From the Publisher
"[T]his is an excellent look at an engaging area of science that should find broad readership and use."
School Library Journal
"Exceptionally well written, the book provides an exciting read that makes the joy of being a scientist come alive."
Children's Literature - Amanda MacGregor
Looking at four particular archeological finds, the authors demonstrate what can be learned about our history and how these finds inspire a host of questions and debates. They examine Turkana Boy, a 1.6-million-year-old Homo Erectus discovered in Kenya in 1984. Though initially only a tiny chip of cranial bone was found, the people working on the dig eventually found an astonishingly large portion of skeleton. Once everything was recovered, they worked to determine how old Turkana Boy was, how he died, what he looked like, and whether or not he could talk. The topic of speech caused great debate in the scientific community. Lapedo Child, found in Portugal in 1998, was 24,500 years old. The authors outline the fascinating and low-tech steps taken to keep the dig and its discovery a secret. Kennewick Man, accidentally discovered by college students in Washington state in 1996, was 9,000 years old. Debate ignited over whether the find was of Native American heritage and a legal battle over the bones ensued. Finally, 5,300-year-old Iceman found in the Alps in 1991 is the world's oldest mummified human. An examination of his DNA caused upset when it linked Iceman to modern Europeans. Each find is covered in forty pages or so, and each section contains a list of resources for further reading, a list of related websites, and source notes. Readers will be amazed to learn how and what scientists learn from their finds. Though the book presents a lot of information all at once, readers looking for a thorough examination of any one of these finds will find their every question answered here. Reviewer: Amanda MacGregor
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—The authors have taken an unusual approach in this look at members of the human family tree. Rather than sketch all of human prehistory, they focus on four particular discoveries, noting the deductions that scientists have made and the debates that these conclusions have sparked. The finds that they detail are Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man, and Ötzi the Iceman. This approach will be helpful for students as it makes clear the type of work done by paleontologists, archaeologists, and their ilk. There is a lot of painstaking effort and a lot of careful thought. It is particularly interesting to learn what sorts of debates an activity as innocent-seeming as archaeology can engender. Full-color photos, an occasional map or diagram, and an illustrated time line enhance the presentation. As they have focused on only four individuals, readers may miss their personal favorites, such as "Lucy" and the recently discovered Homo floresiensis, nicknamed "hobbits." There are also some scientific points that aren't explained as well as they might be. In their discussion of genetics, for example, the authors refer to C, G, A, and T without ever explaining that these are the initials of cytosine, guanine, adenine, and thymine. While there are a few print sources from recent years, many go back 10 years or more. Despite a few quibbles, this is an excellent look at an engaging area of science that should find broad readership and use.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Library, Wisconsin Rapids, WI
This ambitious exploration of archaeology approaches the popular subject through four important discoveries of hominin skeletons in the past 30 years. The famous finds, located on three continents and dated 1.6 million to 5,300 years old, include Turkana Boy, the most complete Homo erectus yet discovered; Lapedo Child, a Paleolithic ritual burial; Kennewick Man, whose bones became the subject of a major legal battle; and the Iceman, which had skin as well as bones preserved under a glacier. Since each of the discoveries could merit an entire book, the coverage is at once tantalizing and frustrating. The authors, both professors, provide a narrative about each discovery, describe the process of studying the remains and discuss scientific debates about broad implications of the finds. They tackle large topics in too little space while also straining to add a conversational tone that sometimes falls flat. The study's strength is in the fascinating details and in its potential for inspiring readers to learn more. Unfortunately, suggestions for further reading are primarily books written for adults, although website recommendations are more helpful. Infrequent color photographs add information. (timeline, glossary, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 12-15)
Read an Excerpt
Most people think the dead are silent, but to an archaeologist they’re boisterous storytellers. Favorite tales come from remains thousands, even millions, of years old. Of course the dead don’t leap out of their graves and give away their secrets.
It takes scientists from every field imaginable to coax the details out of them. The stories are often garbled, and scientists don’t always agree about what the dead are saying. And then sometimes another find comes along with a different version of the story that changes everything.
A hundred years ago archaeologists were adventurers with a splash of scientist in their blood. They were driven to find things from the past—grand things, like treasures and kings. In the last century archaeology has changed dramatically. Today’s archaeologists are scientists first and foremost. They are driven to find out about things from the past—often ordinary things belonging to ordinary people.
These are the tales of four ordinary people—four hominins who lived long before recorded history.