Audio News for December 11th to December 17th, 2005.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news December 11th to December 17th, 2005.

Mesopotamian dig shows early evidence for both cities and war


Our first story is from the Syrian-Iraqi border, where excavations have uncovered an ancient settlement wiped out by invaders in a massive campaign, 5,500 years ago.  Discovered in northeastern Syria, the ruined city of Hamoukar appears to have been a large city in 4,500 BC, according to archaeologists Clemens Reichel and Salam al-Quntar, co-directors of the excavations.  Reichel, a research associate at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, and al-Quntar, of the Syrian Department of Antiquities, jointly announced their discoveries this week.  The Syrian-American excavations discovered evidence of the large-scale battle that toppled and burned Hamoukar's walls and ended the city's independence.  Researchers found that invaders likely hurled more than 1,200 sling-fired missiles, the size of bullets, at the defenders of Hamoukar, along with at least 100 heavy, 4-inch clay balls.  The ruins have preserved not only local pottery and artifacts, but also vast amounts of Uruk pottery.  Reichel noted that if Hamoukar's residents were taken by surprise, it will give researchers plenty to study, because their possessions likely still lie beneath the debris.  Excavations at Hamoukar have played an important role in redefining scholarly understanding of the development of civilization.  Earlier work had asserted that cities first developed in the lower reaches of the Euphrates valley, the area often referred to as Southern Mesopotamia.  Those early urban centers, part of the Uruk culture, established colonies that led to the civilization of the north, as the people sought raw materials such as wood, stone, and metals which are absent in southern Mesopotamia.  However, since 1999, excavations begun at Hamoukar and at other sites in central Syria have led to new ideas about the how urban culture spread in the region.  Ancient Mesopotamia was a region that includes Iraq and parts of Syria.  The site is located in the upper edges of the Tigris and Euphrates Valleys, near the Iraq border.  Reichel believes it may have been settled as long as 8,000 years ago.

Mayan mural shows creation myth linked to early kingship


From Guatemala, archaeologists have reported the thrill at uncovering a Mayan mural painting unseen for two thousand years.  Discovered at the San Bartolo (BAR-TOH-lo) site, the mural covers the west wall of a room attached to a pyramid, according to William Saturno of the University of New Hampshire.  In brilliant color, the mural tells the Maya story of creation.  It was painted about 100 BC, but was covered over later when the room was filled in.  Saturno first discovered the site in 2002, when he stopped to rest in the jungle, taking shelter in an old trench that turned out to be part of the ancient room.  Since then, the west and north walls have been uncovered.  The west wall was the centerpiece of the room.  Its mural shows four deities, all variations of the same figure, the son of the corn god.  As Saturno explained it, the mural explains three related levels of ancient belief: the story of creation, the mythology of kingship, and the divine right of a king.  Some of the writing can be understood, Saturno said, but much of it is so old it is hard to decipher.  Saturno's colleague, Guatemalan archaeologist Mónica Pellecer Alecio (MOH-ni-ca pay-ay-SARE ah-LAY-see-oh), also found a Maya royal burial dated to 150 BC about a mile from the mural.  The find is further evidence of early kingly rule.

Brazilian study of prehistoric skulls suggests second wave of migration


A 10-year study of ancient human skulls from Brazil is providing new evidence for the theory that two distinct populations of prehistoric people settled the Americas more than 12,000 years ago.  The findings are raising questions about the identity and origins of the first Americans. Brazilian researchers say physical features of the skulls excavated from limestone caves near Lagoa Santa in central Brazil differ sharply from the ancestors of today's Native Americans, who it is believed migrated from Siberia to North America at the end of the last Ice Age.  According to Brazilian anthropologist Walter Neves (NEH-vase), these early South Americans tend to be more similar to present-day Australians, Melanesians and sub-Saharan Africans.  Neves said the findings suggest a complex situation in regards to the influx of humans to the New World.  He discounted theories that the first people to reach the Americas came by boat from Asia, the South Pacific or perhaps even Europe, rather than crossing a land bridge spanning the Bering Strait. Neves believes no transoceanic migration is necessary to explain his findings.  Rather, he suggests both populations could have come by the same route down the Americas.  The age of the Lagoa Santa skulls does not clearly establish which group's ancestors entered the Americas first, or when.  Neves said it is plausible to think that the South American population arrived first and then moved, or was pushed southward by the Asian ancestors of present-day Native Americans.  Some genetic studies comparing ancient remains and modern humans have suggested there might have been anywhere from one to four separate migrations of prehistoric peoples to the Americas.  Human skeletal remains older than 8,000 years are rare in the Americas, but isolated examples of skulls with seemingly ‘non-Asian’ features have been found and reported in Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Florida and California.  However, the analysis by Neves, a researcher at the University of Sao Paulo's Laboratory of Human Evolution, and his colleague Mark Hubbe is the first to look comprehensively at a large number of remains from a single location.

Pottery shard reveals much about the Roman gladiator wardrobe


Our final story is from Britain, where a piece of pottery from the time of the Roman Empire depicts the backside of a rather buff gladiator brandishing a whip and wearing nothing but a G-string.  The image represents the first known portrayal of a gladiator so scantily clad, with only the genitals covered.  It adds to the evidence that ancient Romans viewed gladiators not only as fearless warriors, but also as sex symbols.  According to Philippa Walton, liaison officer for the Cambridgeshire County Council, the find is a small shard of pottery possibly from a drinking cup made in Britain in the 3rd century AD.  She added that there are similar depictions of gladiators on drinking beakers but not wearing a G-string.  The shard was found by divers exploring the River Tees in the town of Piercebridge, County Durham, the site of a former Roman military garrison and town.  Gladiators were trained warriors who fought to entertain the ancient Romans. Whips are one type of weapon that they used, along with the more well-known short-swords, tridents, nets, spears and maces.  Most of the warriors were war prisoners, slaves and criminals, but some were free and poor, striving to earn fortune and fame.  Although gladiator games were under state control, the entertainment format often gave popular warriors the chance to display not only their physiques, but also their power.  This could rival that of emperors or other political leaders, at least in the arena.  Near the site of the pottery shard, divers Rolfe Hutchinson and Bob Middlemass also found a copper razor handle, dating to approximately the same period.  The handle was shaped into the form of a Roman soldier leg and foot, with the two-inch-high foot clad in a heavy wool sock stuffed into a sandal.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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