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World Roundup

March/April 2019

  • World Roundup New MexicoNEW MEXICO: Between 1540 and 1542, Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado explored northern Mexico and the American Southwest. Although it had been theorized that he passed through the area of today’s Coronado Historic Site near Albuquerque, no tangible evidence of his presence had ever been uncovered. A recent large-scale metal-detecting survey has recovered Spanish nails, crossbow bolt heads, lead shot, chain mail, and other European-made equipment. These artifacts definitively link the Spaniard’s expedition to the site, where he likely clashed with the local Kuaua Pueblo people.

  • World Roundup NicaraguaNICARAGUA: Radiocarbon dating confirms that human remains from the Angi shell midden site near the village of Monkey Point are the oldest ever found along Central America’s Caribbean coast. A 6,000-year-old grave contained an adult woman who was about 4 feet 9 inches tall and between the ages of 25 and 40. She seems to have been quite muscular, with well-developed forearms, acquired perhaps through frequent rowing. Her cause of death was not immediately apparent, although there are no signs of trauma.

  • World Roundup PanamaPANAMA: Pre-Columbian societies prioritized shellfish not only as an important food resource but also because the shells were manufactured into decorative ornaments. While small shells could be obtained by beachcombing, larger, intact examples required deep-sea diving. However, this came at a price. Analysis of dozens of precontact skulls from coastal sites revealed that specialized divers who were frequently submerged in the cold waters of the Gulf of Panama grew bone spurs in their ear canals, a painful affliction known today as “surfer’s ear.”

  • World Roundup EnglandENGLAND: With its funnel-like mouth and circular rows of sharp teeth, the lamprey fish is one of the most gruesome-looking organisms on the planet. This did not, however, deter wealthy medieval Brits from enjoying the creatures as a trendy culinary delicacy. Rare evidence of this phenomenon was found during excavations near London Underground’s Mansion House station, where deposits in a 13th- or 14th-century cesspit contained lamprey teeth. Since lampreys have no jaws and their teeth are made of keratin, their remains almost never survive.

  • World Roundup DenmarkDENMARK: Domestic cats were introduced into Denmark during the first few centuries A.D. For the past 2,000 years, they have been used by humans in various ways: as a source of fur, as pest control, and as family pets. A new study has shown that during this span of time, especially from the Viking Age until now, cats have increased dramatically in size. This is contrary to tendencies observed in other mammal species, such as sheep, cattle, and dogs, which have historically grown smaller after domestication.

  • World Roundup AzerbaijanAZERBAIJAN: Ancient herders apparently found a way to entertain themselves during their downtime. A series of holes cut into the floor of a rock shelter in Gobustan National Park represents one of the world’s oldest gaming boards, dating to around 4,000 years ago. The game, sometimes referred to as “58 Holes,” was popular throughout Egypt and the Middle East during the Bronze Age. Although the exact rules are unknown, 2 players likely rolled dice and moved gaming pieces along horizontal rows of dots until someone reached the top.

  • World Roundup Sri LankaSRI LANKA: Given its central location between the Middle East and Southeast Asia, the port of Mantai developed into one of the most important hubs along Indian Ocean trade routes during the 1st millennium. It is even thought that Roman merchants were visiting the city by A.D. 200. Archaeobotanical remains have highlighted just how globally connected the site was. Cloves imported from Indonesia—more than 4,000 miles away— have been identified, as well as wheat grains and grape seeds that likely originally came from the Mediterranean region.

  • World Roundup TibetTIBET: Due to its perennially freezing temperatures and low-oxygen conditions, human habitation of the Tibetan Plateau is exceedingly challenging. Yet, somehow, humans have lived there for 30,000 to 40,000 years, as evidenced by thousands of fragments of human-made stone tools and blades from the site of Nwya Devu. Located 15,000 feet above sea level, Nwya Devu is the highest Paleolithic site ever identified, and proves that humans were living along the “roof of the world” almost 20,000 years earlier than expected.

  • World Roundup JapanJAPAN: Microscopic impressions left by maize weevils on ancient pottery have shown that the destructive pests have been plaguing Japanese societies for thousands of years. But X-ray and CT scanning of one ceramic vessel from a late Jomon period (ca. 2500–1300 B.C.) site on Hokkaido detected as many as 500 weevils incorporated into the fabric of the clay itself. The beetles may have been purposely included in the pot’s design and manufacture in order to secure a good harvest.

  • World Roundup New ZealandNEW ZEALAND: It took several days and heavy equipment, but the well-preserved wreck of a 55-foot colonial schooner called Daring was finally removed from its resting place along Muriwai Beach west of Auckland. The ship was delivering a cargo of grass seed when it was driven ashore by a severe gale in 1865. It had remained buried there until shifting sands and high tides partially uncovered it last year.

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