CALIFORNIA: Europeans brought tiny hitchhikers to the New World--diseases such as smallpox thought to have decimated local populations--that may have changed the climate back home. In soil and sediment data, Stanford scientists found evidence that post-Columbian pandemics led to reforestation as agricultural fields were abandoned. They theorize new plant growth pulled so much carbon dioxide from the air that it contributed to the Little Ice Age, a period of bitter winters between 1550 and 1750. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)
TURKS AND CAICOS: Slavery had been outlawed in the British Indies by 1841, when the Spanish slave ship Trouvadore foundered on a reef off East Caicos Island, so its crew was arrested by authorities. Researchers have now identified the wreck, providing locals with a crucial link to their history--most of the 192 slaves on the ship settled on Grand Turk Island, where a number of African traditions are still practiced.
(Photo: NOAA, Courtesy of Search for Trouvadore science team)
ARGENTINA: One of the birthplaces of the tango--the strutting, sexy partner dance--has been found under Buenos Aires's Palermo Park. The Cafe de Hansen, established in 1865 and demolished around 1912, was a restaurant and dancehall that hosted tango orchestras as the dance spread from the poor neighborhoods where it began. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)
CHILE: Agua Buenas was renamed Robinson Crusoe Island in honor of Daniel Defoe's iconic literary castaway. It wasn't arbitrary--Defoe's story is thought to be based on the experience of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor marooned there from 1704 to 1709. Archaeologists think they have located his campsite--hearths and postholes dating to around the right time-as well as a fragment of what might be a pair of dividers, a tool used for navigation. "Mathematical instruments" were among Selkirk's most prized possessions. (Photo: Courtesy Daisuke Takahashi)
UK: Archaeologists are studying the remains of the Women's Peace Camp, established to protest the installation of American nuclear weapons at Greenham Common air base. At Turquoise Gate, an off-shoot of the main camp started in 1983, they found milk bottles--surprising for a camp that was supposedly vegan--and a doll's torso, like the kind camp residents used to decorate military fences to make them look less threatening and more ridiculous. (Photo: Courtesy Kristin Posehn)
Two 4,000-year-old mummies from Thebes contain the earliest known genetic material from Plasmodium falciparum, the mosquito-borne parasite that causes the most common and deadly form of malaria. The discovery may help explain how the protozoan has evolved and mutated--a key to understanding how it came to infect humans and how the disease can be prevented or treated. (Photo: CDC)
JORDAN: Allan Quartermain might not have been happy to find King Solomon's copper mines--he wanted more precious metals--but archaeologists think they're plenty exciting. Recent work at an ancient copper processing center pushes the date of its industrial production back 300 years, to the 10th century B.C., thought by some to be the time of the Biblical King David and his son Solomon. This means that there was a complex society in the area, known then as Edom, when scholars thought it was unoccupied.
(Photo: Courtesy Thomas Levy, UC San Diego)
CHINA: At first archaeologists guessed the two pounds of green plant material, buried with a Caucasian man 2,700 years ago in Turpan, was coriander. Tests revealed the truth--it was cannabis, the oldest-known marijuana stash. Lab work also established that it would have been potent stuff, though it is unknown whether it was used for medicinal or religious purposes. (Photo: David Potter/Oxford University)
NEW ZEALAND: The endangered yellow-eyed penguin might have benefited from the extinction of its cousin, the newly discovered Waitaha penguin. Researchers identified the new species and found that it went extinct about 500 years ago, right around the time the Maori people first arrived on the country's South Island. Following the extinction, the larger yellow-eye expanded into the range of its vanished relative. The fact that the yellow-eye survived where the Waitaha did not suggests a change in Maori culture--perhaps a population decline or the beginning of the modern Maori environmental ethic.
(Photo: Christian Mehlführer/Wikipedia Commons)
POLAND: Until now, no one knew for certain what happened to the remains of Nicolas Copernicus, the 16th-century astronomer who proclaimed that the earth revolves around the sun. Scientists have solved the mystery--they matched DNA from a skeleton, found in a cathedral in 2005, with DNA from hair taken from Copernicus's copy of Johannes Stoeffler's Calendarium Romanum Magnum. A facial reconstruction based on the skull bears a convincing likeness to portraits of the heretical scientist, from the scar above his
eye to his crooked nose. (Photo: Courtesy Institute of Anthropology and Archaeology, Poland, and Centraine Laboratorium Kryminalistyczne Komendy Glownej Policji w Warszawie)