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World Roundup

May/June 2017

  • World Roundup MexicoMEXICO: Maya communities living in the interior of the Yucatán Peninsula were evidently aware of the great marine predators swimming at the outskirts of their jungle world. A new study has examined the strong influence sharks had on Maya art, iconography, and daily life. Shark teeth have been found at many inland Maya sites, including fossilized examples from extinct megalodons. The teeth, which were acquired through trade, were used in ritual ceremonies, as votive offerings, or as personal adornments. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup ChileCHILE: The Atacama Desert, which stretches 600 miles along South America’s west coast, is one of the driest locations on Earth. It had previously been thought that the desert’s uninhabitable conditions created a barrier to the movements of the earliest human settlers. However, recent research has detected evidence of freshwater plants and animals buried deep beneath the arid surface. This suggests that between 9,000 and 25,000 years ago, the Atacama may have contained wetlands that could have sustained and even aided early human colonization. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup EnglandENGLAND: A Roman skeleton that was first discovered near Stanwick, Northamptonshire in 1991, only recently disclosed its gruesome details. Analysis of the 25- to 35-year-old man, who died in the 3rd or 4th century A.D., reveals that his tongue had been cut out, causing an oral infection and abnormal bone growth around the skull. A flat rock was inserted into the mouth during burial, perhaps as a symbolic replacement in death for what he had lost in life. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup NorwayNORWAY: Archaeologists excavating a medieval farm in Ørland came upon a child’s toy boat buried at the bottom of an ancient well. The wooden plaything, which was carved to resemble a Viking ship, had a hole into which a small mast would have been inserted. The object was thrown into the well when it was abandoned and filled around 1,000 years ago. Another well nearby contained four discarded leather shoes. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup GhanaGHANA: Hundreds of terracotta figurines unearthed in Koma Land were likely used during ritual ceremonies between the 6th and 14th centuries. Many of the animal and human statuettes contain recesses near their heads that once held small amounts of liquid. DNA and biological analysis of these cavities identified remnants of exotic plants such as banana and pine, which had been mixed into ceremonial libations. Little is known about the people who produced these artifacts, as they abandoned the area in precolonial times. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup SudanSUDAN: Excavations at the Christian monastery of al-Ghazali in northern Sudan point to a highly organized monastic community. The 7th- or 8th-century complex comprises two churches, dormitories, refectories, and food production areas. It’s two bathroom facilities, which have 33 toilets, are the only ones ever found in the area of ancient Nubia. Given its size, experts believe the monastery was founded by King Mercurios, who was known as a “New Constantine” for his pivotal role in the development of Nubian Christianity. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup IraqIRAQ: A tomb in northern Iraq, first exposed by construction workers in 2013, concealed the remains of at least six individuals. Along with dozens of ceramic vessels, a bracelet decorated with snake heads was found among the burials and helps date the tomb to the end of the Achaemenid Empire, about 2,400 years ago. Sometime later, between 400 and 1,300 years ago, the tomb was reused—five more people were buried on top of the ancient skeletons. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup UAEUNITED ARAB EMIRATES: The discovery of a rare stone house on Marawah Island off the coast of Abu Dhabi has provided a remarkable glimpse at what life was like in the Persian Gulf around 7,500 years ago. The three-room building is the best example of Neolithic architecture ever uncovered in the region. Hundreds of artifacts, as well as animal remains, suggest that the inhabitants herded sheep and goats, but also relied heavily on marine resources for trade and sustenance. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup ChinaCHINA: The Neolithic site of Jiahu, where the oldest playable musical instrument was previously found, has now produced evidence of the oldest silk fibers in human history. Soil samples taken from beneath skeletons in two tombs that date back 8,500 years reveal traces of silk proteins, indicating that the deceased may have been dressed in silk garments when they were buried. This new evidence pushes back the first known silk production technology by nearly 3,500 years. —Jason Urbanus

  • World Roundup IndiaINDIA: Experts are searching for more evidence of missing American World War II soldiers in the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh after human remains were recently recovered near the wreckage of a plane. As many as 400 soldiers are still considered lost in the region, as American planes occasionally crashed in the Himalayas during supply runs to China. Some of the wreck sites are located as high as 10,000 feet above sea level. —Jason Urbanus



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