Fans of the Indiana Jones trilogy have long awaited the fourth installment in the series about the part-time professor and full-time adventurer. In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which premiered this week, the swashbuckling archaeologist journeys to southern Mexico to track down a mysterious artifact of the vanished Mayan Empire. Scientists have attributed the decline of this mighty civilization to solar cycles and drought, though the demise of this society that existed for thousands of years perplexes archeologists to this day.

Check out some of Scientific American's coverage of how scientists are digging up the past, from the bizarre remnants of a lost Caribbean civilization to a real-life Indiana Jones who hunts for dinosaurs. Learn about the techniques of archaeology, like using sound to see underground, and how ancient shell beads may reveal when human beings decorated themselves for the first time.