Audio News for June 6th to June 12th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from June 6th to June 12th.

Central Europe temples found, older than the Pyramids
Original Headline: Found: Europe's oldest civilisation


In our first story, German archaeologists claim to have discovered Europe’s oldest known civilization. More than 150 large temples, constructed between 4800 and 4600 BC, have been unearthed in fields and cities in Germany, Austria and Slovakia, predating the pyramids in Egypt by some 2,000 years. The temples are made of earth and wood, and have been excavated over the past few years. The discovery has triggered a re-evaluation of similar, though mostly undated, complexes identified from aerial photographs throughout central Europe. The civilization that built them seems to have been a people who were livestock farmers. Their temple-building culture apparently died out after about 200 years, and its discovery is so new that this temple building culture does not even have a name yet. The most complex center discovered so far is beneath the city of Dresden in Saxony, eastern Germany. It comprises a temple surrounded by four ditches, three earthen banks and two palisades. According to Harald Staeuble (STOY-bul) , from the Saxony state government's heritage department, excavations reveal the degree of monumental vision and sophistication used by these early farming communities to create Europe's first truly large-scale earthwork complexes. The temples measure up to 500 feet in diameter. The people who built them lived themselves in communal long houses grouped into villages. Stone, bone, and wooden tools have been unearthed, along with ceramic figures of people and animals. The investigation into these Stone Age temples over the past three years has also revealed several other mysteries. First, each complex was only used for a few generations, perhaps 100 years maximum. Second, the central sacred area was nearly always the same size. Third, each circular enclosure ditch - irrespective of diameter - involved the removal of the same volume of earth. In other words, the builders reduced the depth and/or width of each ditch in inverse proportion to its diameter, so as to always keep volume (and thus time spent) constant. Archaeologists are speculating that this may have been in order to allow each earthwork to be dug by a set number of special status workers in a set number of days, perhaps to satisfy the ritual requirements of some sort of religious calendar. A village at Aythra, near Leipzig in eastern Germany, covers an area of 25 hectares. Two hundred longhouses have been found there. The population at any given time would have been up to 300 people living in a highly organized settlement of 15 to 20 very large communal buildings.

Virginia historians seek out founder’s DNA in England
Original Headline: Scientists to ID Jamestown, Va., Remains


From Virginia, researchers have traveled to England to determine whether a skeleton discovered at the site of the Jamestown colony is that of one of its founders, Bartholomew Gosnold. Thirteen years before the Mayflower's voyage, he oversaw an expedition that led to the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. Excavations at two churches are planned in order to retrieve DNA samples from the remains of some of Gosnold’s relatives, a sister and a niece. Radar surveys were conducted at the churches earlier this year, but the process to extract the genetic material still involves uncertainties. Gosnold was considered a primary organizer and head of the expedition that led to Jamestown's founding in 1607. Capt. John Smith has received most of the historical attention because Gosnold became ill and died at age 36, only three months after arriving in Virginia . A DNA match would be confirm archaeologists’ suspicions that the remains unearthed outside the site of the Jamestown Fort are those of Gosnold. The nearly intact skeleton appeared to be that of an English male in his 30s, and a decorative staff used by captains of the era lay on the coffin's lid. The Church of England granted permission for the project since the remains of Gosnold's sister, Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney, were believed to be under the floor of Shelley All Saints Church in Suffolk, England. If archaeologists believe they have found the right graves, a Smithsonian Institution scientist will make a forensic analysis of the skeletons and obtain a bone sample. No skeletons will be removed from the sites. However, there are still hurdles to overcome before skeletal DNA can be tested. For instance, the Shelley church inscription in brass on a ledger stone, that is believed to mark the grave of Tilney's husband, could be out of place. After raising the stone, archaeologists would still have to find the old filled-in burial shaft and excavate down to the graves of husband and wife who would be side by side. According to William Kelso, director of archaeology at the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, the search will be called off if it is not clear where the graves are or if damage could be done to a building.

Mayan burial shows women’s role in power struggles
Original Headline: Mayan crypt reveals power of women


In Guatemala, archaeologists have entered a long-sealed crypt to find an ancient murder scene. The tomb, in the ancient city of Waká, contains the remains of two women arranged in a ritual montage. Researchers say the young, wealthy women were probably slaughtered as part of a power struggle between Mayan cities. The find sheds new light on the role of women in the Mayan culture 1,600 years ago. According to Dorie Reents-Budet, a Maya specialist who works for the Smithsonian, the tomb tells us that women were extremely powerful and when there were political disagreements, women were killed. Waká (wah-KAW), also known as El Perú (el pay-ROO), is west of the better known site of Tikal.  Once thought to be a minor player in the Maya world, Waká has recently emerged as a key pawn in the bitter rivalry between the cities of Calakmul (cah-lahk-MOOL), to the north, and Tikal (tee-KAHL). Women probably played an important role in those battles, says David Freidel, dig co-director, from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. When one Maya group conquered another, it may not have been enough to simply invade and take over. It may also have been standard practice to slay women of the elite class. Excavations at other Maya tombs had hinted at the bloodiness of such takeovers, but the findings at Waká are some of the best documented and most detailed yet. Waká reached its peak between AD 400 and 800; the newfound tomb dates to the beginning of that period, between about AD 350 and 400. It is at least two centuries older than a queen's tomb found at Waká last year.

Here’s a program note: in the near future a video about Waká will appear on The Archaeology Channel, so stay tuned for that program announcement.

40: New trove of Roman statuary found
Original Headline: Italians discover hoard of Roman statues

Our final story is from Libya, where an Italian team has discovered 76 intact Roman statues at Cyrene (sigh-REE-nee). The discovery is remarkable because the site, once a thriving Greek and then Roman settlement, has been under excavation for the last 150 years. Cyrene was served by a nearby coastal port, Apollonia (ap-oh-LOAN-ee-a), and was as important to commerce in western north Africa as Alexandria was in the east. It was originally an important Dorian colony, founded by Greek settlers from the island of Thera in 631 BC, was later ruled by the Ptolemies, and then taken over by the Romans. It was destroyed by an earthquake in AD 375 but continued to be inhabited until the Byzantine period. Italian archaeologists between the first and second world wars discovered a sacred site in Cyrene, made up of many temples. The latest discovery is the work of Mario Luni (Loo-ney), an archaeologist from the University of Urbino, who has been working with his team at the site since 1997. The trove was found when clean-up began of a collapsed wall in a Roman temple that had been uncovered in the 1930s. In the debris was a small statue of a marble serpent wrapped around a stone. The researchers were surprised and delighted to find this was only the first in a series of statues of many kinds and sizes that they kept uncovering every day for a month and a half. At least 12 of the 76 newly discovered statues are 8 to 10 inches high and show Cybele, daughter of the goddess Demeter, in different poses. These statues are linked to fertility ceremonies associated with the goddess. They were lined up along the back wall of the area inside the temple. The remaining works, some smaller and others much larger, are dedicated to other gods. All the statues date from the second century AD period of Emperor Septimius Severus (SEH-ve-rus) and his successors. The statues were buried when a supporting wall of the temple fell in a massive earthquake in AD 375. Professor Luni’s team has so far focused on central public areas, the heart of the monumental city, such as the forum, the public square and the scared site with its temples. But Cyrene is vast and spread out over an enormous area. The excavations, which will take decades to complete, will now concentrate on the immense Greek settlement, the most ancient part, which was home to successive generations of inhabitants until the Byzantine era and is, as yet, completely unexplored.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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