Audio News for April 9th to April 15th, 2006

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica!  I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for April 9th to April 15th, 2006.

London’s newest medieval cemetery tells stories of a community


Our first story is from England, where a team from the University of Leicester has unearthed the largest medieval parish cemetery ever found.  It is outside London and contains more than 1,300 skeletons.  The archaeology unit has an extraordinary opportunity to tell us about the lives these people led.  The importance of the site lies in its close identification with an area over a defined period, roughly from AD 1200 to 1600, effectively recording the human history of a community.  According to Harriet Jacklin, an osteologist trained to examine human bones for clues, first results from the St. Peters site indicate how dark and difficult medieval life could be for children.  A high number of infants and juveniles have been discovered.  This could be an indication of the quantity of diseases, which while they leave little direct effect on the skeleton, would have a big effect on the child mortality rate.  Another valuable source of information is the teeth.  Many of the teeth are exceptionally worn, showing a coarse diet.  There appears to have been a slightly better standard of dental health among individuals buried within the church, indicated perhaps a better standard of living and therefore higher social status.  There are also tiles from the church, often decorated with the coats of arms from local nobility.  Another find from the site was the lead seal from a papal bull, a document purchased from the Church in hope of absolving sins and shortening the individual's time in purgatory.  It dates from Pope Innocent VI, who reigned from 1352 to 1362.  The team hopes to record an average of two skeletons per person per day with those of special interest sent for further analysis.  Analysts expect to get through the collection in roughly two years.

Etruscan tomb preservation group pleads for aid


In Italy, just north of Rome, a famed Etruscan burial ground is in danger of disappearing under the double attack of erosion and vegetation.  The site at Norchia near Viterbo houses a maze of amazing cliff-hanging tombs and burrows housing the residents of the 5th-century BC Etruscan city of Orcle.  It is the biggest such burial site in Italy and was a huge attraction for Etruscan enthusiasts until vegetation began to block access.  The Archeo Tuscia association, which devotes itself to the upkeep of the major Etruscan sites, now reports that it is on the verge of crumbling away. Chasms have opened up between one tomb and another, and some of the huge tombstones have even been split apart by the wiry, unstoppable encroachment of roots.  Archeo Tuscia has appealed to Roman authorities to fund a major restoration plan to stop landslips and preserve the tombs.  Norchia is one of the few Etruscan sites featuring false doors to the afterlife, marked by a T-like symbol called ‘tao.’   The Etruscans are believed to have formed the first advanced civilization in Italy, in an area called Etruria, known as present-day Tuscany and northern Lazio, including Florence.  At the height of their power at around 500 BC, their power extended to the foothills of the Alps and southward close to Naples.  Our knowledge of their civilization is based principally on archaeological finds, as much of their language has yet to be interpreted.  Tomb excavations have offered the most valuable insights into Etruscan material culture.

Looting reaches crisis state for ancient site in India


In a rural area of Bengal in India, smuggling priceless antiquities has become a business and the government is not stepping in.  One victim is the site of Chandraketugarh (CHAN-dra-KEH-tu-gar).  Spread over four-square miles, Chandraketugarh is a trove of artifacts dating back to 650 BC.  Chandraketugarh first became known in the early 1900’s when some artifacts were dug up during road constructions.  A. H. Longhurst, a renowned British archaeologist, visited the site in 1907, followed by Rakhaldas Bandopadhyay, the man behind the excavations at Mohenjodaro, in 1909.  Both noted that detailed studies and extensive excavation of the site was necessary.  Unfortunately, historians and archaeologists of the post-Independence era failed to act on their recommendations and Chandraketugarh remained neglected for decades.  The area is now thickly populated, which rules out large-scale excavations, and smugglers are commissioning digs on privately owned land.  Just a few meters of excavation can yield results of value to collectors all over the world.  Treasures from this site can be seen in the world's leading museums, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York.   But instead of acting to prevent looting of the site, government authorities are locked in a blame game.  Gourishankar De, history professor at Calcutta University, has been a mute witness to the plunder and recalls that Chandraketugarh and its antiquities started receiving a lot of attention about three decades ago, followed a decade later by organized digging and smuggling.  The signs of profit are visible in the local villages. Artifacts are smuggled out through different routes, primarily Bangladesh and Nepal, to the West and Japan.   What makes Chandraketugarh a smuggler’s paradise is the sheer number, diversity and richness of the artifacts, dating from ancient India's “second urbanization” in the sixth century BC to the Pala-Sena periods of AD 750-1250 AD.  Apart from the countless and varied terracotta plaques, infrequent excavations have yielded pottery with strong Greco-Roman influence, a large variety of seals, ivory objects, bronze objects including a mirror, copper and silver coins of the Mauryan, Sunga, Kushana, Gupta, and post-Gupta periods.  Many of the seals have motifs of ships.  This, and the strong Roman and other foreign influences in the attire of women depicted in the terracotta plaques, are proof that Chandraketugarh was once a centre for maritime trade.  The terracotta plaques also tell the story of a very rich civilization, showing women clad in fine garments with elaborate headdresses and intricate jewelry.  With excavations ruled out and the best of its treasures out of the reach of historians, Chandraketugarh may forever remain an enigma.

Excavation of the city of Pyrrhus illuminates life in Hellenistic times


In our final story from Albania, teams of Greek and Albanian archaeologists are cooperating on a three-year excavation project in Epirus (uh-PIE-rus).  A memorandum signed last year by the Greek Culture Ministry and the Archaeological Institute of the Tirana Academy of Sciences in Albania has paved the way for joint research at ancient Antigoneia (an-ti-goh-KNEE-uh).  For the next three years, while they explore the mysteries of the city and its founder, Pyrrhus (PEER-us), king of the Molossians, a group of Albanian students from the universities of Girokaster and Tirana are training for the future.  Pyrrhus claimed descent from the mythical hero Achilles and founded his great city in 296 BC.  It was destroyed not long afterward, though, when the Romans retaliated for the region’s military opposition to expanding Roman rule.  The Romans destroyed more than 70 walled settlements in Epirus and took 150,000 people into slavery in revenge for Pyrrhus' invasion of Italy.  Albanian archaeologist Dhimosten Budina identified the city on a 35-hectare site.  The identification was made based on bronze ballots bearing the inscription “ANTIGONEON” on a Hellenistic-era house.  Pyrrhus named the city after his first wife Antigone, the daughter of the Macedonian nobles Berenice and Philip.  At the site, Budina has unearthed the ancient agora, a 200-foot stoa, a treasury of bronze judicial ballots, vases, agricultural tools, and fragments of a bronze equestrian statue, including the horse's tail and a life-size hand with a signet ring and a bronze muzzle.  Also found were 700 coins that are from the Assembly of the Epirotes, and a tomb monument in one of the houses near the agora.  Zachos said the outstanding tomb, which contained artifact fragments, was designed along the lines of Macedonian tombs and dates from the Hellenistic era.  Research will continue in the agora, where there is a continuous sequence of material from the third century BC at the lower level to the second century BC at the higher level.

That wraps up the news for this week!
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I'm Laura Kelley and I'll see you next week!