Audio News for October 30th to November 5th, 2005.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from October 30th to November 5th, 2005.

Remains of revolutionary astronomer found

In our first story, archaeologists in Poland are all but certain they have located the skeletal remains of Nicholas Copernicus beneath a medieval cathedral. Copernicus was the 16th-century astronomer who rocked the Church and helped found modern science with his theory that the sun is the center of the solar system. Professor Jerzy Gassowski, whose team of archaeologists sought to pinpoint the astronomer's final resting place for over a year, announced his own theory about the remains at a recent symposium. Scientists have begun testing the skull and associated bones found beneath an altar of mediaeval Frombork Cathedral, on Poland's Baltic coast. A computer reconstruction of the skull was carried out with the help of police forensic experts, and shows the head of a grey-haired man of 70, the age of Copernicus at death. Features of the skull match the scar above the left eye and the broken nose that are seen in contemporary portraits of the craggy-faced astronomer. Copernicus held the post of canon in the church, carrying out his astronomical research on the side. Burial within the cathedral was an honor given to its clerics. Along with the age of the bones, the place of burial and these distinctive facial features prompted Professor Gassowski's declaration that this could be Copernicus' remains. Only DNA testing can fully authenticate the find. Although no direct descendants of Copernicus are known, the DNA of descendants of his siblings may provide this crucial evidence. In his treatise "On the Revolution of Celestial Bodies", Copernicus stated that the earth and other planets revolved around the sun, toppling the then widespread belief that our planet was the center of the universe. The astronomer did not publish his heliocentric theory during his lifetime, however, for fear of antagonizing the Church. Copernicus came from a well-to-do family and was educated at the great medieval universities of Krakow, Poland, and Ferrara, in Italy, before taking up his lifelong position as the canon, or administrator, of Frombork. He also served as a governor, finance administrator and diplomat. His astronomical research remained a side hobby, but was his life's passion. In Italy, he had studied the newly rediscovered ancient philosophers as well as learning the new science of astronomy. Many years of celestial observations and mathematical calculations led him to conclusions directly doubting the teachings of the Catholic Church. The controversial nature of his theory led him to put off its printing, although other astronomers traveled to Frombork to urge him to publish his book. Copernicus died in 1543 at age 70, reportedly waking from his final coma in time to touch the just-printed volume before peacefully passing on. He was buried in Frombork Cathedral, but till now his precise remains had not been identified. The city of Frombork is 180 miles north of Warsaw, the capital of Poland.

Chinese dragon object is oldest example ever found

In China, a 3,700-year-old artifact in the shape of a dragon, made up of 2,000 pieces of turquoise, is believed to be the oldest Chinese dragon totem. It was discovered in the Erlitou relics site in Yanshi City of central China's Henan Province which many scholars believe is the site of the capital of the Xia Dynasty (2,100 BC-1,600 BC), China's first dynasty. According to archaeologist Du Jinpeng, dragon-shaped relics older than this one have been uncovered in other places, but they had no direct connection with the ancient civilization that originated in central China. Only this dragon, discovered in central China, shows a direct link with the dynasties that originated the dragon totem of the subsequent Chinese civilization. The dragon totem somewhat resembles a python. It is made up of more than 2,000 pieces of turquoise, each piece very thin. It was excavated from a tomb of a high-ranking noble in the palace area of Erlitou. The turquoise dragon lay between the shoulder and the hipbone of the owner of the tomb. Dragon images have also been found in other sites, in pottery and bronze tablets. Some of the dragons look like snakes, but others are more like this dragon image, with bird's claws and fish's fins. Experts say the ancient Chinese nation began to form at that time with Erlitou as a center. Also found at the site were the remains of a bronze foundry and the site for sacrificial rites, which had a close connection with the king and the nobles of the Xia Dynasty.

Near Leaning Tower, ruins reveal the church of a martyred saint

In Italy, archaeologists have unearthed the remains of an ancient church in Pisa's Piazza dei Miracoli, home to the famed Leaning Tower. Dating back to the 9th century, the structure was discovered during construction for water pipelines. The church covers an area of around 80 square meters. It has a nave and two side aisles, each 50 metres long and 20 meters wide. Excavations have so far focused on the apsidal area of the building, where part of the northern wall is still below ground level. The digs have also uncovered a corner of the presbytery, complete with a column made of granite from the island of Elba. Archaeologists believe that the column was part of another, even earlier, building dating back to Roman times. The Byzantine building was dedicated to Saint Reparata. Born in the third century in Palestine, she was arrested, tortured and beheaded for her faith at the age of 11, during the persecution of Emperor Decius. The church, which stood at one of the highest points in town, was built on a site once dominated by a lavish palace belonging to the Emperor Hadrian. The latest digs have revealed the remains of various Roman houses, which probably formed part of the imperial complex built that was here in the 2nd century AD. The group of buildings contains sections of wall, decorated paving and a number of mosaic fragments. Work on the Duomo, began in 1064, commemorating a victorious battle against Muslims in the Sicilian city of Palermo. Pope Gelasius II finally consecrated it in 1118.

Polynesian cemetery reveals ancient burial customs

Our final story is from the Polynesian islands where archaeologist are finding that the first people to settle Polynesia went to surprising lengths to honor their dead. Remains from the oldest cemetery in the Pacific suggest the Lapita people buried their dead in many different ways, some with strange positions, and removed the skulls for ceremonial purposes. Dr Stuart Bedford and Professor Matthew Spriggs of the Australian National University reported their finds on the Lapita culture in Vanuatu at a recent seminar in Canberra. They found skulls buried in a pot, sealed by a flat-bottomed ceramic dish that had been overturned and used as a lid on top of another pot. The site being excavated is at Teouma in Vanuatu and is 3,100 years old. They found evidence of 25 burials, all skeletons without their skulls. The researchers found teeth where the head should be. Dr Bedford says this is evidence the heads were not being pulled off soon after death but were removed after decomposition, clearly with reverence. Apart from the skull found in the pot, the researchers found another three skulls on the chest of the remains of one person. Dr Bedford says removing skulls of the deceased was a long-standing practice in the Pacific before the missionaries arrived, with skulls often being removed to ceremonial houses. The Lapita people could be the source of the practice. Bedford stated they were getting evidence that the burial practice is 3,000 years old. Also found was a huge diversity in the way bodies were buried at Teouma. Most were buried horizontally, mostly on their back in amongst holes in an old uplifted reef. Other individuals were found with their legs bent up or in what could be described as ancient "yoga positions".
That wraps up the news for this week!
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I’m Laura Kelley and I’ll see you next week!