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Extraordinary Discoveries

In archaeology and medicine

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It took Chip Brown a couple of days to come to grips with El Mirador, the overgrown Maya city in the Guatemalan jungle that dwarfs the better-known Tikal. “Much is still buried,” he explains. “You have to stare at the topography awhile before you can quite let go of the idea that the contours and the hills and the little dales are not natural but reflect the buried remnants of a ruined city. You just have to overcome this blind spot about how utterly this has all been obliterated.” Although El Mirador was discovered some 85 years ago, most of the 15-square-mile site, abandoned nearly 2,000 years ago, has yet to be excavated. “Once you tune into the geography and the topography of the place,” adds Brown, whose cover story, “Lost City of the Maya,” begins on page 36, “then it’s really one of the most extraordinary places in the world.” And one of the most precarious. “I hope people will recognize what’s priceless about the place and not let it slip away,” says Brown, a much sought-after magazine journalist and the author of two books. “It’s very easy to lose what’s there and impossible to replace it.”

Before he became executive editor of this magazine, Terence Monmaney wrote with distinction about science and medicine for Newsweek, the New Yorker and the Los Angeles Times, from which we plucked him nearly a decade ago. His story “The Triumph of Dr. Druker” documents a remarkable breakthrough in the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a deadly cancer. It also profiles the man most responsible for the therapy, Brian Druker. “When I started off, I didn’t know anything about him except he had made this great contribution,” says Monmaney. “The closer I got, the more interesting he became. There is something about his mind that insists on a kind of clarity and straightforwardness, which is part of the reason for his success.”

Monmaney recognizes the need to strike a balance between realism about cancer and the prospects for treatments. “At the same time,” he says, “there is a tremendous amount of optimism, much of it because of Druker’s achievement. It’s worth focusing on that, not to get hopes up too high but to call attention to real progress that is the result of people working really hard to come up with new approaches.”

CML is an unusual kind of cancer, and for that reason skeptics say the lessons learned in treating it may not be applicable to other kinds. Says Monmaney: “Druker will tell you, ‘Yeah, it’s true. Other cancers are more complicated. But it’s just a matter of time before we figure those out, too.’”

About Carey Winfrey
Carey Winfrey

Carey Winfrey was Smithsonian magazine's editor in chief for ten years, from 2001 to 2011.

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