“Built on Bones: 15,000 Years of Urban Life and Death” by Brenna Hassett (Bloomsbury, 2017)

No two anthropological books are alike: they may discuss the various species of hominid and how Homo sapiens has adapted and evolved over time, but each anthropologist has her or his own point of view and angle, with prevailing theories and their own evidence to back it up. Built on Bones is the fascinating story of the history of humanity from nomadic hunters, to sedentary farmers, to village dwellers, and eventually city inhabitants as told through the bones of the dead.

Bones tell a story: from the marks and scorings on them, to what shape the entire bone in, to what the skeleton is like, what position and shape it is in, to whether it’s alone or part of a group. Teeth are little gems of wisdom, as unlike other bones, they remain relatively unchanged throughout our lives, once the adult teeth come in. Each angle of wear and tear, the cuts and grooves, the degradation in certain areas all come together to tell the type of life the tooth owner had.

Bioarcheologist Brenna Hassett, drawing on her own fieldwork in Africa, Asia and the Mediterranean, constantly citing first-hand evidence and experience, reveals some incredible findings about humanity over time as it made the change to farmer and the move into hamlets, towns and eventually cities, and what a toll this has had on the human skeleton. Fascinating insights are offered, like hunters and gathers having larger periods of time between offspring because it was harder to carry more than one child of a young age and be nomadic. What effect starting to live close to animals had, as well as being in close proximity to large groups of people, covering the subjects of plague and disease.

Built on Bones ends on an interesting question: was it worth it? How much has humanity sacrificed in coming together to form these towns and cities? There are many points for and against, but only the reader, by the end of the book, will be able to make a truly informed opinion.

Originally written on July 23, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“Europe Before Rome: A Site-by-Site Tour of the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages” by T. Douglas Price (Oxford University Press, 2013)

Europe Before Rome

T. Douglas Price is Weinstein Professor of European Archaeology Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Honorary Professor in the Department of Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of Aarhus, and is the author of Images of the Past, Europe’s First Farmers and Principles of ArchaeologyEurope Before Rome is a site by site exploration of a number of stone, bronze and iron age sites throughout Europe.

Europe Before Rome begins with a history lesson on early hominids leading up to the prehistoric period and into the stone age.  Price uses a number of sites for specific evidence, explaining some of the importance of these sites, but never going into too much detail.  After this introductory chapter, there are main chapters on “The Creative Explosion,” “The First Farmers,” “Bronze Age Warriors” and “Centers of Power, Weapons of Iron”; photos are provided, as well as diagrams where possible.

Ultimately, Europe Before Rome is more of a text book on these many different sites.  Price reveals the important discoveries of many of the sites, but not really in any detail on what affect these artifacts have had on history and their importance.

Originally written on March 14, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“Missing Links: In Search of Human Origins” by John Reader (Oxford University Press, 2011)

Missing Links

Missing Links was first published in 1981 and caused quite a sensation then with its findings and information, providing an in-depth and chronological coverage of our ancestry spanning millions of years.  In this new edition, John Reader has essentially written a whole new book, building on the old edition, updating and providing even more information to make Missing Links so very new and fascinating.  John Reader’s work as a writer and photographer for more than fifty years, crossing the globe in his coverage, has led to his appointment as an Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology at University College London.

The key to this new edition of Missing Links is that it is not just a book of anthropology and archaeology, but also covers the genres of history and biography.  The chapter titles run the gamut of our ancestral species, from Neanderthals to Java Man to Piltdown Man to Peking Man; from Australopithecus africanus to Homo habilis to Ardipithecus ramidus.  Reader doesn’t simply tell the full story of a particular ancestor, but also provides the latest evidence and science on it, as well as giving the biography of when the first bones of said ancestor were discovered, who was behind the discovery, and how it all happened.  Each chapter is its own complete and enriching tale.

Originally written on January 24, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“Lone Survivors: How We Came to the Only Humans on Earth” by Chris Stringer (Times Books, 2012)

Lone Survivors

One might say that Chris Stringer has had the ideal career that he dreamed of achieving when, at the age of eighteen, he switched his major from medicine to anthropology and was accepted in the PhD program at Bristol University to study Neanderthals.  Shortly after graduating he received a job offer at the Paleontology Department at the Natural History Museum in London, where he is still a researcher, and is now one of the world’s foremost paleoanthropologists.

Lone Survivors is the ideal book for any would-be fan of anthropology, wanting to get the latest news and discoveries on our ancient ancestors, as well as the perfect text for one either taking an anthropology course or perhaps contemplating switching majors, much as Stringer did.  The book is an easy read in that Stringer’s voice is conversational and pleasant, he breaks everything down to its base parts, and shows complex matters in a clear light.  He has introductory chapters dedicated to the various methods of archaeology used in studying fossils, as well as dating them.  Stringer also skillfully provides constant hints of matters he will be later discussing to entice and keep the reader hooked.  By the end of the book the reader will feel well educated and well versed on our ancestors, as well as up to date on the latest findings in the world of anthropology.

Originally written on February 3, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

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