Audio News for October 3rd to October 9th, 2005

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from October 3rd to October 9th, 2005.

Figurehead of the Mary Rose may be found after 550 years


In our first story, archaeologists believe they have found the figurehead of the Mary Rose, flagship of Henry VIII's fleet. The Tudor rose has been buried deep in the silt since 1545, when the ship sank within sight of land during a battle with the French. According to excavation director Alex Hildred, the found piece is clearly not functional and he believes it to be a decorative carving. Divers brought up the paddle-shaped piece of oak, covered in muck. The carving was an unexpected discovery during survey work for a planned attempt to raise a five-meter long iron anchor. The Mary Rose was named after Henry's favorite sister and the royal Tudor rose which became its emblem. The Mary Rose was described as "the flower" of the King’s fleet, and its humiliating loss was one of the greatest disasters to befall Henry's navy. It became one of the most famous shipwrecks in the world in 1982, when an international audience watched live television coverage of the raising of the largest surviving piece of the hull. In 1545 the ship had just undergone a major refit. One suggestion for the wreck was that it was top heavy with dozens of new guns. Because the ship sank so fast, the excavation provided a unique snapshot of medieval life at sea: finds included the barber surgeon's medicine chest and the captain's silver tableware, all preserved by being sealed by a dense layer of fine silt.

Northern Greek dig is rich in details of Neolithic life


In Northern Greece, the finds at Avgi (AV-gui) in Kastoria (KAS-toh-REE-ah) are revealing an unusually large Neolithic settlement. Extensive new excavations have unearthed a 7,500-year-old rural community with well-made houses and artifacts showing a richly developed culture. Rare miniature vessels the size of a ring, nine impressive clay stamps, 20 human and animal-shaped idols, two bone flutes, ornaments made from shell, amber and malachite, as well as exceptionally well-preserved and technically advanced construction remains are just some of the finds discovered. This joins with hundreds of other known sites in the region, to comprise a historical archive of the previously little-known Neolithic period in Greece and the Balkans.

Archaeologists, geologists, sediment experts, mineralogists and architects have all joined forces to analyze the ancient site and its inhabitants. According to Chief Excavator Georgia Stratouli, the well-preserved construction remains will allow good studies of the size, density and usage of building and free spaces. As well, there is enough material to conserve the architectural features. Such conservation might allow for the partial reconstruction of the excavated Neolithic settlement in the future. This year’s research unearthed not only foundations but evidence of the upper structure. Wooden poles in various arrangements show the techniques employed by the builders of that time. The upright poles were tied to each other to create a diagonal wooden skeleton and the space in between was then filled in with thick layers of straw to make the walls. The buildings at Avgi also suggest they might have had lofts or even a second floor. There is no doubt that the economic sector was developed. There were local and non-local exchange networks for supplying exotic materials, and objects such as beads of amber and malachite. The nine clay stamps are exceptionally beautiful, some large and others small, with different linear designs on their surface. The data from the excavation show this is an unusual settlement for prehistoric times in the region. It is expected that as the research progresses, it may be possible to reconstruct the Avgi buildings and surviving structures in a three-dimensional image. The site also promises new understanding of the social structures, values and identities of the social groups that flourished during the Balkan Neolithic.

Cuban trade ties seen in graves from Spanish invasion period


In Cuba, new evidence shows the indigenous peoples of Chorro de Maita (CHOR-ro de Mah-EE-ta), in the eastern region of Holguin (olg-EEN), traded with Europeans and South America. The Archaeology Institute of London and its laboratories carried out the analysis of metal artifacts from a cemetery that spans the period before and immediately after the Spanish invasion. The analysis was one of the most comprehensive of this sort ever employed on artifacts from the Caribbean. The suite of technological approaches was deployed on metallic samples and established that some of the grave goods were made with European brass while others are the results of a gold, copper and silver alloy, possibly originating from Colombia. These findings give an estimated timeline for the Chorro de Maita cemetery, one of the most important archaeological sites on the island and in the Caribbean. Indications are that some of the burials date after the Spanish conquest at the beginnings of the sixteenth century. The presence of objects brought from South America and used in mortuary rites raises a new question, as to whether they were brought by Europeans or were obtained by means of trade.

Relics of Silk Road city found in China's western desert


Our final story is from northwest China, where a team of archaeologists has discovered new artifacts in the ruins of the ancient city of Loulan. The city is thought to have been the capital of the Loulan Kingdom, a desert civilization that vanished into the sand some 1,500 years ago. The findings in the Lop Nur Lake area include charcoal, camel dung, and animal bones under a 30-inch-thick layer that dates back to the Eastern Han Dynasty, AD 25 to 220. The discovery provides additional evidence for the controversy over whether Loulan city was the capital of the Loulan Kingdom. The remains demonstrate that the area saw human activity before the Eastern Han period, but the question remains as to whether it was only after the Eastern Han Dynasty that Loulan city became a political and cultural center. Loulan city suddenly disappeared in the third century, leaving only a mystery for later generations. No traces of Loulan had been found until 100 years ago when Swedish explorer Sven Hedin accidentally discovered the ruins of the ancient city buried in desert. There have been varying views among Chinese and foreign archaeologists on why and how the city, once a booming trade center with a thriving trade in silk, glass and perfume, disappeared so suddenly.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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