Monthly Archives: June 2014

Blood Antiquities



A small convoy of military trucks rumbled to a stop at the site of the ancient Banteay Chhmar temple in northernCambodia. The armed men inside—members of a rogue military unit—set up roadblocks around the vine-shrouded shrine, cutting it off from the outside world. Then the soldiers put local villagers to work with jackhammers, stripping Banteay Chhmar of its 800-year-old treasures. Read more 


Photoby Andrew Marino,  courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Beringia’s Lost World



One summer day during the height of the last Ice Age, a small herd of elk moved through a now-vanished region of lowland above the Arctic Circle, nosing about small woody shrubs like crowberry and Labrador tea. Far to the west lay glacier-capped mountains, and along the plains between, horses, mammoths and caribou wandered through patches of wildflowers—-violet asters, yellow tansies, red burnets. The large animals and other game made good eating for roaming cave lions and cave hyaena, as well as this landscape’s top predator, humans.   Read More

Photo by A.V. Lozhkin, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Selling America’s Fossil Record



Last November, in a marketing effort worthy of Mad Men, dinosaurs stood poised to take over Madison Avenue, courtesy of the New York auction house Bonhams. In a Manhattan atrium, giant mounted skeletons of Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex loomed over artfully arranged greenery, while a specimen of two individuals known as the Montana Dueling Dinosaurs–still partly encased in plaster field jackets–rested on black platforms. The venue looked just like a museum gallery, right down to explanatory placards. But all the specimens were the property of commercial fossil hunters and dealers and others looking to make a sale.   Read more

Photo by H. Pringle


Temple of the Dead


In the late afternoon light along the Peruvian coast, local workmen gather as archaeologists Miłosz Giersz and Roberto Pimentel Nita open a row of small sealed chambers near the entrance of an ancient tomb. Concealed for more than a thousand years under a layer of heavy adobe brick, the mini-chambers hold large ceramic jars, some bearing painted lizards, others displaying grinning human faces. As Giersz pries loose the brick from the final compartment, he grimaces. “It smells awful down here,” he splutters. He peers warily into a large undecorated pot. It’s full of decayed puparia, traces of flies once drawn to the pot’s contents. The archaeologist backs away and stands up, slapping a cloud of 1,200-year-old dust from his pants.  Read More

Photo by H. Pringle

Birth of the One Percent



In 79 C.E., the year Mount Vesuvius destroyed it, Pompeii was not one city but two. Its wealthiest families owned slaves and lived in multistoried, seaside mansions, one of which was more than half the size of the White House. They dined in rooms with costly frescoes, strolled in private gardens, and soaked in private baths. Meanwhile, at least one-third of all Pompeiian households scraped to make ends meet, with families dwelling in single rooms behind workshops, in dark service quarters, or in small houses. Such economic disparities were common in the Roman Empire, where 1.5% of the empire’s households controlled 20% of the income by the late 2nd century C.E., according to one recent study.

Inequality has deep archaeological roots.  Read more


Photo of Pompeii mural by Xosema. Courtesy Wikimedia commons.