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World Roundup

September/October 2013

  • ohio-great-lakes-brewing-sumerianOHIO: The craft-brewing craze has reached into the past for inspiration before—including an ancient Chinese wine, a pre-Olmec chocolate drink, and others. A new attempt, from the Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland, is based on a 5,000-year-old Sumerian poem praising Ninkasi, the goddess of beer. With guidance from Sumerologists and archaeologists, the brewers are using replica clay pots, as well as attempting to reproduce the yeast and barley bread cakes used in the brewing process. So far, their attempts have been dominated by a harsh sourness, so the experiment continues. —Samir S. Patel

  • canada-industrial-revolution-gasometreCANADA: Prominent among the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution was the gaslight that brightened streets, factories, and homes, increasing safety, productivity, and leisure time. The gas was extracted from coal and stored in massive holding structures. Construction workers in Montreal have uncovered the brick foundations of one of these gas-holders—there called a “gasometre”—a cylinder some 300 feet in diameter built in 1837. Archaeologists are measuring and mapping the structure to learn more about how it was built. —Samir S. Patel

  • england-butterly-gangroad-railway-tunnelENGLAND: In 1793, a horse-powered rail line called the Butterly Gangroad was built to connect the limestone quarries at Crich with the Cromford Canal. Archaeologists have opened up part of the line believed to be one of the oldest known railway tunnels in the world. Originally constructed of stone, the tunnel was lined with brick in the 1840s and used as an air raid shelter in World War II. It also hosted a trial of an early steam-powered locomotive in 1813. —Samir S. Patel

  • belgium-teeth-barium-breast-milkBELGIUM: How long did Neanderthal infants breast-feed? A new study examined the mineral content of teeth of modern humans and macaques and found that elevated levels of barium are a reliable indicator of the ingestion of breast milk. They then applied this test to a fossilized Neanderthal tooth from Belgium, and found that the child was breast-fed exclusively for seven months, followed by seven months of mother’s milk supplemented with other foods. Using the technique on other well-fossilized Neanderthal remains might help show if such abrupt weaning was common among them. —Samir S. Patel

  • sweden-karleby-fertilizerSWEDEN: Detailed analysis of wheat and barley grains from the Stone Age site of Karleby have provided evidence of the use of fertilizer 5,000 years ago. The grains possessed a ratio of nitrogen isotopes suggesting the people of Karleby were supplementing their soil, probably with animal manure. Further analysis will look to see what kinds of weeds grew there—another potential indication of the presence of fertilizer. —Samir S. Patel

  • poland-nazi-death-camp-sobiborPOLAND: No one escaped from the Nazi death camp Sobibor prior to an armed uprising in 1943, but it was not for a lack of trying. Archaeologists recently uncovered evidence of a 32-foot-long tunnel, five feet below the surface, leading from one of the prisoner barracks to beyond the camp’s barbed wire fences. The researchers believe the escape plan was discovered, which likely would have led to the filling in of the tunnel and the execution of everyone involved. —Samir S. Patel

  • egypt-bead-widmanstatten-patternEGYPT: Nine small, cylindrical beads found in two 5,000-year-old grave pits are literally from out of this world. Scientists examined one of the iron beads, first identified in 1911, and found that it is high in nickel and has a crystal structure called a Widmanstätten pattern—both indicative of extraterrestrial origin. Likely from a meteorite, it predates ancient Egyptian iron smelting by at least 3,000 years. Iron seems to have been a rare—and therefore high-status—material in pre-Dynastic Egypt. —Samir S. Patel

  • kenya-meat-eatingKENYA: Thousands of bone fragments with cut marks and evidence of smashing provide the oldest evidence of consistent meat-eating among humans, going back some 2 million years. While stone tools that could have been used for hunting and butchery, and some isolated animal remains, date back even further, this is the first direct evidence of sustained carnivory. Most of the bones belong to small ungulates such as gazelles, and because they don’t show teeth marks from other animals, they are likely to have been hunted. The hominins also had occasional access to larger, wildebeest-sized animals, which may have been scavenged. —Samir S. Patel

  • malawi-mount-toba-ashMALAWI: Scientists have hypothesized that the eruption of Mount Toba in Indonesia 75,000 years ago caused a global “volcanic winter,” a climate downturn so dramatic that it almost wiped out our species. Sediments from Lake Malawi suggest otherwise. Researchers found ash from the eruption in the sediments, but no changes above the layer—such as a change in the lake’s algal population—that would indicate a major change in climate. If humans were indeed near extinction around that time, the study posits, it wasn’t because of the eruption. —Samir S. Patel

  • japan-kofun-mirrorJAPAN: Three-dimensional scanning of a bronze mirror from the early Kofun period, in the 3rd century a.d., has revealed previously unrecognized details in the deities and beasts that decorate it—information that can be used to help settle a heated debate on whether mirrors of this style originated in China or Japan. Scanning is also being used on a much larger scale to study certain Kofun burial mounds, which are known for their distinctive “keyhole” shape, to help reveal how they were constructed. —Samir S. Patel



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