A New History of How Humans Settled the Caribbean

For decades it was believed that the Caribbean islands were settled in a stepping-stone fashion by Amerindians migrating north from South America. This would mean that the southernmost islands were settled first, then each next northern island in succession, as the Amerindians moved north into the Caribbean.

After reviewing 2,500 radiocarbon dates from 55 islands, researchers are now telling a different story. Trinidad, the closest island to South America, was indeed the first to be settled around 7,000 years ago. But humans did not settle next in the next northern island. Instead, the radiocarbon dates point to a more ambitious migration: they rode currents north across open sea to Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Hispaniola. Once the larger islands were settled, there was no migration for thousands of years, until people slowly filled in the rest of the habitable land in the Caribbean by following the chain of islands southwards.

Mummified Baboons Help Locate Mysterious Ancient Land

Studying mummified baboons has been used to help locate Punt, ancient Egypt's trading partner. Punt is something of an ancient mystery as the Egyptians did not record its location anywhere. It seems to have been simply assumed that everyone knew where Punt was, like knowing where Australia is today.

This is where baboons come in. First, it is important to know that ancient Egypt did not appear to have native monkey populations. Yet the Egyptian god Thoth, who represented the moon, wisdom, and writing, was sometimes shown as having the head of a baboon in pictures and statues. And critically for this most recent study, the ancient Egyptians also buried baboon mummies in tombs. So ancient Egypt did not have native baboons but they had a major need for imported baboons for religious purposes. The most special of these baboons appear to have been Hamadryas baboons. Ancient Egyptians would travel great distances, and pay a significant amount, for the special Hamadryas baboons.

Punt is known to have been a major trader of baboons in general, and Hamadryas baboons in particular. Tracing the origins of numerous baboon mummies found in ancient Egyptian temples and tombs, and depictions of their transport mainly by water but sometimes by land, researchers now think the Hamadryas species was sourced from a region spanning Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, and some of Somalia and Yemen. The latest study analyzed the tissue of 155 modern baboons from 77 locations, and also looked at two mummified Hamadryas baboons dating to 3000 years ago. Analyzing their chemical signatures, and comparing them to modern baboons, the findings show both the Hamadryas mummies had come from what is today Ethiopia, Eriteria, or Somalia. This corroborates the scholarly hypothesis of where Punt was probably located.

Interestingly, the Hamadryas mummies had been treated rather better than five mummified baboons of another species, traded across Africa several hundred years earlier. We may be closing in on Punt. But what made the ancient Egyptians revere the Hamadryas baboons compared to other baboons remains mysterious.

Madagascar Does Not Come From Where You Think

In multiple ways. First, it is a break off from the Indian sub-continent, not African, even though it is very very close to Africa. Second, the first settlers on Madagascar between 350 and 550 CE were of Malayo-Indonesian descent. Specifically, from Indonesia, Sumatra, and Java. Yes, that is on the other side of the Indian Ocean, rather than across the short Mozambique Channel to Africa. These were joined around the 800s CE by Bantu migrants crossing the Mozambique Channel and intermarrying with the Malagasy. A big clue about Madagascar's unusual migration history is that most common language of Madagascar, also called Malagasy, can be identified as part of the Austronesian language family.

Good News, Sad News

Good news: Ireland has confirmed its first 2 dinosaur remains found in the country! Sad news: Ireland has only 2 dinosaur bones ever found. That's because Irish is formed of rocks that are too old for dinosaurs, and or too young for dinosaurs.

These particular dinosaur remains were identified from a group of potential fossils found in between the 1920s and 2000. Most potential dinosaur fossils were found to be from the wrong period (or be just plain stone). The two that were identified came from the right time period and were definitely fossilized bones. One is a femur fragment of a four-legged herbivore called Scelidosaurus, and one is a tibia fragment of a two-legged carnivore part of the neotheropod clade. Because what is now Ireland was at the bottom of the sea at the time it is unclear how these dinosaurs came to land there. Perhaps they were swept out to sea, and settled into the Jurassic seabed where they were buried and fossilized.

Traces of a square-shaped building have been detected under the Main Plaza at Monte Albán with the use of ground-penetrating radar, electrical resistance, and gradiometery. Each side of the newly detected structure measures about 60 feet long, and more than three feet thick. A Zapotec site in Mexico’s southern state of Oaxaca, Monte Albán was established around 500 BCE and collapsed around 850 CE. It is estimated that the plaza was in use for about 1,000 years before the collapse. Which makes the existence of a building under the plaza rather interesting...

Weird Yet Interesting

The only known example of the giant sauropod (dinosaur) Seismosaurus appears to have choked to death on a stone it was trying to swallow. Not because it was dumb, but because the stone could have aided its digestion. So many animals use stones for digestion, in fact, that such stones have a special name: gastroliths.

Strange Toothed "Toucan" Was Friends With Dinosaurs

A creature described as resembling a "buck-toothed toucan" that lived some 68 million years ago in (what is now) Madagascar has recently been discovered thanks to its fossilized remains. It was small, just 3.5 inches (9 cm) long. But it is outsized in its importance. The tall, scythe-like beak, while resembling the toucan, is something never before seen in the fossil record for the Mesozoic. Birds in the Mesozoic did not have specialized beaks. Or at least, it was thought they did not, until Falcatakely forsterae was found.

Mis-Named In Mexico

The word 'Olmec' comes from the Nahuatl (or Aztec) word for people living in the Gulf Coast region at the time the Aztecs ruled. Olmecatl means "rubber people," probably due to the area's natural rubber trees and the sap it produced. Of course the Olmecs we think of first appears around 1600 BCE, and the Aztec came to central Mexico around the early 1300s CE. No one knows what the people we call the Olmec once called themselves.

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    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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