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World Roundup

May/June 2013

  • hawaii-midway-planeHAWAII: Ten feet below the waters of the Midway Atoll are the remains of a broken, infamous, slightly stubby piece of aviation history. The wreckage is believed to be from a Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo, one of the United States’ first monoplane fighters, that went down in a squall in 1942, a few months before the Battle of Midway. Though Buffaloes (perhaps not the most inspiring name for an aircraft) saw action in the battle, they generally lived up to their reputation as “flying coffins.” —Samir S. Patel

  • panama-shaman-rockPANAMA: A rock collection represents the earliest known evidence for shamanistic practices in lower Central America. Between 4,000 and 4,800 years old, the group of 12 small pieces of crystal and other stones were found in the back of a rock shelter. Several show abrasions and other signs of use, and all were found in a tight pile, indicating they may once have been in a bag or basket. The belief system behind the cache is not known, but nearby modern indigenous groups also use unusual stones in rituals. —Samir S. Patel

  • new-york-hms-hussar-cannonNEW YORK: Archaeology has its hazards—from snakes to bandits to falling rocks—but cannon fire is not usually among them. Workers cleaning a historic cannon that had once been on display in New York’s Central Park were startled to find that, after 200 years, it was still loaded. The cannon, which was once aboard the British warship HMS Hussar, was packed with a cannonball, wadding, and gunpowder (topped by a concrete plug to keep out litter), which were all safely removed. After cleaning, the cannon will be returned to display, with another chapter written in its long history. —Samir S. Patel

  • netherlands-shoe-treasureTHE NETHERLANDS: In 16th-century Rotterdam, someone chose to save his money not in a mattress, but in his footwear. The well-preserved leather shoe, discovered in the excavation of a former City Hall site, contained almost 500 silver coins—about two months’ wages for a skilled craftsman at the time. The newest coin dates to 1592, during the Eighty Years' War for Dutch independence. The hoard may have been left in expectation of less turbulent times that the owner never lived to see. —Samir S. Patel

  • norway-edvard-munch-paintNORWAY: Painter Edvard Munch—known for his symbolic, expressionistic works, chief among them the iconic and anxiety-ridden The Scream (1893)—owned a home near Hvisten, a compact white house between forest and fjord. Excavations on the property have turned up thousands of objects from his time there, including paint and paint tubes that have helped pinpoint the locations of Munch’s four outdoor studios there. —Samir S. Patel

  • italy-marble-bench-markITALY: Nineteenth-century physicist and astronomer Father Pietro Angelo Secchi studied the sun and the spectra produced by stars, but also, occasionally, looked down. A marble bench mark that Secchi placed—a slab of travertine fitted with a metallic plate with a hole in the center—has been discovered near the town of Frattocchie. Along with another bench mark about 7.5 miles away, it was used to survey the Appian Way and help measure the shape of Earth. —Samir S. Patel

  • serbia-hominin-jawboneSERBIA: Electron spin resonance, uranium series isotopic analysis, and infrared/post-infrared luminescence dating—all these advanced techniques were applied to determine the age of a hominin jawbone found in a cave. The mandible, with three molars attached, is between 397,000 and 525,000 years old, placing it among the oldest hominin fossils in Europe. The sample, which lacks features associated with Neanderthals and may come from a Homo erectus, might help explain how these early human lineages evolved and were distributed across the continent. —Samir S. Patel

  • sudan-meroe-kush-reliefSUDAN: In the ancient city of Meroe in the kingdom of Kush, archaeologists have uncovered a relief of a smiling, carefully adorned woman. Indications of a slight double chin suggest that she carried a bit of extra weight, which is how royal women from Kush were often depicted. She could even be a queen or a princess, according to researchers, but determining that will require more study of the fragile palace where she was found. —Samir S. Patel

  • india-oldest-curryINDIA: Examination of faunal traces on ancient pots is a useful tool for understanding the diets of people thousands of years ago. The technique has now been used to trace curries—those staples of Indian cuisine—back to the Indus civilization, some 4,400 years ago. Using pots from the small Indus site of Farmana and teeth from a nearby cemetery, the researchers found evidence of cooked turmeric and ginger, two essential ingredients of curries even today. —Samir S. Patel

  • australia-dingoAUSTRALIA: Native Australians first arrived on the island continent more than 40,000 years ago. It has been widely believed that they were isolated, culturally and genetically, from the rest of the world prior to European contact in the 17th century. But there was always the question of who brought the dingo, which was introduced around 4,000 years ago. A new genetic analysis shows that there was actually substantial gene flow between India and Australia around this time, which also coincides with changes in tools and food-processing technology. —Samir S. Patel



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