The Molecule Hunt: Archaeology and the Search for Ancient DNA

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"A revolution is underway in archaeology. For the first time the molecular record of past life, entombed for millennia in archaeological and geological material, has become widely accessible to science. Miraculous-seeming techniques now allow ancient remains to speak volumes about a past we thought lost." For twenty-five years, Martin Jones's work has involved shifting the emphasis within archaeology from inert material objects to fragments of the living, breathing past. The Molecule Hunt uses Jones's perspective at the forefront of
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Overview

"A revolution is underway in archaeology. For the first time the molecular record of past life, entombed for millennia in archaeological and geological material, has become widely accessible to science. Miraculous-seeming techniques now allow ancient remains to speak volumes about a past we thought lost." For twenty-five years, Martin Jones's work has involved shifting the emphasis within archaeology from inert material objects to fragments of the living, breathing past. The Molecule Hunt uses Jones's perspective at the forefront of bio-archaeology to show how pioneering science is rewriting human history.
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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
Jones (archaeological science, Cambridge U.) recounts the history and findings of the new field of bio-archaeology, perhaps best known for its discovery of the mitochodrial "Eve," the ancestor of all humans. Bio-archaeology uses the analysis of DNA traces to determine what people ate, what people hunted, how they cooked, and how long ago humans domesticated various animals. Jones not only discusses the growth of the field, but also explains some of the basics of the science it is based upon. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
An engaging and well-written account of the scientific underpinnings that inspired Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. While much of Crichton's novel remains speculative, the science behind it and the ongoing search for ancient fragments of DNA are quite real disciplines, and Jones (Archaeological Science/Cambridge Univ.; chairman/International Ancient Biomolecule Initiative, also at Cambridge) has been at the forefront of their development. Back in the 1960s, as an unmoderated dialogue between archaeology and biology was just beginning, Jones was slogging through Somerset fields with shovel and wheelbarrow, remarking that "the past is dirty, sticky, tactile, and quite often smelly." His account of this period, at the inception of the science of bio-archaeology, is as beguiling as any fiction writer's and is leavened with a good deal of wit. At times, Jones's recounting of the gradually unfolding tale of the maturation of this new field reads like a piece of good detective fiction. Even when relating some of the normally dry-as-dust internecine squabbles between rival academics at Oxford and Cambridge, the author's observations are apt and very nearly poetic. Comparing one scholar's "mining" of a vast global data-set to another's concentration on a single short segment of the DNA molecule, Jones draws an analogy to the understanding of flight, stating that one scientist was "looking across the skies at a multitude of airborne forms, while the other was dissecting the wing of an individual bird." While the questionable goal of replicating dinosaurs remains a long way off, in the meantime the new science has been responsible for removing most of the obstacles in the way of examining a "livingprehistory" in intimate detail. The coarser tools of the archaeologist's trade been have replaced with the sieve and the float, and the residue that was once scraped and toothbrushed from artifacts now yields fascinating data and insights into what it was like to be human in the long ages before civilization. Thanks to elegant prose and straightforward approach, the "hard science" in this tale of bio-archaeology's coming of age remains well within the grasp of the layman.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780713994230
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/1/2001
  • Pages: 279

Table of Contents

acknowledgements
1 a different kind of past 1
2 the quest for ancient DNA 11
3 our curious cousins 39
4 final traces of life 65
5 gaining control 79
6 ending the chase 109
7 great journeys 131
8 beyond DNA 164
9 friends and relations 195
10 enemies within 217
11 the hunt goes on 234
references 241
index 265
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