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From the Trenches

A Soul of a City

By HYUNG-EUN KIM

Friday, April 03, 2015

Trenches Seoul Joseon Excavation

 

On a 1.73-acre site in the middle of downtown Seoul, archaeologists have uncovered 37 residences, large and small, constructed during the early part of Korea’s Joseon Dynasty, which lasted from 1392 until the colonization of the country by Japan in 1910. The excavations, led by the Cultural Heritage Administration, took place in the Jongno District, the capital city’s bustling financial and commercial section, and are believed to have uncovered an area inhabited by both aristocrats and commoners. During the Joseon Dynasty, the Jongno District was close to the royal palace, and, beginning in the seventeenth century, was also the location of government-licensed shops, which may explain the varied population. The nine-foot-wide alleyways are similar in size to those in modern downtown Seoul, which researchers say supports their theory that the general city structure of Seoul—and in particular its alleyways—maintains the same overall look as it had in the fourteenth century, when the Joseon Dynasty declared the city its capital. In addition to the foundations and alleyways, archaeologists found roof tiles, pieces of blue-green celadon and milky-white porcelain, animal bones, traces of ondol (under-floor heating systems), and daecheong maru, open-air spaces within traditional houses where people enjoyed unobstructed natural views and easy access to front and rear gardens.

Ant Explorers

By DANIEL WEISS

Monday, April 06, 2015

Trenches Fire Ants Colonize the WorldTropical fire ants, named for the intense burning produced by their stings, are found today in tropical regions across the globe. How they managed to colonize landmasses as far apart as the Americas, Asia, and Africa has been an enduring mystery. Now, researchers have analyzed genetic markers from 192 fire ant colonies and determined that the ants were native to the Americas and spread to other continents via sixteenth-century Spanish galleons.

 

The researchers found the greatest genetic diversity in ants from the Americas, indicating that this was their original home. In particular, they found that the genetic types in the Philippines were a subset of those in southwestern Mexico, and those in Taiwan were a subset of those in the Philippines. This laid out a map of how the ants must have been transported—first from Mexico to the Philippines and then on to Taiwan, with a bit of genetic diversity lost with each step.

 

By measuring the degree to which the Asian populations’ genetic markers had diverged from those of the original population, a process that occurs at a known rate, the researchers determined that the ants first ventured abroad in the sixteenth century. “We asked who was trading at that time that would match that pattern,” says Andrew Suarez, an entomologist at the University of Illinois. “And the best fit by far was the Spanish.”

 

The researchers suggest that the ants were carried along with soil used as ballast on Spanish ships that regularly sailed from Acapulco, in southwestern Mexico, to Manila, in the Philippines, and then on to Taiwan. At each stop, soil was off-loaded to make room for goods such as silk, porcelain, and spices—and the ants made themselves at home in a new land.

Catching Fire and Keeping It

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, April 06, 2015

Trenches Tabun Cave FlintsHumans first made controlled use of fire about a million years ago, but there isn’t much evidence that it was used widely at that early date. A team of researchers from the University of Arizona and the University of Haifa examined the evidence of fire use at 11 Paleolithic sites in the Levant and found that it was not common until around 350,000 years ago. When and how fire came to be used by humans has become an area of renewed interest to paleoanthropologists. “There are all kinds of interesting evolutionary developments inherent in how fire is incorporated as an element of technology, and even of social life, that we haven’t really thought about because we were mainly concerned with the earliest use of fire,” says Steven Kuhn of the University of Arizona. Beyond just providing warmth, fire kept predators away and led to cooked food and better nutrition, and it also may have been a focal point for social activities. According to Kuhn, there is evidence that the way living spaces were organized changes when people adopt fire. Why this change in fire use occurred is a matter of conjecture. It could be that earlier than 350,000 years ago people were controlling and using naturally occurring fires, says Kuhn, and that only later did they learn to start fires on their own.

Oysters for the Earth Goddess

By ZACH ZORICH

Monday, April 06, 2015

Trenches Aztec Oyster Earth Goddess

 

Beneath a stone carving of the Aztec earth goddess Tlaltecuhtli inside Mexico City’s Templo Mayor, archaeologists have found an offering containing a variety of artifacts and animal bones, including seashells, from all over the Aztec Empire. A new analysis shows that several of the shells come from mollusks that live on Mexico’s Pacific coast, a possible indicator that the Aztecs expanded their empire to that area during the reign of Ahuitzotl, between 1486 and 1502.

A Western Wiki-pedia

By ERIC A. POWELL

Monday, April 06, 2015

Trenches Wikiups Survey

 

Researchers believe that Native Americans have been building the conical wooden shelters popularly known as wickiups, which usually leave no trace in the archaeological record, for at least 12,000 years. In the arid Mountain West, however, many of these structures, some of them recently dated to just hundreds of years ago, are still standing. The Colorado Wickiup Project, led by archaeologist Curtis Martin, has been documenting and dating these temporary dwellings, and has created a database of more than 400 in northwestern Colorado alone. Most were built by members of the Ute tribes, and offer clues to their history.

 

Trenches Wikiups Vintage PhotographMore than half the wickiup poles the project has thus far studied show, via tree-ring dating, that the wood was harvested after 1881. This was a major surprise, according to Curtis, because “1881 is when all Utes were said to have been removed to the reservations in Utah. But we can show they were here, and in great numbers, until at least 1917.” These wickiups, he says, are silent evidence of the last autonomous Utes, who have been overlooked by history.

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