Focus on Archaeology

Staircase and base of Building A at Dainzú. Photos by Julie Skurdenis.

The city of Oaxaca lies about 290 miles southeast of Mexico City in an area enclosed by three valleys. In these valleys developed some of the richest cultures of pre-Columbian Mexico: first, the Zapotecs, whose earliest noteworthy archaeological site, San José Mogote, dates from the 7th century BC (perhaps even much earlier, to the 15th century BC), then, much later, the Mixtecs, who probably arrived in the valleys in the 9th and 10th centuries AD.

Two of Mexico’s...

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Danzantes, with Building M in the background — Monte Albán, southern Mexico. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

In the valleys 290 miles southeast of Mexico City, one of Mesoamerica’s earliest civilizations, the Zapotecs, developed. Living off the land, hunter-gatherers first appeared in these valleys about 10,000 years ago. By about 5000-4000 BC, these early settlers had begun to cultivate the land. The first important settlement identifiable as Zapotec, San José Mogote, can be dated to between 1450 and 1150 BC. By the 8th to 7th centuries BC, this settlement had expanded to include...

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Stone banquette with carvings of warriors and priests — Templo Mayor Museum, Mexico City. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

There is an old adage that “all roads lead to Rome.” It’s a statement with much truth in it, since most, if not all, roads in the early centuries of the Christian era did lead to Rome, then the center of a vast, far-flung empire.

The same adage could be applied to 14th-century Tenochtitlán, then the center of the Aztec empire in Mesoamerica. All roads seemed to lead to Tenochtitlán. Or at least they did from AD 1325 to 1521.

Before then, the Aztecs...

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Blue-domed church seen on the way to Ancient Arkesini, on the island of Amorgos.

In the Cyclades, a group of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, trails are called “blue paths.” With every turn, you can expect a view of the sea. How prescient of our group of 11 walkers to have signed up to explore paths on three of these islands with an organization called The Blue Walk!

Headquartered in Orlando, Florida, The Blue Walk (phone, in the US, 551/258-3955, www.thebluewalk.com) offers small-group walking vacations in Italy, Spain and France as well as...

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Reconstructed foundations of the 3rd-century-AD Temple of Mithras in Walbrook — London, England. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

During the 1940-1941 Blitz, much of the area called The City, London’s historic center as well as its central business district, was destroyed. Years after the end of World War II, bombed-out sites were still being excavated. In 1952-1954, one of these sites, located on Walbrook between Cannon Street and Queen Victoria Street in the heart of The City, yielded a remarkable discovery buried 23 feet below the surface: the remains of a Roman temple.

On the last day of the excavation...

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The Great Bath as seen from the upper terrace, lined with statues of Roman emperors and governors. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

The Romans knew a good thing when they saw it. In this case, the good thing was the hot springs in what is now the city of Bath in southwestern England.

In the decades after the conquest of England in AD 43, following several invasions by Julius Caesar in the preceding century, the Romans turned a tribal sanctuary centered on hot springs into a thriving center that they called Aquae Sulis.

Before the Romans

Long before the arrival of the Romans, local Celtic...

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The meeting hall at Nuraghe Palmavera on the Italian island of Sardinia.

Three thousand years ago, stone towers — often surrounded by settlements enclosed within stone walls — peppered the Sardinian countryside. There were an estimated six to seven thousand of these towers constructed in the period roughly between 1600 and 550 BC, the Bronze and Iron ages in Sardinia. Perhaps many more still lie undiscovered beneath the ground or covered by earth mounds.

These stone towers are called nuraghi (singular, nuraghe), and they have become...

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The central mound, with statue-menhirs, at the megalithic site of Filitosa in Corsica, France. Photos by Julie Skurdenis

At the base of a small mound overlooking a valley in southwestern Corsica lie fragments of upright stones called menhirs (from the Brittonic words men, meaning "stone," and hir, meaning "long").

Just above them on a stone wall that was once part of a prehistoric settlement stand more menhirs. They are unique. Each has the outline of a face etched on the top part of the stone. With sightless eyes, these statue-menhirs have stood for more than 3,000 years....

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