A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
ALASKA: A home containing the cremated remains of a three-year-old child is providing a look at the people who first crossed the Bering Strait to populate the Americas. The child, dubbed Xaasaa Cheege Ts'eniin, or "Upward Sun River Mouth Child" in Athabascan, died around 11,500 years ago—the oldest human remains found so far north. The site also shows that these Paleoindians subsisted on salmon during the summer and, like those back in Siberia, had semisubterranean houses.
(Courtesy Ben Potter, University of Alaska Fairbanks)
MARYLAND: In the country's last surviving 18th-century greenhouse, on an Eastern Shore estate where statesman Frederick Douglass lived as a child ("A Community's Roots," November/December 2006), archaeologists have unearthed African spiritual caches. A pestle secreted between furnace bricks (based on a West African Yoruba practice) and charms such as coins and arrowheads buried near a door are tangible evidence of the role skilled African-American slaves took in the construction and operation of the greenhouse, where experiments were conducted in the cultivation of exotic plants.
(Samir S. Patel)
HAWAII: In the Papaha-naumokua-kea Marine National Monument, maritime archaeologists have found the first wreck of a Nantucket whaling ship ever discovered. The remains of Two Brothers, which sank in 1823, include harpoons and try-pots for melting whale blubber. The ship was captained by George Pollard, Jr., famous for having helped inspire Moby Dick after his previous ship, Essex, was rammed and sunk by a whale (followed by cannibalism among the survivors as they drifted in the open ocean).
(Courtesy Greg McFall/NOAA)
ARMENIA: At the cave complex that held the world's oldest shoe ("World Roundup," September/October 2010), archaeologists have discovered the oldest known wine-making facility. First, they found a sloped platform with elevated edges containing the remains of crushed grapes—a wine press. Below that was a fermentation vat, along with more dried grapes, seeds, and vines. The winery is surrounded by human burials, suggesting that the drink made there was for ritual purposes. Hey, oenophiles—biochemical analysis shows it was a red.
(Courtesy Gregory Areshian)
MONGOLIA: Can massive drops in human population due to war or disease lead to declines in atmospheric carbon dioxide? Researchers looked at four such events, including the Black Death and the European conquest of the Americas, to determine the carbon impact of subsequent decreases in agriculture and increases in forest growth. The answer is a qualified "no"—forests regrow slowly and may have been cut down elsewhere. The modest exception was Genghis Khan's rampage through Asia in the 1200s, though it caused only a small drop in carbon dioxide that has since been negated many times over.
PAKISTAN: One in 10 artifacts from Mohenjo-Daro is related to play, according to a new analysis of decades of finds at the 4,000-year-old Indus city. Often overlooked archaeologically or dismissed as superfluous, leisure items clearly played a prominent role in the lives of many ancient peoples. At Mohenjo-Daro, dice and game pieces tend to be found in clusters, suggesting there were some sort of social halls separate from dwellings. It is a rare insight into the city's mysterious daily life.
(The Art Archive/Corbis)
JORDAN: At around 16,500 years old, the cemetery at Uyun al-Hammam is the oldest known in the Middle East. Recent excavations have uncovered the remains of at least 11 people. The remains of a red fox were also found, separated between two human graves, and with the bones of other animals. Later burials sometimes included dogs in the same way, so this fox may have been a pet or hunting companion.
(Courtesy Lisa Maher)
NORWAY: In what seemed to be a routine dig of a burial mound, excavators were surprised to discover hidden Bronze Age petroglyphs, including outlines of feet with cross-hatching, beneath cremated human remains. The mound above was probably deliberately built atop the rare rock drawings as part of a funeral ritual. Such carvings are often associated with fertility and growth—possibly making the mound a place where life and death come together.
(Courtesy Helle Vangen Stuedal, Rock Art Museum, Stjørdal, Norway)
ENGLAND: In the shadow of the headquarters of MI6, the country's Secret Intelligence Service, London's oldest structure has emerged from Thames muck. Six timber pilings date to around 6,000 years ago, and represent a surprisingly robust structure for the Mesolithic. Early in the excavation, armed policemen arrived, wondering why people in hip waders with measuring equipment were prowling around the doorstep of one of the world's most secure buildings. They were not deemed a security risk.
(Courtesy Nathalie Cohen, Thames Discovery Programme)
ITALY: On the outskirts of Rome, archaeologists stumbled across a stash of large, finely carved statue fragments, including five heads and a life-size statue of a naked Zeus. The hairstyles suggest they date to around the third century A.D. The site may have been the villa of an official in the Severan Dynasty, a notorious period in Roman history marked by massacres, assassinations, and rumors of incest and imperial homosexual prostitution.
(Courtesy Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali)