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 […]

Redux: What Luis Alvarez Did

This post originally ran on November 11, 2013. I rerun it now partly because I liked it and mostly because it’s a conversation with Hope Jahren and Ben Lillie. Hope has a new book out, written with her usual brilliant, nail-gun verve; Ben runs an on-going travelling theatrical anthology that’s like nothing else I’ve heard of. […]

Outmoded Diseases: An X-File for Osteomyelitis

  I won’t use her name. How she got the disease no one knows. Her leg was cut off at the knee to stop the infection from spreading, and her name is omitted because she is a respected scientist. What happened in her case verges beyond science. The disease is osteomyelitis. It means, simply, bone infection. In X-rays, […]

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 […]

The Mark We Leave

Rounding a corner in Manhattan last week, I saw a handprint spray-painted on a wall. It was my hand. I had put it there last summer, my first and only piece of graffiti. It was nothing special, no artistic flair other than my five fingers. I had gloved my hand in plastic wrap and waved […]

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 […]

“The Martian” and Ice Age Astronauts

Two nights ago I sat in a theater watching the film “The Martian.” I loved seeing a viable spacecraft making gravitational slingshots around planets while a stranded, potato-growing astronaut claimed himself the first colonist on Mars. What’s there not to love? Meanwhile, in my coat pocket I carried an object from an entirely different age […]

Seeing Through Time

In the bespangled Pioneer Saloon in Paisley, Oregon, hangs a picture on a wall of a fit, gray mustached archaeologist out in the field. Written in pen, the name at the bottom of the photo is Dr. Poop. Dennis Jenkins is his actual name, a senior archaeologist at the University of Oregon. Jenkins leads paleo digs in […]