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World Roundup

November/December 2016

  • World Roundup BelizeBELIZE: The occupant of one of the largest Maya tombs discovered in the country—in one of the few known Maya funerary pyramids—wasn’t the most surprising find in a recent exploration of a massive temple at the site of Xunantunich. Also found there were two hieroglyphic panels believed to have come from a dismantled ceremonial stairway at the city of Caracol. Almost all the panels—which tell the story of a victory of Caracol over the city of Naranjo—had previously been found, except for these two, from the tale’s beginning and end. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup MontserratMONTSERRAT: Hikers in the dense forest of this British Overseas Territory—an island that has been devastated by volcanic eruptions over the last 20 years—found its first known petroglyphs, a series of designs both geometric and apparently figurative, carved into a mossy boulder. They appear to date to more than 1,000 years ago, and were left by the Arawak people, who had settled much of the Caribbean prior to the arrival of Europeans. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup BrazilBRAZIL: The proto-Jê cultures in the southern highlands made ceremonial mounds and enclosures, as well as pit houses that were used for decades, even centuries. It had originally been assumed that these large dwellings were occupied, then abandoned, then occupied again, but recent research shows that they were inhabited continuously over long periods of time, with family groups remodeling them over the years. The house that archaeologists dated in detail was in use from the end of the 14th century to the beginning of the 17th. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup BelgiumBELGIUM: A set of human and animal bones from Goyet Cave, first excavated 150 years ago, have produced the first clear evidence of Neanderthal cannibalism north of the Alps. Bone fragments recently identified as Neanderthal show signs of cut marks and percussion breaking, and four of them hold evidence of having been used as implements for crafting and retouching stone tools. The bones date to around 40,000 to 45,000 years ago, not long before the human subspecies went extinct. Other Neanderthal groups in the region appear to have buried their dead. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup GhanaGHANA: In many parts of the world, ages ago as today, if the rains fail, people go hungry or have to turn to less nourishing alternative food sources. But researchers examining plant remains and other artifacts in the rural Banda district have found that 500 years ago, people there did not experience such “food stress,” but were able to continue eating their preferred pearl millet—in wet times and dry. Food security and storage, they theorize, was stronger prior to British colonial presence because economies were more diverse and people weren’t encouraged to sell their harvests for cash. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup EgyptEGYPT: Among the many items buried with Tutankhamun in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings is an iron dagger. This was centuries before iron smelting emerged in the region, so there has long been academic discussion about whether the iron for the blade was smelted elsewhere and imported as a gift, or came from a metallic meteorite. Using portable X-ray fluorescence spectrometry, physicists have determined, based on the blade’s composition, that it was likely made from meteoritic iron, which the Egyptians called bia-n-pt or, literally, “iron from the sky.” —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup South AfricaSOUTH AFRICA: No animal besides humans can throw a five-ounce spheroid object more than 105 miles an hour (see Aroldis Chapman, Chicago Cubs pitcher). Recent experiments indicate that our facility with throwing may have been an evolutionary advantage. According to simulations, spheroids, or ball-shaped stones, found at African archaeological sites as old as 1.8 million years, appear to have been the ideal weight and size to inflict worthwhile damage to medium-sized prey animals at distances up to 80 feet. For the record, batters stand 60 feet, 6 inches, from Chapman. Be careful not to crowd the plate. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup JordanJORDAN: Stone tools dating back a quarter of a million years have yielded the oldest known protein food residues ever observed and are providing insight into the diet of ancient hominins who would have been living in an increasingly arid and marginal environment. On the menu were rhinoceros, wild cattle, horses, and ducks. This surprising diversity—and the range of hunting techniques it would have required—suggests, according to the researchers, an adaptability that would have served Middle Pleistocene hominins well as they dispersed across Eurasia’s highly variable landscapes. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup Hong KongHONG KONG: The waters of this Chinese territory could be one of the most extensive and largely untapped resources for maritime heritage anywhere in the world. Everything from Neolithic artifacts to Arab, Indian, and Persian trading ships to Chinese and European colonial vessels could lie in its waters, but to date little underwater archaeology has been conducted there. The recent discoveries of a 1,000-year-old granite anchor stock (the oldest maritime artifact found in Chinese waters) and a 19th-century European cannon hint at what might lie below. —Samir S. Patel

  • World Roundup Solomon IslandsSOLOMON ISLANDS: Using obsidian and pig skin, researchers are attempting to determine whether certain artifacts found at archaeological sites in Melanesia had been used for tattooing. They conducted these experiments to observe the wear, such as chipping and scratches, and residues on the stone caused by tattooing, and then compared that use-wear with 3,000-year-old artifacts. They found that the obsidian pieces, old and new, show similar patterns, suggesting that they hadn’t been used for working hides, but were for adorning human skin. —Samir S. Patel



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