Audio News for November 20th to November 26th, 2005.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from November 20th to November 26th, 2005.

Cyprus stone tools push back Mediterranean seafaring dates


Our first story is from Cyprus, where two ancient coastal campsites may be the earliest evidence of long-distance, open-water nautical travel in the Mediterranean, challenging the belief that ancient mariners never ventured into open seas.  A preliminary analysis of the findings, like some crude stone tools, suggests that people in small boats from present-day Syria and Turkey paid seasonal visits to the island possibly as early as 12,000 years ago.  These were intrepid voyages stretching at least 50 miles each way, sometimes twice as far, at a time when Cyprus had no permanent inhabitants.  Sailors at the time usually made a point of staying within sight of land. The lure of better fishing waters may have drawn the seafarers to the island, where they fished offshore by day and made camp on the high ground above the beaches.  Archaeologists found several flints at these campsites.  The material used to produce these stone tools is unlike anything found in the geological make-up of Cyprus, and is more than 1,000 years older than the timing of the first permanent settlers to the island.  According to Pavlos Flourentzos, director of Cyprus' department of antiquities, if these findings are verified, this would be the earliest evidence of water travel in the East Mediterranean.  Albert J. Ammerman, an archaeologist at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, found the fragments at sites on the southeastern and western portions of the island.  The site in the southeast is a hilly outcrop overlooking Nissi Beach, one of the most popular beaches on the island.  The other site is at Aspros, in the Paphos region.  Ammerman said the geology and the types of tools led his team to estimate that the seafarers from the mainland were camping in Cyprus sometime around 9,000 to 10,000 BC.  They stayed for a few nights each season, at most a few weeks, and returned to the mainland.  The archaeologists inferred the seasonal nature of the visits because the sites were on the coasts, with no sign of a human presence inland.  Ammerman also noted that these were not colonizers. There was no island society as such, no native people yet, and these visitors had a very limited existence.

Preservation of an ancient Japanese tomb creates controversy


In Japan, the renowned Takamatsuzuka tomb and its priceless 8th century murals will be dismantled and the murals removed in a delicate and unparalleled move.  The controversial plan is the brainchild of the Cultural Affairs Agency, which plans to bring the murals, together with the stone chamber on which they are painted, out of the tomb in order to preserve and save them from further deterioration.  The tomb is located in the village of Asuka, Nara Prefecture, which served as the nation's capital between AD 710 and 784.  The murals, believed to commemorate someone of high rank in the seventh century, resemble wall paintings found in tombs in China and on the Korean Peninsula.  They include a group of women wearing brightly colored clothing, in addition to a stunning astronomical chart.  Also depicted are four Taoist deities that, according to myth, reign over the four points of the compass.  The deities include the blue dragon of the east, the white tiger of the west, the red phoenix of the south, and the black turtle-snake of the north.  As recommended by specialists, the agency decided in 1973 to preserve the works inside the tomb.  From 1976 to 1989, preservationists tried to inject resin into mortar, fixing it to the stone chamber.  Despite these efforts, the condition of the murals has since deteriorated due to mold that formed because of temperature increases inside the chamber.  Experts believe chemicals used to control the growth of bacteria may have also partially led to the growth of the mold.  In the late 1980s the mold stopped growing, but there was still a mass of it within the stone chamber after the entrance was sealed with concrete in 2001.  Some archaeologists are criticizing the agency for reversing its policy of keeping the murals intact underground and have  expressed opposition to the destruction of the burial mound.  The dismantling, which is to begin around December of next year, includes steps to prevent the peeling of the thin mortar gilt that covers the murals, excavation of the burial mound, removal of the tomb's stone ceiling and the transfer of the side walls and flooring. The stone in the chamber weighs between 1 ton and 2 tons and is extremely fragile.  Experts warn that improper removal could cause the entire wall to shatter.  The Takamatsuzuka murals may be publicly exhibited after they are restored, but the restoration is expected to take more than 10 years.

Ancient Iran residences reveal more about ancient life


In Iran, the 5th season of excavations at the historical site of Dahaneh Gholaman has revealed eight residential areas each with rooms and tower-shaped cubbyholes dating to the Achaemenid era of 550-330 BC.  Dahaneh Gholaman was discovered in 1960 by Italian archaeologists near Zabol city located on the border of Iran and Afghanistan.  Dahaneh Gholaman is one of the very few known Achaemenid sites with a religious complex.  Furthermore, the site features buildings set up on high lands so that the houses would be protected against the threatening seasonal floods of the Hirmand River.  According to Mansour Sajadi, head of the excavation team, four work areas were set up at the site.  Excavations in the central yard of one of these areas led to the discovery of three of the residential areas.  Sajadi believes that some species of seeds were ground for their oil in the rooms and that the oil was used for cooking and religious ceremonies. The Dahaneh Gholaman temple is near the oil extraction rooms, which is why archaeologists believe that the oil that was produced might have been used in religious ceremonies.  In another area of excavation, excavators unearthed the remains of a room that has four tower-shaped cubbyholes in each corner.  Its exact use has not been determined.  The city includes 27 prominent buildings such as those with a religious and industrial function.  The site was considered one of the major capitals and industrial centers of the Achaemenid times.  Dahaneh Gholaman is the second important historical site of the province belonging to the Achaemenid era.

New theories in early Chilean mummification


Our final story is from Chile where Archeologist Bernardo Arriaza of the University of Tarapaca has launched a daring new theory.  More than 7,000 years ago, the Chinchorro people mysteriously began mummifying dead babies.  The mummies are the oldest known artificially preserved dead, dating thousands of years before Egyptian mummies.  It is the life pursuit of the archeologists who study them to discover why this early society developed such a complex death ritual.  Arriaza’s theory came to him after reading a newspaper article about pollution and looking at a map of arsenic and lead pollution which said that arsenic caused abortions.  High
levels of arsenic in the water of the region, which persist to this day, meant more premature births, stillbirths, spontaneous abortions and higher infant mortality among the Chinchorro. Arriaza stated that we've always known that the area where the mummies were found had a lot of arsenic, and the first mummies were children.  He suggests the Chinchorro began preserving dead babies to express grief and when they later began mummifying adults, the practice became more elaborate.  Since the 1960s archeologists have excavated more than 100 delicate, tiny bodies. They were stuffed with plants and sea grasses and decorated with clay.  Archaeologists have also found the tools, still stained with the red and black paint, that were used to decorate the mummies.  The Chinchorro were hunter-gatherers who lived at river mouths, fishing with spears, hooks and nets and building their movable shelters from sea-lion pelts and bones.  This was a culture without domesticated animals, pottery, and agriculture.  In other words, their simple lifestyle was in direct contrast to the elaborate mummification they developed.  Complex funerary practices are usually associated with more advanced societies.  The practice lasted more than 3,000 years and went through different stages before the Chinchorro society disappeared about 2000 BC.  The earliest mummies were covered with unbaked black clay.  Thousands of years later, the treatment of the skin and bones became more involved and the Chinchorro began finishing their mummies with red ochre paint on open-mouthed masks.  Arriaza’s colleague at the University, archeologist Vivien Standen, has studied the Chinchorro for 20 years.  Standen is investigating the quartz spearheads embedded in some of the mummies' bones and evidence of blows to the left side of their faces.  She is developing a theory about possible ritual violence. What she and Arriaza are sure about, though, is that the mummified bodies became religious art, statues with a spiritual meaning.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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