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World Roundup

  • mexico-aztec-temple-death-godMEXICO: At the mid-14th-century site of Tehuacán in the state of Puebla, archaeologists have identified a shrine they believe was dedicated to Mictlantecuhtli, Aztec god of the dead. Two niches there each contained a skull and four femurs. Atop the temple were two clay heads believed to represent Mictlantecuhtli, along with hundreds of pieces of human remains, suggesting sacrifices. It is believed the site was built by the Popolocas people, who were conquered by the Aztecs in 1456. —Samir S. Patel

  • bolivia-lake-titicaca-inca-goldBOLIVIA: According to legend, Lake Titicaca is home to Inca treasure and submerged cities. Underwater archaeologists have recently found thousands of objects around the “Island of the Sun,” most of which date to the pre-Inca Tiwanaku period (7th–11th centuries). Among the finds are incense containers, animal figurines, and 31 pieces of gold leaf in the shape of llamas and pumas. Rather than Inca treasure, the finds are evidence of the ways the Inca co-opted old sacred sites—the objects were likely ritual offerings—to consolidate power. —Samir S. Patel

  • uruguay-butchered-ground-slothsURUGUAY: Could Lestodon, a 15-foot-tall ground sloth, have been on the menu of early humans? In a bone deposit, paleontologists found fragments of 19 individuals, and 40 of these pieces of bone appear to have cut marks, suggesting humans processed them. But the deposit dates to nearly 30,000 years ago, thousands of years before humans are thought to have arrived in the Americas. The researchers are confident in their findings, which are likely to be controversial. It’s possible that the marks were the result of some natural process. —Samir S. Patel

  • england-anglo-saxon-gaming-pieceENGLAND: Excavations at an Anglo-Saxon site have turned up a single piece from a high-quality gaming set dating to the 7th century. Made from a hollow cylinder of bone with carved end caps and a copper alloy pin holding it together, the token, found in a royal complex that was home to both game-playing and feasting. It was likely used in an unknown game akin to backgammon or checkers. Its owner might have been disappointed to have lost a piece from such a fine set, or might have cast it away in anger after a biting loss. — Samir S. Patel

  • poland-lusatian-cemetery-childrenPOLAND: A cemetery belonging to people of the Lusatian culture, from the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age, has turned up around a thousand ceramic vessels. The Lusatians, a culture of cereal farmers and herdspeople, cremated their dead and buried the bones in urns alongside grave goods such as richly ornamented vessels, jewelry, and tools. Among the 151 graves excavated in this cemetery are a number of children’s graves, which include miniature clay vessels and even clay rattles. —Samir S. Patel

  • turkey-neolithic-catalhoyuk muralTURKEY: A painting at the Neolithic city of Çatalhöyük may depict the city beneath two peaks, one of which appears to be erupting. While another theory posits it is a geometric pattern topped by a leopard skin, the painting could represent the Hasan Dag volcano 80 miles away, making it the oldest known depiction of an eruption. A new dating technique for volcanic rocks confirms that Hasan Dag did indeed erupt about 9,000 years ago, around when the painting was made. Volcanologists believe the eruption was mild—a bit of a lava “burp.” —Samir S. Patel

  • israel-fatimid-building-fountainISRAEL: Construction of a highway bridge in Ramla has revealed a building belonging to a wealthy family, with a mosaic fountain dating to the Fatamid period in the late 10th and early 11th centuries. The fountain, which includes a system of terracotta pipes and connectors made of old jars, is the first of its kind found outside the wealthy district of Old Ramla and the first found with its plumbing intact. —Samir S. Patel

  • china-forbidden-city-stones-iceCHINA: Countless words have been written about how the Egyptians moved the large stone blocks of the pyramids into place, but less attention has been paid to how the Chinese moved the massive blocks of the Forbidden City in Beijing in the 15th and 16th centuries. A new analysis of historical records and mechanical tests shows that stone could have been moved 40 miles, from quarry to the Forbidden City, on ice roads lubricated with water. Just 46 men would have been needed to move a 123-ton block. —Samir S. Patel

  • phillipines-ille-cave-cemeteryPHILIPPINES: Skeletal remains dating to more than 9,000 years ago tell of a previously undocumented burial ritual involving disarticulation, defleshing, crushing, and then burning. The fragmentary bones bearing signs of this complex activity were buried in a shallow pit outside the mouth of Ille Cave. Five other sets of remains found there bear similar marks. Clearly, it was an elaborate process, but much is still unknown about the culture that engaged in it. —Samir S. Patel

  • papua-new-guinea-phallic-stone-toolPAPUA NEW GUINEA: In late 2010, at a construction site on New Britain Island, archaeologists uncovered a cache of sophisticated obsidian tools dating to between 3,000 and 6,000 years ago. Upon analysis, scientists found that at least five of the tools were thin, fragile, and unused—suggesting a ritual or decorative purpose—and appear to have a distinctly phallic shape. There are few archaeological sites from this period in Papuan history, and the discovery suggests an early, previously unrecognized trade in ritual objects before the emergence of the Lapita culture across the South Pacific. —Samir S. Patel