A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
CANADA: It was once believed that around A.D. 1000, Norse explorers taught Paleo-Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic how to weave animal hair and sinews into yarn. However, dating these textiles has been problematic because they are often contaminated by whale and seal oil, rendering attempts at radiocarbon dating unreliable. A new process, however, has successfully removed these contaminants and accurately dated a textile sample from Baffin Island, proving that spun yarn and weaving technology predated European contact by at least a millennium.
GEORGIA: At least 7 cremation burials and a copper band from St. Catherine’s Island show that Native Americans living there 3,500 years ago exchanged goods and cultural ideas through surprisingly long-distance trade networks. Analysis of the copper artifact’s chemical signature determined that it originated almost 1,000 miles away in the Great Lakes region. This new evidence is a clear indication that the use of copper and the practice of cremation were introduced to coastal Georgia 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.
PERU: The 1,500-year-old remains of at least 60 individuals from the La Ramada culture were discovered in a series of deep pits in the Vitor Valley of southern Peru. Six trophy heads were also found in the graves. Trophy heads were sometimes removed from enemies killed in battle, but these examples may have actually belonged to friendly combatants. Since it was burdensome to transport the bodies of fallen comrades home, only the heads may have been brought back for burial within the community.
CHILE: A unique 500-year-old burial of 2 ritually sacrificed Inca females was found at Cerro Esmeralda in the 1970s. The pair were dressed in fine clothing and buried with lavish grave goods. New chemical analysis of the red pigment from their clothes detected cinnabar, a mineral not native to northern Chile. While the cinnabar itself was a prestige item, imported from hundreds of miles away, it can also be highly toxic when inhaled, and may have been used to deter would-be grave robbers.
GREENLAND: Norse settlers once thrived in Greenland before vanishing in the 15th century. A new theory suggests that a decline in the medieval walrus-ivory market may have sent them packing. DNA analysis of walrus bones from sites around western Europe shows that during the 13th and 14th centuries, most of the ivory entering the continent belonged to walrus populations found around Greenland, and may have been exclusively supplied by Norse Greenlanders. When the demand for walrus ivory diminished, these settlers may have been forced to abandon the island.
SPAIN: Roman whalers? Perhaps. A new study using advanced technology was able to identify the bones of both the North Atlantic right whale and the gray whale from a handful of Roman sites around the Strait of Gibraltar. Southern Iberia was once home to a thriving Roman fish-processing industry. Although these whale species no longer frequent these waters, researchers argue that around 1,500 to 2,000 years ago, they would have been prevalent in the western Mediterranean and were likely hunted by Roman fishermen.
GERMANY: In 2017, when archaeologists initially unearthed the foundations of a large 2nd-century A.D. Roman building buried near Cologne’s center, they believed it was a public assembly hall. However, further excavations revealed that the interior walls were lined with a series of peculiar niches, uncharacteristic of such a structure. Experts now believe that these recesses were once used to store scrolls, as many as 20,000, and that the ruins are those of Germany’s earliest known public library.
ITALY: Although the ice mummy known as Ötzi was discovered in the Alps more than a quarter century ago, his remains continue to provide information about daily life more than 5 millennia ago. Scientists recently examined the corpse’s surprisingly well-preserved stomach contents to determine what he ate just prior to his death. They learned that his last meal was chock-full of essential minerals required for good health, and consisted of fat and meat from wild ibex and red deer, as well as whole grain cereals.
ISRAEL: Pottery workers at a Roman ceramics factory enjoyed some workplace perks that rival even the recreational areas of today’s Silicon Valley tech campuses. The complex was founded in the 3rd century A.D. near Gedera and specialized in producing wine storage jars. A large bath complex, containing 20 pools of hot and cold water, was located adjacent to the manufacturing floor, along with a room that provided various gaming boards etched into its stone benches.
CHINA: The ruins of a massive walled city from the site of Shimao in northern China are revising ancient Chinese history. Archaeologists originally thought the site was part of the Great Wall, since they had not expected to find an enormous prehistoric complex in such a peripheral region. Shimao, however, apparently flourished around 2000 B.C., when it was the largest known settlement in China. At its center was a 230-foot-tall stepped pyramid, which contained 11 platforms and was used as a residential palace for local rulers.
Aztec rain temple, Ötzi’s last meal, Roman whalers, and Germany’s oldest public library
A draft of comfort