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from the trenches
World Roundup Volume 60 Number 6, November/December 2007
by Samir S. Patel

Europe Asia and the Pacific Africa South America North America


(Courtesy Tom Chandler, Monash University)
Why did the massive urban complex at Angkor collapse in the 16th century? The first-ever complete, detailed map--made with NASA ground-sensing radar--provides fresh evidence that the city's residents may have overexploited their environment. Angkor's inefficient and costly canal network, serving 400 square miles, heavily altered the landscape. When it eventually broke down, the land could no longer support the large population.
South Korea
The people of the Choson dynasty (A.D. 1392-1910) were not trying to create mummies, but their ritual use of charcoal, pine resin, lime, and fine sand in burials often resulted in remarkable preservation. In the liver of one "accidental" mummy--a child who died 500 years ago--researchers found samples of hepatitis B, which is the first time the virus has been observed in a mummy. They hope the find will shed light on the evolution of a pathogen that contributes to cirrhosis and liver cancer.
(Courtesy Seoul National University)

Central America

El Salvador
Archaeologists have long wondered how the Maya supported populations up to 100,000 at cities like Tikal because maize alone could not have provided the necessary calories. But there may have been another Maya staple--manioc. Researchers found 1,400-year-old rows of the prolific, starchy tubers buried under volcanic ash at Céren. It is the first discovery of a pre-Hispanic manioc planting bed ready for the next season of growth.


Chew on this. A student volunteer digging at a Neolithic site in western Finland found a hunk of birch-bark tar--5,000-year-old chewing gum, complete with tooth marks. Also used as glue, birch-bark tar might have helped treat mouth infections and prevent tooth decay.
(Courtesy Patrick Franzenm, Kierikki Stone Age Centre)

A high-speed rail link between Rome and Naples is about to plow through an ancient tannery. The 2nd- or 3rd-century A.D. site is believed to be the oldest tannery in Rome and contains nearly 100 three-foot-diameter tubs. At 1,200 square yards, it was an industrial-scale operation, as will be any attempt at salvage. The rail construction may force archaeologists to move the entire site to a nearby park--an expensive and risky proposition.

(Courtesy Sagalassos Archaeological Research Project)
As first reported on our website, researchers at Sagalossos recently found the marble head and leg of a 15-foot statue of Hadrian, who ruled the Roman empire from A.D. 117 to 138 and brought unprecedented prosperity to the small city. Archaeologists found another set of similarly giant feet nearby--probably belonging to a statue of Hadrian's wife, Sabina.

Near & Middle East

While the modern beekeeping industry faces a crisis of mysterious colony collapses, archaeologists have found 30 ancient hives that date back 3,000 years. Made of clay and straw, the hives had lids so the beekeepers in the city of Rehov could collect honey and wax. Texts describe beekeeping in biblical times, but no examples of such organized, commercial honey production had ever been found. "Land of milk and honey," indeed.

North America

At the site of a new bridge connecting Amaknak and Unalaska islands ("The Battle over Amaknak Bridge," May/June 2007), archaeologists found the oldest-known Aleutian whale-bone mask. The 3,000-year-old artifact, which may have been broken during a funeral ritual, was excavated in the final stages of the salvage operation.
(Courtesy Ed Arthur)
(Linda Perry)

One of the many great reasons to travel to Oaxaca is the cuisine, especially the rich, smoky, hot mole sauces. New research suggests that the Zapotec Indians were cooking similarly complex, tasty food between 500 and 1,000 years ago. In two rock shelters near the town of Mitla, archaeologists found the remains of 10 varieties of domesticated chili peppers, in addition to maize, beans, and squash. The ancient Zapotec didn't, however, leave us any recipes.
Researchers are using a masticated substance to help understand the migrations of ancient Native Americans. Quids--yucca or cornstalk fibers that were chewed like gum or tobacco--are well-preserved in the arid American Southwest. Researchers pulled from them mitochondrial DNA more than 2,000 years old, providing an important alternative to the controversial sampling of Native American remains. Early analysis suggests the Basketmaker II culture was descended from farmers who migrated north from Mexico.
(Courtesy Steven LeBlanc)
© 2007 by the Archaeological Institute of America