Audio News for February 12th to February 18th, 2006

Welcome to the  Audio News from Archaeologica!  I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for February 12th to February 18th, 2006.

Accidental discovery of older moccasin in Yukon ice patch


Our first story is from Canada where archaeologists searching for clues of early life in melting alpine ice in the Canadian North have uncovered a 1,400-year-old moccasin.  Discovered in 2003 in the southwest region of Yukon, researchers first thought the artifact was a hunter's bag. The object was kept frozen until Yukon Conservator Valery Monahan could finish cleaning and assembling the pieces.  After the cleaning and reassembly, they realized the hide represented the oldest aboriginal moccasin ever found in Canada.  The discovery is considered  particularly important because it substantially predates any European trade contact with the region and is one of a very small number of  pre-European worked hide objects found in Canada.  Almost all of the  other examples are from tundra regions and relate directly to the Inuit culture.  The moccasin is even rarer as it comes from the northern forest and was likely made and worn by early Athapaskan people.   Ancient ice patches in the Southwest Yukon have been the focus of  research into human history and environmental change since their discovery in 1997.  Fieldwork at the ice patches is carried out under a cooperative partnership between the department of Tourism and Culture  Archaeology Program and six Yukon First Nations with support from the  Department of Environment.  Researchers have recovered more than 180  hunting-related artifacts to date.  They range in age from several hundred to over 8,000 years old.  The moccasin is the first sewn hide object to be found in an ice patch.

Largest tomb of Macedonian nobles found in Greece


Researchers in Greece have unearthed a massive tomb in the northern town of Pella, capital of ancient Macedonia and birthplace of Alexander the Great.  The eight-chambered tomb dates to the Hellenistic Age between the third and second century BC, and is the largest of its kind ever found in Greece.  The next biggest tomb contained only three chambers.  Chief archaeologist Maria Akamati said the tomb's size suggests it belonged to a wealthy Macedonian family.  The inscribed tombstones featuring the names of the owners as well as a vast array of rich artifacts including jewelry, copper coins and earthen vases discovered will shed light on the culture of Macedonia in the period that followed Alexander's death.  A central area surrounded by eight
chambers colored in red, blue and white dyes dominates the complex.  Three  inscribed stone slabs inside bear the names of their female owners --  Antigona, Kleoniki and Nikosrati.  A relief on one of the slabs  depicts a women and her servant.  Alexander's empire, stretching from  Greece to Asia, broke into separate kingdoms upon his death in 323 BC, as his generals battled over the remains of the ancient world's greatest empire.  Similar tombs from the same era have been discovered  on Crete, Cyprus and Egypt, which was ruled by a Greek dynasty founded  by Ptolemy, Alexander's general.

NASA aerial images help uncover lost Maya ruins


NASA and University of New Hampshire scientists are teaming up with technology to locate the remains of the ancient Maya culture hidden in  Central American rainforests.  Using space- and aircraft-based  remote-sensing technology, they are uncovering ruins by using the  chemical signature of the civilization's ancient building materials.  NASA archaeologist Tom Sever and scientist Dan Irwin are working with William Saturno, an archaeologist at the University of New Hampshire,  to locate the ruins of the ancient culture.  According to Sever, from the air everything but the tops of very few surviving pyramids are hidden by the tree canopy while on the ground, the 60- to 100-foot  trees and dense undergrowth can obscure objects as close as 10 feet  away.  Explorers can stumble right through an ancient city that once  housed thousands and never even realize it.  Sever and Irwin provided  Saturno with high-resolution commercial satellite images of the  rainforest, and collected data from NASA’s Airborne Synthetic Aperture  Radar.  This instrument is flown aboard a high-altitude weather plane and is capable of penetrating clouds, snow and forest canopies.  These observations have helped the team survey an uncharted region around San Bartolo, Guatemala.  The team ground-tested the data in 2004 by hiking deep into the jungle to locations identified by the satellite images.  They uncovered a series of Maya settlements exactly where the technology had predicted they would be found.  The Maya built their cities and towns with excavated limestone and lime plasters, which cause floral discoloration in the imagery.  As these structures crumbled, the lack of moisture and nutritional elements inside the ruins kept some plant species at bay, while others were discolored or killed off altogether as disintegrating plaster changed the chemical content of the soil around each structure.  Saturno stated that over the centuries, the changes became dramatic.  This pattern of small  details, impossible to see from the forest floor or low-altitude planes, turned out to be a virtual roadmap to ancient Maya sites when seen from space.  Under a NASA Space Act Agreement with the University of New Hampshire, the science team will visit Guatemala annually through 2009, with the support of the Guatemalan Institute of  Anthropology and History and the Department of Pre-Hispanic Monuments.  The team will verify their research and continue refining their remote sensing tools to more easily lead explorers to other ancient ruins and conduct Earth science research in the region.

Researchers to test Joan of Arc’s supposed remains


Our final story is from France, where a team of scientists hopes to  crack one of the mysteries surrounding 15th-century heroine Joan of Arc.  Experts are planning several tests to determine whether a rib and other fragments recovered from the pyre after she was burned for heresy really could have belonged to her.  The woman warrior-turned-saint remains legendary nearly 600 years after her ashes were supposedly thrown into the Seine River.  The tests will not be able to determine, with certainty, that the remains are Joan of Arc's because there is no known DNA sample for comparison, but the analyses will resolve if the remains could not be hers.  Scientists would use DNA testing to determine whether the rib belonged to a woman and other  tests to determine its exact age.  The 6-inch rib bone was wrapped in a blackish substance and was remarkably well preserved.  According to Dr. Philippe Charlier of the Raymond-Poincare Hospital, Joan of Arc purportedly was burned three times on May 30, 1431, following her trial
in the Normandy town of Rouen.  She initially died of smoke inhalation, according to Charlier, and when she was burned a second time, her internal organs were not fully consumed by the flames.  Nothing was said to remain after the third cremation except her ashes.   Joan of Arc was tried for heresy and witchcraft and burned at the stake after leading the French to several victories over the English during the Hundred Years' War.  The uneducated farm girl from Lorraine in eastern France disguised herself as a man in her campaigns and said she heard voices from a trio of saints telling her to deliver France from the English.  She was beatified in 1909 and made a saint in 1920.  The remains were supposedly gathered by an unidentified person and  conserved by an apothecary until 1867, when they were turned over to the archdiocese of Tours. In 1909, scientists declared it highly probable that the remains were Joan of Arc's.  Given recent developments in genetic technology, the researchers at Garches decided to try again.

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!