Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Editor's Letter: Issues of Scale

This issue of ARCHAEOLOGY makes one thing clear: Anything at all can be regarded as an artifact. Investigation of the past can feature undertakings as outsized as lifting an entire ship from the bottom of the sea—with even the silt surrounding it intact—as in "Pirates of the Marine Silk Road." Here, author Lauren Hilgers gives us a lead on just how quickly marine archaeology and preservation are proceeding in China, and discusses the latest evidence of Ming Dynasty trade.

In "The Edible Seascape," science writer Jude Isabella reports that what once seemed to be random rock formations along the northwest coast of North America are now being understood as technologies engineered by ancient peoples to manage their supply of fish and other seafood. The most significant artifacts? Fish bones no larger than your fingernail.

Much of the evidence gathered in Virginia and North Carolina's Great Dismal Swamp is even more miniscule, but nonetheless poignant testament to the determination of the escaped slaves who built self-sufficient communities in some of the most inhospitable territory imaginable. In "Letter From Virginia: American Refugees," journalist Marion Blackburn tells their story.

"Defending a Jungle Kingdom," by senior editor Zach Zorich, provides new, landscape-wide evidence from the border zone between Mexico and Guatemala of the intensely competitive relationship between the ancient Maya cities of Yaxchilan and Piedras Negras.

Of course, there's much more. Fragile murals offer a new point of view on the ancient Peruvian elite. The Persian Empire's eastern extent is explored. And there are new clues about a long-standing mystery centering on hundreds of broken Bronze Age figurines.

Finally, through the considered work of artist Gary Staab, detailed in "Pompeii's Dead Reimagined" by executive editor Jarrett A. Lobell, we are invited to reflect on the meaning of the word artifact.

I also would like to say a word about a colleague who has been extremely important to us. This is the 65th issue of ARCHAEOLOGY that design director Ken Feisel has helped us produce. Ken was originally brought on board in 1999 to design dig, our former archaeology publication for children, and quickly took on responsibilities here at the "grown up" magazine. He has created countless maps and vivid layouts—all providing the essential visual side of the archaeology story. Ken will be leaving us as we send this issue to press, and I know we will all miss waiting for him to say, as he sorts through images of far-flung sites, exotic landscapes, and artifacts of all shapes and sizes, " that's cool."

Claudia Valentino
Claudia Valentino
Editor in Chief


Pirates of the Marine Silk Road
A shipwreck in the South China Sea advances China's emerging field of underwater archaeology
by Lauren Hilgers

Hidden Scenes of a Royal Court
Thirty years after they were first glimpsed, murals reveal a vibrant life in ancient Peru
by Roger Atwood

The Edible Seascape
A reevaluation of evidence along North America's western coast shows how its earliest inhabitants managed the sea's resources
by Jude Isabella

Defending a Jungle Kingdom
Newly uncovered fortifications reveal how ancient Maya rulers struggled for wealth and territory
by Zach Zorich

Pompeii's Dead Reimagined
An artist interprets the ancient city's most evocative artifacts
by Jarrett A. Lobell

Edge of an Empire
An ancient Afghan fortress offers rare evidence of Persia's forgotten eastern territories
by Andrew Lawler


From the President
The Belitung Shipwreck
by Elizabeth Bartman

From the Trenches

World Roundup
Artifacts track the birth of the African-American middle class, how llama dung sustained the Incas, a fungus in Tut's tomb, and did the Neanderthals meet their end in the Arctic Circle?

Letter from Virginia
Thousands of escaped slaves made a new life in one of the world's most unwelcoming places—the Great Dismal Swamp—for a chance at self-determination

A tombstone tells the 1,800-year-old story of a Roman gladiator felled by a ref's bad call

July/August 2011 | November/December 2011