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Around the World

January/February 2020

  • ATW South CarolinaSOUTH CAROLINA: After the Confederate submarine Hunley attacked USS Housatonic in 1864, the sub sank mysteriously, killing all eight of its crew. Experts have long wondered why the vessel went down, and some now believe it may have been due to a disabled air circulation system. New research suggests that the system of snorkel tubes and rubber hoses that pumped fresh air into the vessel while it remained submerged had been dismantled, perhaps contributing to the sub’s fate.

  • ATW ChileCHILE: The enormous carved heads known as moai are the most recognizable monuments created by the Polynesian civilization that settled Rapa Nui (Easter Island) around A.D. 1000. It turns out the sculptures were also instrumental in boosting agricultural productivity there. Analysis of soil samples taken near the island’s main quarry indicates that quarrying activity caused phosphorous and other beneficial substances to enrich the adjacent slopes. This allowed the Rapa Nui settlers to grow sweet potatoes, bananas, and taro there, even when conditions were less favorable elsewhere on the island.

  • ATW ScotlandSCOTLAND: In the 18th and early 19th centuries, a well-traveled drover’s road made the Wilkhouse Inn near Brora a hive of activity. Archaeologists have uncovered a trove of objects, including glass fragments, coins, and personal items left behind by the tavern’s guests in its heyday. But not everyone was welcome at the inn. An inverted cross carved into a fireplace hearthstone was intended to deter witches from flying down the chimney.

  • ATW England CROPPEDENGLAND: Parts of a Shakespeare-era theater were unearthed under London’s Whitechapel neighborhood. The Boar’s Head Playhouse is known from historical documents, but its ruins were brought to light for the first time during a recent construction project. Originally an inn, the Boar’s Head was converted to a theater in 1598. However, records show that open-air performances were held on the property as early as 1557, when a play titled A Sack Full of News was banned due to its lewdness.

  • ATW GreeceGREECE: In 1802, the ship Mentor was sailing to England when it sank off the island of Kythira. Seventeen boxes of ancient treasures, including the famous Parthenon Marbles, went down to the seafloor. Most of the precious objects were quickly raised, but investigation of the wreck site has shown that many remained. Divers recently retrieved a gold ring, a pair of gold earrings, and three gaming pieces, as well as various other wood, ceramic, and bone artifacts.

  • ATW RussiaRUSSIA: Between the 14th and 18th centuries, the Black Death killed as much as 60 percent of Europe’s population. The bacterium that caused the plague has now been traced to the town of Laishevo, near the Volga River. Scientists reconstructed the bacterium’s genome by taking samples from the teeth of 34 victims buried at 10 different sites. They concluded that the sample from Laishevo was ancestral to the others, indicating that the plague must have originally struck there before spreading westward.

  • ATW IraqIRAQ: Assyrian astronomers gazing at the sky almost 2,700 years ago were the first people to document the colorful cosmic phenomena known as auroras. These light shows, known in the Northern Hemisphere as the northern lights, appear when waves of charged particles from the sun collide with the earth’s magnetic field. When a massive solar wave hit the earth in the early 7th century B.C., the effects were visible as far south as Mesopotamia. Three cuneiform tablets from Nineveh record this unusual event, documenting a strange “red glow,” “red cloud,” and “red sky.”

  • ATW UAEUNITED ARAB EMIRATES: A wealth of biological material from two islands in the Persian Gulf demonstrates how well Neolithic communities exploited marine resources. For example, thousands of fish bones from the islands of Marawah and Dalma indicate that people living there 7,500 years ago used nets and traps made from date palms to catch a wide variety of fish. On Marawah, archaeologists also discovered the world’s oldest known pearl, a rare item that would have been used as either jewelry or currency. 

  • ATW Sri LankaSRI LANKA: It was much harder for early humans to fashion small, delicate stone tools such as arrowheads than it was to make large, substantial ones like axes. Yet, by around 45,000 years ago, a community living in the rain forests of Sri Lanka had mastered this technology. A collection of microliths found in the Fa-Hien Lena Cave is the oldest assemblage ever discovered in South Asia. These advanced tools allowed people to thrive in the area’s difficult rainforest environment earlier than was once thought, by hunting small tree-dwelling animals.

  • ATW Cambodia CROPPEDCAMBODIA: Workers searching through a pile of debris for fallen roof stones from the Ta Nei Temple in Angkor unexpectedly unearthed the head of an ancient bodhisattva statue. The sculpture, which is around 2 feet tall and dates to the late 12th or early 13th century, has a small Buddha figure carved into the hair above its forehead. In Mahayana Buddhism, a bodhisattva is someone who is on the path of enlightenment to attain Buddhahood.

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