A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Around the World
ARIZONA: Artifacts recovered from a site in Santa Cruz County may provide new information about Francisco Coronado’s 1540 expedition through the American Southwest. Starting in Mexico, the Spanish conquistador eventually traveled as far north as Kansas, although the exact route he took is debated. Hundreds of newly found objects, including parts of crossbows and other European weaponry, might be linked with Coronado and his men, suggesting they may have passed through southern Arizona along the Santa Cruz River.
FLORIDA: When conservators cleaned an encrusted button found in a 1782 shipwreck off the coast of St. Augustine, they were stunned by the 3 letters it displayed: USA. That might not ordinarily have caused surprise, but experts knew that when the ship went down, it was carrying British soldiers and loyalists fleeing the Revolutionary War. It’s possible that the button was taken from a Continental soldier’s uniform by a supporter of the crown on the battlefield and saved as a war token.
MEXICO: Cacao was an integral part of Maya life and was grown in well-guarded sacred groves. However, since much of the Yucatán’s hot, arid environment is unsuitable for cultivation of cacao trees, archaeologists have wondered how they grew so bountifully. Soil samples taken from several cenotes, or sinkholes, near Maya sites revealed the presence of caffeine and theobromine, biomarkers of cacao. The cenotes may have provided both humidity and shade, creating the perfect microclimate for the trees.
CHILE: Modern forensic techniques have determined that a prehistoric fisherman who was buried along Chile’s northern coast 5,000 years ago suffered a tragic drowning accident. Wear marks on his bones indicate that he spent most of his life rowing a boat and throwing a harpoon. Analysis of the man’s bone marrow revealed tiny marine fossils and sediments that could only have entered his system if he had inhaled a fatal amount of salt water shortly before his death.
PORTUGAL: Researchers were surprised to learn that a man who was buried in an 8,000-year-old shell midden actually died only around 350 years ago. His remains were discovered in 1930 in the Tagus Valley among much older Mesolithic skeletons. Recent DNA and isotope analysis of the man’s teeth indicate that he was from Senegambia in West Africa and was likely brought to Portugal as an enslaved person. His interment in a prehistoric necropolis may suggest that the site was revered by the local African community.
SPAIN: An elderly woman who lived around 5,300 years ago is believed to be the earliest known recipient of ear surgery. Her skull was found at the megalithic tomb known as the Dolmen of El Pendón with two perforations cut into the mastoid bone behind each of her ears. The painful procedure was performed with stone tools in order to treat an infection that could have led to deafness. Because her bones had begun to regenerate, it’s likely the woman survived the ordeal.
HUNGARY: A rare gold coin known as a double aureus was unearthed at a Roman site in southwestern Hungary. It was minted during the reign of Volusianus, who co-ruled with his father from A.D. 251 to 253. The front features the young, bearded emperor wearing a crown of rays, while the back depicts the goddess Libertas, the personification of freedom. Because Volusianus was only in power for a short time—he was assassinated by his own troops—few surviving coins bear his likeness.
UNITED ARAB EMIRATES: The remains of round stone buildings on Ghagha Island west of Abu Dhabi are the oldest ever found in the country and surrounding region. Radiocarbon dates estimate that the ruins are 8,500 years old, making them 500 years older than the previously recorded earliest structures, which were found on Marawah Island. Although its climate today is dry and unwelcoming, Ghagha Island would have been much more hospitable thousands of years ago, when it was likely home to a small Neolithic community.
PAKISTAN: One of the world’s oldest known Buddhist temples was unearthed atop the ancient acropolis of Barikot in the Swat Valley. The complex, which is preserved to a height of more than 10 feet, dates to the 2nd century B.C. It was built on a platform and features a cylindrical structure, a small stupa, and a number of small rooms. The site has a more than 3,000-year-long history and was purportedly besieged by Alexander the Great in 327 B.C.
JAPAN: The monumental burial mounds known as kofun are said to contain the remains of Japan’s semilegendary early emperors, who ruled between the 3rd and 7th centuries A.D. Because they are considered sacred, access to the mounds is limited, and archaeologists still know very little about them. However, a new study used high-resolution satellite images and revealed that all the entrances to the keyhole-shaped tombs are aligned with the rising sun. Japanese tradition holds that the first emperors were direct descendants of the sun goddess Amaterasu.
A Revolutionary War shipwreck, early Buddhism in Pakistan, ancient ear surgery, and following a conquistador to Kansas
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