Audio News for February 26th to March 4th, 2006

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the
headlines in archaeological and historical news for February 26th to March 4th, 2006.

Lost Kingdom of Tambora uncovered beneath volcanic ash


Our first story is from Indonesia, where scientists are unearthing a village buried nearly two centuries ago by the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. Two years ago, a team of scientists from the University of Rhode Island, the University of North Carolina and the Indonesian Directorate of Vulcanology began digging up the village of Tambora, which was buried by a volcanic eruption in 1815.  The excavation shows how Tambora's 10,000 residents were killed by an avalanche of hot volcanic ash, rock and volcanic gas known as a pyroclastic flow.  The village was buried in nine feet of volcanic debris.  In all, 117,000 people were killed. The teams excavated a Tamboran home where they found the remains of two adults as well as bronze bowls, ceramic pots, iron tools and other artifacts.  The design and decoration of the artifacts suggest to the investigators that the Tamboran culture was linked to Vietnam and Cambodia, although other specialists have suggested that the artifacts represent only trade activities. The language spoken in the area reportedly was related to that of the Mon-Khmer group of languages that are now scattered across Southeast Asia.  According to Haraldur Sigurdsson, a University of Rhode Island professor who has studied Tambora since 1986, the site is encapsulated and frozen in time as it was in 1815.  The eruption of Mount Tambora on Sumbawa island blew 200 times more magma and pulverized rock into the air than Mount St Helen's in 1980.  Tambora's blast also sent sulphur dioxide 25 miles into the air, creating a chemical chain reaction in the atmosphere that caused a year of global cooling that made 1816 ‘the year without a summer’.  Scientists located Tambora with help from a local guide, who told them that pottery fragments and human bones had been found in a gully.  During excavations in 2004, scientists discovered an entombed house with two people inside.  Sigurdsson intends to return to Tambora in 2007 to find the rest of the village and possibly a large wooden palace he believes is on the site.  He will conduct a detailed radar survey of the site using modern, non-destructive techniques to establish the extent of the town and identify target sites for future excavations.

Swedish ship may yield clues to 14th century shipping trade


In Sweden, archeologists have found a shipwreck from the late 1300s buried in the mud of a bay in central Stockholm.  They are waiting for permission to excavate the wreckage, hoping it will shed light on shipbuilding techniques and trade in the 14th century.  Researchers say they might be able to bring the ship up on land, as was done with the 17th century warship Vasa, which is now housed in a museum.  Parts of the wreckage are jutting from the sediment at a depth of about 30 feet in the Riddarfjarden bay.  Researchers found the site last year while examining the area for a new train tunnel.  The ship has been dated to between 1350 and 1370, and it is believed it sank sometime in the 1390s.  According to Marcus Hjulhammar, project leader for the museum, the find is special in that the water has preserved it better that if it had been on land. Shipwrecks have a decent chance of being well preserved in the low-salt waters of the Stockholm archipelago because of the lack of wood-eating shipworms.  If the entire ship is still intact, its cargo could give historians a better idea of trading that took place in the area at the time.  There is a large crack in the hull, which had been covered by a piece of leather nailed to the boards. Hjulhammar reports that this is a sign that the ship was very old at the time and that this repair work may have been part of the reason it sank.  The museum is awaiting permission from the county government to dig out the remaining parts of the ship.  They would then decide whether it is possible to bring it up on land.

Ancient sun temple unearthed below Cairo market


In Egypt, archaeologists have unearthed a pharaonic sun temple with large statues believed to depict King Ramses II under an outdoor marketplace in Cairo.  The partially uncovered site is the largest sun temple ever found in the district, where the ancient city of Heliopolis was located. According to Zahi Hawass, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Heliopolis was the center of pharaonic sun worship.  Among the artifacts was a pink granite statue weighing 4 to 5 tons resembling Ramses II, a royal head weighing three tons, and a seated statue with hieroglyphics that include three tablets bearing the name of Ramses II.  The green pavement stones of the temple's floor were also uncovered.  An Egyptian team working in cooperation with the German Archaeological Mission in Egypt discovered the site under a popular market in eastern Cairo.  Hawas reported that the market will be removed as archeologists excavate the entire site.  Ramses II, who ruled Egypt for 66 years from 1270 to 1213 BC, built monuments up and down the Nile with records of his achievements.  Numerous temples to Egypt's sun gods, particularly the chief god Ra, were built in ancient Heliopolis.  However, little remains of what was one the ancient Egyptians' most sacred cities, since much of the stone used in the temples was later plundered.

3,600 year-old German sky disc deciphered


Our final story is from Germany, where scientists have discovered the purpose of the 3,600 year-old sky disc of Nebra.  Evidence suggests that the disc was used as a complex astronomical clock for the harmonization of solar and lunar calendars.  Unlike the solar calendar, which indicates the position of the earth as it revolves around the sun, the lunar calendar is based on the phases of the moon.  A lunar year is eleven days shorter than the solar year because 12 returns of the moon to the new phase takes only 354 days.  The sky disc of Nebra was used to determine if and when a thirteenth month should be added to a lunar year to keep the lunar calendar in sync with the seasons.  According to archeologist Harald Meller, this is a clear expansion of what was known about the meaning and function of the sky disc.  The seven-inch wide bronze disc with markings representing the sun, the moon and the stars is the oldest visual representation of the cosmos known to date.  Meller reported that the explanation of the disc's purpose sheds new light on the astronomical knowledge and abilities of Bronze Age people, who used a combination of solar and lunar calendars as important indicators for agricultural seasons and the passage of time. According to astronomer Wolfhard Schlosser of the Ruhr University at Bochum, Bronze Age sky gazers already knew what the Babylonians would describe only a thousand years later.  Whether this was a local discovery, or whether the knowledge came from afar, is still not clear.  Bronze Age astronomers reportedly would hold the Nebra clock against the sky and observe the position of the celestial objects.  The thirteenth month was inserted when what they saw in the sky corresponded to the map on the disc they were holding in their hands.  This happened every two to three years.  The disc was found in 1999 by two previously convicted treasure looters.  Swiss police seized it in 2002 along with other Bronze Age objects.

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!