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Around the World

July/August 2021

  • JA21 ATW WashingtonWASHINGTON: Salmon is an excellent source of lean protein, but eating too much of it isn’t healthy. It has long been thought that Indigenous populations of the Pacific Northwest ate an almost exclusively salmon-based diet yet were somehow unaffected by “salmon starvation,” a toxic condition caused by an overly protein-intensive diet. A new study suggests that Native communities were well aware of these nutritional pitfalls and relied on trade, hunting, and agriculture to supplement their diet with acorns, root crops, and fatty marine mammals.

  • JA21 ATW New HampshireNEW HAMPSHIRE: As might be expected, archaeologists excavating the privy of a 19th-century house located on the campus of Dartmouth College discovered preserved human waste. What was surprising was that the property’s wealthy owners suffered from parasitic tapeworms, a condition usually afflicting individuals of lower socioeconomic status. The homeowners did, however, have the means to seek a remedy. Among the toilet’s debris were 12 medicinal bottles from a Rhode Island apothecary that marketed a cure for digestive ailments.

  • JA21 ATW PeruPERU: The culture that inhabited the Supe Valley between 3000 and 2000 B.C. is often considered the first city-building civilization in the Americas, having established urban centers with monumental pyramids and circular plazas. A recent project has determined that the location and orientation of these buildings was influenced by annual astronomical events—especially the moonrise’s southernmost position on the horizon—which coincided with cyclical changes such as the arrival of the rainy season, the beginning of winter, or the start of the planting season.

  • JA21 ATW EnglandENGLAND: Authorities today have technological tools at their disposal to help identify forged documents. Hundreds of years ago, English officials had at least one—sheepskin. Analysis of hundreds of historical legal documents revealed that beginning in the 13th century, sheepskin parchment was overwhelmingly preferred by lawyers to calfskin or goatskin. Because of sheepskin’s high fat content and unique texture, any attempt to erase or change what was written on it left visible blemishes and obvious signs that fraud might have been committed.

  • JA21 ATW SwedenSWEDEN: Excavations over the past two centuries have shown that Viking warriors were often buried with supplies to aid them on their journey to the afterlife: weapons, tools, food, and cooking utensils. Two high-status men entombed at the site of Valsgärde during the 7th century had their voyage eased even further. They were buried with down-stuffed pillows and bedding, the oldest evidence of its kind yet found in Scandinavia. Feathers from a variety of species were used, including ducks, geese, chickens, grouse, and even eagle owls.

  • JA21 ATW PolandPOLAND: Good oral hygiene was not invented by modern-day dentists, but rather has been practiced for tens of thousands of years—and not just by Homo sapiens. Enhanced imaging of a 46,000-year-old Neanderthal tooth recovered from Stajnia Cave revealed that the upper premolar had a distinctive groove worn into it. This was likely caused by a thin cylindrical object such as a bone or wooden toothpick that was used repeatedly to clean the area and remove food residue.

  • JA21 ATW NigeriaNIGERIA: The Nok people of central Nigeria are well known for their terracotta figurines and early ironworking capabilities. They were also perhaps the earliest systematic collectors of honey in West Africa, which they possibly used for nutritional and medicinal purposes. The presence of beeswax was detected in a number of clay pots, some dating to 1500 B.C. The Nok may have used the vessels as hives, to heat waxy honeycombs in order to extract the honey, or to produce honey-based alcoholic beverages.

  • JA21 ATW South AfricaSOUTH AFRICA: New dating of sediments from the Kalahari Desert’s Wonderwerk Cave suggests the shelter may be the oldest home ever inhabited by our human ancestors. Researchers believe the cave was occupied as long as 1.8 million years ago—the presence of hominins is indicated by the remains of primitive stone tools. Burned bone and ashes also found at the site may be the earliest known evidence of deliberate use of fire, around a million years ago.

  • JA21 ATW Saudi ArabiaSAUDI ARABIA: An aerial survey recorded more than 1,000 enigmatic rectangular complexes scattered throughout the deserts of northwest Saudi Arabia. First appearing around 7,000 years ago, these huge structures, known as mustatils, are among the earliest known large-scale stone monuments found anywhere, predating even Egypt’s pyramids and Stonehenge. Scholars are unsure why they were constructed, but suggest they were used for religious ceremonies, since the remains of horned animals, especially cattle, are known to have been ritually deposited within them.

  • JA21 ATW AustraliaAUSTRALIA: The boomerang may be Australia’s most recognizable cultural artifact. After being hurled, the crescent-shaped hardwood objects will, hypothetically, return to the thrower. While Aboriginal communities have been using boomerangs for hunting and fighting for millennia, new research indicates they had other purposes as well. Microscopic analysis of wear patterns on more than 100 boomerangs from sites across the continent suggests they were frequently used to shape stone tools. They could also have been used for making fire or playing music, or as digging implements.



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