Audio News for July 4th to July 10th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from July 4th to July 10th.

Footprints in Mexico mark the path to earliest evidence yet for American entry

Original Headline: Ancient 'footprints' found in Mexico


Our first story is from Mexico, where footprints found in a southern state may mark the oldest evidence yet for the presence of humans in the Americas. The imprints, preserved in volcanic ash near the city of Puebla (pooh-AI-bla), have been dated to about 40,000 years ago. This exceeds the oldest evidence of humans in the Americas by some 25,000 years. If proven correct, the date would lend support to controversial theories that people reached this land much earlier than previously thought. The discovery was reported by geoarchaeologist Silvia Gonzalez, now with Liverpool John Moores University in the UK. She points out that much more work needs to be done to confirm that these are the mark of human steps, and ancient as well. The team first stumbled on the prints in the summer of 2003 while hiking between archaeological sites near the dried bed of Valsequillo Lake. They found an ash field peppered with more than 200 impressions that seem to be footprints from several people, including children, along with birds, cats, dogs and species with cloven feet. Gonzalez thinks they might have been fleeing an eruption from the nearby Cerro Toluquilla (SAIR-o to-loo-KEY-ah) volcano. The prints are plainly exposed and in an area that sees traffic in everything from miners quarrying the ash, to bicycle recreationists. Some worry that human interference, along with heavy rains, might have acted to make the impressions that now look like footprints. Thomas Higham of the University of Oxford, UK, used radiocarbon dating on shells in sediments just above the layer of ash and found they were about 40,000 years old. The current theory is that people first migrated from northern Asia between 15,000 and 10,000 years ago, crossing to America over a land bridge at the Bering Strait. But controversial genetic analyses of Native American populations indicate that some immigrants may have arrived much earlier than that, up to 40,000 years ago.

Late Roman mosaic gives evidence of England's St. George, and middle eastern freedom

Original Headline: Mosaic inspired image of England's favorite saint


In Syria, archaeologists claim to have found the earliest known template for the image of St George slaying the dragon. According to legend, the man who became the patron saint of England was originally a Roman soldier, and a Christian, who was martyred in Palestine around AD 300. The new evidence for his existence comes from the city of Palmyra (pahl-MY-rah), in the Syrian desert. A mosaic floor dating to approximately AD 260 shows Bellerophon (bel-AIR-o-fahn), a hero in Greek mythology, killing a chimera. The late-period mosaic is lavish in its detail and on its own, a superb example of the ancient art. It was found in what appears to have been the dining room of a Palmyrene (pahl-MY-rene) aristcrat's house. The desert city of Palmyra was an outpost of Roman culture, located on the trade routes between the Mediterranean and the Euphrates. Its society reflected this rich blend of influences from many cultures. The warrior Bellerophon is shown dressed in the style of these part-Roman, part-Persian lords, but wears a wide-rimmed Roman helmet with a red streamer and is bordered by two eagles bearing wreaths of victory. He is riding the winged Pegasus and thrusting a spear down into the lion’s head of the chimera. Michal Gawlikowski (GAV-li-KOV-skee), the Polish archaeologist, said, “Dozens of late Roman pavements representing Bellerophon are known from the western provinces, but this is the only one found in the Near East.” A second panel in the mosaic, which measures some 30 ft by 18 ft but occupies only part of the grand dining room, shows a mounted archer dressed like Bellerophon shooting a tiger, while another is trampled by his horse.
St. George, according to legend, slew a monstrous serpent ravaging a village in Palestine, performed other deeds and miracles, and was beheaded for his faith in AD 303.  His fame was relatively unknown in England till the late 1200's AD, when Richard the Lionheart had a vision of St. George while on crusade near the saint's town of Lydda (LID-ah), now in Syria.  Richard repaired the church over the saint's grave and took the saint as his personal patron.  Later English kings made St. George the patron of all England.  Ironically, the status of St. George as England's patron is currently under dispute, with more local Anglo-Saxon saints suggested as replacements. However, alternative legends claim George was no ordinary Palestinian soldier, but a high-ranking Roman officer who actually lived in Britain.  Whether the Palmyra mosaic is only Bellerophon, or meant to suggest St. George as well, the warrior hero is likely to have been chosen as a symbol of strong defense.  The researchers point out that the mosaic comes from a time when this desert land was breaking away from Roman control, and during this time defeated not only the Sassanian Persians but even the Romans, resulting in a short-lived Palmyrene empire under the famous queen Zenobia.

Italy and Egypt open new lab to conserve papyrus

Original Headline: Egyptian-Italian lab for restoring and conserving papyrus inaugurated


In Cairo, Egyptian and Italian conservationists and curators inaugurated a laboratory for restoring and preserving papyrus this week. According to Corrado Basile of the International Papyrus Institute in Syracuse, Italy the project aims to preserve the papyri for the long-term, not just to restore them for study. Basile's institute is partnering with Egypt in the project. The new laboratory is located at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The Italian side has donated equipment to the project and is providing experts to train conservationists in the latest restoration techniques as well as participating in the preservation efforts. Efforts are also being used at a second lab in Alexandria. Restoration efforts are underway on papyri owned by the city's Graeco-Roman Museum and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. According to Sayed Hassan, director of the museum's papyrus department, the Egyptian Museum has approximately 30,000 items, some of which are fragments. The ancient Egyptians began making paper from papyrus reeds around 3,000 B.C. One of the most important items in the museum's papyrus collection dates back to the 18th dynasty (beginning circa 1,550 B.C.) and records the fluctuating level of the Nile for more than 30 years. The International Institute for Papyrus, a privately owned museum that receives funding from the municipality of Syracuse, was founded in 1987.

New ruins in India revive legend of the Black Taj Mahal

Original Headline: Archaeologists unearth new structure near Shahjehan’s Taj Mahal


Our final story is from India, where archaeologists have discovered another structure at the Taj Mahal complex. Preliminary investigations indicate it was a rest house for travelers. According to D. Dabhalan, chief archaeologist of the Archaeological Survey of India, excavations were being conducted to study original water levels. So far, researchers have found one tank in the center of the hall, and a whole water channel system. Further excavations are being made to review the entire system and find out the actual purpose of the place. Shyam Singh, retired archaeologist with the ASI, said there was a likelihood of finding more such structures. He believes there is a possibility of finding more structures on the other side of the Taj, and on the other bank of the Yamuna River, where there is evidence of pleasure gardens and several other elements like the central tanks. There is even talk of the Black Taj Mahal. People have long believed that Shah Jehan had planned to build another Taj Mahal in black marble, equivalent to the sparkling white Taj, which was to be his own tomb on the opposite bank of the river Yamuna. Many Scholars believe that this is a myth. The Taj, which stands on the banks of the Yamuna river, was built by the fifth Mughal Emperor, Shah Jehan, in 1631, in memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died while giving birth to their 14th child. No cost was spared to make it the most beautiful monument the world had ever seen. White marble and red sandstone, silver and gold, carnelian and jasper, moonstone and jade, lapis lazuli and coral were fashioned by 20,000 skilled workers over a 17-year period to make the emperor’s dream a reality.

That wraps up the news for this week!

For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at , where all the news is history!

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