Audio News for April 16th to April 22nd, 2006

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I'm Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news for April 16th to April 22nd, 2006.

Graves in the South Pacific reveal information about early seafarers

Original Headline: Graves of the Pacific's First Seafarers Revealed


Our first story is from the South Pacific where a cemetery in the Vanuatu Islands is yielding information on the Pacific’s first seafarers, the Lapita.  Little is known of the Lapita people, other than that they produced red pottery with intricate designs. The graves on the island of Efate are estimated to be 3000 years old. They dated to around the time that the Lapita began sailing across the Pacific from New Guinea's Bismarck Archipelago, spreading out as far as Samoa and Tonga. The site reveals unknown facets of their burial customs, and may offer clues to their origins.   Since the first Lapita shards were discovered a half-century ago, more than 200 sites have been found, but skeletal remains are very rare.  In late 2003, workers quarrying soil for a prawn farm came across a chunk of pottery with a complex pattern. They showed it to a field worker with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, Salkon Yona.  Yona consulted Australia National University archaeologist Stuart Bedford, who confirmed the shard as early Lapita.   The biggest surprise came when the team began unearthing bones. So few Lapita burials had been found that the researchers assumed these were recent graves until paleoanatomy expert Hallie Buckley of the University of Otago confirmed the remains were Lapita. It seemed that everywhere they dug they discovered a skeleton. In two seasons, they excavated 25 graves containing three dozen individuals. All skeletons were headless, a trait shared by other Pacific cultures. In some graves, cone shell rings replaced the skulls, signifying that the graves were reopened and the heads ceremonially removed.  The heads were then reburied. In one grave, three skulls were lined up on the chest of a male skeleton. Pottery at the site was revealing. In addition, some burial jars were amongst the oldest in the region. The inner rim of one depicts four clay birds peering into the vessel. The vessels are similar in form to early "red-slip" pottery found in Taiwan and islands of Southeast Asia.  These finds support the argument that Lapita people at least stopped in this region on their eastward migration. After excavations this summer, the team hopes to extract DNA from bones to use to compare with modern populations.

Japanese team finds new geoglyph on the Nazca Plateau

Original Headline:  Japanese researchers find new giant picture on Peru's Nazca Plateau


In Peru, a team of Japanese researchers has discovered a new geoglyph on the Nazca Plateau.  Measuring 195 feet long, the figure appears to be an animal with horns. There are no similar patterns elsewhere, and the type of the animal remains unclear.  The discovery marks the first time since the 1980s that an image other than a geometrical pattern has been found on the Nazca Plateau.  A team of researchers including Masato Sakai, an associate professor at Yamagata University, found the picture after analyzing images from a commercial satellite.  In March, it was confirmed as a previously undiscovered picture. Located at the southern region of the Nazca Plateau, there is evidence of vehicle damage and part of the image has been destroyed. Two parts of the picture, the portions that appear to be horns, bear a close resemblance to those seen on pottery dating from 100 BC to AD 600, during the time when the Nazca kingdom flourished.  The research team will use images from the advanced land-observing satellite "Daichi”, to create a distribution map of images for further study and preservation.

Beheaded skeletons illustrate ancient Chinese warfare

Original Headline:  Beheaded skeletons replay war history.


In China, archaeologists have uncovered 30 beheaded skeletons dating back more than 2,000 years.  The skeletons from Henan Province were identified as warriors, the tallest measuring approximately five and a half feet.  The remains were found scattered in a pit next to a major battlefield where the Qin state overthrew the Han toward the end of the Warring States Period which lasted from 475 to 221 BC.  According to Sun Xinmin, head of the Henan Provincial Institute of Cultural Heritage, the skeletons were likely Han and their heads were likely taken by the Qin warriors who intended to receive a promotion based on the number of enemy troops they had killed.  Some of the skeletons show evidence of being slashed by broadswords and many were burned.  Three of the skeletons were found crouching on the top of one another and Sun assumes they were buried alive before they were beheaded.  Copper coins spotted close to the skeletons indicate that the massacre occurred sometime before 221 BC.  According to Zhu Shaohou, a noted professor from Henan University who has studied ancient promotion systems, Yingzheng’s Dynasty, as well as the Qin Dynasty, had a system that inspired killing enemy soldiers.  The beheaded skeletons, however, were the first evidence ever found to prove it.  "State Han was the first small kingdom conquered by State Qin and the skeletons were buried some 30 km from State Han's capital. So we have every reason to believe that the dead warriors were battling for State Han and were beheaded by their foes," he added.  As the war escalated, Qin soldiers had to annihilate three to five people in order to get a promotion.   The Qin later united all the other smaller states and established China's first feudal dynasty, which lasted from 221 to 207 B.C.

Gold cartouches from Egypt shed light on an ancient political drama

Original Headline: Ancient gold cartouches unearthed in Egypt


Our final story is from Egypt where archaeologists have discovered gold cartouches dating back to 1400 BC which shed new light on the relationship between two ancient Egyptian rulers.  French and Egyptian archeologists have discovered two sets of nine solid gold cartouches bearing the name of Thotmusis III, ruler from 1479 to1425 BC, near the pharaoh's stepmother Queen Hatshepsut's temple in Luxor.  According to Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, these cartouches have been found near Hatshepsut's obelisk, thus proving that both rulers erected the obelisk.  Thotmusis III, who was Hatshepsut's stepson and co-ruler after the death of his father Thotmusis II in 1479 BC, was widely regarded as having had strained relations with the queen. Thotmusis III was a child when his father died and the rule of the kingdom was put in the hands of Hatsheput.  Until the latest discovery, Egyptologists believed that Thotmusis III destroyed Hatshepsut's statues and images out of jealousy upon her death, particularly those in Hatshepsut's temple in el Deir el Bahary in the southern city of Luxor.  The find goes against earlier views that Thotmusis III tried to hide Hatshepsut's obelisk when he took over as ruler and that he worked to erase any traces left by the queen.  The new discoveries will be taken to the Luxor Museum to be put on display.

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