Audio News for April 2nd to April 8th, 2006

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for April 2nd to April 8th, 2006.

Important possible Teotihuacano pyramid found in Mexico


Our first story is from Mexico where archeologists have discovered a huge 1,500-year-old pyramid in Mexico City.  The unnamed pyramid has the same sized foundation as the massive Pyramid of the Moon at the archeological site of Teotihuacan.  Teotihuacan is known as the "City of the Gods," and is Mexico's largest ancient city.  According to archeologist Jesus Sanchez of the National Institute of Anthropology and History, the latest find was built by the same culture that constructed Teotihuacan between AD 400 and 500, and there is evidence that it was used for ceremonial purposes.  The north side of the pyramid opens out into a large square, whose parameter is defined by a low stone wall.  On the south side is another small temple, with evidence of holes in the walls for offerings to be placed.  In terms of the preservation of the find, Sanchez explained that the structure was protected because it was buried beneath two feet of earth.  Half the pyramid has been destroyed, as the hill that covers it has been used for decades every Easter for a re-enactment of the crucifixion of Christ, attended by hundreds of thousands.  In addition, houses built on one side of the hill also have damaged the pyramid, which measures 60 feet tall, or about half the height of the Pyramid of the Moon.  The site will not be fully explored because it is now considered a religious center in its own right.  The find is one of many examples of important pre-Hispanic sites that have become Catholic places of worship.  After the Spanish conquest, conquistadors and envoys of the church superimposed their beliefs on the native culture.  Churches were built atop ancient shrines and pyramids in sites around Mexico, including Chalma and Cholula near Mexico City. The Mexican capital's massive cathedral was built from stone from pyramids flattened by the Spaniards.

Ancient dentistry at a Neolithic graveyard in Pakistan

In Pakistan, a Neolithic graveyard found at Mehrgarh shows that Stone-age dentists used flinthead drills to cure toothache.  The flint-wielding specialists performed the work between 9,000 and 7,500 years ago.  According to Roberto Macchiarelli of the University of Poitiers, the discoveries represent the earliest known examples of dental work.  Drilling occurred in cheek teeth, indicating that the dental alterations weren't intended for display or decoration.  Eleven teeth from nine adults who lived during that period contain holes drilled with sharpened flint points.  Four of the teeth exhibit decay near drilled holes, three drilled teeth came from the same individual, and another tooth was drilled twice.  Interestingly, no instance of drilling has been found in teeth from a 6,500-year-old cemetery at the same site.  Anthropologist and study coauthor David W. Frayer of the University of Kansas is uncetain why the practice disappeared at that time.  He is unsure of the origins of such dental practices.  Drilled holes in the Mehrgarh teeth were 1.3 to 3.2 millimeters in diameter with a depth of 0.5 to 3.5 mm. Edge smoothing indicates that drilling was performed on living individuals whose continued chewing caused further dental wear.  The researchers suggest some type of filling may have been placed in drilled holes, but they haven't yet identified filling traces on any of the teeth.

In-depth analysis of an ancient Egyptian pillow


Three researchers from the University of Manchester in England have been studying a 4,000-year-old Egyptian pillow made out of woven plant fibers encased in a wax coating.  The pillow was unearthed in a cemetery during a 1926 excavation.  Most ancient Egyptian pillows were rather uncomfortable-looking headrests carved out of wood, ivory and stone.  This rare artifact, which dates to 2055-1985 B.C., suggests that ancient Egyptians may have had more comfortable pillows that have biodegraded over time, leaving only the hard headrests for modern archaeologists to find.  Since the wax on the pillow appears to have come from a Dead Sea petroleum residue, the artifact also could indicate that a community of "foreigners" brought knowledge of petroleum processing and pillow making into the region of the western Nile Valley.  According to a scientist associated with the University of Manchester, many of the bodies at the cemetery were buried with matting.   Using UV light, electron, and infrared microscopes, the researchers determined that the plant fibers were of Tigernut grass and yellow nutsedge plants.  Their analysis also suggests that the wax was derived from naturally occurring bitumen that seeps around and into the Dead Sea in Israel and Jordan.  It's not clear why the pillow-makers from what is called the Mayana population covered the pillow in wax, but the researchers believe these people, who appear to have been poor and possibly of mixed Nubian and Asian descent, might have been trying to copy ancient Egyptian burial practices.  The wax was not scented.  However, the coating may have been an attempt to preserve the pillow for the deceased, who was likely an adult female.  Archaeologists found her interred with her head resting on what was described in the 1920's as a "fiber pillow." Three scarabs hung around the neck of the woman, whose skeleton was found lying on bed matting in her grave.  The pillow, which broke into two pieces some time over the millennia, is now in the archives of the Manchester Museum.  The research of Andy Gize, Judith Seath and Rosalie David will be published in next month's Journal of Archaeological Science.  

Forgotten cemetery illuminates Argentine history


Our final story is from Argentina where workers renovating a plaza in the capital, Buenos Aires, have stumbled across a forgotten cemetery used by immigrants early in the19th century.  It was called the dissident cemetery, since Protestant and Jewish communities who were not allowed to bury their dead in the Roman Catholic cemeteries used it.  The find has excited experts eager to learn more about their country's early days.  The dead had lain undisturbed under the plaza for more than 100 years when builders uncovered them.  The remains of men, woman and children were found surrounded by the remnants of their simple funerals.  Leading the search is archaeologist Marcelo Wiesel, who says a rich history lies under the city and hopes this work will explain how Buenos Aires transformed itself so quickly. The finest discovery thus far is a nearly perfectly preserved gravestone found six feet underground, marking the spot where a 10-month old German girl was buried in 1886.  Argentina saw huge waves of immigration in the early part of the 19th Century.  Most came from Italy and Spain, but large numbers also arrived from across Europe - Germans, British, Hungarians, French, and Scandinavians.  Most of these north European immigrants were Protestant and Jewish, and found there was no place for them to bury their dead in the Roman Catholic cemeteries inside the city.   Subsequently, they established burial grounds outside the city limits, which became known as dissident cemeteries.  The head of the city council's culture department, Silvia Fajre, says that according to current evidence, many hundreds of bodies remained in the dissidents' cemetery and many months of archaeological work will be necessary before they know exactly what they have found.  According to Fajre, the find was hugely important, as the cemeteries and rituals surrounding death tell us a great deal about how each community lived, including what they ate, their illnesses, the ceremonies they practiced.  One of those watching with interest is the Reverend David George of the Anglican cathedral in Buenos Aires. That community has just celebrated 175 years in Argentina.  Reverend George holds the births, marriages and death records from those early days in a vault at the cathedral.  They show that those early pioneers came from all walks of life and included accountants, coopers, blacksmiths, fishermen, barkeepers, and saddlers.  

That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week! Audio News Script, April 9, 2006


This is The Archaeology Channel and I’m Rick Pettigrew.

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Audio News from Archaeologica.  A massive pyramid has come to light in Mexico.  Evidence of dentistry is up to 9000 years old in Pakistan.  British researchers are studying a 4000 year old Egyptian pillow.  And construction workers have stumbled upon a forgotten cemetery in Buenos Aires.

This program would not be possible without our supporting Members.   We thank new Individual Members Louise Bowles of Espanola, New Mexico, and Roger McCord of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  To our podcast listeners, thanks very much for joining us and please sample our other programs at

And now, here’s Laura Kelley with the Audio News from Archaeologica.  We hope you find this to be a valuable part of your day.


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