We`re hauling only one pound of tea on our aluminum horse built for two, a tandem bicycle we’re riding along the same course as an ancient trade route between the Tibetan Empire and the Chinese dynasties. Our cargo includes another 69 pounds of gear weighing us down as we angle up switchbacks and pound through potholes and washouts. Why would we subject ourselves to this arduous endurance test? To glimpse one of the most treacherous and lengthy trade routes on Earth. At least that is how the route was described by Jeff Fuchs, in his 2008 book, The Ancient Tea Horse Road: Travels with the Last of the Himalayan Muleteers. Fuchs has revived interest in the route after scouting its remaining traces to find clues to the people who last walked it.
Because the Earth’s magnetic poles wander erratically over time, the magnetic orientation of artifacts from a site can be tied to specific dates in the geologic time scale.
Archaeologists love a good mystery, and they have found one at the base of the Tucson Mountains. One quarter mile from the West Branch of the Santa Cruz River, near what is now the intersection of Mission and Irvington roads, a complex of ancient settlements bears the markers of abrupt change. From A.D. 950 to 1140, agriculture in the area appeared to be on the rise and the population in flux. Initial archaeological research at the West Branch site began in 1984; nine years later, additional inquiry added volumes to what was previously known about the boom and bust of this period in Tucson’s pre-history.