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World Roundup

September/October 2015

  • World Roundup Guatemala Maya CityGUATEMALA: The ancient Maya city of Nixtun-Ch’ich’ in Petén stands out not for its flat-topped pyramids, but for its plan. Years of excavation and mapping have revealed that Nixtun-Ch’ich’ was built on a modern-style grid, which makes it unique among urban Maya sites. The level of organization suggests that it had a powerful ruler or state, and that life there could have been markedly different than in other Maya cities, which tend to be more spread out and spacious. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup Bolivia Tiwanaku SkullBOLIVIA: Three skulls found near Lake Titicaca, at Wata Wata, occupied from a.d. 200 to 800, stand out among Andean trophy skulls for the violence done to them and for their association with Tiwanaku culture, for which there was no prior evidence of head-taking. The skulls of three adults show evidence of scalping, beheading, defleshing, and even the forcible removal of the eyes, all around the time of death. Whoever they were, the trauma likely served to symbolically disempower them—in this life and perhaps the next. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup Iceland Medieval CloistersICELAND: A team studying medieval monastic and religious sites on the island has found that monks and nuns preferred to secrete themselves away rather than share sites with common churchgoers. Because the island has historically been so sparsely populated, it was assumed that monks and nuns would have used everyday parish churches, rather than build their own. The new work indicates that monastic cloisters weren’t built near parish churches, suggesting that monks and nuns went to great, expensive lengths to build their own churches and isolate themselves. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup Ireland Spanish ArmadaIRELAND: Recent storms have placed at risk the remains of three ships from the famed Spanish Armada that were wrecked during a storm in 1588, taking more than 1,000 lives. Discovered in 1985, the wrecks—La Juliana, La Lavia, and La Santa Maria de Visón—have in recent years disgorged artifacts onto the beach: a rudder, a cannonball, timbers, and more. In response, the country’s Underwater Archaeology Unit has raced to retrieve items exposed by shifting sands, including cannons from La Juliana, a converted merchant vessel. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup Zimbabwe MapelaZIMBABWE: New investigations at the remote site of Mapela are providing insights into the origins of the Zimbabwe culture, known for its elite stone terrace houses surrounded by dwellings for commoners, most notably seen at the ruins of Great Zimbabwe. Mapela, a largely forgotten site, dates to the 11th century and suggests that the culture’s signature class hierarchy and distinctive architecture arose some 200 years earlier than expected. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup Ethiopia New Human AncestorETHIOPIA: Parts of jaws and teeth found in the Afar region—near where Lucy, the famed Australopithecus afarensis, was discovered in 1974—may represent a new human ancestor. Dubbed Australopithecus deyiremeda, the new species, which dates to between 3.3 and 3.5 million years ago, may have coexisted with Lucy’s species, but appears to have been adapted to take advantage of tougher plants and grasses than A. afarensis. The differences are subtle, so more research and samples are needed to understand the evolutionary place of the new species. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup Pakistan HarrappanPAKISTAN: Compared with the other cradles of civilization in Egypt and Mesopotamia, little is known about the people of the Indus Valley civilization, in large part because of the lack of elaborate burials and because their script remains undeciphered. A recent isotope analysis of teeth from Indus burials shows that people interred there were almost exclusively migrants from the hinterlands. The pattern suggests some kind of formalized migration, and that the remains of these people were treated differently (buried) than those of locals, which aren’t preserved in the archaeological record. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup Laos Early Modern Skull

    LAOS: Skull fragments recovered from a cave represent the earliest known modern human in Southeast Asia. Between 46,000 and 63,000 years old, the find is better dated and more clearly modern than similar fossils that have been found in East Asia. The bone was found in the north of the country, which suggests that the previous assumption that early modern humans migrated solely along the coast is incomplete, and that they spread into a range of environments early in the migration out of Africa. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup MummyPAPUA NEW GUINEA: Mummies are created around the world, usually by some form of drying. Among the Anga people of the Aseki region, mummies are smoked. Until recently, the Anga smoked the deceased and displayed their bodies on cliffsides out of reverence and to mark territory, but exposure to the elements has left them deteriorated. Researchers from the United States and Canada recently helped conserve one, a leader named Moimango, using materials found in the jungle. The project was a success, and Moimango now sits again in the cliffside roost where he has overseen his descendants for some 60 years. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup WWI TrenchAUSTRALIA: In 1916, Australian soldiers were preparing to make their name on the world stage, fighting for the Allies in WWI (such as at Gallipoli, shown here). But first they had to train for the trenches. Near Canberra, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of this preparation. Using aerial photos, researchers identified and have begun to excavate an area where Australian soldiers dug training trenches. Their dig is revealing how the military experimented with trench styles, and then trained soldiers to re-create them in the field. —Samir S. Patel



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