GEORGIA: For close to 30 years, scientists have been studying beads from Santa Catalina de Guale, a remote but wealthy 17th-century Franciscan mission on St. Catherine's Island. The published tally: 70,000 beads of 130 types, from relatively common Venetian and French ones to rare examples from India, China, Spain, Bohemia, Holland, and the Baltic. The collection, most of which was found in Native American graves, signals both Spain's global reach and the existence of a rich local economy that would have been forbidden by the crown.
(Photo: Courtesy American Museum of Natural History)
UK: Local lore has it--and an aerial survey just confirmed--that there is an 850-foot-long, V-shaped stone fish trap off the Welsh coast. Perhaps 1,000 years old, the trap pulled herring, mackerel, and flatfish into it as the tide receded, stranding them in pools or sweeping them into a net at the point of the "V." Sea level is higher now, so the wall no longer traps anything, but rather functions as an artificial reef, much to the relief of the local fish.
(Photo: Countryside Council for Wales, Courtesy Seigbert Otto)
GERMANY: Imaging specialists have taken the famous bust of Nefertiti for a CT scan. This time (she had one before, in 1992, on a machine primitive by today's standards) the scan revealed that beneath the layers of stucco is a surprisingly detailed limestone core--not just a support, but a detailed depiction of the 18th Dynasty queen. The core has creases on the cheeks and a slight bump on the nose.
(Photo: Courtesy Radiological Society of North America)
ITALY: Picture a plague victim, wrapped in a shroud and buried. During decomposition, a dark fluid emerges from the nose and mouth, sometimes eating through the shroud. Now picture the reaction of a 16th-century gravedigger, opening a mass grave to put more bodies in. It appears to him that the corpse is eating its way out--half vampire, half malicious plague vector.
A solution, a sort of vampire exorcism, was to cram a brick in the corpse's mouth, as seen in this skull recently excavated from a plague grave on the Venetian island of Lazzaretto Nuovo.
(Photo: Courtesy Matteo Borrini)
KENYA: Paleoanthropologists have discovered the earliest evidence of stone blades--sophisticated tools once thought to have been made only by modern humans and Neanderthals--dating to 500,000 years ago. This pushes their development back by 150,000 years, raising the question of which pre-human species made them and suggesting the technology predates the evolutionary split of humans and Neanderthals.
(Photo: Courtesy Cara Roure Johnson)
At the end of a long day, a glass of wine can be the best medicine. It was probably the same 5,100 years ago. Chemical tests have provided the earliest direct evidence of wine with medicinal additives. In a jar from the tomb of Pharaoh Scorpion I in Abydos, scientists found a variety of medicinal compounds that may have come from savory, Artemisia seibeni (a relative of wormwood), blue tansy, or other herbs or resins. They are now working with doctors to see if some of these compounds might help fight cancer.
(Photo: Courtesy German Institute of Archaeology, Cairo)
CHINA: The roots of domestication here are being seen in animal bones from the Neolithic site of Dadiwan. Using isotope analysis, researchers determined that dogs 7,900 to 7,200 years ago ate a lot of millet (right)--unlikely to happen in the wild--suggesting that the grain (like dogs) was domesticated by then. But it does not appear in the diet of pigs until a second phase of occupation that began 6,900 years ago, providing a time frame for swine domestication.
(Photo: Courtesy Loukas Barton)
INDIA: Archaeologists have found a key site for understanding the Indus Valley civilization. Just 80 miles north of New Delhi, they discovered the culture's largest known cemetery, with 70 individuals. Analysis of the 4,500-year-old remains, and pottery and jewelry buried with them, may address long-standing questions about the sophisticated, far-reaching culture, including where its people came from, what they ate, and why it declined. (Photo: Courtesy Courtesy Vasant Shinde)
PERU: At the base of a mud-brick pyramid, excavators opened the spectacular 1,500-year-old tomb of a Moche elite the locals have dubbed "Lord of Ucupe." Clad in two funerary masks, a necklace of silver medallions, and a tunic and train of metallic plates, he was buried with 19 headdresses or crowns, on a bed of war clubs. The grave, which held two other men and a pregnant woman, marks the transition between the Early and Middle Moche periods.
(Photo: Courtesy Steve Bourget)
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Twenty years ago, remains of crew members from Columbus's second transatlantic voyage (1493-94) were discovered at the site of La Isabela. Now isotope tests on tooth enamel seem to show that at least one was from Africa, suggesting Africans may have played a role in exploring and settling the New World. Researchers plan to use the data to link other remains to their hometowns in Spain.
(Photo: Fernando Luna Calderon, Courtesy T. Douglas Price)