A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Around the World
WASHINGTON: Researchers determined that a mastodon living in the Pacific Northwest 13,900 years ago was wounded when it was struck by a spear. The elephant-like animal’s remains were first discovered 45 years ago at the Manis Mastodon site on the Olympic Peninsula. Recent CT scanning and 3-D software analysis revealed that tiny bone fragments embedded in its rib were pieces of a projectile fashioned from the leg bone of another mastodon. This represents the oldest known bone spearpoint in the Americas and the earliest evidence of mastodon hunting.
PENNSYLVANIA: A U.S. Army ordnance disposal team was summoned to Gettysburg when a 160-year-old live artillery shell was uncovered during archaeological work. The 7-inch-long unexploded round was found 2 feet below the surface near a rocky outcrop known as Little Round Top. During the Civil War’s bloody Battle of Gettysburg, Little Round Top was held by Union troops. It witnessed intense fighting during a Confederate assault on July 2, 1863, that resulted in as many as 1,700 casualties.
CHILE: A new moai was found at the bottom of a dry lake bed in the Rano Raraku volcanic crater on Easter Island. The iconic sculptures were carved between 1,000 and 500 years ago and represent the ancestors of the island’s Rapanui people. Measuring just 5 feet tall, the new figure is relatively small compared to others on the island, which average 13 feet in height and weigh around 14 tons each. The majority of Easter Island’s 1,000 moai were carved out of Rano Raraku’s soft volcanic tuff.
ENGLAND: When an Iron Age (ca. 750 B.C.–A.D. 43) bone comb was found during road construction in Bar Hill near Cambridge, it was considered a rare discovery. Closer inspection, however, revealed just how unusual the object is. Researchers determined that the comb was made from a piece of human skull. It showed no signs of use, but a hole had been drilled into its middle, suggesting that it was likely worn around the neck as an amulet.
PORTUGAL: Steel is considered by many one of the great Industrial Age inventions, but it turns out some inhabitants of Iberia were capable of forging tempered steel tools 2,900 years ago. Metallographic analysis of a chisel from Rocha do Vigio determined that it is made of carbon-rich steel. This durable material was needed to carve stone stelas featuring complex anthropomorphic and geometric motifs, because the local silicated quartz sandstone was much too hard for stone, bronze, or iron chisels.
BULGARIA: Horses were first domesticated around 5,500 years ago on the Eurasian steppe and were bred for their milk. Just a few centuries later, researchers have discovered, the people of the Yamnaya culture became the first to ride them. Archaeologists examined the skeletal remains of Yamnaya burials across Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary. They noticed considerable musculoskeletal damage to the femurs, hips, and vertebrae of some individuals, which they believe was caused by the trauma of frequent horse riding.
EGYPT: Excavators digging near the Roman-era Temple of Horus within the Dendera Temple complex uncovered a subterranean chamber that contained a small limestone sphinx. The sculpture bears an unusual countenance that includes a slight smirk and dimples, features not commonly found on sphinx statues. Archaeologists believe that it may represent the emperor Claudius (reigned A.D. 41–54), ruler of the Roman Empire, which included Egypt.
ZIMBABWE: One mystery surrounding the earliest city in southern Africa appears to have been solved. Great Zimbabwe, from which the modern country takes its name, flourished from the 12th to 15th century A.D. as the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe. Given the area’s susceptibility to drought, scholars have wondered how the city’s inhabitants were able to obtain enough water to sustain themselves. A new survey uncovered a series of depressions outside the city called dhaka pits that were used to store water in the dry season as part of an ingenious water management system.
CHINA: The ruins of the sprawling ancient palace at Yueyang in the city of Xi’an attest to the lavish life its royal residents led when the city was an important capital during the late Qin and early Han Dynasties, between 2,400 and 2,200 years ago. The residents also seem to have had an extravagant luxury item: a flushing toilet, among the oldest ever discovered. The indoor lavatory was connected to the palace’s exterior with a pipe so the toilet could be flushed by servants pouring water through it.
VIETNAM: A 13-inch-long piece of antler found 30 years ago at the site of Go O Chua in the Mekong Delta may be part of the oldest stringed instrument discovered in Southeast Asia. The 2,000-year-old antler, either from a sambar deer or an Indian hog deer, was originally thought to be just a well-preserved ancient organic object. However, recent analysis revealed an unusual round hole at one end. The small aperture was made deliberately and likely once held a peg used to tune the single string of what is known as a chordophone instrument.
Uncovering a new Easter Island statue, the first equestrians, a sphinx’s familiar smile, 14,000-year-old mastodon spearpoints, and an early Chinese toilet
Ancient inside joke