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World Roundup

January/February 2015

  • World-Roundup-TennesseeTENNESSEE: In 1989, just before the Nashville Zoo was constructed, archaeologists at the site found an undocumented cemetery, which was left undisturbed. Speculation was that the graves could belong to tenant farmers or a community of slaves. Plans were recently made to expand the zoo and relocate the cemetery, which provided anthropologists a chance to learn more about who was buried there. Analysis of the 19 graves excavated revealed African cranial traits and DNA, evidence of hard labor, and artifacts dating to the mid-19th century—indications of a slave cemetery. —Samir S. Patel

  • World-Roundup-UtahUTAH: Rock art can be notoriously difficult to date, so theories about the age of the dozens of enigmatic figures painted in the Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon are predictably wide-ranging—from 500 to 8,000 years old. Geoscientists recently used a technique called luminescence dating to determine that the paintings’ actual age is between 1,000 and 2,000 years old. The new dating creates fresh questions about the people who made the images. —Samir S. Patel

  • World-Roundup-MexicoMEXICO: The ancient city of Teotihuacan relied heavily on maize, but the crop is low in certain nutrients, and frost and drought make it risky to cultivate. Paintings and artifacts suggest that people also turned to pulque, an alcoholic beverage made from agave sap, to fill nutritional needs, especially during maize shortages. But until now, there was no direct evidence of it. A new study has successfully found on potsherds not traces of pulque, but of compounds produced by Zymomonas mobilis, the bacterium used in its fermentation. —Samir S. Patel

  • World-Roundup-EnglandENGLAND: In the ongoing excavations of Vindolanda, one of the northernmost Roman forts, near Hadrian’s Wall, excavators found a wooden toilet seat. Marble and stone seats have been found in other parts of the Roman world, but this is thought to be the only surviving wooden one. The 2,000-year-old bench appears to have been well used and, researchers report, rather comfortable. —Samir S. Patel

  • World-Roundup-NorwayNORWAY: A man removing some pesky flagstones from his yard stumbled across a pair of metal tongs—and then a bent sword. Luckily, he called in archaeologists, who excavated the grave of a Viking blacksmith, probably dating to the late 8th century. In all, some 200 objects have emerged from the site, including smithing tools such as three hammers, two anvils, ember tongs, and a fire rake, as well as products of his labor, such as an ax, arrows, and a knife. The range of finds suggests he was an important local craftsman.

  • World-Roundup-SpainSPAIN: According to historical sources, the site from which Christopher Columbus set sail in 1492, Palos de la Frontera, had a pottery works and a building that served as an office, store, tavern, and inn for sailors. Though its location had been inferred, the specific site and components of the port had been lost until recent work there revealed pottery ovens and sherds and the remains of that multiuse building. It was most likely a site where Columbus made some arrangements for the historic voyage to the New World. —Samir S. Patel

  • World-Roundup-SicilySICILY: Countless piles of amphoras from ancient shipwrecks lie scattered throughout the Mediterranean. So there’s nothing very unusual about a particular 2,000-year-old pile 420 feet below the waters of the Aeolian Islands, except for an unexpected find in the ship’s bow—a thymiaterion, or an incense burner, consisting of a bowl atop a column. It represents rare evidence confirming historical accounts that ancient sailors conducted rituals at sea, including when leaving or entering a harbor or in times of distress. —Samir S. Patel

  • World-Roundup-EgyptEGYPT: In a study of more than 100 skulls excavated from the site of Amarna, some 28 had remains of preserved hair, which is allowing a unique look into hairstyles and ethnicity in this part of ancient Egypt 3,300 years ago. Among them were several with extensions braided into the natural hair, including one on which there were approximately 70 extensions fastened in different places and layers. —Samir S. Patel

  • World-Roundup-KazakhstanKAZAKHSTAN: Using Google Earth and satellite imagery, scientists have recently found some 50 geoglyphs, some up to a quarter-mile across, made up of patterns of discrete mounds, in the northern steppes. Excavations, remote sensing, and other studies are under way. It appears there are no structures buried within the mounds, and the purpose of the enigmatic earthworks remains unknown. They may help track early human migration across the region. —Samir S. Patel

  • World-Roundup-New-ZealandNEW ZEALAND: Following a storm, a large piece of a 600-year-old canoe emerged from a beach on South Island. Now undergoing conservation and study, the canoe suggests connections with places across the South Pacific. It is made of local black pine, but employs a sophisticated oceangoing design with ribs and a girder, and has a carving of a turtle on the hull. Both the design and carving were unknown or rare in New Zealand at the time, and represent some sort of cultural continuity with the rest of Polynesia. —Samir S. Patel



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