Audio News for March 5th to March 11th, 2006

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for March 5th to March 11th, 2006.

First-ever find of cave paintings in Patagonia


Our first story is from Chile, where a team of Chilean and French scientists has reported their discovery of pre-Columbian cave paintings by an indigenous culture whose art has never before been seen. According to expedition head Bernard Tourte, the first-time find comprises more than 40 elaborate cave paintings identified as the work of the Alacaluf people, who lived on an isolated island in Patagonia.  The paintings are located inside the so-called "Pacific Cave" on Madre De Dios Island.  The Alacaluf, a nomadic and seafaring people indigenous to the area, were not previously known to have produced such art.  The paintings are made with mostly black and ochre colors, and have a range of subject matter and varied techniques. The French and Chilean governments co-sponsored the two-month expedition.

Ancient Egyptian shipyard was professional operation


From Egypt, the oldest remains of seafaring ships in the world have been found in caves on the Red Sea coast.  The find suggests that ancient Egyptians sailed nearly 1,000 miles on rough waters to get treasures from a place they called God's Land, or Punt.  Florida State University anthropology professor Cheryl Ward has determined that wooden planks found in the manmade caves are about 4,000 years old.  Shipworm damage in the planks indicate the ships had endured long voyages of several months duration, likely to the fabled trading center of Punt, a place referenced in hieroglyphics on empty cargo boxes found in the caves.  The site, called Wadi Gawasis, was described by Ward as a mothballed military base that has kept its secrets for 40 centuries.  Scholars have long known that Egyptians traveled to Punt but they have debated its exact location and whether the Egyptians reached Punt by land or by sea.  Some had thought the ancient Egyptians did not have the naval technology to travel long distances by sea, but the findings at the Wadi Gawasis confirm that Egyptians sailed a 2,000-mile round trip voyage.  This strengthens the view that ancient Punt lay in what is today Ethiopia or Yemen.  The ship storage caves, south of modern Port Safaga, were part of an industrial shipyard, in which the caves operated as work and storage rooms to protect their equipment from the harsh desert conditions. Also found at the site were large stone anchors, shards of storage jars and more than 80 perfectly preserved coils of rope.  The team also found a stela of Pharaoh Amenemhat III, who ruled between 1844-1797 BC, inscribed with all five of his royal names.  The plaque provided further evidence that discoveries found at the site date to Egypt's Middle Kingdom period.  While in use, though, the ancient shipyard was central to a sophisticated government operation for the expeditions to Punt.  Ward theorized that ships were originally built at a Nile shipyard, then disassembled and carried across 90 miles of desert to the Red Sea, where they were put back together and launched on the voyage.  Upon the fleet's return several months later, the crews unloaded the cargo and began breaking down the ship piece by piece.  Shipwrights inspected the vessels and marked unsatisfactory pieces with red paint.  Others were cleaned and recycled.  As many as 3,700 men may have taken part in the voyages.  Ward will return to the Wadi Gawasis site next year to continue to excavate and record ship timbers and the ship assembly and break-up process and to reconstruct the vessels as they were originally configured.

Tongan tombs are mapped as part of maritime empire study


On the island of Tonga, researchers are working on a project to map ancient terraced tombs using laser imaging and remote sensing.  The aim is to produce a three-dimensional graphic map of Lapaha as it was during the reign of the Tu'i Tonga from the 13th century to 1885.  Professor David Burley, from Simon Fraser University has joined with Dr Geoffrey Clark of the Australian National University to study the Tongan Maritime Empire.  Lapaha was the capital of the Tu'i Tonga Maritime Empire.  The power of this sea empire extended far beyond the Tongan Islands to Fiji, Lotuma, Futuna and Uvea and Samoa.  Such a maritime empire was found in only one other place in the Pacific, in Yap.  Thus, the project not only adds to knowledge about Lapaha, the Langi and the royal tombs, but about the nature of such ocean empires.  The mapping will cover the fortification ditch and the docks at Fonuatanu as well as the burial areas.  The completed map will be included in a complete history book of Lapaha, the capital of the Tu'i Tonga Maritime Empire, which is currently being put together by local historians and overseas scholars from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and France.

Buddhist scrolls, revealed by war, unfold new knowledge


Our final story is from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization, where carbon dating tests on rare Buddhist manuscripts, recently discovered and apparently from Afghanistan, prove they could be the missing links in Buddhist history.  The collections have been dubbed the “Dead Sea Scrolls of Buddhism” because, like the actual early Christian Dead Sea Scrolls, they date from a hitherto undocumented but critical period when the religion was still being formulated.  The carbon tests were carried out on two out of three international collections of Buddhist texts, the Senior and Schøyen collections which are owned by private individuals.  The British Library owns the third.  Results showed that two manuscripts from the Senior collection date between the years AD 130 and 250 and three of the Schøyen texts between the first and fifth century AD.  According to Dr. Mark Allon from the University of Sydney, who is translating the texts, the date confirmation is an exciting step towards filling the historical void that existed before the scrolls' discovery.  Because Buddhism was originally an oral tradition, little is known about how it developed from spoken word to written word.  This date confirmation will provide a unique insight into the development of Buddhist literature.  Buddhism flourished throughout Asia, and there is an enormous amount of literature available today.  However, it totally disappeared from India, central Asia and the Indonesian archipelago and with it many literary traditions, explained Dr Allon.  Dr Geraldine Jacobsen was in charge of the delicate chemistry needed to prepare the samples for dating.  She explained that before analyzing the actual scrolls, made out of birch bark, a sample chemistry test needed to be conducted.  The test sample showed the bark could survive the chemistry so they proceeded with the dating.  Carbon dating dates the material itself, in this case when the bark grew, not the time the writing took place.  However, dating the bark gives a very good indication of when the texts were written.  The discovery of the scrolls is a result of upheaval in Afghanistan following its occupation by the Soviet Union, civil war and subsequent rule under the Taliban. The Taliban’s hostility to the country’s non-Islamic heritage resulted in the destruction of many archaeological sites.  Artifacts subsequently made their way onto the antiquities market, which is where these scrolls appeared.

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!