Audio News for August 15th to August 21st

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from August 15th to August 21st.

Roman villa contains luxury dining room

Original Headline: Fancy Roman Dining Hall Found


Our first story is from Italy, where local archaeologists have uncovered amazing evidence of ancient Romans' most elite way of dining. In the villa of an aristocratic family in southern Italy, excavators brought to light a rare and extraordinary example of a stibadium, (stih-BAH-dee-um), a semicircular couch on which selected guests sat at the most fashionable dinner parties. Complete with a fountain, which provided fresh water for the meals, the stibadium consisted of a semicircular platform of masonry that formed the basis for mattresses or bolsters on which the guests reclined. According to Giuliano Volpe, the archaeologist from the University of Foggia in charge of the dig, only a few stibadia (stih-BAH-dee-ah) survive, and none of them is so lavishly decorated and well preserved as this one. This one is decorated with carvings of dancing followers of the wine-god Dionysus and a colorful surface of "opus sectile," (OH-pus SECK-tuh-lay) decorations made by using precisely cut pieces of colorful marble. The villa was built in the 4th century, and reached its height of splendor during the 5th century. It belonged to the senatorial Cornelii Scipiones Orfiti family, and featured big and luxurious thermal baths, with rooms for cold, lukewarm and hot baths. But the most spectacular room was the cenatio, (she-NAH-tsio) the dining hall. The dominus (DOH-min-us) or house owner, sat at the right on the stibadium, while the most important guest sat to the left in front of the dominus. No more than five to seven selected guests could sit on the semicircular divan. The Orfiti family drew much wealth from their grain production, and lived at the villa during the harvest season, to manage their lands there. Perhaps because of an economic crisis in the 6th century, or environmental collapse, the villa was then abandoned and forgotten.

Icelandic burial may be tomb of colorful Viking warrior

Original Headline: Grave of Egil Skalla-Grímsson found?


In Iceland, the possible gravesite of Egil Skalla-Grímsson, one of Iceland's most famous vikings, has been found under the altar of a church from the settlement period. Jessie Byock, archeology professor at the University of California in Los Angeles who is in charge of the excavation, emphasizes that the work being done in Mosfellsdal is not directed at finding the gravesite of Egil Skalla-Grímsson. The purpose of the dig is to map the settlement in Mosfellsdal as it was in the time of the Vikings and understand how people lived. Professor Byock stated that if they also find the burial site for Egil Skalla-Grímsson he would be very happy; it is known that Egill was buried in the area. In the Icelandic Saga, Egil is said to have been buried underneath a church that his foster daughter Thórdís had built, but his bones were subsequently moved to a site near Mosafellsdal. The grave under the church is over two meters long, and Egil is described as having been a tall and powerfully built man. Professor Byock says the excavation has unveiled information on the health conditions of the people; cancer and tuberculosis were prevalent, as well as other aspects of the cultural make up. Born around A.D 910, Egil early showed considerable promise; he got drunk at three and killed at six. But he also revealed a more cerebral and softer side by commemorating his first slaying with a poem, paying tribute to his mother and presciently predicting his own glorious career as a viking. During his long life, Egil not only killed but also gouged eyes out of some of his enemies and vomited over others. When his brother Thorolf died as they were fighting for King Athelstan at the battle of Vin Moor (also known as the battle of Brunnanburh) during the Scots invasion of England in 937, Egil went berserk and chased the enemy until there was no one left to kill. Only the English King's gift of two chests full of silver soothed his murderous mood. Later in life, Egil fell into a deep suicidal depression after losing two sons. At the instigation of his daughter, instead of taking his life he eulogized them in a poem, "Lament of my sons," recovering his spirits along the way. In old age Egil lost his sight and lived with his foster daughter and her husband at Mosfell. Shortly before his death, he asked if he could join them for the annual session of parliament at Thingvellir. When they inquired why, he replied that he intended to scatter the English silver around when parliament was in full session, hoping to instigate a fight. But his hosts were less keen on the plan, and Egil had to stay home. While everyone was away at parliament, he took his two chests of silver, a horse and two slaves and went for what he claimed would be "a short trip." The next day, Egil and the horse were found wandering in the fields, but neither the chests of silver nor the slaves have been seen since.

Bulgarian tombs yield royal gold, again

Original Headline: Ancient hoard of royal gold found in Balkans


In Bulgaria, researchers have discovered a previously unknown series of royal tombs from a wealthy civilization dating back over 4,000 years. Excavations inside a group of ancient burial mounds, 80 miles east of the capital, Sofia (SOH-fya), are expected to yield up to 100,000 artifacts. So far, more than 15,000 objects have been unearthed at the site near the village of Dabene (DAH-beh-neh). The trove is mainly gold beads, originally from spectacular necklaces, and gold hair decorations. All would have been part of the funerary regalia of three or more Bronze Age princesses or princes buried around 2000 BC. The discovery may provide a "missing link" between Bulgaria's earlier Copper Age gold-working cultures and later gold-rich civilizations in Mycenaean Greece. In terms of sheer numbers of gold artifacts, the discovery appears to be the largest ever found in Europe. It underscores Bulgaria's international archaeological significance and its vital long-term importance in the ancient world as a source of gold. Bulgaria was home to the world's first goldsmiths, around 6,700 years ago. Research over the past three decades has been revealing the stunning achievements of these metalworkers. By 2300 BC, current research shows that not only was the gold industry flourishing, but also small towns were coming into existence. Several substantial defended settlements from the period are now being investigated archaeologically. Recent finds in various parts of the country are also demonstrating how Bulgaria's gold culture continued into classical times. A fourth-century
BC gold wreath, decorated with an image of the Greek goddess Nike, a gold ring featuring an ancient initiation ritual, a gold cup, and a solid gold face mask have all been unearthed over the past year.

Original Headline: The villages beneath the city


Our final story is from Canada, where we are learning of the many native villages buried under the greater Toronto area. Construction workers performing road construction turned up the jumbled remains of at least 15 people this month. The bones, 500 to 700 years old, weren't a shock to archeologists or aboriginal people. They were just the latest in a number of significant finds that have turned up all over the Toronto area, from a massive Iroquois village discovered under a Stouffville subdivision to the remains of a Seneca settlement by the Humber River that still reveals traces of its past when construction crews dig in the area. In the 1920s, local archeologist A.J. Clarke documented a site that is known as the Teston Road Iroquoian Village. Kris Nahrgang, chief of the Kawartha Nishnawbe First Nations, is both a cultural liaison and a professional archeologist. He says when there's a village from that period, there are usually burials. This burial pit was discovered during the building of a fence. The bones were so badly disturbed by construction that the aboriginal representatives asked for them to be disinterred and moved to a new location designated as a cemetery. They also allowed archeologists to extract and study one tooth from each skull. From those teeth, archeologists were able to learn about major transitions in diet during the life of the village. So when you're looking at a parcel of land, how can you guess how much history lies beneath it? The first thing to look for, says Ron Williamson, chief archeologist with Archeological Services Inc., is proximity to drinking water. Researchers might also consider factors such as nearness to soil good for crops. Current provincial legislation says developers must complete environmental and archeological reviews before land can be put to new uses. In the 1920s and 30s, when the area of Baby Point was established near the Humber River, houses were usually built without archeological reviews or land stripping. So every now and then, residents find evidence of Teiaiagon, the Seneca village documented by Jesuits in the 1670s. In 1999, crews replacing a gas line found the 600-year-old bones of a woman under the lawn of a house, three meters from the front door. In 2003, an archeological crew began testing the site of a future subdivision near Stouffville. It was quickly evident the field held a massive village. Now, 14 months of careful excavations are being completed, and the details are spectacular. In the early 1500s, more than 1,000 Iroquoian people lived in a nine-acre village. Their homes were tightly packed 100-to-150-foot longhouses, with palisades around the village. As for the current find, it will be several years before any conclusions can be drawn. In the meantime, archeologists and first nations representatives will plan a course of action that respects the dead. If possible, the burials will be left in place, and that may mean archeologists will have to learn what they can by viewing the remains as they are.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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