  Eeckhout started to excavate the site in 1999, heading an international team of archaeologists in the Project Ychsma (EESH-MA). The Inca Empire conquered the religious center less than a century before Spanish Conquistador Francisco Pizarro's brother, Hernando, plundered the site in 1533 and destroyed the idol that served as an oracle.  Eeckhout said that archaeologists began exploring Pachacamac in the 1890s but found much of the nearly 1,500-acre ruins already looted, and quickly ran out of intact tombs to explore.  But this year, he said, his team decided to dig near a pyramid ramp that had been overlooked.  So far, they have excavated 69 tombs and funerary bundles in the area. Digging down more than a dozen feet, they found three levels of burial remains.  Eeckhout stated that in the upper layer of burials, an abnormal proportion of individuals suffered from very serious and lethal diseases, such as syphilis, tuberculosis and cancer.  This leads the archaeologists to to think that these people were brought to Pachacamac from other sites in order to be cured by the great god that had his sanctuary here.  Lower down were funerary bundles from the time before the Inca Empire turned Pachacamac into a pilgrimage center around 1470.  The second layer is much more local, related to the region of Pachacamac and is thought to contain family burials.  He said his team had found several sealed tombs that they had not yet breached, and a third level with mummified remains from an even earlier period.  This year's excavation season ends this month and the excavation site will be filled in to protect it until digging resumes next year.

Original Headline: Archaeologists Find Relics at Ga. Fort

New Headline: Forgotten 19th century Georgia fort sheds light on its history


In the United States, archaeologists have uncovered relics from a forgotten piece of American history, the fort where British and U.S. troops waged the final battle of the War of 1812.  Point Peter, located on a narrow peninsula of the State of Georgia's coast, fell to British forces days after Gen. Andrew Jackson's victory in the Battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815.  The fort was burned down by British troops and its remains had been buried until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers required an archaeological survey by developers of Cumberland Harbor, a 1,014-acre waterfront subdivision being built on the site.  Only a state historical marker, placed on the site in 1953, pointed out the fort's location.  Six months of digging in Georgia's southeast corner turned up more than 67,000 artifacts from Point Peter's barracks, latrine and well.  Scott Butler led the excavation for the Atlanta archaeology firm Brockington and Associates.  His team found an 1803 rifle missing only its barrel, along with musket balls, uniform buttons, pocket knives, bone dice used for gambling, and spoons and forks as well as many shards of pottery.  Animal bones found in a buried trash pile indicate soldiers at Point Peter spiced up their diet of military rations by catching fish, rabbits, raccoons and possums.  Built in 1796 at St. Marys, then the southernmost U.S. city on the eastern seaboard, Point Peter was armed with a battery of eight cannons at the tip of a 2-mile-long peninsula less than a mile wide.  While defending the coast from invasion, the fort also trained American militiamen. I n the War of 1812, which actually lasted until 1815, America waged its last conflict against foreign invaders and settled any doubts about the fledgling nation's permanent independence from Great Britain.  Point Peter became a little-known footnote compared with battles at Chesapeake Bay and New Orleans, the torching of Washington and the bombardment of Baltimore that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star Spangled Banner." Butler's team pieced together the history of Point Peter from documents scattered from Washington's National Archives to the Georgia Historical Society in Savannah.  Two days after Jackson's victory at New Orleans, as many as 1,500 British troops landed on Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast on Jan. 10, 1815.  Although the British had signed the Treaty of Ghent on Christmas Eve, officially ending the war, word had not yet spread to commanders in the U.S.  On Jan. 13, about 600 British troops attacked Point Peter, overwhelming its 130 soldiers.  The
British seized the area, looted jewelry and fine China from its residents, and burned the fort.  It was never used again as a military outpost.

Original Headline: New technology reveals ancient math texts

New Headline: Modern technology reveals secrets of Archimedes’ ancient texts


Our final story is an update of an older story involving the Archimedes Palimpsest.  Last week at Stanford University in the Linear Accelerator Center, powerful X-ray beams were used to
illuminate the long-lost theorems of the ancient Greek mathematician, lifting them from faded 10th-century parchments.  Using state-of-the-art circular particle accelerators called synchrotrons, the scientists shone ultra-fine light beams onto three pages of the aged texts.  Tuned to a specific energy, the light caused traces of iron in the ink to fluoresce, revealing for the first time the wispy outlines of Archimedes' 2,000-year-old ideas etched onto goatskin.  Although much of its text has been deciphered over the years by visible or ultraviolet light, about a quarter of the 174-page document remains unread.  A form of medieval recycling in which parchment pages were erased and written over allowed the rare material to be reused.  In this case, prayers replaced the original mathematical theorems and badly obscured the original text.  Odd circumstances brought this ancient book into the realm of modern science and engineering.  While attending a 2003 conference in Germany, SLAC scientist Uwe Bergmann came across a magazine article that mentioned the Palimpsest and other religious texts whose ink contained iron.  He immediately thought it would be possible to use X-rays to image the document.  The intense beams, generated by accelerating electrons around a circular track at close to the speed of light, are used to probe the sub-microscopic world in a variety of fields, including materials science, environmental sciences and solid-state physics.  Bergmann contacted the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, which houses the Palimpsest, and convinced the curators that SLAC's X-ray system could penetrate the document's prayers to reveal Archimedes' hidden thoughts.  The team plans to read the entire text and transcribe it onto a DVD -- a process that will take several years.  Much of Archimedes' ancient work, including the creation of calculus methods, underlie present-day science, and now physicists are applying some of their most sophisticated tools to get back into the head of this legendary mathematician.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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