Category Archives: Archaeology

The first urbanites

AROUND 6200 years ago, farmers living on the eastern fringes of Europe, in what is now Ukraine, did something inexplicable. They left their neolithic villages and moved into a sparsely inhabited area of forest and steppe. There, in an area roughly the size of Belgium between the modern cities of Kiev and Odessa, they congregated at new settlements up to 20 times the size of their old ones…

Reconstruction of a Trypillian megasite

This article first appeared in New Scientist on 27 February 2021. To continue reading, click here (paywall).

Dark and frozen matter: science in the Alps

I’m shamelessly advertising the following 6-day tour of Switzerland and France that’s being organised by New Scientist and Kirker Holidays, because I’m going to be a guide on it – talking about all that the melting glaciers are revealing about our past – and because if scientific holidays are your thing, this one promises to be really fun and instructive. Here’s the official blurb, or part of it – there is one departure in 2021, on 15 September.

One of the world’s most important centres of science and innovation, Geneva is also a charming lakeside town with a fascinating history. The tour focuses on CERN, where they operate the famous Large Hadron Collider, and Mont Blanc to investigate receding glaciers and what they reveal about history. Accompanied by particle physicist Darren Price and science journalist Laura Spinney.

During your stay in Geneva you will also explore the old town, visit the Museum of the History of Science and learn about watchmaking at an historic workshop.

More details are available here.

On the origins of smallpox

THE death date of smallpox is clear. After killing more than 300 million people in the twentieth century, it claimed its last victim in 1978; two years later, on 8 May 1980, the World Health Assembly declared that the variola virus, which causes smallpox, had been eradicated. But the origins of this devastating virus are obscure. Now, genetic evidence is starting to uncover when smallpox first started attacking people…

This article first appeared in Nature on 23 July 2020. To continue reading, click here (paywall).

 

Europe’s first farmers

EIGHT thousand years ago small bands of seminomadic hunter-gatherers were the only human beings roaming Europe’s lush, green forests. Archaeological digs in caves and elsewhere have turned up evidence of their Mesolithic technology: flint-tipped tools with which they fished, hunted deer and aurochs (a now extinct species of ox), and gathered wild plants. Many had dark hair and blue eyes, recent genetic studies suggest, and the few skeletons unearthed so far indicate that they were quite tall and muscular. Their languages remain mysterious to this day…

This article first appeared in the July 2020 issue of Scientific American. To continue reading, click here.

The end is nigh

IN case you missed it, the end is nigh. Ever since Jared Diamond published his hugely popular 2005 work Collapse, books on the same theme have been arriving with the frequency of palace coups in the late Roman Empire. Clearly, their authors are responding to a universal preoccupation with climate change, as well as to growing financial and political instability and a sense that civilization is lurching towards a cliff edge. Mention is also made of how big-data tools are shedding new light on historical questions. But do these books have anything useful to share? Any actionable points besides that on my coffee mug: “Now panic and freak out”? …

This article first appeared online in Nature on 18 February 2020 (print edition of 20 February 2020). To continue reading, click here.