MARYLAND: Ongoing digs in historic Annapolis are revealing the birth of the African-American middle class in the 19th century. Tableware from the home of James Holliday, a freed slave who worked at the U.S. Naval Academy, shows that his family was relatively well-off. Like white families, they purchased porcelain, but, perhaps because of financial limitations, in small quantities. Bottles suggest they were self-medicating, a common practice among African Americans then, who lacked access to professional care in the still-segregated city.
(Courtesy University of Maryland)
ENGLAND: Archaeologists digging in the garden of Edward Jenner—the legendary scientist credited with creating the smallpox vaccine—have discovered a Roman or sub-Roman burial. They had previously uncovered the remains of an 8th-century Anglo-Saxon monastery and a dissected dog on the site, where Jenner made many key observations about the natural world. The new find pushes the history of the garden, considered the birthplace of immunology and public health, back by hundreds of years.
(Courtesy Mark Horton, University of Bristol)
ITALY: In a 2nd-century A.D. Roman wreck containing amphorae full of processed fish, divers have discovered evidence of a live well to keep fish fresh during transport. Researchers believe a flanged lead pipe found near the ship's keel was connected to a pump to bring seawater aboard. Historical texts suggest the ancient Romans traded in live fish, but this is the first physical evidence of the practice. Researchers plan to
reconstruct the device.
(Courtesy Carlo Beltrame, Universita Ca'Foscari Venezia)
RUSSIA: Was the last redoubt of Neanderthals near the Arctic Circle? In the northern Ural Mountains, archaeologists have discovered Mousterian stone tools and butchered mammoth bones, which are associated with Neanderthals in Europe (though modern humans in southwest Asia used similar technology). The artifacts are dated to 28,500 years ago, 8,000 years after Neanderthals are thought to have disappeared, suggesting that some mastered living in cold environments and held on long after modern humans had usurped the rest of their range.
(Courtesy Ludovic Slimak, Universite de Toulouse le Mirail)
PERU: In Lake Marcacocha, scientists have discovered a key to the rise of Inca civilization: llama dung. In lake sediments, maize pollen appears around 2,700 years ago, along with a rise in mites that feed on animal dung—coinciding with the earliest stages of Andean chiefdoms. The fertilizer would have been important for the cultivation of maize at high altitude, which led to food surpluses that helped fuel
(Daniel Chong Kah Fui/flickr)
NEW ZEALAND: Nineteenth-century Maori history is written in the DNA of long-dead kiwi birds. Prized cloaks of kiwi feathers were worn into battle. The genetic material preserved in more than 100 cloaks in museum collections, alongside DNA from modern birds, has identified the small area where the cloak tradition may have arisen, and suggests that a previously undocumented trade in feathers grew after internecine wars broke up traditional groups in the early part of the century.
(Courtesy Smithsonian National Zoo/flickr)
INDIA: Digs near the ancient port of Muciri are enriching the picture of brisk early trade between the state of Kerala and Roman and Near Eastern cultures. Dating to around 2,000 years ago, the finds include Roman pottery (including what appears to be a toilet) and glass, as well as iron and copper nails, and terracotta lamps, spindles, and toys. They are evidence of one of the first attempts at organized trade between Europe, Africa, and Asia.
(Courtesy P.J. Cherian, KCHR and Pattanam Excavations)
JORDAN: At Wadi Faynan, excavations of a site belonging to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A culture suggest that the first buildings weren't necessarily homes or ritual spaces—but rather community centers for shared work. An oval-shaped mud building at the site, which dates to over 11,000 years ago, had mortars set into the floor, perhaps to process cultivated wild plants. Archaeologists believe there was little distinction between domestic and ritual spaces. Such divisions would come later, alongside the advent of agriculture.
(WF 16 Project, David Oliver)
EGYPT: Spots on the painted walls of Tutankhamun's tomb, long a mystery to archaeologists, might be evidence of a hasty burial. The spots were probably caused by fungus, but they apparently have not changed since the tomb was opened in 1922. Therefore, they likely date to the last time there was moisture in the tomb—when the boy king was first buried in 1323 B.C. It is possible that the paint on the wall was not yet dry when the tomb was sealed—supporting the theory that he died unexpectedly.
(Getty Conservation Institute)
SUDAN: Study of more than 200 Nubian mummies shows that these ancient people struggled with schistosomiasis, a water-borne disease caused by parasitic worms that still infects millions of people today. The study looked at mummies from two populations between 1,000 and 1,500 years old—one that practiced irrigation agriculture and one that did not. Those who practiced irrigation were almost three times as likely to be infected, which shows how human alteration of the environment has helped spread the disease.
(Dennis Van Gerven, University of Colorado)