National Geographic History May/June 2020

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United States
National Geographic Society
6 Issues

in this issue

1 min
from the editor

My favorite Amazon didn’t come from classic tales, but a 1970s television show. Every week, Diana Prince would spin around to transform into Wonder Woman, an Amazon princess who fought Nazis. According to the theme song, she could “Stop a bullet cold / Make the Axis fold / Change their minds and change the world.” Idolizing her, I spent a lot of time trying to spin myself into an Amazon with super strength and bulletproof bracelets. (Sad to say, it didn’t work.) Wonder Woman’s Amazon lineage can be traced back through comic books to Greek mythology to real warrior women: the Scythians. Their prowess with weapons and horses earned the admiration of the ancient Greeks, who then wove these women into their myths as foes for their greatest heroes. The Scythians are…

3 min
‘chewing gum’ holds ancient genetic secrets

Chewed-up wads of tree pitch are not uncommon finds at Stone Age sites in northern Europe, but one little black blob of it has proved to be a goldmine of genetic information. The pitch (also called “tar”) from a birch tree was ancient “chewing gum” that was preserved in mud after it was discarded. The gum contained human saliva, and scientists have been able to extract DNA from it. Found on the island of Lolland in southern Denmark and carbon-dated to around 5,700 years ago, the gum preserved enough DNA that scientists were able to extract for the first time an entire ancient hu-man genome from something other than human bones—a feat called “amazing” by Hannes Schroeder, who led a team at the University of Copenhagen. Schroeder said the gum is…

1 min
the birch: a tree with the gift of gum

SILVER BIRCH FORESTS occur naturally throughout most of Europe, but the trees prefer colder climates and are more abundant in the boreal region of northern Europe. Researchers link birch bark with various possible Stone Age uses, such as layered mats or containers. Charred birch-bark rolls have been found that might have served as torches or tapers for lighting fires. But the main use of birch bark was to heat it to make pitch, or tar, a gluey black-brown substance used in Europe since at least the middle Pleistocene (approximately 750,000 to 125,000 years ago) to fasten stone blades to handles. Pieces of birch pitch have been found with tooth marks, prompting archaeologists to reason that as the pitch cooled and solidified, it was chewed to make it moldable again. The…

6 min
fall of the reich: the red army takes berlin

By spring 1945 World War II had been raging in Europe for more than five years. Years of brutal battles resulted in massive losses of human life and destruction of towns and cities. Since 1941, the Soviet Union had been fighting Germany in eastern Europe, losing millions of soldiers as they repelled Hitler’s invasion of Soviet territory. In June 1944 successful Allied invasions in France allowed U.S. and British forces to capture German territory and press the Axis powers back. At the same time, the Soviets, led by Premier Joseph Stalin, began their campaign in the east. Over the year, the Red Army marched toward Berlin, intent on the destruction of Nazi Germany. Soviets on the March On June 22, 1944, three years to the day after German troops invaded Soviet territory, the…

1 min
the yalta conference

IN FEBRUARY 1945 the three chief Allied leaders gathered at the resort town of Yalta in Crimea to discuss the end of World War II. Prime Minister Winston Churchill of the United Kingdom, President Franklin Roosevelt of the United States, and Premier Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union saw that war in Europe was close to an end, but that victory in Japan was still uncertain. Their plans mapped out not only the future for postwar Germany and Eastern Europe, but also the terms for Soviet military participation in the Pacific theater to defeat Japan and end the war.…

1 min
battle of berlin

THE ASSAULT on Berl in was launched on April 16, 1945. Two Soviet fronts (army groups) took part: the First Belorussian Front under Marshal Georgi Zhukov and the First Ukrainian Front led by Marshal Ivan Konev. Zhukov’s forces advanced due west from the Oder River against the German Ninth Army, while Konev’s forces crossed the Neisse River to the south and overwhelmed the Fourth Panzer Army. After sending two armies west to link up with the U.S. First Army along the Elbe River, Konev turned north with armored forces and sealed off Berlin on April 25, preventing the German 12th Army from relieving the capital. Russian troops then stormed Berlin, which fell on May 2.…