Stonehenge’s purpose and a noble fish’s demise

Although Dan Jones has written about archaeology for such magazines as New Scientist, he had never visited Stonehenge, just 80 miles from his Brighton home, until we asked him to cover the first dig within the monument's inner circle in more than 40 years ("New Light on Stonehenge,"). The excavation was led by archaeologists Timothy Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright, who are convinced that Stonehenge was a place of healing, attracting afflicted pilgrims from near and far, much as Lourdes does to this day. What the pair hoped to learn was when the site's so-called bluestones were first put in place; they believe it was these smaller stones, imported from Wales 140 miles away, that the ancients imbued with curative powers.

Jones says he was at first surprised by the enormous media interest in the dig, with reporters coming from as far away as Russia. "But I soon found out how fascinated the public is with Stonehenge." As for the monument itself, Jones says that "when you're in the very center, you feel cut off from the outside world, quite protected and hidden, like it's a little sanctuary. You get a feeling of why people had such reverence for the place."

Abigail Tucker is the magazine's first staff writer in its 38-year history. A former features writer at the Baltimore Sun, Tucker was part of the Sun team covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. "I think I always wanted to be a magazine writer," she says. "I just needed to develop myself as a reporter and narrative storyteller." She succeeded; in 2007, she was the recipient of a prestigious Mike Berger Award for human-interest reporting from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

In her first major outing for Smithsonian, Tucker tackled why the chinook salmon population has crashed ("Farewell to the King?"). "There's something almost noble about these fish," she says. "They're born, they get big, lay eggs and then they die. In a way it's bleak, but at the same time it's beautiful. The odds are incredible, and when they achieve their goal, having lived in the ocean for three years, and come back hundreds of miles to the same place to spawn, it's awe-inspiring."