Audio News for January 1st to January 7th, 2006.

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news January 1st to January 7th, 2006.

Preserving newly found Phoenician ports


Our first story is from Lebanon, where archaeologists have located the sites of several ancient Phoenician harbors.  By drilling out sediment cores from modern cities, geologists have mapped out the former coastlines.  From this they have pinpointed the probable sites of the old harbors, and marked out locations that are in dire need of exploration and conservation.  The contemporary cities of Tyre and Sidon on the Lebanese coast were once the major launching points of the oceangoing Phoenicians.  They were once some of the greatest of the world's ports, and crucial points for trade and cultural exchange.  From those harbors, ships carried precious dyes and textiles, soda and glass throughout the Mediterranean and beyond.  Both cities still carry the same name, but silting since the time of the Phoenicians, about 3,000 years ago, has reshaped the coastlines.  Sidon has extended out to sea through the build-up of silt.  In addition, Tyre, which was once an island, has been connected to the mainland by silting.  Nick Marriner of the European Centre for Research and Teaching on the Geosciences of the Environment and his colleagues set out to drill beneath the modern city centers to determine how the coastlines have changed over time.  Much of what is known about the Phoenician cities comes from indirect or old sources and some of that early archaeological work is being challenged by current studies. For example in the 1930s French archaeologist Antoine Poidebard claimed to have found the location of the southern harbor of ancient Tyre, which is now submerged. However, recent work suggests that he instead found an urban part of the old city, rather than a port.  Marriner and his colleagues drilled 40 cores throughout the two cities, and used radiocarbon dating of various debris to determine the age of each layer.  The results showed what is known of the cities.  Both sites were occupied since at least the Bronze Age.  The Romans, and later the Arabs and the Mameluke Turks occupied both sites.  Marriner's examination of the soil shows that the rate of coastal silting shot up tenfold during the Roman occupation.  Their geological data shows that the Romans and then the Byzantines must have been forced to dredge the harbors to keep them workable.  Trade during this period is also known to have declined sharply.  Marriner hopes that his findings will help efforts to protect the cultural heritage of the two cities.  The Directorate General of Antiquities of Lebanon is very interested in the results.  According to Marriner these are rich historical and archaeological archives, and the real test is protecting them from the pressures of urban development before they are lost.

New light on ancient Peruvian irrigation practices


Our next story is from the Andean foothills of Peru, where archaeologists have found evidence of the earliest known irrigated agriculture in the Americas.  Analysis of four ancient canals buried beneath sediment showed they were used to water cultivated fields 5,400 years ago, and in one case possibly as early as 6,700 years ago.  The discovery is adding a new dimension to understanding the origins of civilization in the Andes.  The canals are seen as the proof that irrigation technology was decisive in the development of the earliest Peruvian civilization.  It has been theorized that by 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, large-scale irrigation farming was standard practice in Peru.  The indirect evidence of municipal ruins of increasing size and distinct architectural character also suggests similar conclusions.  Their growth seemingly depended on irrigation in the arid valleys and hills descending to coastal Peru.  However, the telling evidence to support the existence of these canals has been missing.  At the Nanchoc River in the Zaña Valley, Tom D. Dillehay, an archaeologist at Vanderbilt University, and his team uncovered traces of the four shallow canals that were lined with stones.  The canals ran near remains of houses, buried agricultural troughs, stone hoes and charred plants.  The initial discovery was made in 1989, but it took years of further excavations, radiocarbon dating and other analysis before results could be publicized.  According to Dr. Dillehay and his colleagues, the system appeared to be a small-scale example of organized irrigation technology that accompanied a mixed economy of budding agriculturalists, plant collectors and hunters.  They reported finding no evidence, however, of a centralized administration to direct the canals or mechanical devices to control flow rates.  Nevertheless, the people of the valley understood elementary hydrology. They laid out the canals using gravity to deliver river water down gentle slopes to the cultivated fields.

Conference to discuss newly discovered Greek Temple


At this week’s annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, researchers from the University of Cincinnati will the present new details surrounding their find of one of the earliest Greek temples in a region north of Greece.  As stated by Jack L. Davis, Professor of Greek Archaeology at the University of Cincinnati and team co-director, this is the discovery of a temple that has extraordinary and singular importance to Albanian archaeology and to the history of Greek colonization in the Adriatic Sea region.  We are gaining the tools for a better understanding of religious life in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, a part of the early history of Apollonia of which little is known.  The temple, located in coastal Albania, is only the fifth known stone temple in Albania and is unique because of its age and its size.  The site is just outside the ancient Greek city-state of Apollonia and dates to the late 6th century B.C.  This dates its occupation to the Archaic and Classical periods, an era for which little has been discovered from inside the acropolis of Apollonia.  In addition to remains of sacrificial meals and broken pottery, considerable quantities of Classical and Hellenistic figurines have been found, although the identity of the main deity of the sanctuary remains unresolved at this point.  The researchers assumed the temple was large, but only recently concluded its approximate size of 42 feet by 120 feet.  The earliest excavations at the site, located on a farm, dates back more than 40 years ago when a farmer’s tractor uncovered terracotta figurines outside the walls of Apollonia.  An Albanian-Russian archeological team explored it, finding traces of brick walls and dating hundreds of the figurines to the 4th-2nd century BC.  Political collapse in Soviet-Albanian relations in 1960 kept the team from publishing much about their work.  In 2002, a new surface survey was conducted.  Investigators found more figurines, the foot of a statue, a Greek inscription, a small stone altar and pottery from a much earlier date.  In 1997, a family who owns a section of the land told Albanian team leader Lorenc Bejko that they had uncovered a foundation made of large, regular blocks as they were building a new house.  Negotiations with the family allowed major work to begin in 2004 to unearth the true scope of the temple.  After two seasons spent at the site, evidence indicates that many details about the religious history of the temple and the Apollonia colony are about to be revealed.

Earliest Maya writing discovered at Guatemala Pyramid


Our final story is from Guatemala where the earliest known example of Mayan writing has been discovered.  These hieroglyphs were painted on plaster and stone at a pyramid known as Las Pinturas, in San Bartolo.  The glyphs date from between 200 BC and 300 BC, which suggests the ancient Maya developed a writing system earlier than previously thought.  According to William Saturno, an anthropology professor at the University of New Hampshire and expert at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the thin black text was found painted on off-white stucco from a collapsed wall of a pyramid.  Most of 10 glyphs are unreadable, although the team was able to make out what appears to be an older version of the word `ajaw` or `ruler` on one, and vague pictorial qualities may suggest a hand holding a brush or a sharp knifelike object in another.  Writing emerged in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and India as far back as 3,000 BC.  Yet the first full-blown text, a series of symbols clearly telling a story, does not show up in the New World until about 400 to 300 BC.  This text was written by the Zapotecs in the Oaxaca Valley south of central Mexico.  Most of the early Maya writing comes from between A.D. 150 and 250. A common problem with dating Mayan writing is that it is often on stone, which scientists can't accurately date using radiocarbon dating.  Instead, they must use stylistic changes to date materials.  However, Saturno and his team found these writings in a pyramid made in part with wood, which is carbon-based and can be dated with radiocarbon techniques.  In 2001, Saturno also found the oldest known murals in the Mayan world at the same site in San Bartolo.  The 2000-year-old mural was reported in December 2005.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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