A Bone from a Dry Seaby Peter Dickinson
In two parallel stories, a young female member of a prehistoric tribe becomes instrumental in advancing her people, and a present-day girl visits her paleontologist father on a dig in Africa where they discover important fossil remains. ALA Best Book for Young Adults; ALA Notable Book; Horn Book Fanfare; School Library Journal Best Book of the Year; Booklist Editors' Choice.
“Fascinating fiction.” —The New York Times “Gripping.” —Publishers Weekly “Expertly crafted.” —Kirkus Reviews
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A Bone from a Dry Sea
By Peter Dickinson
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1992 Peter Dickinson
All rights reserved.
The child clung to the rock, letting the broken waves of the bay wash over her, cooling the fierce sunlight. She was not afraid. The sea was her home.
Light dazzled off the water, but she kept her head above the surface and gazed steadily toward the mouth of the bay. She was on shark watch. Out on the open shore grown males would keep watch, but a submerged rock shelf barred the entrance to this bay, so it was safe to let the children learn the duty.
She was hungry. For days now the wind had blown hard from the southeast, driving the ocean rollers before it. The tribe used the bay because there were caves in the low cliffs, deep in two of which fresh water trickled down the rock. But food inside the bay was scarce, so normally they would have hunted the rocky inlets beyond for shellfish and shrimp and crabs and the little octopi that hid under boulders.
But with a wind like this the dark green rollers pounded in, hurling their foam to the cliff tops and then dragging anything loose back seaward in their weight of water. Anyone who tried to feed out on the open shore would be swept away to where the sharks cruised, or break an arm or leg, or crush a foot. So by now all the tribe were hungry.
A hand touched the child's flank beneath the water. She glanced down, grinned a greeting as her mother rose beside her, and returned to her watch. Her mother had brought her two mussels, barely the size of a fingernail. Her mouth watered as she heard the crack of shells being pounded open, and she was putting her hand down to take them when she froze, pointed, yelled the warning Big wave, and immediately added the snapped-off hoot that meant Shark!
When each roller reached the submerged shelf at the bay's mouth it rose to a wall, ridged with foam, and seemed to hang for an instant before it crashed into the bay. In that moment before wave break the sun lit it from beyond. Now a giant wave, two waves in one perhaps, had come. It seemed to rise as high as the cliffs behind the bay and then poise at the entrance for longer than an ordinary wave. In its green-lit depths hung a darker, curving shadow as big as four grown males. Then it crashed down and its foam creamed over the bay.
The noise was enough to startle even people used to the surprises of the sea, so many of the tribe surfaced to look. The child was standing on the rock now, pointing and yelling. Her mother was racing for the shore. As the wave thunder died and before the next wave crashed in, they heard that the yell was Shark!, but mostly stayed where they were—it was only a child, mistaken, probably, or mischievous. Then the mother reached the shore and joined in the cry, and the whole tribe streamed for safety.
The shark had vanished. It must have been swimming along the shoreline, hunting perhaps for someone desperate enough to go foraging out in the open, when the monster wave had picked it up, a moving mass of water too powerful for it to be able to fight its way against, and so it had been tossed into the bay.
The child yelled again and pointed with her web-fingered hand. She had glimpsed the long shadow gliding beneath the ruffled surface a few paces from her rock. A moment later the dorsal fin broke the surface as the rising sea bed forced the shark upward.
The people yelled. The shark veered along the shoreline through a spatter of hurled rocks, and away down into deeper water. It vanished for a while but circled around by the rock again, and again the child yelled and pointed, and again the fin emerged. This time the people were ready, and larger rocks hailed around it. And again. And again.
At first they were trying to drive it away so that they could return to the water, but soon they realized it was trapped. Except in the moment when a wave came pounding in, the entrance to the bay was too shallow for it to pass. So now the tribe were the hunters and the shark the prey, if they could find a way to kill it. They spread along the shore harrying it on.
The child watched from the rock. Now that her eyes understood what they were seeing she could trace the shark's movements all around the bay, except through the turmoil at the entrance. She turned steadily, one arm raised to point, helping the others follow the track of their enemy. They surged along the shore, leaping from rock to rock, hurling anything they could lift. Cushioned by water few of these missiles can have hurt the shark much, but it grew half mad with fright and began to break from its circuit and make dashes across the bay, sometimes actually rubbing against the rock where the child stood. She kept to her task, unalarmed.
A shark must swim to keep water moving through its gills, or it will die, so this one couldn't lie in the deep center of the bay, out of the tribe's reach. Around and around it had to go, enduring their attack. Now they grew bolder, some dashing into the water as it went by, with rocks in their hands to pound at the passing flank. These blows too did little damage, but the sense of dominance increased, infecting them all. Excited young males ran into the water ahead of it, ready for their attack. The cliffs echoed with the tribe's yells.
On the far side of the bay a male plunged in and followed the shark's path toward the rock. It looked like more bravado, but when he reached the rock he climbed out and stood beside the child. He was her uncle, a senior male, already beginning to challenge the aging leader, and he was taking this chance to increase his prestige by directing the shark hunt. He watched the shark make two more circuits while the child pointed its path, but next time, as soon as it was safely past the rock, he grunted Go away and pushed her into the water. She swam quickly ashore, glad to be out of the sun and free of the ache of pointing all the time.
She didn't join the others along the shoreline, but climbed to a patch of shade beneath an overhang, where she could sit and watch the hunt, while the tribe dashed in and out of the water, screaming and smiting, and beating the surface into gouts of spray. She alone seemed not to be swept up into the frenzy. She wanted to see.
A wild yell rose, on a different note, not rage or excitement, but pain. Those in the water rushed ashore. Two of them dragged a third. Blood streamed down his side. His left arm was missing, almost to the shoulder. The shark had attacked. Hunter and hunted had changed places again.
Sharks can smell blood a long way off. They race toward its source. The odor drives them mad.
All its terror forgotten, the killer threshed around the bay. It sensed the male on the rock and circled below him. It drove its snout into the air almost to his feet. Then it broke off and dashed toward the place where the water reeked most strongly. Though they were safe on shore the tribe scattered before it.
Quietly the child watched. There was no answer, she saw, until either the shark died or escaped. For it to escape there must be a big tide and no wind. But the tribe were also trapped until the wind dropped. And now they couldn't even forage for the scant pickings in the bay. Unless they could kill the shark they would starve before it did.
Out of nowhere the answer came into her mind.
The shark's mad rushes had a pattern. It surged toward the patch of blood-tainted water, found nothing there, sensed the live meat on the shore and slid along beside it, then remembered in its slow brain about the other meat, trapped on the rock, almost in reach, and hurtled out there, circling for a while until a waft of blood smell drew it on another frenzied rush toward the shore.
It had found its victim below and to the left of where the child was sitting. Here a ridge of rock sloped down into the water and became the bar at the mouth of the bay, with a wide shelf running beside it for some distance below the surface. It had caught its prey in the corner between the shelf and the shore. This was the place it made for each time.
Unnoticed the child made her way down to the water's edge and waited, watching the fin circle the rock. The snout nuzzled up toward her uncle. The toothed mouth gaped. Then the fin came slicing through the water toward her. She ran down onto the submerged shelf to meet it.
The tribe screamed. The shark saw her. The fin curved from its path, heading straight at her. At the last instant she flung herself aside.
All her life, since she could paddle, she'd played catch-as-catch-can in and out of the water. She knew what she could do, but hadn't realized the shark's speed and power. If its charge hadn't been slowed by the slope of rock, it would have caught her. As it was she was knocked flat by the rush of its attack, which carried the streamlined body on up the slope right to the water's edge where it lay stranded, its gills in the air, its tail thrashing at the shallows behind it.
Gabbling and calling, the tribe gathered to watch it die. The child's uncle came swimming across to stand with one foot on the still-twitching body, shouting triumph and punching his fists into the air, as if it had been he who'd steered it onto the rock and killed it. The tribe shouted Praise. Gulls gathered above, joining their screams to the racket.
Without tools, apart from the stones they used to break crabs and shellfish open, it took time for the tribe to gnaw and claw their way through the tough skin of the belly, but they did it in the end. Their leader wanted to organize the sharing out of meat, but the child's uncle outfaced him and drove him back, taking the honor himself, allotting big pieces of liver to senior males and the mothers of newborn young. Then the families squabbled around the carcass, but without anger because they could see there was enough for everyone. Even the children slept that night with crammed stomachs.
The child who had watched from the rock got her share. Her mother had cuffed her for her stupidity and she had whimpered Sorry because that was expected of her, but as she lay among the crowded bodies in one of the caves, unable to sleep because of the mass of meat inside her, she relived the adventure. She knew what she had done, and why. She understood that it had not been an accident. She realized too that the others would not understand.
She had no words for this knowledge. Thought and understanding for her were a kind of seeing. She showed herself things in her mind, the rock shelf, the shallow water, the need to lure the shark full tilt onto the slope so that it would force itself out too far, and strand, and die; then her uncle triumphing and her mother scolding and herself cringing while she hugged her knowledge inside her.
Now she seemed to herself to be standing apart in the cave, seeing by the moonlight reflected from the bay one small body curled among the mass of sleepers. A thought which had neither words nor pictures made itself in her mind.
She's different. Yes, I'm different.CHAPTER 2
Now: Sunday Morning
The truck wallowed along the gravelly road, if you could call it a road. Often there was nothing to mark it off from the rest of the brown, enormous plain, but Dad knew where he was because then there'd be tire ruts making the truck wallow worse than ever. Vinny clutched the handgrip on the dash to stop herself being thrown around. They'd done two hours from the airport, though it seemed longer, when Dad stopped by a flat-topped tree with a lot of grassy bundles hanging among the branches. Weaver birds, Vinny guessed. She'd seen them on TV.
"Ready for lunch?" he said.
"I'm starving. How much further?"
"We're a bit over halfway. But look."
He pointed and Vinny stared through the shimmer of heat. Far off there were blue hills. Much nearer something moved, changed shape, vanished as the wavering air distorted the distance, and then was there again, steady for a moment, three long, slightly arching necks with small heads. She'd known them since she was tiny, from the Noah's Ark frieze around her room.
"Giraffes," she said.
"Are there any lions?"
"They'll be resting till it gets a bit cooler. Take a good look. We don't get much wildlife around the camp, because we're on the edge of the badlands."
"Why's it all so flat?"
"Because it was sea until a few million years ago. Those hills used to be the shoreline. In fact the section the camp's on seems to have been an island. Seen enough?"
He drove into the shade of the tree and fetched crates from the back of the truck for them to sit on while Vinny unpacked the lunch. Potato chips, Coke, chicken sandwiches, mangoes, and a Mars bar.
"I hope that's the sort of thing you like," he said.
"I like anything."
She sensed that he was as nervous as she was. They hadn't seen each other for over a year, and never before like this. It had always been London hotels, visits to the zoo or the planetarium, jerky talk about school and her friends and what she liked doing, both of them jumpy with having to watch what they said, because of the anger between him and Mom, still there, still no better, eight years after the split.
He ate in silence. Vinny was ready for this. That was one of the things Mom couldn't cope with, his silences. Whole days sometimes, she'd said. A complete skiing holiday once. The obvious thing was to be silent too, but Mom wouldn't have known how. Mom would be at Grasse by now, she thought, maybe at this very moment carrying the lunch tray out onto the terrace, talking as she came, Colin lounging in the vine shade with a tumbler of wine in his fist, the boys playing their dragon game among the olive trees below ...
The cooling engine clicked. The weaver birds accepted the human presences and began to move and chatter. An ant the size of a button was dragging away a crumb of bread.
"You're not tired?" he said for about the fifth time.
"I'm fine. But listen, Dad—it's going to be all right, me coming. And if it isn't, then it's my fault. It was all my idea."
"So I gathered. Your mother ..."
He didn't try to keep the sourness out of his laugh.
"Colin talked her into it," she said. "It makes going to Grasse a lot easier for them, you see—they don't have to bother about what I want, only them and the boys. You know, Mom was still trying to make me join an Outward Bound course or something till you said we couldn't go on a safari after all because you'd got to go on working, and you thought I'd be bored. That made it all right."
"Because it was a nuisance for me?"
"Not just that. She wouldn't mind so much provided I was bored. Look, Dad, I'll tell you what I think about Mom and then we don't have to talk about it anymore. It's a bit like Grandad and his bad leg—you know, there're things he just can't do because of it, but otherwise he's the same as anyone else. Only with Mom it's inside her. She just can't be sensible about anything to do with you. Apart from that she's the same as my friends' moms. She can be lovely, she can be a pain in the neck, you know? I'm lucky she fell for Colin. I really like him. The boys can be pests, but that's the age they are. But honestly, I'm a lot happier at home than some of the kids I know. You needn't worry—I'm not going to try and sucker on to you from now on."
"You've thought it all out?"
"Yes. I suppose I'm like that."
He grunted and went into another of his silences. Vinny ate the half-melted Mars bar, quite wrong for Africa but she knew he'd got it because she'd asked for one on a bitter winter day in London once. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes. Not like a dad, somehow, short, broad-chested, round-faced, dark-haired once but now more than half bald.
"It doesn't always work," he said.
"Thinking things out. Oy oy—we're going to have to move. This lot are biters."
Out of nowhere troops of shiny orange ants had appeared, obviously intending to carry off not just the crumbs and leavings but the untouched food as well. Vinny helped pack up and climbed into the truck. Dad got in the other side but didn't start the engine.
"That's a good image of yours," he said. "Pop's bum leg, I'm talking about. You've got your head screwed on ... Look, I'd better explain one or two things about the set-up at the camp."
"I thought I'd just keep my mouth shut till I found out."
"Still, it'll be easier if ... Things aren't too good, you see. For a start, we haven't been lucky in our finds. That's always a risk. Any expedition has its ups and downs—you go a few weeks without significant finds and everyone gets short-tempered and bitchy—it's been such an effort to get here and you don't get that many chances, so you feel you're wasting your time, and the food tastes foul and stupid accidents begin to happen. But then someone comes up with something really worthwhile and everybody's on a high, and they start seeing things they'd missed, and meals don't matter ... you understand?"
"You haven't found anything?"
"Not much. Some badly smashed fragments of one skull. Hundreds of pig mandibles which might be useful for dating if we'd found anything else of interest, which we haven't. We've got plenty of material, but almost nothing new. Joe's famous luck seems to have deserted him."
Excerpted from A Bone from a Dry Sea by Peter Dickinson. Copyright © 1992 Peter Dickinson. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Peter Dickinson was born in Africa but raised and educated in England. From 1952 to 1969 he was on the editorial staff of Punch, and since then earned his living writing fiction of various kinds for children and adults. His books have been published in several languages throughout the world. The author of twenty-one crime and mystery novels for adults, Dickinson was the first to win the Gold Dagger Award of the Crime Writers’ Association for two books running: The Glass-Sided Ants Nest (1968) and The Old English Peepshow (1969). Dickinson was shortlisted nine times for the prestigious Carnegie Medal for children’s literature and was the first author to win it twice. Dickinson served as chairman of the Society of Authors and was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2009 for services to literature. Peter Dickinson died on December 16, 2015, at the age of eighty-eight.
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Although the book might not have been very fast-paced I thought the story line was fabulous and I couldn't put the book down because of it.
This book was requiered for my english class and is very boring. Only some parts were even mildly interesting. I found each page even harder to stay focused on than the last. Save yourself the misery. DON'T READ THIS BOOK!!!!!!
I think this book is pretty boring to be honest. But it's a good example for palentology. It's also a two sided story 'NOW' and 'THEN.' 'NOW' is about a little girl who is on an arcleogical dig with her father. 'THEN' is about a girl named Li. Li is from a LONG time ago. Li is a very smart person in the group.
This is essentially a dramatization of Elaine Morgan's book 'The Descent of Woman' which argues that humans must have evolved by the seaside to explain many of our traits like upright posture and grasping ability of newborns. I was pleased and astonished to see this in a form that is easily accessible to kids. It is aimed at a high-school and older readership, but my precocious 8 year old loved it!
AMAZING! OUTLANDISH! INCREDIBLY HOT! This one's def worth spending your shingles on.
I didnt like it. it was not exciting or a fun read. I dont recommend it to anyone if you like it your just dumb!!!!
i believe peter dickenson is a very interesting author. mr.dickenson in his award winning book a bone from a dry sea was as you may know or find out has a different perspective of this book. there are not one but two characters in this story. there are two different stories also that combine into one at the end! the main story will probaly hit you at the end. it gets better as you read and dont skip pages or chapters because then it will mess you up. you will enjoy the story after you complete everything and really the story is good!
i believe reading this book really didn't help me at all. Some point in the story was pretty good but the rest was really bad.if u decide on reading this book pay close attention to how the chapters change everytime u understand something. After a while u may like it. it has a major characters called-Li,Vinny. Thats all im saying so....... enjoy
A bone From A dry Sea is a interesting book, you can imagine how will evolution will start in that book, and very good advanture of discovery