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Sunday, February 5th, 2006

Time Event
4:44a
Another book ...
Just as the last book reviewed here was a sort of a collection of stories of scientists whose work built up our present understanding of "universality", this is a look at some of the major archaeological discoveries of the past couple of hundred years that have shaped our understanding of human history.

Lawrence H. Robbins wrote Stones, Bones, and Ancient Cities as an over-view text for his intro college courses. In it he looks at the research into the evolution of homo sapiens from previous ancestors, early man's rock/cave art from around the world, the development of burials (from early Neandertals to Tutankhamen), the search for lost cities (Troy, Pompeii, Machu Picchu, etc.), underwater archaeology (from the depths fo Chichen Itza's "well of sacrifice" to raising Henry VIII's Mary Rose), how astronomical concepts fit into cultures (from Stonehenge to Chaco Canyon), and how written records have opened up windows into the past. In this he outlines the contributions of dozens of adventurers and archaeologists, both professional and amateur. Many of the stories focus on "mavericks" whose theories were far outside of the scientific mainstream of their day ... or, as he writes of Champollion (translator of the Rosetta Stone) "(he) fit the mold of other scholarly pioneers ... who, through exceptional dedication to an elusive goal, were able to fulfill their youthful dreams" (as several of the people profiled had been inspired early by reading myths or histories).

Unlike James Trefil's Reading the Mind of God, however, Robbins' Stones, Bones, and Ancient Cities dosen't "build" to a central concept, but skips around from type of research to type of research, which, while informative on a point-by-point basis, does feel slightly aimless. Ultimately, though, there was little in this that I had not encountered before in other reading, so perhaps its intent as a "primer" for the uninformed led to my lack of enthusiasm for it.

Frankly, I "stumbled across" Stones, Bones, and Ancient Cities on one of my to-be-read shelves while doing some tidying up for the logging in of my LibraryThing catalog, and I only "slotted it in" my reading queue because it had the "structural similarity" to the previous book (I actually am "in" a couple of other books at the moment as well, but thought that this would be an interesting follow-up to the previous reviewed volume). Unfortunately, the "drag factor" in this has made me question the follow-up books I had been planning on getting into, so might have to veer off into some "other directions" for a while to give the "science history" parts of my brain a breather!

Anyway, unlike many of the sitting-on-the-shelf-for-10-years books I've reviewed here, this one is still in print (probably due to being used in college courses) in a paperback edition ... although you could get a copy of this hardcover one via Amazon's "new & used" listings for a couple of bucks were you interested in checking it out.


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