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from the trenches
World Roundup Volume 61 Number 4, July/August 2008
by Samir S. Patel

Europe Asia and the Pacific Africa South America North America


It took the ancient Egyptians a long time to move their asses. Analysis of 10 donkey skeletons from a funerary complex in Abydos shows that these 5,000-year-old animals closely resembled wild asses, but with the joint wear of domesticated pack animals. This is the earliest evidence for the use of animals for transport, and it suggests their domestication was a complex, gradual process.
(Courtesy Stine Rossel)

Asia & the Pacific

An important and painful part of Australia's 20th-century heritage has been found--8,100 feet under the Indian Ocean. Researchers located the wreck of the HMAS Sydney, just days after they located the wreck of the DKM Kormoran, the German ship that sank the battle cruiser--the pride of the Australian navy--in 1941, claiming all 645 lives aboard.
(The Finding Sydney Foundation)

Road workers in the municipality of Chongqing broke through to a group of eight tombs, one of which had well-preserved frescoes depicting horses, deer, birds, and women. Experts are puzzled because the tombs appear to date to the Ming Dynasty, while the frescoes resemble paintings from the earlier Tang Dynasty.

Easter Island
Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints. Wishful thinking? A Finnish tourist knocked the earlobe off a Moai statue. Though the 26-year-old claims it was an accident, he was arrested, forced to pay a $17,000 fine, and barred from the island for three years. He escaped prison time, but Easter Island's angry mayor thought "an ear for an ear" would have been an appropriate punishment.

New evidence is showing archaeologists when and where the practice of whaling began. From the site of a large house pit, a Russian-American team excavated a walrus-ivory carving showing a whale hunt--complete with kayaks, seal-skin floats, and harpoons. The 3,000-year-old find pushes the origins of whaling back at least 1,000 years.
(Courtesy Danile Odess)


Archaeologists have found the first European. A jawbone and teeth that date to more than a million years ago are the earliest evidence of hominin presence in Western Europe. The bone, which was found with stone tools and animal bones, suggests that the human occupation of Europe happened earlier and faster than previously thought.

North America

The flightless sea duck would have made an easy target for hunters and egg gatherers when humans arrived in the Americas around 13,000 years ago. But evidence from 14 archaeological sites shows that the bird stuck around, despite heavy hunting, for about 10,000 more years. Researchers think the sea duck's persistence casts more doubt on the "overkill model," which states that hunting caused the extinction of many Pleistocene species in the Americas.
(Stanton F. Fink/Wikimedia Commons)
The Aztecs get an "A" in math. New analysis of two Aztec codices that record landholdings for tax purposes shows they employed a sophisticated system analogous to fractions. In trying to match the area of each plot with its perimeter, scientists determined the Aztecs used glyphs--arrows, hearts, hands, bones, and arms--to represent distinct units smaller than the land rod, their standard measure, which was around eight feet.
(Fondo Reservado de la Biblioteca Nacional de Mexico, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico)

New Mexico
After receiving a tip that an amateur historian had displayed the naturally mummified remains of a black Civil War soldier in his home, federal archaeologists examined a cemetery near Fort Craig and determined that 20 graves had been looted. A low-profile excavation of the remote cemetery to preempt more looting turned up the remains of 67 people--mostly soldiers and children who may have been taken to the fort to receive medical care.

South America
Even early hunter-gatherer cultures felt the allure of gold. Archaeologists uncovered the oldest gold artifacts in the Americas--dating to around 2000 B.C.--near Lake Titicaca. The nine hammered-gold cylindrical beads, which were part of a necklace, might represent the nascent stages of status, prestige, and social inequity in this part of the world.
(Courtesy Mark Aldenderfer)