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’?