Audio News for January 15th to January 21st, 2006

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news January 15th to January 21st, 2006.

Southern Indiana yields a 4,000-year-old “kitchen”


Our first story is from the United States where workers building a boat ramp at southeastern Indiana’s Charlestown State Park have uncovered the apparent remains of a 4,000-year-old ancient ‘kitchen.’  Bob McCullough, head of the survey team from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, said nomadic tribes of hunters and gatherers probably inhabited this low-lying area.  He said they appear to have collected hickory nuts, used large slabs of rock to crush them and then made fires to boil them and extract fatty oils.  Tribes often stored such high-energy nut oils for use during the winter months.  No human remains or bones have been found at the site however.  The excellent state of site preservation surprised McCullough, but he said centuries of silt deposited by floodwaters covered the archaeological remains.  The site dates from about 2000 BC and contains large amounts of Laurel chert, a stone from which tools can be created.  Other artifacts found include stone slabs used for grinding and cracking nuts, remains of fire pits and charred bits of plant material.  The team has made two trips to the site and plans a third study of the area.  The archaeological work is required under federal and state historic preservation laws.

Ancient temple in Italy older than Greek settlement


From Italy, archaeologists working in Sicily's Valley of the Temples have unearthed traces of a settlement that pre-dates the famous Greek temples built there in 600 BC.  The valley on Sicily's southern coast is one of Europe's most important archeological sites.  It marks a sacred area built when the Greeks landed there and established a seaport at Magna Graecia.  The discovery of the structure came during preparatory work to shore up the ground near the Temple of Hera. Archaeologists uncovered a mysterious walled formation on top of which ancient Greeks had apparently built a shrine and a burial ground.  Until now, it has been thought that the Greeks settled the area soon after they began colonizing the Mediterranean in the 7th century BC. According to Pietro Meli, administrator of the Valley of the Temples, a precise date for the site has not yet been established.  When archaeologists find pieces of clay vessels or ceramics, they will have comprehensive evidence.  There are eight temples, most of them well preserved, in the Valley of the Temples.  In the 5th century BC, at the height of the area’s power and wealth, it is believed that 21 temples existed at the site.  The present site, which draws thousands of tourists a year, was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997.

Modern techniques fuel debate over authenticity of world changing map


In New Zealand, researchers at Waikato University are conducting tests on the paper and ink used for a Chinese map that indicates that a Chinese eunuch discovered America.  The map is a copy made in 1763 of a map from 1418.  It may show that Admiral Zheng He discovered America more than 70 years before Christopher Columbus.  The map clearly depicts the Americas, New Zealand, Australia, Africa and Europe.  If authenticated, it would overturn centuries of European and American teaching.  Traditional histories record that Columbus found the New World in 1492, Dias discovered the Cape of Good Hope in 1488 and Magellan set off to circumnavigate the world in 1519.  The results of a mass spectrographic analysis at Waikato University to date the composite materials is due to be announced next month, but the investigation’s results will only be applicable to the paper and inks used in the copy.  Five Chinese academic experts on ancient charts have noted that the 1418 map puts together information that was available piecemeal in China from earlier nautical maps, going back to the 13th century and Kublai Khan, who was also an explorer.  The naval fleets of Zheng He roamed the oceans between 1405 and 1435, and his exploits were recorded in a 1418 book called The Marvelous Visions of the Star Raft.  Six Chinese characters in the upper right-hand corner of the map say this is a “general chart of the integrated world.”  In the lower left-hand corner is a note stating the chart was drawn by Mo Yi Tong, imitating a world chart made in 1418 that showed the barbarians paying tribute to the Ming emperor, Zhu Di.  The copyist did differentiate between what he took from the original from what he added himself.

Satellite technology reconstructs ancient lakes in the Sahara


Our final story is from the Sahara desert, where eight years of studies in the area of Fazzan have revealed swings in the ancient climate resulting in wet periods which may have lasted for thousands of years.  This has given us vital clues about the history of humans in the area and how these ancient inhabitants coped with climate change as the land began to dry up around them again.  In a recent report, Dr. Kevin White of the University of Reading [Redd-ing] and Professor David Mattingly of the University of Leicester detail how they used satellite technology and archaeological evidence to reveal new clues about both the past environment of the Sahara and of human prehistory in the area.  According to Dr. White, the climate of the Sahara has been highly variable over the millennia and we have been able to provide much more specific dating of these changes.  Over the last 10,000 years, there have been two distinct humid phases, separated by a period of highly variable but generally drying conditions between roughly 8,000 and 7,000 years ago.  Another drying trend took place after about 5,000 years ago, leading to today’s arid environment.  Radar images from space showed rivers, lakes and springs now buried below shifting sand dunes.  As these bodies dried out thousands of years ago, the resulting mineral deposits cemented the lake sediments together making hardened layers detectable by the radar. The information is essential for archaeologists to focus their efforts near ancient rivers, lakes and springs, where people used to gather.  Dr. White stated that large quantities of stone tools were found around the ancient water sources.  The finds indicate at least two separate phases of human occupation.  The earliest humans in the area were Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, who lived in the Fazzan between about 400,000 and 70,000 years ago.  A prolonged parched phase from about 70,000 to 12,000 years ago apparently drove humans out of the region, but then the rains returned along with the people.  Around 5,000 years ago, the climate began to dry out again, this time people adapted by developing an agricultural civilization with towns and villages based around oases.  This process culminated with the emergence of the Garamantian society in the first millennium BC.  According to Professor Mattingly we have been given a completely new view of this obscure society.  The ancient Romans knew the Garamantes as a race of desert warriors, but archaeology has shown they had agriculture, cities and an incredibly advanced system of water extraction that kept their civilization going for 1,000 years as the land was drying up around them.  As the Saharan climate began to dry out, they drew their water from a large subterranean aquifer and transported it through a network of tunnels.  However, even this remarkably adaptable culture could not cope forever with a falling water table and growing aridity.  Sometime around AD 500, the Garamantian society collapsed and its irrigation system fell into disuse.

That wraps up the news for this week!
For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at, where all the news is history!  I’m Laura Kelley and I’ll see you next week!