Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Editor's Letter: Fragile Narratives

From cut-paper decorations crafted from the pages of a Latin hymnal to an inscrutable 4,400-year-old engraved bronze flag, this issue is full of finds that seem, in a word, idiosyncratic. In "Letter from Bermuda: Secrets of a Civil War Shipwreck," archaeologist James P. Delgado dives the wreck of the sidewheel steamship Mary Celestia to uncover one of the Confederacy's most effective weapons against the Union naval blockade. But he finds much more in the form of hidden contraband and the thread of a human story.

Iran's vast expanse of desert, the Dasht-e Lut, is yielding surprising evidence for that area's first urban age at the same time that Mesopotamia's great cities were being established. Contributing editor Andrew Lawler surveys key sites in "The World in Between" and carefully details their role in vast trade networks some 5,000 years ago. He reports that archaeologists there are also finding evidence of the roles and status of women, especially in the ubiquitous use of seals.

It can be said of Detroit, to paraphrase Mark Twain, that reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated. Senior editor Nikhil Swaminathan has filed "The Pre-Motor City," about the efforts of archaeologists and historians to trace and document Detroit's industrial past, and how that may contribute to the reinvigoration of this great American city's identity. Simple ceramic wares found at one site speak volumes about immigrant aspirations in a new country.

Athens correspondent Yannis Stavrakakis brings us a report from Despotiko in the Aegean Sea in "Apollo's Island." This Archaic-period site dates back more than 2,500 years and the array of distinctive offerings brought there from all across the Mediterranean provides insight into the strong ties visitors must have had to the sacred site. Paper and textile fragments are rare artifacts indeed, and the site of Magdalena de Cao Viejo on the northern coast of Peru has intriguing examples of each. "Adapting to Conquest," by writer Julian Smith, tells us of work being done in this sixteenth-century settlement to trace the ways in which the native culture both blended with, and may have resisted, the Spanish culture brought in by soldiers and Dominican missionaries.

The particularity of the evidence in this issue makes one aware of what the loss of any bit of it would mean. That such a variety of artifacts tells us so much about the people behind them points to archaeology's continuing relevance.

Claudia Valentino
Claudia Valentino
Editor in Chief


The World in Between
5,000 years ago, a long-buried society in the Iranian desert helped shape the first urban age
by Andrew Lawler

For our 1975 coverage of the excavations at Shahr-i-Sokhta, see

The Pre-Motor City
As Detroit paves a new economic road forward, an archaeologist investigates its industrial beginnings
by Nikhil Swaminathan

Apollo's Island
A first look at a previously unknown Aegean sanctuary
by Yannis Stavrakakis

Adapting to Conquest
The ruins of a sixteenth-century Peruvian town reveal a resilient native culture
by Julian Smith

Letter from Bermuda
The oceangoing sidewheel steamship Mary Celestia offers new insight into the desperate struggle between North and South—and faint echos of her crew's private aspirations
by James P. Delgado


From the President
Eurozone Catch-22
by Elizabeth Bartman

From the Trenches

World Roundup
A 123-year-old phonograph record made by Thomas Edison, carbon dioxide discoverer Joseph Black's labware, a sunken Mughal Empire garden, analyzing the bones of a castrato.

A "tally stick," dating to 1550s Germany, was essential to commerce in that period as a means to record debts owed from one party to another.

September/October 2011 | January/February 2012