The discovery in Eastern...
Central Asia of large numbers of human remains, including skeletal materials and many extremely well-preserved mummies, must rank high among the most important events in the archaeology of the last quarter century. Research on these Bronze Age and Early Iron Age inhabitants who lived in oasis settlements around the edges of the Taklimakan Desert in the Tarim Basin in China has already done much to plug the gap between the development of civilization in the eastern and western parts of Eurasia. Specialists in textile technology, metallurgy, linguistics, physical anthropology, and other fields have added much to our understanding of the dynamics of cultural exchange in this period of early history and prehistory.
During the next 25 years, it will be genetics that reveals the most about the crucial role of the peoples of eastern Central Asia in the human drama of the past four millennia. Studies of the haplotype distribution of both mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosomes will become increasingly extensive and finely detailed, enabling us to plot the movements of ancient groups with greater precision. The final result, I believe, will be a ringing affirmation of the interrelatedness of all human communities, with the earliest denizens of eastern Central Asia being the linchpin that ties them tightly together.
Victor H. Mair,
professor of Chinese language and literature, Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Pennsylvania
The most significant discover of the past ...
25 years is the shipwreck at Uluburun, discovered by sponge divers off the southern Turkish coast in 1984. It sank in 90 feet of water in about 1318 B.C. In brilliant excavations, Cemal Pulak and George Bass recovered tin for making bronze weapons and enough copper ingots to equip a regiment, as well as amphorae, ivory, and exotic wood—a cargo so rich that it may have been a royal consignment. The ship is a capsule of Bronze Age trade in the eastern Mediterranean 3,300 years ago that demonstrates how underwater archaeology is not just about shipwrecks but also about life on land.
The most significant trend in the next 25 years will be sensational discoveries in the laboratory rather than in the field. In the next quarter century, archaeologists will face the reality that artifacts and sites are vanishing before our eyes. Once disturbed or excavated, they are lost forever. I suspect that the frenetic pace of discovery will give way to an overriding concern for conservation, for preservation of the resource for future generations. Otherwise, archaeology as we know it may no longer exist in 2030.
emeritus professor of anthropology, University of California at Santa Barbara
MY PICK FOR THE MOST IMPORTANT DISCOVERY OF THE LAST QUARTER CENTURY IS THE MONTE VERDE site in Chile, which established a new time line for peopling the New World. For decades that date was fixed at about 11,000 years ago from the so-called Clovis complex. The Monte Verde research directed by Tom Dillehay, now at Vanderbilt University, shows that people were busy down in South America at least 1,000 years before Clovis and disproves Clovis-first dogma. It’s a new ball game.
My hope for the future is the renewed study of long-distance contacts. Archaeology has completely marginalized the study of cultural interactions across continents and oceans, so most of the work along those lines—big surprise!—has been pretty marginal. Archaeologists know long-distance contacts probably happened, but we get twitchy thinking about it. I expect that the next 25 years will see legitimate scientific studies of long-distance cross-cultural contacts, with impacts such as technology and disease that explain much that is currently murky in prehistory.
Stephen H. Lekson,
associate professor and curator of anthropology, Museum of Natural History, University of Colorado at Boulder