Subscribe to Archaeology

World Roundup

May/June 2019

  • World Roundup CanadaCANADA: Several unassuming rock walls along the shore of Quadra Island are actually the ruins of ancient clam gardens constructed by First Nations peoples thousands of years ago. The walls were erected within intertidal zones to create sandy terraces, ideal habitats for shellfish such as littleneck and butter clams. Radiocarbon dating of organic material sampled from one wall indicates it was built nearly 3,500 years ago, making it the oldest known aquaculture system of its kind.

  • World Roundup South Carolina 2SOUTH CAROLINA: A piece of Charleston’s history was revealed when construction workers encountered a section of the city’s colonial defensive network. Charleston was one of the most heavily fortified English colonial cities in America. Its defenses offered protection against potential Spanish and French attacks. Construction began on a red brick wall along the city’s waterfront in the late 17th century, but the structure was dismantled after the Revolutionary War. Very few traces remain visible today.

  • World Roundup GuatemalaGUATEMALA: Divers have found hundreds of intact Maya artifacts lying 500 feet underwater in Lake Peten Itza. The objects, which include ceramic bowls, incense burners, obsidian knives, and musical instruments, were likely thrown into the lake during ritual ceremonies. Water was sacred to the Maya, as it was seen as a portal between the living and the dead. Many Maya rituals involved lakes and cenotes.

  • World Roundup GreenlandGREENLAND: Viking legend holds that Erik the Red devised the name “Greenland” in order to attract settlers to the notoriously cold island. A new study suggests the name wasn’t so misleading after all. By analyzing oxygen isotopes from flies trapped in ancient lake sediments, scientists concluded that summer temperatures on the island regularly reached 50°F during the age of Norse colonization (10th–15th centuries). When the climate cooled dramatically at the end of this period, the Norse settlements disappeared.

  • World Roundup SpainSPAIN: Animals including red deer, ibex, aurochs, leopards, and even elephants living near the Rock of Gibraltar left their tracks in the peninsula’s large coastal sand dunes some 29,000 years ago. Alongside the animal tracks, archaeologists have also identified the likely footprint of a Neanderthal, which would be only the second such impression ever recorded. Modern humans replaced Neanderthals throughout Europe around 40,000 years ago, but a small population is thought to have survived a bit longer at the continent’s southernmost point.

  • World Roundup Jordan 2JORDAN: Humans and dogs have been best buddies for thousands of years, although for exactly how long is debated. Canine bones from a site called Shubayqa 6 indicate that the mutually beneficial relationship dates back at least 11,500 years. Researchers found a sharp increase in the number of small animal bones at the site dating to this same period. This suggests dogs may have helped humans catch smaller, more elusive prey such as hares, perhaps by driving them into nets or enclosures.

  • World Roundup Mongolia 2MONGOLIA: New dating of a skull originally dubbed Mongolanthropus has revealed it is 8,000 years older than once thought, and actually belonged to a modern human. When the 35,000-year-old hominin fossil was first uncovered in the Salkhit Valley, it was thought to belong to a previously unknown species. Recent DNA analysis has shown that the remains are undoubtedly Homo sapiens, making it the earliest known human bone fragment ever found in the region.

  • World Roundup Russia 2RUSSIA: Today, Zhokov Island lies more than 300 miles north of mainland Russia, far beyond the Arctic Circle. Around 9,000 years ago, though, when it was still attached to Siberia, the area was home to a surprisingly well-connected and mobile community. Obsidian tools discovered on the island came from a source more than 900 miles away. It is believed that Mesolithic Zhokovians traveled by dogsled to acquire the material, although it is unclear whether they trekked the entire way or met obsidian traders somewhere along the route.

  • World Roundup China 2CHINA: A wealthy individual living 2,000 years ago in Henan Province was buried with an assortment of fine bronze, jade, and ceramic objects. Amid this trove was a jar containing a yellow liquid, which chemical analysis has revealed to be a mixture of potassium nitrate and alunite—and not rice wine as first thought. The minerals are the main ingredients of the legendary “elixir of immortality” mentioned in ancient Chinese texts. This potion was said to bring eternal life to whoever drank it, though, at least in this case, it doesn’t appear to have succeeded.

  • World Roundup AustraliaAUSTRALIA: On the Dampier Archipelago off the northwest coast of Australia, there are an estimated 1 million Aboriginal petroglyphs. There are also some made by American whalers in the mid-19th century. The recently discovered engravings were left by crewmen from the ships Connecticut and Delta, who documented their journeys to the other side of the world. The inscriptions include the ships’ names, names of crewmen, sailing dates, and even a crudely drawn rope and anchor. They represent the earliest known evidence of American whalers in the area.