Audio News for November 6th to November 12th, 2005.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from November 6th to November 12th, 2005.

Excavations reveal oldest church in Israel


Our first story is from Israel, where inmates in a top security prison helped discover one of Christianity's earliest churches. Experts hailed the discovery of the church in the northern Israeli town of Megiddo, near the biblical Armageddon, as an important discovery that
could reveal details about the development of early Christian practices.  Archaeologists said the structure dated to the third century, decades before Constantine legalized Christianity across the Byzantine Empire.  According to Yotam Tepper, the excavation's head archaeologist, what's clear is that it's the oldest archaeological remains of a church in Israel, maybe even in the entire region. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called the church an amazing story, and the Vatican also hailed the find.  Two mosaics were also discovered inside the church.  One covered with fish, an ancient Christian symbol that predates the cross, tells the story of a Roman officer and a woman named Aketous who donated money to build the church in the memory of Jesus Christ.  The inscription, which specifies that Aketous donated a table to the church, indicates that the house of worship predated the Byzantine era, when Christians began using altars in place of tables in their rituals. Remnants of a table were uncovered between the two mosaics.  The building was not built in the standard Basilica style of the Byzantine era.  As with most Biblical archaeology finds, critics abound.  Joe Zias, an anthropologist and former curator with the antiquities authority, questioned the dating of the find, saying there is no evidence of churches before the fourth century.  The building may have been in use earlier, but most likely not for Christian religious purposes, he said.  The dig is continuing as archaeologists try to uncover the rest of the building and its surroundings, including what they believe could be a baptismal site.

Cretan treasures demonstrate early Greek writing


In Crete, archeologists have found archeological treasures containing some of the earliest known examples of Greek writing. Artifacts excavated at a long-abandoned site on a hill overlooking the port of Chania in Western Crete have been identified with the Minoan city of Kydonia.  The pieces included an amphora containing an intact text written in Linear B, the language of the court at Mycenae where the legendary Agamemnon ruled.  Two terracotta tablets containing texts in the older, yet undeciphered, Linear A were also found.  The Ministry of Culture said the archeologists found evidence of a violent fire that destroyed a town on the site around 1450 BC. Excavations uncovered traces of a road and two ceramic ovens from the Roman period.  The researchers also found traces of a cemetery containing amphorae and funerary urns dating to the time when the ancient Greeks set off to invade Sicily in the late fifth century BC.  The vessels contained the bones of infants, indicating perhaps a high rate of infant mortality at that time. Interestingly, the ministry also commented on the future of the site, saying it may eventually be turned into an open-air museum.

Mysterious deaths along the Nile 4,000 years ago


In Egypt, archaeologists are piecing together the story of a puzzling massacre more than 4,000 years ago in the former royal city of Mendes, on the Nile delta north of Cairo.  Donald Redford of Pennsylvania State University had begun to excavate the foundations of a huge temple linked to Rameses II when he found an earlier structure destroyed by fire, and evidence of a grisly episode of death.  Redford stated that they were under the misunderstanding that it was a new temple on a new site, but in fact there was a late Old Kingdom structure of some sort, a great mud brick platform 120 feet wide.  Under the fire-scorched rubble, the scientists discovered the first of at least 36 bodies, victims of some brutal event that had taken place 40 centuries ago. Redford thought they had died where they were interred.  However, it has now become apparent that they were killed elsewhere and thrown in front of the podium.  The mud brick of the burning temple cascaded over them, subsequently burying their remains.  In a civilization that made a cult of death, such discoveries are rare: even the poorest were interred formally, and with some provision for the afterlife.  The arid, baking climate of Egypt helps in preservation, but to the astonishment of the researchers, the discovery of human remains in an annually flooded Nile delta city was phenomenal.  Due to their deteriorated condition, Redford stated that the odds that bioanthropologists would discover the bones were low.  There is no obvious indicator of how the victims died.  The temple had been rebuilt somewhere between 2150 and 1950 BC.  Therefore, the mysterious murders must date from the collapse of the Old Kingdom, or the turbulence between 2250 BC and 2150 BC.  As for Mendes itself, the city was a center of the ram god and fish goddess cults.  It thrived as a trade centre.  Scientists have unearthed evidence of factory-size brewing and baking, a busy harbor, and hasty burials, perhaps interned during an epidemic of  plague.  Around AD 1000, an Arab traveler reported that he had seen the temple which Ramese II had enlarged still standing.  The first European travelers during the Renaissance found it much as it is today.  According to Professor Redford, it must have been during the Middle Ages that it was finally swept away.

Jamestown skeleton remains a mystery


Our final story is an update from the State of Virginia in the United States.  Genetic tests of 400-year-old human bones excavated in England last summer did not prove that remains found at Jamestown belonged to expedition leader Bartholomew Gosnold.  The announcement was a blow to historic preservation officials who had hoped the journey to England, and the tests that followed it, would prove the bones were the physical remains of an early colonist who some consider to be one of America's founding fathers.  According to Bill Kelso, director of archaeology for APVA Preservation Virginia, there was some disappointment because it sets this research back.  He and others involved in the project said the archaeological and historical evidence remains strong that the Jamestown skeleton, unearthed in 2002 at the site of the 1607 Jamestown Fort, really is Gosnold.  Kelso and other scientists, including the Smithsonian Institution's forensic anthropologist, Douglas Owsley, traveled to a village outside Ipswich, England, and dug beneath the floor of an ancient country church hoping to extract a bone sample from the skeleton of Gosnold's sister, Elizabeth Tilney.  Working with the Church of England and a team of English archaeologists, historians and genealogists, the Jamestown archaeologists followed the best evidence they could find to identify Tilney's unmarked grave in the All Saints Church in the village of Shelley.  Further testing showed the bone samples they retrieved belonged to a woman too young to be Tilney, and DNA tests indicated no chance that the two skeletons were brother and sister.  Although largely forgotten by history, Gosnold was vice admiral of the expedition that established the first English settlement in America, captain of one of the expedition's three ships, and possibly a main planner of the expedition.  He was 36 when he died just three months after landing at Jamestown.  When archaeologists uncovered a skeleton buried very early in the fort's history with several artifacts of power and prestige, and bones of belonging to a man of Gosnold’s supposed age, they announced it was likely they had found the leader.  That announcement kindled a resurgence of interest in Gosnold, who as commander of an earlier voyage had discovered the New England island of Martha's Vineyard and named it after his daughter.  Although officials believe it still is likely that Gosnold's sister is buried somewhere in the English church, Nick Clarke, a spokesman for the church's Diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich, said it's not likely further archaeology will be permitted there anytime soon.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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