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Around the World

November/December 2020

  • ATW KansasKANSAS: Imaging technology mounted on drones has identified the outline of a previously unknown earthen feature in southeastern Kansas. The 164-foot-diameter monument is likely one of the enigmatic “council circles” built by ancestral Wichita communities. These may have been used for ceremonial rituals, as residences for tribal elites, or for defensive purposes. The earthworks may once have been part of the lost settlement of Etzanoa, which was one of the largest Native American communities in North America before being abandoned around 1700.

  • ATW Mexico CortesMEXICO: Portions of two historic buildings, one atop the other, were revealed during renovation work in the heart of Mexico City. The upper structure included flooring and walls that belonged to the home of Hernán Cortés, the Spanish conquistador who sacked the Aztec capital in 1521. Ten feet below these remains, workers uncovered stone slabs from the palace of Axayácatl, father of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma II. After the Spanish captured the city, they tore down the palace and reused its materials to construct Cortés’ residence.

  • ATW Peru PelicanPERU: One of the keys to the Inca Empire’s prosperity was bird guano harvested from islands off coastal Peru and northern Chile. The waste from seabirds such as cormorants and pelicans was an excellent fertilizer and was transported to the Inca highlands and other less fertile areas to boost agricultural productivity. The Inca even implemented stringent restrictions to safeguard the birds’ breeding grounds, and violations were punishable by death. Researchers say this may be the earliest conservation scheme created by humans to protect an animal species and its natural habitat.

  • ATW Scotland Passage TombSCOTLAND: The famous 4,800-year-old Maeshowe passage grave on Orkney may have been designed to facilitate the deceased’s journey into the afterworld. A new study indicates that the tomb’s 3 side chambers, which branch off the large central chamber, may have been fashioned with inverted architectural elements the researcher likens to upside-down wallpaper. The tomb’s Neolithic builders envisioned the hereafter as the inverse of life on Earth. The doorways into the tomb’s side chambers may have acted as portals into the afterlife.

  • ATW Sweden SturgeonSWEDEN: In 1495, King Hans of Denmark boarded a ship bound for Sweden, where he intended to lay claim to its throne. He traveled with a cargo meant to impress the Swedish nobles. However, his ship, Gribshunden, soon sank near the town of Ronneby. An investigation of the wreck site has recovered a wooden barrel that, to the divers’ surprise, contained the well-preserved remains of a 6-foot-long Atlantic sturgeon. The highly prized fish was likely meant to be served as a prestige food item, conveying the Danish king’s high status to his Swedish hosts.

  • ATW Egypt MonkeyEGYPT: Under Roman rule, the Red Sea port of Berenice blossomed into an important trade hub, connecting Africa with India during the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. Excavation of an animal necropolis revealed that along with spices, textiles, and luxury goods, rhesus macaques were also imported from across the Indian Ocean, to be kept as household pets. The skeletons of more than a dozen of the Indian monkeys were found carefully buried, some surrounded by grave goods and positioned like sleeping children.

  • ATW South Africa ProjectilesSOUTH AFRICA: Applying poison to arrows has great benefits. The projectile does not have to be very substantial or to be shot with great force to cause a lethal wound—it only needs to penetrate deep enough for the poison to enter the bloodstream. An analysis of bone arrowheads from Blombos Cave indicates that this technology may date back 72,000 years. The shape and small size of the points found there suggests that they were likely coated in toxins; otherwise their diminutive nature would have rendered them virtually ineffective.

  • ATW Madagascar Rock ArtMADAGASCAR:  Unique rock art in a remote part of western Madagascar is baffling experts. The black charcoal drawings, which were found in Andriamamelo Cave, depict anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures, including the now extinct megafaunal sloth lemur, in ceremonial and hunting scenes. At this point, archaeologists are unsure how old the petroglyphs are. One theory holds that they may have been created more than 2,000 years ago, based on some of the compositions’ similarities to Ptolemaic Egyptian motifs, including constellations.

  • ATW Israel ArsufISRAEL: Researchers have finally determined the location of the Battle of Arsuf, a key engagement in the Third Crusade (1189–1192). Relying on historical documents, environmental analysis, and material evidence, archaeologists pinpointed the spot on the Sharon Plain, north of modern-day Tel Aviv, where Christian troops led by Richard the Lionheart defeated the Muslim army of the sultan Saladin. Although the European forces won the battle that day, they ultimately failed to recapture Jerusalem, and returned home in 1192.

  • ATW New Zealand OlivesNEW ZEALAND:  Demolition of 43 buildings in Invercargill is providing a fascinating glimpse of what the city’s downtown area looked like in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Newly uncovered remains represent a variety of businesses once located there, including banks, restaurants, a soda and cordial manufacturing company, a newspaper office, and other merchants. As many as 14 wells once used for rubbish disposal were found filled with a wealth of contemporaneous, and sometimes unusual, material, such as a sealed bottle of olives.

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