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from the trenches
World Roundup Volume 62 Number 1, January/February 2009
by Samir S. Patel

Europe Asia and the Pacific Africa South America North America

[image] CANADA: The Thule people, ancestors of the modern Inuit who occupied this region of the high Arctic for six centuries, relied on bowhead whales for shelter, heat, and food. Scientists who study lake ecosystems found that the settlements and all those whale carcasses changed the local environment. While most lakes in the region are very low in nutrients, those near Thule sites, and their organic runoff, have much higher levels, as well as algae and plants not found in the other lakes--hundreds of years after the Thule moved on. (Photo: Courtesy J.M. Savelle)

[image] MARYLAND: A clay bundle left in a roadside drainage channel in colonial Annapolis holds evidence of African spiritual practices transplanted directly to North America. The 300-year-old artifact, which includes lead shot, pins, nails, and a stone ax, could be representative of any of a number of west African cultures, such as the Yoruba. Unlike other spiritual caches found in excavations at Annapolis, this one appears not to have been influenced by European traditions and was not hidden under a hearth or in a corner, suggesting a surprising tolerance of African religion at the time. (Photos: John Consoli)

[image] UK: Whether it depicts a hedgehog or a pig--it is a matter of some debate--a carved chalk animal found at Stonehenge may be Britain's oldest toy, dating between 800 and 200 B.C. Representational objects, such as this critter, which was discovered near the remains of a young child, are extremely rare for prehistoric Britain. (Photo: Aerial-Cam/SRP 2008)

[image] RUSSIA: Neanderthals were a lot like us at birth. An analysis of the well-preserved 40,000-year-old remains of a newborn, found in Mezmaiskaya Cave, shows that Neanderthals had large brains when born, just like modern humans. However, the infant's skeleton and facial structure were more robust than a modern baby's. So while Neanderthal females had wider birth canals, they shared the high evolutionary cost--difficult births--of having babies with large brains. (Photo: Christoph Zollikofer, Courtesy University of Zurich)

GREECE: In a cemetery at Pella, birthplace of Alexander the Great, archaeologists found gold jewelry and weapons dating from the 7th to the 3rd century B.C. The discoveries included burials of 20 warriors, some of whom were interred with bronze helmets and iron weapons, and decorated with gold foil on parts of their faces and chests. The finds are furthering our understanding of early expansion of Macedonian culture and trade.
[image] ISRAEL: Bones of a woman and child, found in the submerged, 9,000-year-old village of Atlit-Yam, could explain the past and future of tuberculosis (TB). Researchers noted bony lesions associated with the deadly infectious disease on the child, and later confirmed the diagnosis with DNA and lipid tests. It is the earliest DNA evidence of TB by 6,000 years. The analysis showed that humans did not contract the disease from cattle, as was thought, and will provide a reference for understanding the pathogen's evolution. (Photo: Courtesy I. Hershkovitz and E. Galili)

[image] JORDAN: Scientists identified a new species of giant clam that might explain the earliest modern human migrations. Tridacna costata, as the mollusk is known, was once abundant in the Red Sea but now is endangered. Researchers noticed that its decline began near the time modern humans first migrated out of Africa, around 125,000 years ago. The finding fuels the theory that dwindling resources, such as easily gathered, foot-long clams, spurred our eventual spread around the world. (Photo: Courtesy Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research)

CHINA: When road workers in Chongqing Province came across an old bowl, they tossed it aside. Then they found another and another, and soon called the local cultural authorities. The workers had stumbled across an unusual Qing Dynasty tomb, emptied by looters but built from stacks of hundreds of blue-and-white porcelain bowls, stuck together with sticky rice and cement.

PHILIPPINES: Lost, then found, but still lost. According to local reports, authorities on the island of Mindanao confiscated 22 sacks of ceramics, including burial urns with human faces. The pottery, perhaps around 2,000 years old, appears to come from a previously unknown culture. But archaeologists will never have access to the context from which they were removed, and lack the resources and security to mount an excavation in the rebel-troubled area.

[image] AUSTRALIA: Like a sweeping history book, the Aboriginal rock art of Arnhem Land may be the longest more or less continuous record mankind has ever created. The paintings, ranging from 15,000 to just 50 years old, have helped change the idea that people on the continent were largely isolated before the 18th century. Among the works are 81 paintings of vessels, from modern ocean liners to dugout canoes to the ships of Makassan traders from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, suggesting a long, complex history of contact with the outside world. (Photo: Courtesy Paul S.C. Tacon, Griffith University)