Audio News for November 13th to November 19th, 2005.
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from November 13th to November 19th, 2005.
Ancient Andean ceremony centered on beverage brewed by women
We start with the week off with a story from southern Peru, where an extensive Wari (WAH-ree) imperial outpost on the top of a sacred mountain was ceremoniously evacuated and partially burned to the ground 1,000 years ago. The elaborate abandonment of the colony began with the brewing of a final batch of chicha (chee-chah). Chicha is a fermented alcoholic drink often made from maize. It played a central role in the Wari culture, which preceded the Inca civilization. At this site, the end of Wari occupation was marked by the drinking of the ceremonially brewed last batch of chicha in an extensive feast and ritual. As a sacrifice to the gods, the religious and political leaders of the settlement threw 28 precious ceramic vessels into the inferno – presumably after quaffing the brew. This was no impromptu blowout. The event appears to mark the ceremonial destruction of a sacred mountain enclave. According to Patrick Ryan Williams, Curator of Anthropology at Chicago’s Field Museum, the find is one of the oldest and largest pre-Inca breweries ever discovered in the Americas. Analysis indicates that this specialty chicha was a high-class brew. Corn and Peruvian pepper-tree berries were used to make the beer. It was drunk from elaborate beakers holding up to half a gallon. The Inca culture, who followed the Wari, also used chicha as a special element in ceremonial and state occasions. An elite group of women were selected to brew chicha for state ceremonies. The brewmistresses were chosen for their beauty or nobility, and lived in cloistered houses sheltered from regular city life. The Wari site confirms this as a pre-Inca pattern. Valuable shawl pins, used only by high-status women, were found in quantity in the three rooms of the brewery, but are absent from all other areas of the ancient site. Following the week-long brewing rites, the chicha was drunk as part of the ceremonial destruction of the city, chicha vessels and all. The reason for the city’s abandonment is not yet known.
Italian potsherd shows western world’s oldest map
The oldest map in the western world, dating from about 500 BC, has been unearthed in southern Italy. Known as the Soleto (soh-LEH-to) Map, it depicts Apulia (ah-POOL-ee-ah), the heel of Italy's boot. The map is an engraved piece of black-glazed terracotta vase, scarcely larger than a postage stamp. The valuable fragment was found in a dig led by the Belgian archaeologist Thierry (TEAR-y) van Compernolle, of Montpellier University, two years ago. Its existence was kept secret until more research was carried out. The map is the oldest example in the Mediterranean, and marks the earliest example of the depiction of real space. Towns on the peninsula are indicated by points, much as on maps today, and the seas to either side are parallel zig-zag strokes. Greek letters scratched next to the towns identify them. Their names are in Messapian, however, the language of the local tribes. The sea to the west, today's Gulf of Taranto, is marked as Taras, the Greek name. Many of the 13 towns shown, such as Otranto, Soleto, Ugento and Leuca (now called Santa Maria di Leuca) still exist. The map went on public display for the first time this week in the Archaeological National Museum of Taranto. Apart from being the oldest geographical map from classical antiquity ever found, it is the first material proof that the ancient Greeks were drawing maps of real places before the Romans. It is known from literature that the concept of a map existed, and that some had been drawn. None had previously been found, however. Most existing classical maps are Roman and date from the Christian era. The ancient Chinese had a well-defined system of map-making, but modern cartography descends from techniques laid down by the ancient Greeks. The Soleto map not only provides new evidence on the beginnings of cartography, it also gives clues to the cultural exchange between the local Messapians and the new Greek colonies. The Messapians themselves are thought to have originally come from Illyria, northwest of Greece. Their language is a dialect of Illyrian. The Soleto map is from the time of the Greek mathematician Pythagoras, who set up a philosophy school in Crotone, now Calabria, on the other side of the Gulf of Taranto. He hypothesized that the Earth was round, after observing that the height of stars was different at different locations and noticing how ships rose gradually over the horizon. This insight formed the basis of modern map making.
Mass burial of ancient Mayan nobles is ancient war crimes scene
Archeologists excavating the ruined Guatemalan city of Cancuen (can-koo-EN) have found a war crimes scene that may be the pivotal event in the collapse of the Maya civilization. An enemy as yet unknown not only wiped out the royal dynasty about AD 800, ritually executing at least 45 members of the royal court, it also systematically eliminated religious and cultural artifacts — in effect, killing the city and leaving it abandoned to the elements. According to new research results announced Wednesday, several mass graves in the center of Cancuen produced dozens of remarkably preserved skeletons, along with other artifacts, in a scene reminiscent of more recent war crimes. Archeologist Arthur A. Demarest of Vanderbilt University, whose team discovered the charnel house this summer, called the event a critical moment in history, like the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which triggered World War I. The Cancuen massacre, he believes, may be the single event that started the domino chain of Classic Maya collapse. The evidence so far does not show whether this began as a nobles' revolt, a peasants' revolt or an outside attack. But the city's occupants clearly were aware of the impending disaster. Demarest and his team found a system of hastily constructed and unfinished stone and wooden palisades that show a desperate attempt to defend the city. Spearheads scattered throughout the city, abandoned construction sites and skeletons with markings of spear and ax wounds bear witness to the intensity of the battle and the finality of the defeat. Clearly, however, these defenses failed. The discovery adds valuable insight for understanding the collapse of the classic Maya, who dominated Central America for1,500 years, until about AD 900. Theories on the cause include environmental despoliation, drought, and vicious warfare. Even the time frame is the subject of debate, with some arguing for a sudden collapse within a few years and others for a prolonged disintegration over two and a half centuries. The new discovery supports Demarest's view that the Classic Maya civilization collapsed through internal warfare, and very quickly. Cancuen, at the headwaters of the Pasion River, has been known for more than a century, but it was generally regarded as an insignificant outpost until five years ago, when Demarest's team discovered a 170-room, three-story palace sprawling over an area the size of six football fields. The palace was surrounded by workshops for jade, obsidian, pyrite and other precious goods. Excavations show it was an unusually wealthy trading city, whose kings maintained their position over four centuries through diplomacy and marriage alliances. Warfare ended their dynasty, however, only five years after the death of their greatest king. Demarest’s group were finishing for the year when a team tracing water channels through the city came onto a 90-square-yard cistern, directly in front of the palace, filled with mud and as Demarest said, "bones, bones, bones and more bones … more bones than I have ever seen." The mud had helped preserve them from the rapid decomposition typical in jungle soils. With time almost up and the rainy season approaching, Demarest called on the Forensic Anthropological Foundation of Guatemala for assistance. Founded in 1996 to document the mass graves of thousands of Guatemalan villagers killed in civil war, the forensic group has also worked on scenes of war crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Rwanda and Afghanistan. From the Cancuen cistern, forensic archaeologists removed the remains of at least 31 men, women and children, including two pregnant women. In shallow graves nearby they found the bodies of the last king and his queen, and a dozen other nobles. Their identities were established by their jewelry, headdresses and other artifacts. Some of the nobles may have been wounded or killed in the defense of the city, but most were executed, with a quick spear thrust to the throat. Their bodies were ritually dismembered and thrown into the cistern or graves along with the clothes they were wearing, and ceremonial headdresses and jewelry of precious jade, jaguar fangs, and shell. The invaders also went through the city and chipped the faces off monuments, ritually killing them. As Demarest remarked, the conquerors were not only terminating the dynasty, they were terminating the entire site. After the siege of Cancuen, cities were abandoned throughout the western Maya lowlands, in what is now Guatemala, mostly within 20 to 30 years. The displaced populations moved to the east and north, where they eventually depleted local resources and faded away.
Early bronze age settlement found in Armenia
Our final story is from Armenia, on the western slopes of Aragats, where archaeologists have found an ancient settlement of the Early Bronze Age, dating to the fourth millenium BC. The Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Armenian National Academy of Sciences reported that the town is unprecedented in size, occupying about 100 hectares, ten times the size of previously discovered towns. The settlement was surrounded with cyclopean fortress walls. Unfortunately, irrigation canals built in 1930 have partially damaged the site. Artifacts recovered so far include a reaping hook and jewelry of bronze, and decorations of rock crystal and other semiprecious stones.
That wraps up the news for this week! For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at www.archaeologica.org , where all the news is history! I’m Laura Kelley and I’ll see you next week!