Whispering Walls and the Nature of Acoustic Geometry

In caves and rock walls of the southern Utah desert, pictographs have been painted, added to the backs of clamshell-shaped sandstone enclosures. Many are noted to have acoustic properties, meaning these ancient, Indigenous images seem to be correlated with the way sound reflects around them. I’ve spoken in a normal voice back and forth from […]

Death in the Line of Treasure Hunting

A treasure hunter recently died near the Rio Grande in New Mexico. His body turned up in the backcountry after he was reported missing. This is the second death of a treasure hunter looking for an ornate bronze chest said to be hidden somewhere between Santa Fe and Canada by multi-millionaire artifact collector Forrest Fenn. […]

On Taphonomy

Taphonomy is the study of what happens to bodies, especially bones, after death on their way to fossilization. Few remains make it that far, but when they do, taphonomy is the journey through which the biological becomes geological. In life, bones are tissues, despite their rigidity. Calcium flows in and out of the bone bank as […]

Beetles, Time Travelers

In the summer of 2011, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History was in the process of doing some bug relocation. Specifically, they were moving some of their beetles from the museum building downtown out to a storage facility in the suburbs—specifically, the non-plant-eating scarabs. It was a lot of scarabs. The museum has a […]

Holding the Last of Winter

You’ve noticed the cold starting to leave. The light has been strengthening, sun lifting every day, and the wind has lost some of its bitterness. Twenty-three and a half degrees of tilt to the planet, you can feel every degree. Two mornings ago a blizzard hit where I live in Colorado. It was a fierce […]

When America was Great, the First Time

We were great in the Ice Age. Big weapons, big animals, big land. While parts of the world were crawling with hominids for a million years or more, this side of the planet was off limits. Getting here was never easy, not in the late Pleistocene, not now. The Americas are bookended by the world’s two […]

Letters from the Dead

A recent email from a stranger posed a query as to what to do with Native American artifacts in her possession. I’ve never found the answer to be an easy one. The woman didn’t take much. She called it, “a small box of artifacts, a few really nice perfect arrows and a couple that where truly made […]

How to Read Ancient Mayan

In this month’s issue of National Geographic, I tell a story of an ancient dynasty of Maya kings who made perhaps the region’s best attempt at creating what we might call an empire. It’s a twisting tale of political maneuvering and ambition unlike any other in the Pre-Columbian world. It’s actually kind of incredible that […]