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from the trenches
World Roundup Volume 61 Number 1, January/February 2008
by Samir S. Patel

Europe Asia and the Pacific Africa South America North America


The granite quarry at Aswan holds one of the largest obelisks ever attempted, estimated at 1,100 tons and unfinished due to cracks. Researchers may have discovered how the ancient Egyptians moved such massive monuments to their final destinations--an ancient trench around 8 feet deep, potentially part of a canal system to float or slide obelisks out during the Nile's annual flood. Groundwater in the now-filled trench, however, contributes to damaging salt deposits.

South Africa
In a cave at Pinnacle Point, researchers found what may be the world's first seafood dinner, a 164,000-year-old shellfish feast. The find pushes back the earliest human use of marine resources by 40,000 years. Evidence of early pigments and stone tools at the site suggest this was a pivotal moment in our development--the first exploitation of the sea might mark the birth of modern human behavior.
(Courtesy Don Johanson, Institute of Human Origins)


In the Lower Yangtze region, analysis of swamp sediments shows evidence of 7,700-year-old rice fields, the oldest known. Early rice farmers burned trees to clear land and built ridges to hold back seawater. As elsewhere in the world, the birth of agriculture in China probably marked the transition from nomadic hunting and gathering to a more sedentary lifestyle, as evidenced by raised dwellings also found at the site.
(Oliver Spalt/Wikipedia Commons)

South America

New analysis of hair from the startlingly well-preserved "Llullaillaco Maiden," a 15th-century child mummy found on a high peak in the Andes, shows that her sacrifice was planned in advance. A year before she died, her diet changed to include foods consumed by the elite, such as maize and llama meat, suggesting her social status was raised to make her fit for sacrifice. Then she was led on a grueling hike up the mountain and either killed or left to die.


Czech Republic
In south Moravia, archaeologists found half of a 7,000-year-old statue of a woman, according to local reports. The two-foot-long ceramic fragment is unusual because it is hollow and, if complete, would be the largest statue from the Moravian Painted Ware culture, noted for its pottery. The researchers named it "Hedvika" because the day it was found--October 17--is a Czech holiday for all people who bear that name.

Pale, red-headed Neanderthals? So say European researchers who conducted DNA studies on the mc1r gene from Spanish and Italian Neanderthal remains. The gene, which regulates pigmentation, contains a mutation that suggests Neanderthals had as much variation in skin tone as modern humans. Some of them may even have had very light skin and red hair, though probably not from interbreeding with our ancestors.
(Knut Finstermeier, MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology/ Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen, Mannheim)

In 1904, excavators at the Oseberg farm found a 65-foot Viking ship buried in 834 with the body of a high-status woman. Her remains were reinterred (minus the vessel, now in an Oslo Museum) in 1948, only to be dug up again in 2007. Researchers exhumed the body for DNA tests to determine if another woman buried in the same mound was her daughter or a maid sacrificed to serve her in the afterlife.

Near & Middle East

Recently discovered 11,000-year-old paintings--the earliest known decoration on a man-made wall--at Djade al-Mughara look like modern art. The geometric shapes were painted with burnt hematite, crushed limestone, and charcoal.

North America

Less than a year after the United States purchased Alaska from Russia for a mere $7.2 million in 1867 ($96 million in today's dollars), the U.S. Army sent 130 soldiers to southern Alaska. Torrent, their 150-foot vessel, struck a reef, and though all hands survived, the boat was lost--until 2007. Divers found the wreck, including hull beams, portholes, two 10-foot-tall anchors, and two cannons, in and around a kelp bed.
(Courtesy Nick Teasdale)
Puerto Rico
Surveys for an Army Corps of Engineers flood-control project revealed one of the most significant pre-Columbian sites in the Caribbean. The half-acre plaza or ball court is bordered by stones with petroglyphs, including one that depicts a man with his legs in a frog-like position and another with a woman who appears to be decapitated. Researchers expect the site will illuminate aspects of ritual life of the pre-Taino and Taino cultures that occupied the island before Europeans arrived.
(Courtesy Puerto Rico State Historic Preservation Office)
© 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of America