Issue 42


Tiber valley: The Rise (and Fall) of Rome

The story of the rise of Rome is best studied not in the city itself, but in the area surrounding it. It is here that we can see the impact of Rome’s expansion, and measure its speed and extent. For centuries scholars have wondered whether the rise of Rome spelled prosperity or disaster for those […]


Draining Herculaneum: conserving the site

Should you be caught in a heavy rain storm in modern Ercolano, you will understand why the local residents talk about ‘lava’ flowing through the streets. The town sits at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, directly in the path of the rain water as it streams down from the mountain to the sea. The local […]


Windows to the Past

Rome is an iconic city. From Grand Tour etchings to nocturnal portraits of the cityscape, Rome’s monuments have become familiar images. Yet the British School at Rome Archive casts the metropolis and its environs in a new light, allowing us to witness the changing face of the Eternal City, and Italy itself. Long-vanished ruins and […]


Ports of Rome

Rome had a problem. The Tiber River is too shallow for maritime craft. So Roman vessels plying the Mediterranean routes had to unload their cargoes at sea, transferring them to smaller skiffs capable of negotiating the river channel. Worse still, unfavourable winds could close the river mouth for days at a time. The Emperors invested […]


When did humans reach North Africa?

Estimates for the date at which early migration out of sub-Saharan Africa occurred vary from 200,000 to 80,000 years ago, the older dates being based on estimates of the rate at which genes mutate. Hard archaeological evidence is elusive, but the excavation of what is being called ‘the deepest archaeological trench in North Africa’ has […]

F:Lee BergerHomo sapien drawing ver13 Model (1)

We are all Neanderthal

The long-standing debate about the relationship between humans (Homo sapiens) and Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) has just taken an unexpected twist with the discovery that some humans have genes in common with our extinct hominid cousins. Some anthropologists have always argued that this was the case, but on the questionable evidence of similarities in skull and […]


Eggshell unlocks ancient DNA

Until now the study of ancient DNA has been based on the challenging science of extracting genetic material from fossilised bone, but researchers from the Universities of Sheffield and Oxford in the UK, Australia’s Murdoch University and the University of Western Australia, New Zealand’s Canterbury and Otago Universities, Colorado University in the USA and Copenhagen […]


Garden of Eden in danger of extinction

Professor Adrian Newton, of the UK’s Bournemouth University, has called for better protection of the threatened fruit forests of Kyrgyzstan, the landlocked and mountainous central Asian state that has been in the news recently because of tensions between the country’s two main ethnic groups – the Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz people. Though considered remote today, […]

Ochre production site discovered in South Africa

Among the oldest known examples of symbolic behaviour amongst humans and our close hominid relations is the use of ochre in burial rites, body ornamentation and cave art. Indeed, what is claimed to be the world’s oldest abstract art consists of a block of ochre rubbed smooth and marked with a diamond pattern, dating from […]

Rapa nui

The secrets of Easter Island’s fallen idols

Fieldwork led by researchers at University College London (UCL) and the University of Manchester has shown that stone figures lying on their backs and faces beside the roads of Easter Island (Rapanui) were not abandoned by clumsy construction workers who dropped and broke the carvings en-route to the coast journey. Instead, each of the fallen statues is associated with a stone platform from which it has toppled with the passage of time. In other words, the roads themselves were not built and used exclusively for the transportation of the figures.


Sticky rice porridge and the Great Wall of China

An unexpected use for a plant has been discovered by scientists at Zhejiang University in the city of Hangzhou, in eastern China. They have discovered that congee – the rice porridge that is eaten for breakfast in many Asian countries – was added to slaked lime as a crucial ingredient in the mortar used in […]


Brian Fagan Digs Deeper

Freezing on Kodiak My travels sometimes take me to relatively exotic places, like a recent brief stay on Kodiak Island, Alaska, which is a hotbed of archaeological research. Some of the earliest maritime societies in the arctic flourished here 7,500 years ago, not as early as at Anangula out off Umnak Island in the central […]

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