Black Friday and Dirty Gold

Seventeen years ago, Canadian biologist Adrian Forsyth slipped into lyricism as he described the great wilderness known as Tambopata-Candamo in Peru. The cloud forests there, he wrote in an official report, “are dense with every limb matted with fern, orchid and moss and the only trails are those of the secretive spectacled bear and elusive […]

Making a Better Heart

This fall, I did something that I’ve done only once before in three decades of writing: for two whole weeks I booked off work and took a real vacation. Freelance writers can rarely afford half-month-long holidays. But I had spent a good part of 2010 in cardiac wards, tending to my visibly failing father and watching […]

The Children’s Hour

There is something rare and elusive on the ceiling of Rouffignac Cave in southern France, something that at first looked like etchings of undulating snakes or bending waterways or even strangely shimmying humans, but that now turn out to be something far more ephemeral and wondrous to my eyes—works of art by very young apprentices: […]

The Inca Empire’s Afghanistan

Pambamarca isn’t a household name, not like Machu Picchu. Few backpackers trek its steep slopes each year seeking out the elusive Inca past. There is no sleek Vistadome train, no fleet of gleaming Mercedes-Benz buses whisking crowds to the ruins, no luxury lodge at the top. But Pambamarca bristles with the ruins of Inca ambitions. […]

Obesity and Falling off the Edge of the Known World

When my husband and I moved to a suburb of Vancouver eleven years ago, many of our friends ribbed us wildly about our decision. Instead of living in a leafy urban neighborhood, a short walk from a good cappuccino, an organic fruit and veg store, and a pilates studio, we had, it seemed, forsaken civilization […]

The Slings of Outrageous Fortune

Something is curiously missing in most Old Master paintings of David and Goliath. The famous story from the Old Testament focuses on David’s feat of killing a nine-foot-tall warrior kitted out in mail armor with just one, perfectly aimed slingshot. Yet when 16th and 17th century artists went to paint this story of the biblical […]

Sleuthing around the Great Death-Pit

In 1927, Leonard Woolley began digging human remains from a vast gilded killing field at Tell al-Muqayyar in Iraq, a place better known to most today by its biblical name: Ur. Woolley, the son of an Anglican curate and a very skilled excavator, had made a study of Ur, a city-state that rose to prominence […]

Indiana Jones and the Neanderthal’s Tooth

Most archaeologists I know have a soft spot for Indiana Jones. They might not admit it. They might grimace at the famous bullwhip and guffaw at all the suspension-bridge antics over crocodile-infested waters. But despite that, or perhaps because of it, Indiana Jones often captures something from a defining moment in their lives. It reminds […]