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from the trenches
World Roundup Volume 60 Number 1, January/February 2007

Europe Asia and the Pacific Africa South America North America


A group of tomb robbers led archaeologists to the burials of several royal dentists, identified by two hieroglyphs--an eye over a tusk. The 4,200-year-old tomb, near Cairo, was not lavish and did not contain any remains, but it was protected by a curse that warned that violators would be eaten by a crocodile and a snake.


(Courtesy Wang Hongfei)
A tiny spinning wheel may hold the earliest writing in China. The ceramic artifact found in Henan province is believed to contain a 4,500-year-old inscription of a symbol from Taoist philosophy.
The country has taken a few hits in popular culture lately, but it remains rich in human history. Around 5,300 years ago, the Botai people of the Eurasian steppes may have been among the first to domesticate the horse for meat, milk, and transportation. Soil found inside what appear to be ancient corrals carries the chemical signature of age-old horse manure.
(AP Photo/MTI/Tibor Olah)

South Korea
The long, sordid saga of Hwang Woo Suk, the geneticist who forged stem-cell research and now faces charges of embezzlement, keeps getting stranger. According to recent reports, he admitted in court that he attempted to use some of his ill-gotten funds to purchase frozen mammoth remains from Russian mobsters in an attempt to clone the extinct animals.

Central America and the Caribbean

(Courtesy Judith Moore)
"Aglets," the small sheaths on the ends of shoelaces, were once highly prized. The Taino people, who occupied Cuba when Columbus arrived, traded gold--which was abundant and had little value for them--for European brass aglets. Apparently it was the smell and iridescence of the brass that attracted them, not the ability to keep laces from fraying.


Sergeant Alvin York became America's greatest World War I hero when he led an attack on a German machine gun nest in 1918, taking 132 prisoners with just a handful of soldiers. A research team led by a U.S. Army officer believes it has found the exact location of York's heroism, marked by 19 corroded Colt .45 cartridges.

Archaeologist Muazzez Ilmiye Cig was cleared of charges of insulting Muslim sensibilities. The 92-year-old scholar wrote in 2005 that head-scarves were first worn 5,000 years ago as part of a Sumerian seduction ritual.

Visitors to the Holy See now have access to a recently found city of the dead. The necropolis, found three years ago during construction work, contains ash-filled urns and elaborate stone coffins dating to the first through the fourth century A.D. The finds include rare burials of middle-class tradespeople, including a letter carrier, a horse trainer, and a theatrical set designer.

North America

French settlers, among them explorer Samuel Champlain, endured a hard winter on St. Croix Island in 1604--almost half of them died. Desperate to discover why, barber-surgeons among the survivors performed the New World's first known autopsy. A skull excavated by the National Park Service had its crown removed and then replaced before burial. Although they would not have seen signs of the scurvy that was killing them, the settlers used the same procedure as today's forensic pathologists.
(Courtesy National Park Service)

In 1978, utility workers uncovered the Templo Mayor, the remains of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, under Mexico City. Now, at the same site, archaeologists have found an altar depicting the angry rain god Tlaloc and an 11-foot monolith. The most significant Aztec finds in years, the artifacts may point the way to a yet undiscovered underground chamber.

© 2007 by the Archaeological Institute of America