Sunday October 31, 1999

CYBERIA,2107,500051721-500084900-500245588-0,00.html Belgium's capital is currently one of the world's best places to discover the treasures of native North American culture. The exhibit's commissioner, Sergio Purin, said his team sought to present American Indian culture in a new light to Europeans brought up on Westerns, the Indian adventure novels of Karl May or the comic-book capers of "Tintin in America." After trying to "protect" sites by keeping their locations secret, archaeologists have decided to let the rest of us know where they are. Web sites are being designed so that as many people as possible will be able to go in and, by clicking on maps, find out in seconds whether any sites are located in a given township or section. That should reassure most people in most situations that no known sensitive site is threatened. The trick is to get word out to the right people without giving treasure-hunters the information they would need to rob the sites of archaeological riches. Recent scientific discoveries are shedding new light on why great empires fell apart in human history. At least five times during the last 6,000 years, major environmental calamities undermined civilizations around the world. Some researchers say these disasters appear to be linked to collisions with comets.

EARLY MAN Inside a warehouse laboratory near Carson City, Nev., the remains of one of the oldest known North Americans lie curled in a loose fetal position on a raised platform, covered with a heavy plastic tarp. For a 9,400-year-old, Spirit Cave Man is remarkably well-preserved: He has most of his teeth, patches of long, reddish-brown hair on his head and some skin, more like thin parchment, on his bones. His feet are wrapped in their hide shoes, and his body is cradled by the woven hemp-and-rabbit-skin blanket he was buried in. Life could not have been easy for Spirit Cave Man. But death hasn't been a cakewalk, either. In a radical twist to pre-history, two prominent archeologists say North America's first inhabitants may have crossed the icy Atlantic Ocean some 18,000 years ago from Europe's Iberian Peninsula. Dennis Stanford and Bruce Bradley, concede the Solutreans may not have been the only paleo-explorers to reach the Western Hemisphere. But judging by their distinctive style of projectile points and other clues in the archeological record, they may have been the first settlers who brought to North America what, until now, has been considered the Clovis culture. Research into when the first humans arrived in the Americas and how they got there is threatened by federal restrictions on archaeologists, an attorney says. Scientists must learn to deal with the concerns of Native Americans, said Jo Ann Harris, an attorney who was a moderator at the conference. Many archaeologists' current attitude is that of reformed sinners, she said. "They admit that in the past they were bad, but now they're good... so why can't they have their way now?"

CALIFORNIA for the $106 million Tech Museum of Innovation, the biggest challenges may be yet to come. Though attendance and revenues have surpassed official projections, industry experts say the Tech will face a new museum's traditional -- and substantial -- drop in public interest in its second year. But for a museum that aims to display the newest in high tech, the real difficulty lies in the future, said Sheila Grinell, executive director of the 2-year-old Arizona Science Center in Phoenix. Technology is expensive and quickly becomes outdated, she said. Although new products are introduced on an 18-month cycle, most museums only update their exhibits every five years. Picacho was a bustling boomtown in the 1890s. About 700 men mined ore, and the population soared to 2,500. When the river was dammed, the historic hamlet was flooded and destroyed. Picacho offers abandoned stamp mills. For more information: Picacho State Recreation Area, c/o Salton Sea State Recreation Area, tel.(760) 393-3052.

ARIZONA The theory goes that Pimas who survived times of famine were those whose thrifty genes worked to store fat during times of plenty. Now that food is amply available, the thrifty genes serve only to bulk up bodies. Disastrously for the Pimas, obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes. The sudden onslaught of travel-weary gold seekers arriving here by April of 1849 placed a real strain on the Quechan Indians who had long used beans from mesquite trees. When the 49er invasion began, hungry travelers regarded the beans as their salvation and took thousands of bushels. The rapid disappearance of a food supply Quechans depended upon rapidly caused anger and hostility toward the invaders.

TEXAS Had it not been for some concessions to modern life, the women working on the quilt might have been typical of the people who lived in San Antonio from 1835-46, when Texas was a republic.