Category Archives: NORTH AMERICA

How popcorn was discovered nearly 7,000 years ago

How popcorn was discovered nearly 7,000 years ago

How popcorn was discovered nearly 7,000 years ago
Could a spill by the cook fire have been popcorn’s eureka moment?

You have to wonder how people originally figured out how to eat some foods that are beloved today. The cassava plant is toxic if not carefully processed through multiple steps. Yogurt is basically old milk that’s been around for a while and contaminated with bacteria. And who discovered that popcorn could be a toasty, tasty treat?

These kinds of food mysteries are pretty hard to solve. Archaeology depends on solid remains to figure out what happened in the past, especially for people who didn’t use any sort of writing. Unfortunately, most stuff people traditionally used made from wood, animal materials or cloth decays pretty quickly, and archaeologists like me never find it.

We have lots of evidence of hard stuff, such as pottery and stone tools, but softer things — such as leftovers from a meal — are much harder to find. Sometimes we get lucky, if softer stuff is found in very dry places that preserve it. Also, if stuff gets burned, it can last a very long time.

Corn’s ancestors

Luckily, corn — also called maize — has some hard parts, such as the kernel shell. They’re the bits at the bottom of the popcorn bowl that get caught in your teeth. And since you have to heat maize to make it edible, sometimes it got burned, and archaeologists find evidence that way. Most interesting of all, some plants, including maize, contain tiny, rock-like fragments called phytoliths that can last for thousands of years.

Scientists are pretty sure they know how old maize is. We know maize was probably first farmed by Native Americans in what is now Mexico. Early farmers there domesticated maize from a kind of grass called teosinte.

The ancestor of maize was a grass called teosinte.

Before farming, people would gather wild teosinte and eat the seeds, which contained a lot of starch, a carbohydrate like you’d find in bread or pasta. They would pick teosinte with the largest seeds and eventually started weeding and planting it. Over time, the wild plant developed into something like what we call maize today. You can tell maize from teosinte by its larger kernels.

There’s evidence of maize farming from dry caves in Mexico as early as 9,000 years ago. From there, maize farming spread throughout North and South America.

Popped corn, preserved food

Figuring out when people started making popcorn is harder. There are several types of maize, most of which will pop if heated, but one variety, actually called “popcorn,” makes the best popcorn.

Scientists have discovered phytoliths from Peru, as well as burned kernels, of this type of “poppable” maize from as early as 6,700 years ago.

Each popcorn kernel is a seed, ready to burst when heated.

You can imagine that popping maize kernels was first discovered by accident. Some maize probably fell into a cooking fire, and whoever was nearby figured out that this was a handy new way of preparing the food. Popped maize would last a long time and was easy to make.

Ancient popcorn was probably not much like the snack you might munch at the movie theater today. There was probably no salt and definitely no butter, since there were no cows to milk in the Americas yet. It probably wasn’t served hot and was likely pretty chewy compared with the version you’re used to today.

It’s impossible to know exactly why or how popcorn was invented, but I would guess it was a clever way to preserve the edible starch in corn by getting rid of the little bit of water inside each kernel that would make it more susceptible to spoiling. It’s the heated water in the kernel escaping as steam that makes popcorn pop.

The popped corn could then last a long time. What you may consider a tasty snack today probably started as a useful way of preserving and storing food.

Comparison of American Languages Detects Waves of Migration

Comparison of American Languages Detects Waves of Migration

Comparison of American Languages Detects Waves of Migration
Indigenous Americans, illustrated here during a mammoth hunt, developed their diverse languages from 4 different population waves that came over from Siberia, a new study suggests.

Indigenous people entered North America at least four times between 12,000 and 24,000 years ago, bringing their languages with them, a new linguistic model indicates. The model correlates with archaeological, climatological and genetic data, supporting the idea that populations in early North America were dynamic and diverse.

Nearly half of the world’s language families are found in the Americas. Although many of them are now thought extinct, historical linguistics analysis can survey and compare living languages and trace them back in time to better understand the groups that first populated the continent.

In a study published March 30 in the American Journal of Biological Anthropology, Johanna Nichols, a historical linguist at the University of California Berkeley, analyzed structural features of 60 languages from across the U.S. and Canada, which revealed they come from two main language groups that entered North America in at least four distinct waves.

Nichols surveyed 16 features of these languages, including syllable structure, the gender of nouns and the way consonants are produced when speaking.

The languages split into two main groups: an early one where the first-person pronoun has an “n” sound while the second-person pronoun has an “m” sound, and a later group with languages that incorporate a sentence’s worth of information in just one word.

Further linguistic analysis indicated that people arrived in the Americas in four distinct waves.

The first occurred around 24,000 years ago, when massive glaciers covered much of North America. Nichols found no unique language features, suggesting a diverse set of people and languages entered North America at that time.

A second wave of people around 15,000 years ago brought languages with n-m pronouns, while a third wave 1,000 years later brought languages with simple consonants. A fourth wave around 12,000 years ago then brought complex consonants.

Until relatively recently, researchers assumed that Indigenous people first arrived in the Americas via a land bridge from Siberia around 13,000 years ago.

But Nichols’ previous study of the linguistic data convinced her that this was not enough time for the nearly 200 Indigenous American languages to develop: Instead, she proposed people first arrived closer to 35,000 years ago.

A growing body of archaeological, geological and climatological and genetic research has since pushed back the dates of the earliest American arrivals, with a new consensus that, sometime between 30,000 and 25,000 years ago, several waves of people made their way into the Americas.

Adding linguistic studies to this work means that “the four fields confirm each other,” Nichols said. “Now I think the interpretation is very solid.”

Andrew Cowell, a linguistic anthropologist at the University of Colorado Boulder who was not involved in the study, told Live Science in an email that Nichols’ study is interesting because “the language data reinforces growing recognition in other fields that North America was populated much earlier than was assumed for many decades.” 

Cowell noted, however, that the study’s statistical analysis shows that two languages, “Yurok and Arapaho are classed quite differently, yet the two languages are known to be genetically related as part of the Algic language super-family.” (Yurok was spoken in far-Northern California, while Arapaho is spoken in Wyoming and Oklahoma.) 

Additionally, languages can be heavily influenced by their neighbors, which can blur how they were originally related, Cowell said.

While this new study presents a model for how languages entered and evolved within North America, it does not speak to their origins, which are still unknown. 

“It’s likely that the people who moved into North America left relatives in Asia,” Nichols said, “and possible that some of those languages survive and have remained in Siberia.” 

But the limits of the linguistic comparative method mean that we may never know for sure, Nichols said.

Archaeologists unearth unusual find inside Tulum cave

Archaeologists unearth unusual find inside Tulum cave

Archaeologists unearth unusual find inside Tulum cave
This chultún is the first structure of its kind to have been found underneath the Tulum archaeological zone.

A pre-Columbian apparatus that could be of great use today — a system for catching rainwater — has been found in the archaeological zone of Tulum, Quintana Roo. However, this one apparently wasn’t used as a catchment, since it was found inside a cave.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) announced the discovery this week of a chultún, a bottle-shaped structure used in Maya culture.

This underground chultún is the latest archaeological find inside the cave which was discovered in December 2023. (INAH)

It is the only structure of its type that has been found “indoors” at the Tulum archaeological zone. Located inside a chamber of the cave tabbed Building 25, or Casa del Halach Uinic, the chultún measures 2.48 meters (8.1 feet) in diameter and 2.39 meters (7.8 feet) deep.

According to field manager Enrique Marín Vázquez, the structure “is made up of a layer of ground coral, 1 to 2 centimeters thick, which formed part of the soil surface, and underneath we found reddish clay.

Inside, fillings of medium-sized stones, thick layers of pure ash were found and, in the deepest part, we unearthed human bone remains and burned stones.”

Officials said the discovery could correspond to the first occupation of the site, prior to the Late Postclassic period in Mesoamerica (1250-1521).

The finding occurred during work being carried out by the Program for the Improvement of Archaeological Zones (Promeza).

It is the latest notable archaeological find inside the cave, which was blocked at its entrance by a large rock, on top of human remains, before it was uncovered in December 2023.

The cave has unearthed a trove of archaeological finds, such as the remains of 11 people believed to have been members of an upper class.

José Antonio Reyes Solís, the coordinator of the Promeza research project in Tulum, said two chultúns were previously found outside, and both functioned as catchments.

The latest find, he added, “shows a striking difference” from the other two: Not only was it found inside, but “it has no signs of having stored any liquid,” he said. “Rather, it is believed, it functioned as a storehouse for food and plants, and later, had a ritual use.”

The human remains found are in the process of being investigated, he added.

One theory is that they were three infants whose bodies were buried with other materials, such as deer antlers, shark teeth and shell earrings.

INAH is working on a virtual tour that will showcase the recent cave findings at the Tulum National Park.

The secret of the mummy in the Crystal coffin found in a garage in San Francisco

The secret of the mummy in the Crystal coffin found in a garage in San Francisco

The secret of the mummy in the Crystal coffin found in a garage in San Francisco

Mysterious mummies are a symbol of ancient lost times, which we often associate with Egypt and other ancient civilizations. Therefore, the discovery of a coffin made of crystal with the body of a girl come from under the floor of a garage in San Francisco is absolutely shocking.

In 2016, while remodeling an old garage in San Francisco, California, workers found a strange object that, upon closer inspection, turned out to be a child’s coffin with an extraordinary design.

Rusted bolts held a metal object together that resembled a large shaped casket, and it was only by unscrewing the bolts that it was possible to identify what it was. Bolts fixed a sheet of metal that covered two windows made of thick glass. Looking inside the box, the workers were taken aback — inside lay the body of a small blonde girl, almost untouched by decay.

The discovery of an old coffin containing the body of a child terrified the people of San Francisco and perplexed scientists. It took them a long time to figure out the mystery of an unusual burial.

Coffin inside lay the body of a blond girl dressed in a lace dress. Her hair was decorated with lavender petals, and on her chest lay a wreath in the form of a cross of blue bindweeds. In her hands, she held a large purple nightshade flower.

There were no details inside the coffin that would help identify the body.  The body was examined, described, and photographed, after which the experts drew up a protocol, placed the metal coffin containing the child in a wooden box, and… handed it over to the garage owner.

According to the law, if the corpse is not a criminal and the relatives are unknown, the burial duties are assigned to the owner of the land where the body was discovered.

During the paperwork, the police gave the deceased the name Eva. And the mistress of the garage, where they found the burial, named the child Miranda.

But how did the coffin with the little dead girl end up under the garage? This was not a surprising occurrence given that the structure stood on the grounds of Odd Fellows Cemetery, San Francisco’s largest cemetery.

When the rapidly growing metropolis came close to the extreme graves, a large city churchyard was closed for burials in 1890.

When the cemetery started to negatively impact the neighborhood over time, it was decided to close it down in 1923. Most of the remains were exhumed and buried in common graves, while some of the bodies were taken by relatives for reburial. The coffin with the girl was obviously forgotten in the confusion and remained in the ground, which was handed over to developers.

Tissue and hair samples were taken from the deceased girl for DNA analysis. Erica Karner was busy burying Eva-Miranda while the examination was taking place. The girl’s body began to decompose after the airtight coffin was opened. It was impossible to delay the burial.

Tissue analysis revealed that the baby’s mother was born in the British Isles. Even more interesting were the results of the hair study.

“Hair DNA analysis showed that the child had a protein deficiency and severe malnutrition.

And experts said that most likely this arose due to some kind of illness or due to the amount of medication that the child used,” the lawyer said.

Volunteers explored the city archives. They found a record of the burial of a two-year-old girl who died due to severe exhaustion. Her name is Edith Howard Cook. The child died in October 1876.

The parents’ names were Horatio Nelson and Edith Skaufi Cook. Scientists have even found living relatives of the “girl from the crystal coffin.”

Thus, volunteers and scientists were able to solve the mystery surrounding the mysterious burial and give the girl’s name back who passed away nearly 150 years ago.

Sleeping Beauty.

Parents often embalmed their dead children’s bodies centuries ago. The famous mummy of a child is kept in Palermo’s Capuchin catacombs. Rosalia Lombardo, the daughter of a Sicilian official, died of pneumonia in 1920. The girl’s body was so well preserved that she was nicknamed “Sleeping Beauty”

Indigenous archaeologist argues humans may have arrived here 130,000 years ago

Indigenous archaeologist argues humans may have arrived here 130,000 years ago

In her book The Indigenous Paleolithic of the Western Hemisphere, archaeologist Paulette Steeves argues that the settlement of the Americas may have occurred closer to 130,000 ago.

An old story about the “Old Stone Age” in North America is now giving way to new evidence — or to be precise, evidence that is much, much older than scientists used to accept.

Archaeologists long believed that the first peoples to set foot on this continent arrived by crossing a land connection, the Bering Strait, from Siberia at the end of the last ice age, around 11,500 to 12,000 years ago.

They are often called ‘Clovis people’ — named after the first discovery of stone tools used around this time, at a site near Clovis, New Mexico.

These artifacts are called the Gault Assemblage from the Gault Site in Texas, and are dated to be 16,000 – 21,000 years old. (A to D, F, and L) Bifaces. (E) Blade core. (G) Quartz projectile point. (H and I) Projectile points. (K) Projectile point tip. (M, V, and W) Blade. (N) Unifacial tool. (O and T) Gravers. (P) Discoidal biface. (Q) End scraper. (R to U) Modified flake tools. (X and Y) Lanceolate projectile points. (Nancy Velchoff, Gault School of Archaeological Research) (Nancy Velchoff, Gault School of Archaeological Research)

This period is relatively recent when compared to the history of homo sapiens, and it can conflict with the view of many Indigenous people who believe their ancestors have lived here “since time immemorial.”

“For many, many years, people thought the Clovis were the first people of North America, and that was the primary paradigm,” said Steven Holen, research director at the Center for American Paleolithic Research.  

That paradigm has now shifted, due to studies such as the 2017 analysis of fossilized footprints at White Sands National Park in New Mexico, which suggested a human presence dating back at least 20,000 years. 

Indigenous archaeologist argues humans may have arrived here 130,000 years ago
Footprints found in New Mexico were dated to between 21,000 – 23,000 years old, and were likely left by prehistoric teenagers. (National Park Service, USGS and Bournemouth University)

However, for those archaeologists who once faced aggressive pushback for challenging the so-called ‘Clovis First’ theory, the recent relaxing of archaeological dogma is too little, and too lacking in humility.

“This was an area that was an academic violence against Indigenous people,” said Paulette Steeves, author of The Indigenous Paleolithic of the Western Hemisphere.

Her book gathers together the latest evidence and arguments in favour of believing the human presence in North America goes back many tens of thousands of years — at a minimum.

“We’re supposed to believe that early hominids got to northern Asia 2.1 million years ago and then for some reason didn’t go any farther north,” Steeves explained. “A few thousand more kilometres, they would have been in North America. So it does not make any sense whatsoever.”

Steeves is a professor of sociology at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, and a Canada Research Chair in Healing and Reconciliation. For her, the meaning of “time immemorial” need not conflict with the archaeological project of dating the initial peopling of this hemisphere.

“This is where their cultures grew,” she said. “This is where their languages grew. This is where they’re from. They can tell their story in any way they want.”

The Americas’ oldest known bead discovered near Douglas, Wyoming

The Americas’ oldest known bead discovered near Douglas, Wyoming

The Americas’ oldest known bead discovered near Douglas, Wyoming

Archaeologists have discovered the oldest known bead in the Americas at the La Prele Mammoth site in Converse County, United States. The oldest known bead in the Americas was discovered by University of Wyoming archeology professor Todd Surovell and his team and is in the shape of a tube made of bone that is approximately 12,940 years old.

The campsite was located along Le Prele Creek near the North Platte River, not far from present-day Douglas.

Perhaps it is more appropriate to refer to it as a hunting camp. While that may not seem unusual, this camp was not for processing deer or elk, but rather a mammoth. 

The site was active approximately 13,000 years ago.

The bead measures 7mm in length by 1.6mm and was likely worn as a decorative item on clothing. Both ends of the bead are smoothed and polished, while the surface has a layer of red ochre.

Grooves found on the outside of the bead are consistent with creation by humans, either with stones or their teeth.

Professor Todd Surovell’s research is published in Scientific Reports; the paper is titled “Use of hare bone for the manufacture of a Clovis bead.”

Members of the research team included collaborators from UW, the Office of the Wyoming State Archaeologist, the University of Manchester, Weber State University, and Chico State University.

An aerial view of the La Prele Mammoth site in Wyoming’s Converse County.

The La Prele Mammoth site preserves the remains of a killed or scavenged sub-adult Columbian mammoth and an associated camp occupied during the time the animal was butchered.

By using mass spectrometry, or ZooMS, to extract collagen for zooarchaeology, the team was able to ascertain the origin of the bone bead and obtain valuable information about the chemical makeup of the bone.

The researchers concluded that the bead was made from either a metapodial (the bones that link the phalanges of the digits to the more proximal bones of the limb) or a proximal phalanx (a bone found in the fingers and toes of humans and other vertebrates) of a hare.

This discovery provides the first secure evidence for the use of hares during the Clovis period, a prehistoric era in North America that peaked around 12,000 years ago. It is named for the Clovis archaeological site in New Mexico, where unique stone tools were discovered.

Rare Piece Of Metal Armor Found At 17th-Century Fort In Maryland

Rare Piece Of Metal Armor Found At 17th-Century Fort In Maryland

A piece of body armor was unearthed during excavations at a 17th-century colonial fort in Maryland, a Mid-Atlantic state of the United States.

While archaeologists continued their excavations in the City of St Mary’s, one of America’s premier historical sites, a project launched in 2021, they noticed a piece of metal sticking out of the dirt.

According to the Washington Post, the more they dug, the more they found until they came across a slab of metal the size of a cafeteria tray. Still caked with soil and corrosion materials, the plate was identified when an X-ray revealed its rivets forming the shape of three hearts.

What they found late last year was a rare piece of 17th-century armor called a tasset, which was designed to hang from a breastplate and protect one of the wearer’s thighs during battle. Originally, there would have been two — one for each leg.

“The X-ray really took our breath away,” Travis Parno, director of research and collections at Historic St. Mary’s City, told All That’s Interesting in an email. “Seeing the layers of steel, the individual rivets, the hearts(!). It was a good day.”

The metal tasset looked like a “cafeteria tray” when it was first unearthed, but archeologists suspected that it was part of a piece of armor. Photo: Historic St. Mary’s Commission

“This tasset is the second we’ve found at St. Mary’s City (the second was from a circa late-1640s context),” Parno said, “suggesting that colonists were actively making decisions about what was and wasn’t useful to be retained in their military accoutrements.”

Parno further noted that armor parts like this one are “not particularly common on 17th-century sites.” In Maryland’s hot, humid climate, the colonists most likely abandoned the tassets as suffocating and cumbersome.

The rare piece of armor called a tasset had been brought by the first European colonists who arrived in the mid-1600s to establish one of the earliest settlements in what would become the United States.

Historic St. Mary’s City, the site of the fourth permanent settlement in British North America, was Maryland’s first settlement.

Founded in March 1634 on land acquired from the local Yaocomico people by newly arrived English settlers, it served as the colony of Maryland’s first capital for 60 years before being moved to Annapolis in 1694. St. Mary’s was abandoned after it was eclipsed by Annapolis and never built over, making it an undisturbed archaeological site.

A depiction of what the 17th-century fort may have once looked like.

Colonists from Britain crossed the Atlantic on two ships called the Ark and the Dove. In 1634, they navigated up the St. Mary’s River and erected a fort — the earliest known colonial site in Maryland.

Finding evidence of the original fortified village has been one of the main objectives of archaeological research over the past fifty years. 17th-century documentation was ambiguous about the location, and references to the first fort vanished from the historical record in 1642.

Following a geophysical survey that revealed evidence of a palisade, an excavation in 2021 unearthed postholes, building outlines, coins, and artifacts from the 1620s and 1630s.

The excavation of the original fort has continued, and late last year a large structure with an attached cellar was discovered. The structure was not a home, and artifacts discovered there — musket parts, lead shot, trade beads — suggest it was used as a storehouse. The tasset was found in the cellar.

The Splendor of the Seven Descending Gods of Tulum Resurfaced

The Splendor of the Seven Descending Gods of Tulum Resurfaced

The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) says the splendor of the seven Descending Gods of Tulum has resurfaced. The work consisted of cleaning, adhesion of fragments, filling of gaps, patching, and color reintegration.

In December 2023, the restoration stage of the seven figures of descending gods and murals of the Conservation Project of Movable Assets Associated with Real Estate, of the Archaeological Zone of Tulum, in Quintana Roo, was completed, as part of the Archaeological Zones Improvement Program (Promeza), within the framework of the Mayan Train works.

During this project, the conservation-restoration of the mural painting and the stucco and flattened reliefs of the most emblematic buildings of the site was carried out. Those included the temples of the Frescos and the Descending God, the houses of Chultún and Halach Uinic (Palace of the Great Lord), and El Castillo, in which representations of said deity are preserved.

Tulum’s buildings date from A.D. 1250-1550, but features from earlier periods, such as a stela from A.D. 564, have also been discovered.

As a result, INAH believes the city may have been founded earlier, possibly as a dependent territory of the nearby Tankah ruins.

Tulum is believed to have been dedicated to Venus. Some building facades feature figures of a descending god depicted upside down, who is associated with the sunset and believed to be connected to the planet. The entrances to structures with descending god figures are said to face the direction in which Venus sets.

Little is known about the Descending God. However, the Descending God is associated with Ah Muu Zen Caab, the Maya God of Bees. This is not surprising, considering that honey was the staple export commodity in the Mayan trade between Tulum and Cobá.

The person responsible for the restoration project, Patricia Meehan Hermanson, explained that the descending god was the emblematic figure of the Costa Maya Oriental region in Quintana Roo.

Restaurateur Jesús Antonio Muñoz Cinta, who is part of the team, explained that its typical contorted position evokes a falling human body whose legs are open and flexed upward.

“The torso, from its back, is perceived partially or completely, the arms semi-arched, downward, holding some object, and the head almost always faces the viewer. Some of his attributes and attire tend to vary,” he said.

“Although images of characters in a descending position have been located in various areas of Mesoamerica, it is on the Eastern Coast where it takes a leading place, modeled in stucco attached to the architecture of several buildings in places such as Tulum, Cobá and Tancah, in addition having been represented in ceramics, codices and mural painting, during the Postclassic period (900-1542 AD),” he added.

During the field season that has just concluded, the seven descending gods found to date in Tulum were preserved. Other restoration projectes included Building 16 or Temple of the Frescoes where two were restored.

In Building 25 or House of Halach Huinik, one of the best preserved and most striking is located. Another is in the Temple of the Descending God, the best known in Tulum for giving its name to Building 5, which also preserves a high percentage of its body and the painting that decorated it. The remains of one more were found in a niche in Building 20.

In Building 1 or The Castle has two more figures, one is in the center of the temple frieze, and the other, below in the vaulted hallway, as part of a complex scene in a wall painting.