Audio News for December 4th to December 10th, 2005.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from December 4th to December 10th, 2005.

New Mayan find features a woman ruler


Our first story is from Guatemala, where archaeologists have unearthed a monument with the earliest-known representation of a woman of authority in ancient Mayan culture.  According to Kathryn Reese-Taylor, a University of Calgary archeologist, the six-and-a-half foot high limestone stela has a portrait of a female who could be either a ruler or a mythical goddess.  The piece may date from the late 4th Century AD, making it 200 years older than previously discovered monuments depicting powerful Mayan women.  Reese-Taylor said the monument is unique in that it shows a woman in the early Maya period, at time when the city-states were being founded and dynasties established.  Archaeologists found the stela at the site of Naachtun, a Mayan city 55 miles north of the more famous site of Tikal.  It was buried inside an ancient building, and some of the inscriptions had been chopped off, suggesting it had been a casualty in an invasion of the city, possibly by forces from Tikal at the end of the 5th Century.  One thing that was left on this stela was the name of the individual, and that is the name of a woman.  The name translates into Lady Partition Lord.  Researchers do not suspect Mayan culture was matriarchal, but the newly unearthed stela shows that women played important roles in the establishment of the society.  The team will return to the site to make molds of the monument and begin studying the imagery that accompanies the portrait, which includes a bird deity with serpentine wings.

In rare find, Roman family tomb is undisturbed


In Italy, a remarkable trove of five untouched Roman sarcophagi (sar-KOFF-a-JI) in a burial vault has been found outside Rome.  Stefano Musco, head of the dig, called it rare and unusual to find so many sarcophagi that have never been looted or even opened.  All the caskets still have original, unbroken lead seals on their sides.  He said the sarcophagi dated from the second century AD and probably contained the remains of the wealthy residents of a villa that once stood in the area.  All of the sarcophagi are marble and ornately decorated, leading archaeologists to presume they were made for a prominent upper-class family.  One of them is much smaller than the others and believed to contain the remains of a small child.  The largest sarcophagus is decorated with lion's head masks and a central relief showing a reclining couple, a motif that dates back to the Etruscan culture, which preceded Rome.  Anthropologist Paola (POWL-a) Catalano (ca-ta-LAH-no) said she hoped the skeletons and funerary objects would provide information on burial rites, the lifestyles and the social position of the dead.  The sarcophagi will be moved to the Museo Nazionale Romano at Diocletian's Baths, while the burial site will be preserved as a public or green area.  The apartment buildings that were to have gone up over the tombs will be moved to a nearby site.

Military locational instruments help hunt for Hawaiian history


In the Hawaiian Islands, military specialists will use high-tech equipment to locate a long-lost time capsule that was buried more than a century ago by King Kamehameha the Fifth.  The search is in conjunction with 175th anniversary of the birth of the ruler, who died in 1872 and was the last direct descendant of Kamehameha the Great to rule the Kingdom of Hawaii. Historians know the time capsule was buried on February 19, 1872, the year the king died. Ground-penetrating radar will be used to identify the exact location of the capsule, buried during the ceremony when Kamehameha the Fifth laid the cornerstone of the historic Aliiolani (AH-lee-ee-oh-lan-ee) Hale building in downtown Honolulu.  The small casket is thought to lie somewhere beneath the concrete slabs at the northeast corner of the building.  It is known to contain photos of royal families dating back to Kamehameha the Great, Hawaiian postage stamps, a constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Hawaiian and foreign coins, 11 different local newspapers, a calendar, and books, such as a Hawaiian language dictionary.  There are no plans to recover the capsule because of the threat of damaging the structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.  According to Matt Mattice, executive director of the King Kamehameha (kah-MAY-a-may-a) the Fifth Judiciary History Center, the main reason for the search is to determine the location in hopes of keeping it preserved.  Aliiolani Hale, with the famed gold-leaf statue of Kamehameha the Great in the courtyard, is one of the most photographed spots in Hawaii.  The building was completed in 1874.  It was the first in the islands to place under one roof all the government offices, from the Legislature to the Hawaii Supreme Court.  It was also the site of rallies, political strife, an insurrection, the famed Massie Trial of the 1930s, and the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Iron Age skeleton found in Welsh ship excavation


Our final story is from Wales, where researchers report that the remains of a skeleton found underneath a medieval ship buried in the banks of the River Usk are that of an Iron Age man.  The bones were found in 2002.  Test results show that they date back to 170 BC, making the skeleton about 1,500 years older than the 15th century ship.  It is believed that the man was about five feet, nine inches tall and very muscular.  He was probably in his late 20s or early 30s when he died.  Dr. Ros Coard and Alison Bennett from the University of Lampeter carried out radiocarbon dating on the bones, which were found underneath wooden struts supporting the ship during excavation.  At the time of the find, it was thought the man may have died in an industrial accident while salvaging the boat.  However, archaeologists have concluded that the man's body came there long before the ship did.  It is as yet unclear whether the man's body was intentionally placed in the channel, or he drowned and his body washed in and was buried by river sediments. Above this ancient man's resting place, the Newport Ship, as the Welsh ship has been named, could be more significant than the discovery of the English Tudor ship, the Mary Rose.  The team of experts working on the Newport Ship project has been using digital technology to record the 1,700 timbers that make up the vessel.  Recording the timbers and restoring the ship is expected to take between 10 and 15 years.  No other sea-going vessel of this size and date survives as completely as the Newport Ship.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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