A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Around the World
MASSACHUSETTS: Timbers from a ship known as Sparrow-Hawk may belong to the oldest known shipwreck in English colonial America. In 1626, the Plimoth Colony governor William Bradford recorded that an unnamed ship carrying 2 English tobacco merchants and their Irish servants ran aground off Cape Cod. The wreck’s survivors were rescued by Native Americans and brought to the fledgling colony. Recent dating revealed that sections of Sparrow-Hawk’s hull were made from trees felled in England between 1556 and 1646, further evidence that this was the ship that made the ill-fated voyage.
ALABAMA: The 19th Unnamed Cave contains the greatest concentration of Native American cave art in the Southeast. Hundreds of human and animal glyphs were traced into mud covering the walls more than 1,000 years ago. Recent high-resolution 3-D modeling revealed 5 gigantic images on the cavern’s ceiling that researchers were previously unable to see. Among the images is a 10-foot-long serpent, likely a diamondback rattlesnake, that is believed to be the largest cave art figure ever found in North America.
CHILE: Marine sediments and shells found at high altitudes in the arid Atacama Desert may have been deposited there as a result of the most powerful known earthquake in human history. Evidence suggests that a magnitude 9.5 seismic event struck northern Chile around 3,800 years ago, spawning a 60-foot-high tsunami that devastated the coast and wreaked havoc as far away as New Zealand. It’s thought that the pervasive memory of the catastrophic experience prompted local hunter-gatherer communities to withdraw from coastal settlements for more than a millennium.
GREENLAND: Beginning in A.D. 985, Norse Vikings established a string of settlements in Greenland that thrived for around 400 years. Supported by animal husbandry, the population peaked at around 2,000 before people abruptly abandoned the island in the early 15th century. Experts had believed that a rapid drop in temperature drove the settlers out, but recent sediment analysis from a lakebed near one of their farmsteads indicated that the temperature actually remained steady. Instead, conditions suddenly became much drier, curtailing the growth of grass, which was vital for the survival of livestock.
FRANCE: Workers restoring Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral discovered a trove of architectural elements and sculptures hidden beneath the building’s floor that belonged to original sections of its 13th-century interior. They also unearthed several burials, including an unusual lead sarcophagus that likely holds the remains of a 14th-century church dignitary. The coffin was probed with a small camera that revealed that the deceased’s head rests on a well-preserved pillow made of leaves. This was a common practice in the burial of high-ranking medieval religious officials.
NORWAY: A traveler hiking through a high mountain pass in Oppland County 1,700 years ago seems to have cast off a shoe in frustration. The well-preserved Roman-style sandal emerged when ice and snow temporarily receded at Horse Ice Patch. The shoe’s flimsy open design was unsuitable for the rugged, snowy terrain 6,500 feet above sea level, and its owner likely discarded the shoe when it became worn and badly damaged.
ITALY: Scholars once believed that a type of copper-alloy dagger commonly found in burials across Bronze Age Europe was ceremonial rather than functional. It was thought that these blades were included in graves to symbolize the warrior status of the dead. However, a new study employing cutting-edge technology detected the presence of muscle fibers and collagen from animal bone on daggers found in the village of Pragatto. This suggests that the knives were used to butcher and process animal carcasses and were not solely symbolic.
ISRAEL: Small spherical ceramic vessels, which were ubiquitous in the medieval Middle East, were used to hold a variety of liquids, including beer, wine, oil, and perfume. Occasionally, they could also be used as weapons. Residue analysis of an 11th- or 12th-century vessel from Jerusalem’s Armenian Garden indicates that it may have contained an explosive substance. It’s possible this small jar was converted into a type of hand grenade to be hurled at the nearby Crusader castle.
INDIA: Researchers conducting an archaeological survey in the state of Assam chanced upon 65 giant stone jars spread across 4 sites. The mysterious sandstone vessels vary in shape and size, with some reaching a height of 10 feet. The jars are similar to examples previously found in Laos and Indonesia, but researchers are unsure who carved them, much less when or why they were made. Although the vessels were found to be empty, they may have been used for burials as long ago as 400 B.C.
AUSTRALIA: Golden wattle, a type of acacia tree, is an important symbol of modern Australia and serves as its national flower. However, its roots run much deeper among the continent’s original inhabitants. Charcoal remains from Karnatukul cave shelter in the Carnarvon Range show that the hardy tree was an important resource for the Aboriginal Martu people, especially as a source of fuel. The 50,000-year-old cave site is the oldest known inhabited site in the Western Desert and contains the area’s earliest known use of firewood.
Notre Dame’s dignitaries, Bronze Age daggers, the world’s biggest quake, a lost snowshoe, and 50,000-year-old Australians
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