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from the trenches
World Roundup Volume 60 Number 4, July/August 2007
by Samir S. Patel

Europe Asia and the Pacific Africa South America North America


South Africa
Early humans might have dug for food. By comparing the carbon isotopes in the teeth of Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus robustus with teeth of ancient and modern mole rats, researchers found the early hominin diet probably included such mole rat staples as corms and bulbs, like modern taro and shallots. The find helps explain why early humans had thick tooth enamel and broad teeth.

Central & South America and the Caribbean

Sometimes looters miss things. On the shores of Lake Titicaca, at the Akapana pyramid, which has been picked over by treasure hunters for centuries, archaeologists found an intact 1,300-year-old Tiwanaku burial. The gold, offerings, and sacrificial llama remains suggest the tomb's occupant may have been a ruler or priest.

The Inca left no written records, so scientists are now "reading" dung mites to understand the civilization's dramatic rise and fall. Lake sediments contain the remains of oribatid mites, which live in soil and help break down animal dung; fewer mites mean fewer domesticated llamas, and therefore fewer people. Researchers found that the abundance of mites in the sediments shoots up with the rise of Inca culture in A.D. 1400, and drops precipitously with the arrival of the Spanish in the 1530s.
(Nick Rowe/CNRS)


While excavating a funeral pyre dating to 1900- 1700 B.C., archaeologists found a lump of jet, a hard black stone, inscribed with a mysterious pattern of lines. The geometric designs on the amulet, which was probably affixed to a garment, are so similar to those on a gold amulet found near Stonehenge that it may have been a direct copy.

Joan of Arc's remains are far older than they should be. Researchers found that relics kept in a museum of the Archdiocese of Tours, including the fifteenth-century martyr's purported rib bone, actually came from an Egyptian mummy dating from between the third and sixth centuries B.C. Pieces of mummies were once used as folk remedies in Europe.

A modest Neolithic house in northern Greece burned down in the fifth millennium B.C., preserving wild grape seeds and skins that look as though they had been crushed to extract their juice, perhaps to make wine. It is the earliest evidence of wine production in the Aegean region, and shows that wine could have been made before grapes were domesticated.
(Tania Valamoti/Antiquity Publications)

Near & Middle East

The helmet is like a menagerie—the forehead is adorned with a peacock's tail, the eyeholes with snakes, and the cheeks with lions. Probably worn by a Greek warrior on a ship battling Persians in the fifth or sixth century B.C., the helmet was found off the Israeli coast, and is the most complete one of its kind ever found there.

North America

Near the Toltec city of Tula, archaeologists found the bones of 24 children, aged 5 to 15, whose throats had been cut. The first evidence of Toltec child sacrifice to appease the rain god Tlaloc, the burial dates to around A.D. 950 to 1150, several centuries before the Aztecs adopted similar practices.

Asia & The Pacific

Like an Aboriginal Mount Olympus, a stone platform in the Wollemi wilderness is home to the gods. The recently discovered low, brush-covered slab, which is 300 feet long and 150 feet wide, is engraved with a unique collection of ancestral beings, including Balame (the supreme creator), the Rainbow Serpent, and the Eagle Ancestor.
(Tristram Miller)

Years ago, a shepherd seeking shelter from cold Himalayan rain stumbled across a cave with paintings on the walls. He recently led a team of mountain climbers and archaeologists to the site, where they encountered a complex of caves full of colorful murals depicting scenes from the life of Buddha. Limited excavations have helped date the paintings to the twelfth century.

© 2007 by the Archaeological Institute of America