Review: Archaeology of the Night

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Archaeology of the Night: life after dark in the ancient world
Nancy Gonlin and April Nowell (eds)
University Press of Colorado, $75
ISBN 978-1607326779
Review by: Lucia Marchini

With easy access in modern homes to instant illumination and streetlights a common feature in the outside world, it can be difficult to relate to how people in antiquity experienced the night. But, just like our ancestors, most of us spend the night at home. Household archaeology, then, can shed some light on how people lived through the night in the past, and how they set about the essential activity of sleep. Most cultures have artefacts that can easily be associated with the night or sleep, such as Classic Maya benches and mats; by looking at these we can observe practices like co-residence.

Arguing that most archaeology focuses on daytime activities, the book draws from a range of sites across the globe to show the astonishing diversity of nocturnal activities. The night is not all about sleep, visits to brothels, and witchcraft; there is still work to be done, particularly in agriculture, and in Oman even today the night continues to be the preferred time for water distribution. Other modern case studies appear in this insightful book, such as 18th- and 19th-century Bahamian plantations, where the dark night offered enslaved peoples a chance to enjoy forbidden activities.

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