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Around the World

May/June 2021

  • MJ21 ATW AlaskaALASKA: The largest archaeological geophysical survey ever undertaken in Alaska confirmed the location of a storied Tlingit fort in Sitka that was attacked by Russian forces in 1804. The Tlingit people initially withstood the onslaught, but were forced to abandon the wooden stronghold when their gunpowder supply ran low. Only after they took the fort were the Russians able to establish a colony there, which they maintained until 1867, when they sold their Alaskan possessions to the United States.

  • MJ21 ATW CaliforniaCALIFORNIA: New research suggests that the Chumash people of California’s south-central coast were using standardized shell beads as currency 2,000 years ago—some 800 years earlier than originally believed. This may constitute the earliest known example of the use of money in the Americas. It has been assumed that hunter-gatherer societies such as the Chumash had no need for money, but the new theory proposes that these groups were more sociopolitically and economically complex than once thought.

  • MJ21 ATW MexicoMEXICO: A relief depicting a golden eagle emerged from excavations near the base of the Templo Mayor in the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. The ornate 15th-century carving once decorated the floor of a plaza below the city’s most important religious structure, which was dedicated to the worship of the gods Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc. For the Aztecs, golden eagles were sacred creatures that had a particularly close association with Huitzilopochtli, the god of the sun and war.

  • MJ21 ATW Brazil FLIPPEDBRAZIL: Experts have long underestimated how important sharks were to the precolonial Indigenous communities of coastal Brazil. It was once thought that shark remains found at some archaeological sites were serendipitously sourced from beached or wounded animals. However, new research on Santa Catarina Island indicates that earlier than the 16th century, coastal groups were skilled shark hunters, actively fishing a variety of species. Shark meat was a major part of the local diet, while shark teeth were fashioned into cutting tools, weapons, and arrowheads.

  • MJ21 ATW ItalyITALY: It is no surprise that the Roman emperor Hadrian dined in style, especially at his sprawling 200-acre villa outside Rome, which he built in the 2nd century A.D. A luxurious dining room was recently uncovered within the 30-building complex. The excavators believe that the emperor and his wife ate breakfast in the space, lounging on a raised marble platform that hovered above a pool of water. This breakfast niche was surrounded by fountains and offered views of the lush gardens outside.

  • MJ21 ATW PolandPOLAND: After a lengthy search, Polish authorities have found the remains of 7 nuns who were murdered by Soviet soldiers near the end of World War II, after the Red Army drove the Nazis out of Poland. The nuns died particularly violent deaths in Orneta, Olsztyn, and Gdansk while defending themselves and the hospitalized patients they cared for. The nuns’ graves were identified by religious objects found in them, including rosaries, crucifixes, and medals of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, to whose order they belonged.

  • MJ21 ATW EgyptEGYPT: Sixteen rock-cut tombs containing mummies dating to the Greco-Roman era were discovered at Taposiris Magna, near Alexandria. The sacred city was established in the 3rd century B.C. and was an important site for the worship of Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead and the underworld. Two of the mummies were found with tongue-shaped, gold-covered amulets placed in their mouths, which experts believe were meant to help ensure that the deceased would be able to speak with Osiris in the afterlife.

  • MJ21 ATW IsraelISRAEL: A mosque dating to the earliest decades of Islam was identified in the city of Tiberias, near the Sea of Galilee. Researchers believe it dates to around A.D. 670, just a generation after the death of the prophet Muhammad. Tiberias was founded by the Romans in the 1st century A.D. and conquered by Muslim forces in A.D. 635. Because most other mosques from this period are still in use and therefore can’t be excavated, this new discovery will provide archaeologists with an unprecedented opportunity to investigate a religious building dating to Islam’s infancy.

  • MJ21 ATW AustraliaAUSTRALIA: In some cultures, insects are an important dietary source of protein, fat, and vitamins. Europeans who first settled Australia in the 19th century recorded how Aboriginal groups gathered annually in the Australian Alps to collect large numbers of migratory bogong moths. Moth residue on a recently excavated grinding tool from Cloggs Cave shows that this practice dates back at least 2,000 years. Researchers believe the tool was used to process the insects into cakes that could be smoked and preserved for weeks.

  • MJ21 ATW NZNEW ZEALAND: Radiocarbon dating of ancient kauri trees preserved in the wetlands of Ngawha helped pinpoint the date of the mysterious Laschamp excursion, when the earth’s magnetic north and south poles temporarily swapped position 42,000 years ago. Researchers propose that this phenomenon led to drastic changes in climate and an increase in solar and cosmic radiation. They theorize that this may have led people to create more rock art as they increasingly sought protection in caves.



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