World new in brief: Spain, Beirut, and the USA

A round-up of some recent archaeological news stories from across the globe.

Cahokiaโ€™s North Plaza

The Native American city of Cahokia is made up of earthwork mounds and flat, rectangular, open areas known as plazas, which are believed to have been used as ceremonial gathering places or communal areas. Today, Cahokiaโ€™s North Plaza is located on a floodplain that is regularly inundated by water from the nearby river. Previously, archaeologists assumed that this area must have been drier at the time of the siteโ€™s construction and occupation (c.AD 1050-1400), but research recently published in World Archaeology ( reveals that the plaza would have been underwater for most if not all of the year at the time of the siteโ€™s creation too. It could be that the decision to build here was intended to reflect the significance of water in the cosmology of the siteโ€™s creators, or perhaps the area was used for seasonal ceremonies, or even as an environmental indicator. Whatever the case, this discovery means that archaeologists will have to re-examine their ideas about what plazas are and how they were used.

Europeโ€™s earliest hominid?

The latest season of excavations at Atapuerca, in northern Spain, has unearthed a maxilla that may be the earliest fossil of a human ancestor ever found in Europe. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Atapuerca has produced thousands of early human fossils and tools, including what was previously the oldest known hominid fossil, found in Sima del Elefante in 2007, which dates to 1.2 million years ago. The new discovery was made at the same site, in a layer c.2m below the previous find, so โ€“ although scientific dating is still being carried out โ€“ researchers are confident that this fossil is older, perhaps dating to c.1.4 million years ago. The ongoing analysis may also reveal which species of hominid the fossil belongs to, and shed more light on early human evolution in Europe.

Ancient glass vessels at the British Museum

Image: ยฉ The Trustees of the British Museum, The American University of Beirut, Lebanon.

Eight ancient glass vessels from the Archaeological Museum of the American University in Beirut, which were damaged during the port explosion of August 2020, have been placed on temporary display at the British Museum following several months of painstaking conservation work.

The vessels were shattered when the case containing them fell over from the force of the blast, and conservators have made the decision to leave the cracks caused by the shattering visible, to reflect the fact that this event is now part of the history of these delicate objects.

The shattering of the vessels also allowed for further research into their manufacture, revealing that several of them were produced from recycled glass.

The Asahi Shimbun Displays Shattered glass of Beirut will run until 23 October, after which the vessels will return to Lebanon.