Baltic Hunting Structure Reconstruction

WARNEMÜNDE, GERMANY—The Guardian reports that a section of wall stretching for nearly one-half mile was found in the Bay of Mecklenburg, off the coast of Germany, during a survey conducted with a multibeam sonar system. Inspection of the wall revealed that it was made up of about 300 boulders connected with some 1,400 smaller stones. The structure is thought to have been constructed more than 10,000 years ago, near a lake or marsh. Jacob Geersen of the Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research Warnemünde suggests that the wall may have been part of a driving lane used by hunters in pursuit of reindeer before the area was inundated with almost 70 feet of water some 8,500 years ago. “When you chase the animals, they follow these structures, they don’t attempt to jump over them,” he said. “The idea would be to create an artificial bottleneck with a second wall or with the lake shore,” he explained. The rest of the structure, which has been dubbed the “Blinkerwall,” may be buried in sediments. Geersen and his colleagues plan to search the area for animal bones and projectiles as well. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. To read about stone caribou-hunting structures that are now submerged beneath Lake Huron, go to “Where the Ice Age Caribou Ranged.”

Thailand Log Coffin

LEIPZIG, GERMANY—According to a statement released by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Rasmi Shoocongdej of Silpakorn University, Selina Carlhoff of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and their colleagues analyzed DNA samples taken from 33 individuals who were buried in large wooden coffins at five sites in northwestern Thailand between 2,300 and 1,000 years ago. These coffins, each made from a single teak tree carved with geometric, human, and animal shapes, belong to a practice known as Log Coffin culture. Such coffins have been recovered from 40 different limestone caves and rock shelters in Mae Hong Son province. The study suggests that the individuals belonged to a large community featuring two separate ancestries: one from China’s Yangtze River Valley, and the other from China’s Yellow River Valley. The remains of close relatives, such as parents, children, and grandparents, were identified within the same cave system. The genetic analysis also found that these clusters of closely related individuals were then more distantly related to other individuals buried at the same site. Lower levels of relationship were found between groups at different burial sites, suggesting that these groups remained connected even though the burial sites were in different river valleys. “This result is highly significant, since wooden coffins were also used in other archaeological cultures all over Southeast Asia,” Shoocongdej explained. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Nature Communications. To read about a Neolithic settlement in China’s Yangtze Delta, go to “Early Signs of Empire.”

Denmark Bog ManLUND, SWEDEN—According to a statement released by Lund University, DNA analysis of bone and teeth samples from prehistoric human remains unearthed in Denmark suggests that the first farmers to arrive in Scandinavia some 5,900 years ago wiped out the hunter-gatherer population within a few generations. “This transition has previously been presented as peaceful,” said Anne Birgitte Nielsen of Lund University. “However, our study indicates the opposite. In addition to violent death, it is likely that new pathogens from livestock finished off many gatherers,” she added. Then, some 4,850 years ago, seminomadic domestic cattle herders from southern Russia with Yamnaya ancestors entered Scandinavia and replaced those early farmers. This may have also occurred through violence and disease, Nielsen explained. Today’s Scandinavian population in Denmark can be traced to a mix of the Yamnaya and Eastern Europe’s Neolithic people. “We don’t have as much [ancient] DNA material from Sweden, but what there is points to a similar course of events,” Nielsen said. Read the original scholarly article about this research in Nature. For more, go to “Europe’s First Farmers.”

Fort Mose Saint Augustine Historical Map 2

(Library of Congress, Parallel Histories: Spain, the United States, and the American Frontier)

An eighteenth-century map shows the plan of St. Augustine, the capital of the Spanish colony of Florida. The location of Fort Mose, which was established in 1738 and was home to a militia consisting of men who had escaped enslavement in the English colonies to the north, is labeled Fuerte Negro.

In 1715, a Mandinga man from the Gambia region of West Africa who would go down in history under the name Francisco Menéndez escaped from enslavement in the English colony of South Carolina to join up with local Native Americans, the Yamasee, who were waging war against his former captors. Menéndez fought alongside the Yamasee for a few months. At times, the Yamasee came close to driving the English out of the Carolinas, but superior colonial reinforcements eventually arrived. Later in 1715, Menéndez and several other formerly enslaved people, likely including his Mandinga wife, guided by their Yamasee comrades, traveled south toward St. Augustine, the capital of the Spanish colony of Florida. They had heard that the Spanish king had promised freedom to people fleeing slavery—provided they converted to Catholicism.


Enslaved people seeking liberty had sought refuge in St. Augustine since at least 1687, when eight men, two women, and a young child arrived by boat from the Carolinas. An edict issued by Spain’s King Charles II (reigned 1665–1700) in 1693 giving “liberty to all” formalized the Spanish policy of welcoming formerly enslaved people, and their numbers increased as word of the proclamation spread. Menéndez’s journey to freedom, however, was interrupted when a Yamasee man known as Perro Bravo, or Mad Dog, claimed ownership of him and several others who had fought against the English in the Carolinas. The acting governor of Florida purchased the hostages, and Menéndez was later sold at auction to the royal accountant, Francisco Menéndez Márquez, whose name he adopted at his Catholic baptism. The royal accountant became Menéndez’s godparent and entrusted him with a great deal of responsibility. Still, Menéndez filed multiple petitions with Spanish authorities protesting his continued enslavement, to no avail. “Even though he’s in a very important household, that of one of the most important officers in St. Augustine, Menéndez is still not free like he is supposed to be,” says historian Jane Landers of Vanderbilt University.

Relations between the Spanish and English colonies were always tense and often erupted into armed conflict. By offering escaped slaves their freedom, the Spanish struck an economic blow against the English, depriving them of a valuable labor force. They took advantage of the new arrivals’ hatred of their former English enslavers to strike a military blow as well. “Who would be more resistant to the British than those who had been enslaved by them?” asks Landers. In 1726, Florida Governor Antonio de Benavides appointed Menéndez commander of a newly formed militia composed of formerly enslaved people. This fighting force played a key role in defending St. Augustine against an English invasion in 1728.

More than 100 escapees had made their way from the English colonies to St. Augustine by 1738. That year, a new Florida governor, Manuel de Montiano, reviewed Menéndez’s latest petition, which included testimony from a Yamasee leader regarding his bravery in the fight against the English in South Carolina and blaming his continued enslavement on the “infidel” Mad Dog. Montiano granted unconditional freedom to Menéndez and other escapees who had been re-enslaved in Florida. The governor also moved Menéndez’s militia to a newly established town two miles north of St. Augustine that he named Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, known today as Fort Mose. There, the militia would serve as the northernmost defenders of the Spanish colonial capital against British attacks.

The initial settlement at Fort Mose was decidedly small-scale. The walls of the square fort were made of earth and logs and measured just 70 feet or so on a side. The fort was surrounded by a moat and contained a lookout tower and a fortified house. In historical terms, however, Fort Mose looms large. It was the first legally sanctioned free Black town in the lands that would become the United States and thus holds great resonance for the area’s Black community today. “This was the first underground railroad,” says Landers. “And it went south, not to Canada.”

Cutting tools known as Acheulean hand axes, made by Homo erectus and other early human species from about 1.76 million to 130,000 years ago, represent humanity’s most enduring technology. They are particularly plentiful at the Tanzanian site of Isimila, the subject of a lecture Dartmouth College art historian Steve Kangas attended in 2021. The shape of the tools seemed familiar to Kangas, and he approached his colleague, paleoanthropologist Jeremy DeSilva, with a startling observation. To Kangas, the Acheulean hand axes in the lecture looked uncannily like a strangely shaped rock depicted in the fifteenth-century painting Étienne Chevalier with Saint Stephen by French artist Jean Fouquet. DeSilva agreed, and they collaborated with University of Cambridge archaeologists Alastair Key and James Clark to test out the idea.

Key and Clark compared the shape, color, and surface details of the stone in the painting with those of Acheulean hand axes found in northern France, where Fouquet lived and worked. They determined that the characteristics of the stone depicted by Fouquet did indeed strongly resemble those of the Paleolithic artifacts. Key says that while they cannot definitively prove that Fouquet selected a prehistoric stone tool to include in his painting, their conclusions make it seem highly likely that he did so. Based on late medieval sources, people of Fouquet’s time knew Acheulean hand axes as “thunderstones” and believed they were created by lightning strikes. The revelation that they were, in fact, created by prehistoric people lay more than 300 years in the future.