The Great Paleolithic War
by David J Meltzer
It all started with a simple, but extremely contentious, question: were humans present in the Americas during the Pleistocene? Before Ice Age people were confirmed in Europe during the 1850s, few scholars ventured such bold proclamations. But, with the location of a few stone tools and skeletal remains, historical order on both sides of the pond was suddenly up for debate. What if the New World were actually the old? Meltzer’s incomparable volume serves as the ultimate biography of this intellectual controversy, chronicling the empirical, methodological, and theoretical revelations – and the resulting fusion of ego, intimidation tactics, and competition – that characterised the field of American archaeology for generations. Between easily digestible descriptions of critical sites and disciplinary development, Meltzer injects previously unknown excerpts from the journals and notebooks of the key actors, adding an insightful touch of humanity often lacking in broad scientific histories. In one excellent example, the author describes the rich fossil beds of Varo, Florida, and the nearly fatal journey there of one elderly researcher during his final quest to support his hypotheses and to cast stones on the grave of a long-dead rival colleague. The book will appeal, therefore, to anyone interested in the origins of humankind, the modern establishments of American archaeology, or, simply, what chaos ensues when people’s life-works come under siege.
The Routledge Handbook of Archaeology and Globalization
by Tamar Hodos (ed.)
One of the great buzzwords of the last half-century has been ‘globalisation’, commonly used to describe an increasing sense of world connectivity, a constantly accelerating interdependence of corporations, nations, and people, spurred on by the modern technological landscape of fast internet, budget flights, and spinning satellites. But how new is globalisation? This is the question posed by the most recent addition to the Routledge Handbook collection: the first to explicitly apply the lens of globalisation to world archaeology. The resulting work is a collaborative triumph covering over 12,000 years of human history through a range of global case-studies. Refreshingly, the book forgoes the type of synthetic narratives usually associated with archaeological handbooks, instead presenting a series of vignettes, many of which represent fresh engagements of burgeoning theoretical concepts with lesser-known geographic arenas. Whatever your flavour – meandering Mycenaeans or Melanesian maritime middlemen – there is a chapter certain to engage established interests and likely dozens more to expand on them. For readers not deeply entrenched in globalisation frameworks, the chapters at the bookends provide excellent introductions and reflections on the subject of what is and is not globalisation. The only major criticism of this important (and expensive) volume is that a book focused on the forces that bind us might itself be better bound.
John Henry Haynes: A Photographer and Archaeologist in the Ottoman Empire 1881-1900
by Robert G Ousterhout
Haynes is almost unknown today, yet he can be regarded as the father of American archaeological photography. In this book, Ousterhout rediscovers the career of a forgotten pioneer, assessing Haynes’s unique aesthetic – a blend of landscape-art traditions and scientific documentation – and unearthing previously unpublished work from the photographer’s odyssey across the Ottoman Empire. The snapshots are downright stunning at times, and include remarkable visuals of unplundered ancient monuments in a late 19th-century rural expanse. The book is best paired with the contemporarily released collection (available from the same publisher) of Haynes’s photographs of Palmyra in 1885, even more poignant given recent events.
Vikings at War
by Kim Hjardar and Vegard Vike
The photo of a helmeted man glowering from the dust jacket may be a nod to one of the authors, who heads Norway’s largest and oldest Viking re-enactment society, but it is also a perfect example of why you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – for this is an academically astute volume crammed with detail presented in an easily accessible style. Though it concentrates on the familiar version of the Viking as warrior, it also includes much broader aspects of Viking life, from the role of women to Norse mythology, ritual, and burial. Well illustrated with excellent maps, drawings, and photos, it deserves a place on the bookshelf of any Viking enthusiast.
The Archaeology of Malta: from the Neolithic through the Roman Period
by Claudia Sagona
This academic but engagingly written volume covers over 5,500 years of human activity on Malta from the arrival of Neolithic temple-builders to the followers of Mithras, a cult popular with Roman soldiers. The islands were a powerful magnet, attracting visitors across the Mediterranean who left a legacy of cultural diversity. Sagona examines the impact of each of them, whether exploitation of land by Neolithic pioneers, or the persistence of Punic cultural practice long after the fall of Carthage. Though aimed at the scholar rather than the traveller, the comprehensive gazetteer of sites will prove useful for both.
These reviews appear in CWA 81. Read on in the magazine or click here to subscribe.