Why reinvent the wheel?

Asked to name the greatest invention ever, nine times out of 10 most people might say, "The wheel, of course." And how was it invented? "Why, it started thousands of years ago, with log rollers, and when someone cut off the end of one, you got a wheel."

Walnuts and the first forest farms

On a hot, dusty day some two thousand years ago, a traveler stops on the road from Dunhuang, China, to Marakanda (now Samarkand) in Central Asia. He drinks deeply from his flask, then reaches into his sling, pulls out a walnut, cracks it on a rock and pops the kernel into his mouth. He savors the taste, cinches up his heavy packs and walks on.

Cave Artists of Sulawesi

When a hand-stencil painting in the caves of this island recently dated to 39,900 years ago, Indonesia took a place alongside France and Spain as a site of the earliest known representational art. Now we must ask not only how and why we began making pictures, but how and why we did so on two continents at the same time.

Sugar, please

Few plants have had a greater impact on how we live, eat and work than a sweet, fibrous native of tropical Asia: sugar cane, which archaeologists are learning was first refined in mass quantities around the 12th Century at mills in Jordan and throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Those places became the gateways to the global Sugar Revolution.

The Beginning of the End for Hunter-Gatherers

When archaeological surveyor Bruce Howe clambered to the top of the mound called Göbekli near the southeastern Turkish town of Şanliurfa in 1963 he recorded a plethora of flints and what he thought was a small T-shaped gravestone on its top. The unusually dense concentration of flints was somewhat puzzling and the ‘gravestone’ routine, but he dutifully logged everything and moved on with his survey. He had no idea at the time what lay beneath his feet.


Desertification and Civilization

Three reddish-brown giraffe images watch over Nick Brooks as he struggles, hunched over, to shovel sand from the rock shelter’s floor. Some 150 meters (500') above a sweeping, flat and desolate Western Sahara landscape, the burly environmental scientist is hoping these cliffs of Bou Dheir will reveal just when those animals roamed the plains. Three thousand years ago? Four thousand? Five thousand?


Before The Mummies: The Desert Origins of the Pharaohs

The Western Desert of Egypt, near the Dakhleh Oasis, appears to be one of the most uninhabitable places on the planet. Any search for signs of life on this Martian surface seems pointless. But as we crest a ridge of sand, with chunks of ironstone clinking underfoot, archeologist Mary McDonald is about to show me something that puts paid to that notion: evidence that she has found not only the beginnings of settled life in North Africa, but almost certainly the beginnings of the longest-lasting civilizationthe world has ever known—the Pharaonic, or Dynastic, civilization of the Nile Valley, heretofore thought to have derived from elsewhere in the Middle East.


In Search of the Real Troy

The road west to the mound called Hısarlık takes sweeping bends past fields of corn and purple-flowered cotton. It has two or three gradual hills, but the chief obstacles are the odd tour bus or tractor-load of tomatoes. It is, by and large, a smooth and untroubled approach to a world-famous archeological site. Not so the scholastic approach—a road of zigzag switchbacks through fields of criticism and intrigue, littered with sharp shards of controversy: The obstacles here are implications in journal articles, tendentious newspaper interviews and downright insults.

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