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from the trenches
World Roundup Volume 60 Number 3, May/June 2007
by Samir S. Patel

Europe Asia and the Pacific Africa South America North America


Archaeologists have found what might be the oldest pottery in Africa. The sherds date to 9400 B.C., a time when climate fluctuation changed the area's desert to grassland. Researchers theorize pottery was invented there to store and cook new plant foods.
(Eric Huysecom)

Central & South America and the Caribbean

Thirteen stone rectangles, seven to twenty feet high, run along a ridge in coastal Peru, looking like teeth, or spines on a lizard's back. Archaeologists now think they look more like the first observatory in the Americas. The evenly spaced stones, built by an as-yet-unnamed culture, track the sun's rise, with the first and last towers corresponding to the summer and winter solstices. At 2,300 years old, it predates the earliest New World observatories by centuries.

Dominican Republic
Christopher Columbus founded the colony of La Isabela in 1494, promising colonists gold and silver. But they found little of value and became desperate for any kind of riches. According to new analysis of metal excavated at the site, the colonists clumsily attempted to pull silver from the lead ore they had brought from Spain, which would have been used to help extract precious metals from local ore. Finding little more than hurricanes, peeved natives, and disease, the survivors abandoned the site in 1498.
(Florida Museum/Jeff Gage)


At just over an inch wide and half an inch thick, the smallest complete Bible must have been difficult to read, which may explain why it was found stuffed in a child's boot inside a nineteenth-century cottage chimney. The boot and the tiny 1901 book, called a "thumb Bible" in its time, were likely used for protection against witchcraft.
(Portable Antiquities Scheme)

Construction in a northern Athens suburb turned up more than a dozen rows of stone seats where audiences might once have seen the works of Sophocles and Euripides. The open-air hall may be the 2,500-year-old theater of Acharnes, which was mentioned by ancient Greek writers.

Near & Middle East

A 45-foot-long shipwreck is filling a hole in the archaeology of Mediterranean trade. The ship, which plied the coast trading fish, ropes, and food, has been dated to the eighth century A.D., the period of the rise of Islam in the region and from which no other shipwrecks have been found. The discovery will help scholars understand how Arab rule affected sea trade and coastal settlements.
(University of Haifa)

North America

If a rock falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Sure, especially when it falls into the 1,200-year-old Ancestral Puebloan ruins at Mesa Verde National Park. A slab the size of a compact car fell from a rock face, smashing a small building and a ceremonial chamber just 30 feet from the four-story Square Tower House, the park's tallest structure.

At Zazacatla, a 2,500-year-old site 25 miles south of Mexico City, archaeologists found six buildings and two statues that closely resemble Olmec priest figures. The find confirms that Olmec influence extended hundreds of miles from the culture's traditional center on the Gulf Coast.

The Pacific

Fossils found in caves in the vast, barren Nullarbor Plain hint that humans, and not an increasingly arid climate, were responsible for the extinction of large land animals around 40,000 years ago. By analyzing tooth enamel, researchers determined that the kangaroos, giant wombats, and marsupial lions were already adapted to a dry climate much like today's, strengthening the case that humans, through their effects on the environment or hunting, caused the extinctions.
(Clay Bryce/Western Australian Museum)
Among the 70 skeletons archaeologists have excavated in the oldest cemetery in the South Pacific, there are only seven skulls, one of which was found in a pot. The 3,000-year-old burials confirm that skulls had a special significance to the Lapita people, and may have been dug up after burial for display as shrines.
(Matthew Spriggs)
© 2007 by the Archaeological Institute of America