Today, nothing survives in the hot, arid environment of the Taklamakan Desert in north-western China. Yet, it is thanks to these conditions that we can look into the faces of people who settled there more than 3,500 years ago. Inspired by the discovery at the beginning of the 20th century of Bronze Age mummies in neighbouring Lop Nor Desert, explorer Christoph Baumer hired a caravan of camels to search for evidence of communities in the heart of Taklamakan at a time when water still ran in the now dry riverbeds. What he found was a Bronze Age cemetery at Ayala Mazar, and the wonderfully preserved, naturally mummified remains of people who, like their neighbours in Lop Nor, had long, narrow faces and light brown hair typically associated with European populations. Is this evidence of a Bronze Age cultural crossroad?

In Mexico, the Olmec-style stone-carvings at Chalcatzingo have puzzled archaeologists since their discovery 80 years ago. Are they depictions of mythical beasts and deities, or more earthly representations of chiefly status and power?

In 1917, for just one night, T E Lawrence – better known as Lawrence of Arabia – camped in the Jordan desert at Tooth Hill with his fellow soldiers, a moment he recorded in his diary during the final stages of the First World War. Now, nearly a century later, archaeologists from the Great Arab Revolt Project have discovered evidence of that fleeting moment. Finds from the campsite lay where they were discarded, providing a poignant insight into the minutiae of daily life during this long campaign.

From inhumations to cremations, a burial ground at Marigny-le-Châtel in France reveals changing rituals during the Late Bronze Age.

Finally, we take a look at the humble donkey, a beast that has played an overlooked but vital part in the human story: where would we have been without these ‘pickup trucks of Antiquity’?

IN THIS ISSUE

FEATURES

CHINA: Taklamakan Desert Mummies In search of a Bronze Age melting pot where East meets West

MEXICO: Chalcatzingo Olmec propaganda, power, and sacrifice

JORDAN: Excavating a legend Lawrence of Arabia’s desert campsite at Tooth Hill

FRANCE: Marigny-le-Châtel Uncovering the evolution of Bronze Age burials

EQUUS AFRICANUS ASINUS: Donkeys The pickup trucks of Antiquity

NEWS

Denisovan descendants in Tibet

Ticking time bomb

Celtic false tooth

Earliest American genes

NEWS FOCUS

Last rites at Pachacamac

SPECIAL REPORT

How should we protect our sunken heritage?

CHARLES HIGHAM

Eureka moments and spectacular revelations

TRAVEL

ETHIOPIA    Exploring the rich heritage of an African empire

SARDINIA    Richard Hodges travels to Alghero

FRANCE    Roman riches in north-western France

CULTURE

MUSEUM

The new Ġgantija Temples visitor centre

REVIEWS

Andrew Robinson reviews Irving Finkel’s The Ark Before Noah

plus reviews of:

The Ancient Near East: history, society and economy by Mario Liverani

Bronze Age Bureaucracy: writing and the practice of government in Assyria by Nicholas Postgate

Perishable Material Culture in Prehistory: investigating the missing majority by Linda M Hurcombe

Ancient Lives, New Discoveries: eight mummies, eight stories by John H Taylor and Daniel Antoine

Silk for the Vikings by Marianne Vedeler

THINKING ALOUD

Neil Faulkner asks: What does the dead horse mean?

CHRIS CATLING

Viking mice and other explorers

OBJECT LESSON

The Nahal Hemar Mask