Thursday, March 19, 2009

Book Review: Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial America



Imagine if someone found your body 400 years from now. What would they know about you? Would they be able to learn anything from your bones?
Just as forensic scientists can use their knowledge to solve crimes, archaeologists and forensic anthropologists can use similar skills to find out more about people who lived long ago. Sally Walker accompanied scientists on excavations of colonial gravesites in Virginia and Maryland. The burial sites revealed colonists from a variety of backgrounds including a teenaged boy hastily buried in a cellar, a woman of African descent who may have been a slave and a family of wealthy colonists who were buried in lead coffins. Historians knew nothing about these individuals. The scientists studied the gravesites, skeletons and objects nearby. From this information the scientists were able to tell how old the individuals were, whether they were male or female, how hard they worked, what country they came from, and what diseases they had. Anthropologists provided anatomical details of a recovered skull to artists, who then used the data to produce the first sculpture of an American colonist of African ancestry.
Sally Walker clearly explains the archaeological and forensic procedures. The book contains full-color photographs, maps, and other historical documents which help to shed light on the history of the area and the possible identities of the remains. This fascinating book allows us a glimpse into life and death in the colonial period of American history.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Book Review: Bodies From the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past by James Deem


I saw James Deem's new book "Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past on the new book cart and just had to read it. After all who can resist a book about mummies and mummies found in cold places makes it even better.
In 1991 a couple climbing a mountain in Italy saw what they thought was trash left behind my other hikers. Upon further investigation, it turned out to be the body of a man who lived 5300 years ago. As the glaciers slowly melt, scientists are discovering the remains of humans lost years ago-from mountain climbers in the Himalayas to child mummies in the Andes. These remains are providing researchers with a wealth of information about how our ancestors lived-what they ate and drank and in some cases, their religious beliefs.
But this new knowledge is being gained at the cost. With global warming glaciers all over the world are melting which is changing the climate and the environement of the area. Deem discusses why the glaciers are disappearing and what, if anything, can be done to slow down the process.
The text is accompanied by lost of interesting (and sometimes gruesome) photos. There is also an extensive bibliography, tips of preventing global warming and an index The subject matter is appealing to browsers and informative enough for school reports.
Check out Deem's other books about mummies: "How to Make a Mummy Talk", "Bodies from the Ash" and "Bodies from the Bog".