from the world's big
While building a new airport, construction crews uncover a gigantic collection of ancient bones.
- During digging for a new airport in Mexico, workers came across three sites containing the remains of mammoths, as well as some pre-Spanish human burial sites.
- It's unclear why the mammoths were all found in this one spot, though it may have to do with an ancient lake.
- Retrieving this massive sample will likely give experts new insights into a long-lost North American pachyderm.
In the Mexico Basin about 45 miles north of Mexico City in the Santa Lucía region, the new Felipe Ángeles Airport is under construction. According to Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), workers there have dug up a massive surprise: a trove of 60 ice-age mammoth skeletons. They've also unearthed 15 pre-Hispanic human burial sites.
Image source: Sergiodlarosa/wikimedia
The pachyderm bones belong to Colombian mammoths, Mammuthus columbi, who last lived in North America in the Pleistocene epoch between 2.6 million and 13,000 years ago, when they are believed to have become extinct. They're the mammoths that visitors to Los Angeles' La Brea Tar Pits encounter. (No woolly mammoth remains were found in Santa Lucía.)
It's not yet known how many of the mammoth skeletons are complete. It is clear, though, that males, females, and their young are there. The bones are being found between 80 centimeters and 2.5 meters below the surface and spread across three exploration areas. First discovered in October 2019, the digs are still being stabilized and undergoing analysis and classification, according to INAH National Coordinator of Archaeology, Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava.
How 60 mammoths wound up together in death at this location is an interesting question. No signs of human tracks leading to or from the site are evident nor have any indications of hunter accommodations have been found. By contrast, the prehistoric mammoth hunting site discovered in the Mexican municipality of Tultepec in November 2019 does exhibit such signs of human interaction.
Archaeologists suspect the 60 mammoths got stuck in a muddy swamp over time — the site is near the shores of the former Lake Xaltocan. Researchers say the most complete skeletons found are those close to the former lake's shoreline. It remains possible that the immobilized mammoths were then preyed upon by hunters even without clear evidence of that so far.
Once the remains are retrieved, they'll be studied by a team of 30 archaeologists, supported by a trio of restorers, to make a full account of what's been found. They hope to learn more about how and precisely when the animals lived, ate, and what health issues they may have had as evidenced in their skeletal remains.
An old home, a new home
Image source: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia
Meanwhile, construction of the new airport continues. Says Salvador Pulido Méndez, director of INAH Archaeological Salvage, "So far, no findings have been recorded on the land that lead to the rethinking of the construction site, either totally or partially. Rather, the works have allowed INAH a research conjuncture in a space where, although it was known of the existence of skeletal remains, they had not had the opportunity to locate, recover and study them."
Prior to the beginning of construction, the Santa Lucía region had been used by the Santa Lucía Military Air Base, and the national defense organization Sedena has preserved its historic Santa Lucía hacienda, integrating it within the new airport. The various parties involved plan to create a museum within the hacienda that will allow visitors to learn about the Santa Lucía region and its amazing mammoth mammoth graveyard.
Many of the bathrooms uncovered at Pompeii and elsewhere were communal.
We've all been caught unawares by our digestive tract at one time or another.
Wikimedia Commons<p>OK, so ancient Roman pooping habits seem strange, but what about their customs around pee?</p><p>As best we can tell from historic and archaeological data, ancient Romans peed in small pots in their homes, offices, and shops. When those small pots became full, they dumped them into large jars out in the street. Just like with your garbage, a crew came by once a week to collect those hefty pots of pee and bring them to the laundromat. Why? Because ancient Romans washed their togas and tunics in pee!</p><p>Human urine is full of ammonia and other chemicals that are great natural detergents. If you worked in a Roman laundromat, your job was to stomp on clothes all day long—barefoot and ankle deep in colossal vats of human pee.</p><p>(Frankly, I wonder why we haven't emulated this aspect of Roman culture in our age of green, eco-friendly, and sustainable businesses. I'm thinking of opening a chain called Urine-Urout All-Natural Laundromat. It's a sparkling business opportunity!)</p><p>As peculiar as personal hygiene practices in ancient Rome may seem to us, the historical fact is that many Romans successfully and sustainably used tersoria and washed their clothes in pee for several centuries—far longer than we've used toilet paper. Indeed, toilet paper is not a universal technology even today, as any trip to India, rural Ethiopia, or remote areas of China will make abundantly clear.</p><p>The memorable stop we made for my son in rural Colorado will always remind me of our culture's widespread dependence on toilet paper. We've become so accustomed to the stuff that we are loath to consider widely used alternatives. (Heck, even the elegant bidet gets short shrift in our society.)</p>
Researchers confirmed that the mummy known as Takabuti died from a stab wound to the back.
- The mummy Takabuti has inspired a great deal of speculation since it was first unwrapped in 1835.
- Takabuti died when she was between 20 and 30, leading researchers to wonder about her cause of death.
- New techniques have enabled researchers to determine that Takabuti died from a stab wound to the back, among other interesting findings.
Insight into a 2,600-year-old woman<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYzNzEzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTg5NjE3OX0.OJgMph7Sd2jcljUP3SntpWF3STJkL_PBDU9sw5EAWbI/img.jpg?width=980" id="2acec" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="043339a88db5d3b70e3acfe05637283c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Takabuti" />
Ulster Museum<p>The new findings have challenged the popular characterization of Takabuti as resting peacefully — now, it's clear that her last moments alive were anything but peaceful.</p><p>"Trawling the historical records about her early days in Belfast it is clear that she caused quite a media sensation in 1835," said bioarcheologist Eileen Murphy in a statement. "She had a poem written about her, a painting was made of her prior to her 'unrolling' and accounts of her unwrapping were carried in newspapers across Ireland." </p><p>Takabuti also appeared to be something of an independent spirit, at least when it came to following fashion trends contemporary to her life. "Research undertaken ten years ago gave us some fascinating insights," continued Murphy, "such as how her auburn hair was deliberately curled and styled. This must have been a very important part of her identity as she spurned the typical shaven-headed style. Looking at all of these facts, we start to get a sense of the petite young woman and not just the mummy." What remains beyond our understanding, however, is why somebody had been driven to murder the young Egyptian mistress.</p>
The beads are made from red-deer teeth, sourced from 63 individual deer.
Ice Age Europe, approximately 20,000-13,500 years ago; a period known as the Magdalenian.
New research suggests that a healthy supply of locally-sourced beer helped maintain the unity of the widespread Wari civilization for about 500 years.
- A new analysis of an ancient Wari brewery suggests chicha helped maintain the civilization's social capital for hundreds of years.
- Civilizations throughout the ancient world used alcoholic drinks to signify kinship, hospitality, and social cohesion.
- The researchers hope their findings will remind us of the importance in reaffirming social institutions and sharing cultural practices — even if over coffee or tea.
Brewing social capital<p>Twenty years ago, a team of archaeologists with the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, discovered a brewery in Cerro Baúl, a mesa in southern Peru that served as <a href="https://www.fieldmuseum.org/sites/default/files/pnas_pub.pdf" target="_blank">an ancient Wari outpost</a>. The brewery contained original equipment, clay storage vessels, and compartments for milling, boiling, and fermentation.</p><p>The team recently analyzed these on-site vessels to uncover the secrets of the Wari brewing process. Removing tiny amounts of material found in the spaces between the clay, they were able to reconstruct the molecules of the thousand-year-old drink. They then worked alongside Peruvian brewers to recreate the original brewing process.**</p><p>Their molecular analysis revealed several key features of the beer: The clay used to make the vessels came from a nearby site; many of the beer's ingredients, such as molle berries, are drought resistant; and though alcoholic, the beer<em> </em>only kept for about a week. </p><p>These details suggest that Cerro Baúl maintained a steady supply of <em>chicha</em>, limited by neither trade nor fair weather, and became a central hub for anyone wishing to partake. The Wari would likely make such trips during times of festivals and religious ceremonies. Social elites would consume <em>chicha</em> in vessels shaped like Wari gods and leaders as part of rituals attesting to social norms and a shared cultural mythology and heritage.</p><p>"People would have come into this site, in these festive moments, in order to recreate and reaffirm their affiliation with these Wari lords and maybe bring tribute and pledge loyalty to the Wari state," Ryan Williams, lead author and head of anthropology at the Field Museum, said in <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190418080814.htm" target="_blank">a release</a>. "We think these institutions of brewing and then serving the beer really formed a unity among these populations. It kept people together."</p><p>The Wari civilization was spread over a vast area of rain forests and highlands. In a time when news traveled at the speed of a llama, such distinct and distant geography could easily have fractured the Wari civilization into competing locales. </p><p>Instead, the researchers argue, these festive gatherings (aided by the promise of beer) strengthened social capital enough to maintain a healthy national unity. This helped the Wari civilization last from 600 to 1100 CE, <a href="http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20190218-the-lifespans-of-ancient-civilisations-compared" target="_blank">an impressive run for a historic civilization</a>.</p>
Bringing people together (since 10,000 BCE)<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTYxMTI3Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTIzOTI3Mn0.5ff5eURyoel_2BIpjQXj3jev38XBWqeXgoQjoppn0s4/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C90&height=700" id="f22c6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b6a8f96963f1203e396ed1a43b5cdbf6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A Mesopotamian cylinder seal shows people drinking beer through long reed straws. Image source: Metropolitan Museum of Art.<p> Of course, the Wari weren't the first civilization to use beer to reaffirm bonds and maintain their social fabric. Returning to the Fertile Crescent, Sumerians regarded beer as a hallmark of their civilization. </p><p> The Sumerian <em>Epic of Gilgamesh</em> tells of the adventures of the titular hero and his friend Enkidu. Enkidu beings as a savage living in the wilderness, but a young woman introduces him to the ways of civilization. That orientation begins with food and beer: </p><p style="margin-left: 40px;">"<em>They placed food in front of him, <br> They placed beer in front of him, <br> Enkidu knew nothing about eating bread for food, <br> And of drinking beer he had not been taught. <br> The young woman spoke Enkidu, saying: <br> "Eat the food, Enkidu, it is the way one lives. <br> Drink the beer, as is the custom of the land." <br> Enkidu ate the food until he was sated, <br> He drank the beer — seven jugs! — and became expansive <br> and sang with joy. <br> He was elated and his face glowed. <br> He splashed his shaggy body with water <br> and rubbed himself with oil, and turned into a human</em>."</p><p> Tom Standage, who recounts this scene in his <em>History of the World in 6 Glasses</em>, writes: "The Mesopotamians regarded the consumption of bread and beer as one of the things that distinguished them from savages and made them fully human." Such civilized staples not only demarcated their orderly life from that of hunter-gatherers, they also served a key role in their culture's unifying mythology. </p><p> Furthermore, Standage notes, Sumerian iconography often shows two people sipping from waist-high jars through reed straws. The earliest beers were consumed in a similar fashion because technological limitations prevented baking individual cups or filtering the beverage. But the Sumerians had the pottery skills to make such cups and filter the dregs. That they kept the tradition suggests that they valued the camaraderie brought by the experience, a sign of communal hospitality and kinship. </p><p> The ancient Greek's similarly used alcohol as a means of maintaining social and political relationships — though their drink of choice was wine. </p><p> During symposiums, upper-class Greek men would gather for a night of drinking, entertainment, and social bonding. In <em>Alcohol: A history</em>, Rod Phillips notes that symposiums were serious affairs where art, politics, and philosophy were discussed throughout the night and could serve as rites of passage for young men. (Though, music, drinking games, and sex with prostitutes may also be found on the itinerary.) </p><p> Of course, we can amass social capital without resorting to alcohol, which has been known <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/alcohol-makes-you-friendlier-but-only-to-certain-groups" target="_blank">to damage social relationships</a> as much as improve them. </p><p> In the <a href="https://www.ted.com/talks/steven_johnson_where_good_ideas_come_from?language=en#t-34969" target="_blank">17<span style="font-size: 10.5px;">th</span> century, London's coffeehouses</a> stimulated the minds of thinkers with their caffeine-laden drinks, but also served as social hubs. Unlike the examples we've explored already, these coffeehouses brought together people of different backgrounds and expertise, unifying them in their pursuit of ideas and truths. Thus, coffeehouses can be seen as the nurseries of the Enlightenment. </p>