Audio News for January 29th to February 4th, 2006
Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for January 29th to February 4th, 2006.
GPR reveals puzzle buried in Georgian Civil War cemetery
Our first story is from the United States where University of Georgia archaeologists have been puzzling over a seemingly manmade object buried in a Civil War cemetery. During a scan of two Civil War gravesites, ground-penetrating radar at Myrtle Hill Cemetery found a
reflection that did not look like a grave. According to team member Sheldon Skaggs, there definitely is something manmade there; something big and metal that’s identity is as yet determined. Rumors have existed since the 1960s over what happened to two large cannons after the Civil War. No records have been found that indicate they were removed from the city. Hugh Durden, commander of the local Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the large cannons, which could fire shells three times larger than standard cannons of the time, could have been hidden underground to protect them from capture. The university team plans to follow up with a magnetometer or a radiometer for more clarification before attempting to excavate the site, Skaggs said. Georgia state officials would have to authorize the second survey and the excavation. During the Civil War, the area was home to two major hospitals and the famous Noble Brothers cannon foundry.
Context of ancient Egyptian royal statue head comes into question
In Egypt, a German archaeological mission stumbled upon a mystery as archaeologists discovered three partially damaged pharaonic statues in Luxor. Strangely, one statue appears to date to a later period than most previous finds at the site. Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) announced the discovery of two statues of Sakhmet, the goddess of war, as well as the head of a member of the royal family, at the temple of Amunhotep III. The finds were made during a dig lead by Hourig Sourzian of the Friends of the Memnon Colossi association affiliated with the Egypt office of the German Archaeological Institute. The Sakhmet statues, which date to the New Kingdom's 18th dynasty, are from the same period as most of the artifacts in the area. However, the head, characterized by its Nubian features, is believed to date to the 25th dynasty. In a statement by the SCA, Sourzian suggested that the head might have been moved to that location by a 19th-century British dig or an illegal excavation. The lower legs of one of the goddess statues were broken off, while only the upper body of the other was discovered. The head is largely in good condition, although part of the right side has been scraped off. One of the goddess statues is made of granite, the other diorite, while the head is granite. The dimensions of the finds were not immediately available. The head of excavations in western Luxor, Ali al-Asfhar, believes the royal head to be the most important discovery because of the questions raised by the presence of the head at such a location. In addition, statues of Sakhmet are relatively common.
Isotope analysis reveals earliest African slaves in New World
At a colonial era graveyard in one of the oldest European cities in Mexico, researchers have unearthed what they believe are the oldest skeletons of slaves brought from Africa to the New World. The remains date to the late-16th century and the mid-17th century—a time not long after Columbus first set foot in the Americas. The team that made the discovery is from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Autonomous University of the Yucatan. The African origin of the slaves was determined by strontium isotopes, a chemical that enters the body through the food chain and is locked at birth into the tooth enamel of individuals. The isotopes found in the teeth are a permanent record of origin; they can be directly linked to the bedrock of specific locations giving archaeologists a powerful tool to trace the migration of individuals on the landscape. The study draws on readings from the teeth of four individuals among the180 burials found in a multiethnic cemetery at the ruins of a colonial church at the port city of Campeche on the Yucatan Peninsula. According to James Burton and T. Douglas Price of UW-Madison and Vera Tiesler of the Autonomous University of the Yucatan, the new isotopic studies are important because they provide the earliest definitive physical link between the African displacement and the New World. Over a span of nearly 400 years, as many as 12 million people were placed in bondage and brought across the Atlantic under horrific conditions to work, primarily, in the mines and plantations of the New World. It means that slaves were brought here almost as soon as Europeans arrived. According to Price, the discovery of the remains of slaves born in Africa from such an early date shows that slavery became an integral aspect of the New World economy not long after the Conquistadors completed the conquest of Mexico. Archaeological and historical evidence, including a map of colonial Campeche, suggest the graveyard was in use from about 1550 to the late 1600s. It was uncovered along with the foundations of a colonial era church. The archaeologists were drawn to some of the individuals buried in the colonial cemetery because of distinctive dental mutilations, a decorative practice characteristic of Africa.
Canary Island crypt reveals its past
Our final story is from the Canary Islands, where a dig in a crypt in the city of Tenerife has yielded some significant information and finds relating to the early years of the settlement of that city, which has been under the Spanish flag since 1495. Recent work at the church of La Concepción, built in 1725, has been centered on three burials that are not oriented towards the central nave as was customary at that time. Instead, they are laid in the opposite direction, pointing towards a side chapel. In addition, there is the unique carved basalt used to surround the burials and the black-and-white checkerboard marble slab flooring, all of which must have been imported at great cost. As for the burials themselves, the researchers found that what they describe as “an enormous quantity” of quicklime was used, far more than was usual at the time. According to an anthropologist at the dig, a relatively small amount of quicklime was normally used, heaped on the abdominal area, to suffocate the smell of decay. There are two possibilities to account for this abnormality. For example, there may have been the risk of infection or spreading a disease, or extra quicklime may have been a way to deter grave robbers. The first of the three interments investigated contained a skeleton with extremely fragile, small bones that led the archaeologists to think it could be that of a female, most likely Josefa Casabuena. The second was that of a man who had apparently been buried in a uniform. Gilt buttons bearing the inscription JSD Canarias may well lead to further identification of the remains. The third burial, under examination, is also a male. In addition the team found numerous other bones buried with the skeletons, evidence that ossuaries may have been emptied into them at some point in subsequent years.
That wraps up the news for this week! For more stories and daily news updates, visit Archaeologica on the World Wide Web at www.archaeologica.org , where all the news is history! I’m Laura Kelley and I’ll see you next week!