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 […]

Redux: On My Way to Burning Man

In the summer of 2014 I backpacked across the Black Rock Desert to Burning Man with a small group of friends, after which this piece was originally published. It has been only slightly altered. Since the lake bed is from late Pleistocene origin, and the loud and luminous eruption of this annual event will be […]

Going Paleo in Florida

The Florida panhandle got some big press this week, yet another early human find confirmed in North America, people entrenched along the Aucilla River south of Tallahassee 14,550 years ago. This came from an underwater excavation where archaeologists have been plumbing a sinkhole through which the river flows. Artifacts and megafauna remains have gathered in the […]

Damage Patterns

The other night I was in the midst of writing about the Ice Age when I strayed to the internet. Up came the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography that went this year to New York Times photographers Mauricio Lima, Sergey Ponomarev, Tyler Hicks and Daniel Etter for their coverage of the European refugee crises. Fresh from writing a […]

Live from the Bering Land Bridge

My desk is a mess, skulls, books and papers strewn. The cast of a saber-tooth cat skull sits on the corner, resting on its two double-edged daggers, reminding me of the book I am writing about the first people in North America, and what they encountered. As I crab myself over the keyboard, the Smilodon skull […]

Getting Out of the Jail of Time

Time is a jail that we’ve built for ourselves, I think as I look at the clock and realize this post is due by some daunting hour of the morning. How could this day have been contained by a big hand and little hand on the face of a clock? Sometimes, or some places, the clock […]

Searching for the First Americans in the Smithsonian

In the quarter light of a few remaining bulbs in a decommissioned hall of the Smithsonian, Kirk Johnson, the museum director, pushed back drapes of clear plastic. The National Fossil Halls was being undressed for demolition, dioramas and murals half torn down, everything had to go. In his business outfit, a coat and tie and […]