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World Roundup

March/April 2017

  • World Roundup CanadaCANADA: A zinc deficiency caused by malnutrition—and not lead poisoning as previously theorized—may have led to the deaths of the Franklin Expedition crew. All 129 men were lost between 1845 and 1848 when their ships became trapped in ice while seeking the Northwest Passage. Recent laboratory analysis of the nails of crewman John Hartnell, who was buried on Beechey Island, indicate that a lack of fresh red meat severely compromised his immune system, making him susceptible to the tuberculosis that eventually killed him. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup GreenlandGREENLAND: It appears that 4,000 years ago the Paleo-Inuit Saqqaq culture may have dined frequently on whale meat. Sedimentary DNA analysis of ancient midden deposits in western Greenland detected surprisingly large proportions of bowhead whale DNA, which was likely left behind by flesh, blood, and blubber remnants seeping into the soil. A scarcity of whale bones at Saqqaq sites and the absence of whale-hunting technology had formerly led scholars to conclude that these mammals were not part of the ancient subsistence economy. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup MexicoMEXICO: Today, in parts of southern Mexico, turkeys are a major part of the socioeconomic structure of local communities—just as they were to the culture there 1,500 years ago. At the site of Mitla Fortress in Oaxaca, recently excavated houses contained the earliest and most comprehensive evidence of ancient Zapotec turkey domestication, dating to between A.D. 400 and 600. The abundance of turkey bones and eggshells suggests the birds were raised for food, trade, and use in ritual activities. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup BrazilBRAZIL: The oldest evidence of humans performing elaborate funerary rituals has been discovered at the cave site of Lapa do Santo in South America. Twenty-six burials, dating back 10,000 years, provide evidence that the bodies were altered before burial: heads were cut off, limbs detached, teeth removed, and flesh scraped from the bone. Despite its seeming brutality, researchers believe this behavior demonstrates a level of cultural complexity and sophistication previously unknown for this time. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup GermanyGERMANY: Ceramic vessels in an Iron Age burial mound near the Heuneburg hillfort held unusual contents. An examination of microscopic protein residues on potsherds reveals traces of Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, a tick-borne disease not endemic to the region, as well as the presence of human tissue. The interred individual likely caught, and died from, the disease outside Germany, and in order to preserve the body for transportation home, the organs were removed and shipped back with the corpse in several jars. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup SpainSPAIN: Proof that Paleolithic humans systematically hunted the Eurasian cave lion may have been found deep within the La Garma cave site in northern Spain. Nine lion phalanx bones, located in the paws, that were uncovered there have been shown to be the remains of a pelt that was spread across the cave floor 16,000 years ago. The precise cut marks on the bones show that humans were adept at removing an animal’s skin while keeping the claws attached, implying that this was a common activity. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup TanzaniaTANZANIA: Nearly 1,200 years of the environmental history of the Eastern Arc Mountains have recently been revealed in a core sample taken from a peat bog. Pollen, charcoal, and other organic materials trapped in the sediments show how both human presence and climate change affected the region’s ecosystem over the past millennium. Most significant was the establishment of the ivory trade in the 19th century, which led to both the introduction of foreign plant species and large-scale deforestation. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup KazakhstanKAZAKHSTAN: An amateur metal detectorist who found pieces of decorated silver near the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea led authorities to a previously unknown complex of massive ancient stone enclosures. The silver plating, adorned with animal motifs, was once attached to a wooden saddle that was ritually buried in the 5th or 6th century A.D. Archaeologists are still unsure who built the cultic or funerary complex but believe it was linked to the movement of nomadic tribes or Huns through the area. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup IndiaINDIA: The theory that domesticated rice was originally introduced from China to the ancient Indus civilization is being challenged. Fieldwork at several sites in northwest India seems to confirm that Indus Valley communities did not rely solely on wild rice, but instead developed their own domesticated rice agriculture around 4,000 years ago. This process occurred independently from rice domestication in China and at least 400 years before the appearance of Chinese rice in the region. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup AustraliaAUSTRALIA: A 46,000-year-old kangaroo fibula from a cave in northwestern Australia may be the oldest piece of jewelry ever discovered on the continent and appears nearly 25,000 years earlier than when ancient Australians are thought to have first developed bone-shaping technology. Although it may have been used as an awl, it was more likely a personal adornment worn through the nasal septum. Researchers suspect the tip was broken off during use, perhaps when too much force was exerted during the piercing. —Jason Urbanus



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