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from the trenches
World Roundup Volume 61 Number 5, September/October 2008
by Samir S. Patel

Europe Asia and the Pacific Africa South America North America

Africa

Namibia
While searching for diamonds off the coast, a joint venture between the national government and diamond giant De Beers found a treasure-laden shipwreck that was probably a Portuguese trading vessel from the early 16th century. The ship was loaded with Spanish and Portuguese coins, cannons, three rare astrolabes, and 60 elephant tusks.

South Africa
Researchers believe they have evidence at Sibudu Cave that shows the bow and arrow were invented 20,000 years earlier than was thought. A two-inch bone point, which has been dated to the Middle Stone Age, 60,000 years ago, closely resembles those historically used as arrowheads by Bushmen. Arrows were thought to have come into use in the Late Stone Age alongside other signs of modernity, such as art and fully formed language.

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(Alan Greensmith/Ardea)

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(Courtesy PLoS ONE/Melchior et al)

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(Guy Eisner/Courtesy of Science Magazine)

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(Courtesy Joan Oates)

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(Gaudelli)

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(Courtesy Mario Pino)

Asia & the Pacific

New Zealand
Humans are Pied Pipers by nature; we seem to bring rats along wherever we go. A new study of rat bones and rat-gnawed seeds has provided firm radiocarbon dates for the colonization of New Zealand and the rest of Polynesia. People and the Pacific rats who love them reached New Zealand around A.D. 1280, or 1,000 years later than some previous estimates and a time that coincides with the islands' earliest clear archaeological evidence.

Europe

United Kingdom
Europe's last Neanderthals were not a struggling culture, but rather a thriving, surprisingly developed one. New analysis of 180 flint tools—found in 1900 during the construction of an estate house—paint a picture of technological sophistication probably surpassing that of the first Homo sapiens in Europe around 40,000 years ago. The site's location, which would have provided good views of animals moving across the plains, shows that these Neanderthals understood their environment well.

Denmark
Forensic scientists discovered the 2,000-year-old remains of a man with mitochondrial DNA that shows he had Arabian roots. The burial was similar to those around it, suggesting the "foreigner" had been accepted into the local culture. He may even have contributed to the gene pool. The same team extracted 1,000-year-old DNA from the teeth of Vikings buried elsewhere, and found that they were more genetically diverse than modern Danes.

Near & Middle East

Israel
An ancient date palm may be back from extinction. Scientists planted 2,000-year-old seeds found at the hilltop fortress of Masada and one germinated--the oldest known seed to become a plant. It is different from modern species, so it may be a Judean date palm, known in antiquity for the unique flavor and powerful medicinal properties of its fruit. Researchers named the plant Methuselah, after the Bible's oldest man.

Syria
According to cuneiform tablets, the people of the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ebla coveted entertainers called hub from the city of Nagar (Tell Brak), 300 miles away. Until now, archaeologists weren't sure what kind of entertainers they were, but the lower skeleton of a ritual sacrifice suggests they were acrobats. The remains show signs of enlarged muscles, injuries from a fall and repeated jumping and turning, and wear on the foot bones identical to that of a modern ballet dancer.

North America

Lake Ontario
Shipwreck enthusiasts with side-scanning sonar and a remote-control sub located HMS Ontario, a Revolutionary War-era sloop that was one of the most sought-after Great Lakes wrecks. The remarkably well-preserved find is the oldest confirmed wreck in the Great Lakes and the only fully intact British warship ever located. The 80-foot Ontario sank in a gale in 1780 with 120 people aboard, including up to 30 American prisoners of war.

Mexico
Hidalgo--Where cultural patrimony is sexy! Not so fast. The National Institute for Anthropology and History rejected state tourism ads that featured Hidalgo's great attractions, including the Toltec monuments at Tula de Allende and the 16th-century aqueduct of Padre Tembleque, digitally laid over the seminude body of soap-opera actress Iran Castillo. The state was allowed to run ads in which she was painted with images of hot-air balloons and rock faces. So much for spicing up archaeology.

South America

Chile
Munched seaweed at Monte Verde confirms that the settlement is the oldest known in the Americas. At around 14,300 years old, the find pushes the date of the site's occupation back 1,000 years. It lies 50 miles from the coast, so the discovery of nine species of seaweed suggests its inhabitants regularly traveled back and forth from the coast to exploit familiar resources.

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