Audio News for November 27th to December 3rd, 2005.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from November 27th through
December 3rd, 2005.

Iraq insurgents kidnap archaeologist


In our first story, German archaeologist Susanne Osthoff and her driver are part of the current abductions in Iraq.  Osthoff, around 40 years old, has lived in the country for years and speaks Arabic fluently.  The kidnappers sent a video to broadcast offices in Baghdad in which they showed the hostages and threatened to kill Ms. Osthoff if the German government does not suspend every form of cooperation with the Iraqi government.  Germany did not take part in the invasion of Iraq and has limited its relations mainly to economic and cultural cooperation. German experts have been training a number of Iraqi policemen, but that training takes place in locations outside the country.  The kidnapping of the archaeologist and her driver happened just one day before four western aid workers were abducted in western Baghdad.  That group includes a Briton, an American and two Canadians.  One of the kidnapped aid workers is a retired professor and peace campaigner in his 70s.  In the last year and a half, at least 200 foreigners are estimated to have been kidnapped in Iraq.  Some have subsequently been killed by their captors. Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, strongly condemned the abduction of the German archaeologist and urged her kidnappers to release her.  Osthoff's mother told German national television her daughter had helped organize aid deliveries of medicines and medical equipment to Iraq for years.

Shift in Dead Sea shoreline exposes ancient boat anchors


In Israel, two ancient wooden anchors, preserved by natural salt for more than 2,000 years, have been discovered on the ebbing shores of the Dead Sea.  According to archaeologist David Mevorach, one anchor dates back 2,500 years.  That makes it the oldest wooden anchor ever found.  The second anchor is 2,000 years old.  Both are made from acacia wood and were used for Roman-era ships.  The Dead Sea has a high concentration of salt, which combines with the lack of oxygen in the water to preserve organic materials such as these anchors, and even the ropes attached to them.  The Dead Sea has been shrinking in recent years.  The rate at which its water evaporates now exceeds that of water flowing in to replenish it from the Jordan River, as the river water is increasingly diverted for irrigation.  Numerous archaeological artifacts are being found as more of the coastline becomes exposed.

Date on ancient Mexican footprints takes a big step back


A new report from UC Berkeley geologist Paul Renne and his colleagues concludes that impressions buried in volcanic ash in Mexico, which were described by British scientists as 40,000-year-old human ‘footprints’, are actually 1.3 million years old and cannot be human in origin.  The volcanic impressions were discovered in 2003 in a rock quarry southeast of Mexico City by a team led by geologist Silvia Gonzalez of Liverpool's John Moores University.  Gonzalez theorizes that the findings proved that humans had colonized the Americas much earlier than the 11,500 years ago previously believed.  Renne used a technique, known as argon/argon dating, which uses measurements of two argon isotopes in certain volcanic materials.  The argon/argon technique can date rock from 2,000 to 4 billion years old.  The results came up with an age estimate of 1.3 million years ago, which dates the footprints to more than one million years before the first acknowledged appearance of Homo sapiens in Africa. Renne notes that there are only two possible explanations that can follow.  The Mexican group are either shockingly early hominids or these are not footprints at all.  The previous team, who excavated the impressions, relied primarily on carbon-14 dating of underlying sediments to come up with their age of 40,000 years.  The carbon method does not reliably date material older than about 50,000 years.  Gonzalez said the Berkeley findings didn't settle the issue because they had yet to be confirmed by other scientists.  Renne responded that a person didn't need advanced equipment to question the validity of the footprints.  You have to wonder, he added, why any people would want to walk on top of these rocks, since the volcanic material would have been about 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Original Headline: Radar pinpoints tomb of King Edward the Confessor


Our final story is from England, where the tomb of Edward the Confessor has been discovered under Westminster Abbey.  By using the latest radar technology, archaeologists revealed the original burial chamber of the Anglo-Saxon king, who died in 1066, months before the invasion of William the Conqueror.  A number of royal tombs dating back to the 13th and 14th century were also discovered beneath the abbey.  The forgotten, subterranean chambers were found during conservation work on the abbey's famous Cosmati pavement, a medieval mosaic, which lies around the high altar.  Dr. Warwick Rodwell, the abbey's consultant archaeologist, called the find extraordinarily exciting.  Until now, archaeologists assumed that the original tomb of Edward the Confessor was near the present high altar, because medieval records refer to that location. However, Henry III moved the position of the altar in the mid 13th century.  The archaeologists have located the original tomb 10 feet behind the present altar, under the shrine built by Henry III in 1269.  Dr. Rodwell said an archaeological team had been examining the construction of the Cosmati pavement, which dates from 1268, using very high-frequency radar to a depth of about 20 inches.  The radar was intensified to examine deeper sections of the pavement.  There are no plans to excavate the tomb because any such work would destroy the medieval pavement. Edward the Confessor is not among the better known kings.  His reign was relatively peaceful, and the Norman invasion just after his death made for an abrupt break with the Anglo-Saxon tradition.  However, Edward's presence in British history has endured as a benevolent and kingly origin.  The principal royal crown is still called St Edward's crown, and the Coronation Chair is sometimes called St Edward's chair, even though both were made long after his death.  Edward's reputation for sanctity grew after the Norman conquest, and he was canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1161.  Edward remained the patron saint of England for more than three centuries, until 1415, when St. George replaced him.  The archaeological team is now preparing further investigations to establish the purpose, history and content of the main tomb and the other chambers, graves and coffins they have found.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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