The book in this review (below) looks like an interesting read it's an
interesting combination of fact, prehistoric archaeology, speculation, and
"Just a Lonesome Traveler, the Great Historical Bum" Douglas K. Charles After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5000 B.C. Steven Mithen. xvi + 622 pp. Harvard University Press, 2004. $29.95
After the Ice offers a fascinating whirlwind tour of an underappreciated segment of human history. Author Steven Mithen, professor of early prehistory and head of the School of Human and Environmental Sciences at the University of Reading, has created a complex, multilayered account of life from 20,000 to 5000 B.C., during the late Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods.
The seeming highlights of the rise of Homo sapiens are well-known: the appearance of anatomically modern Homo sapiens in Africa sometime around 150,000 years ago, and our species' subsequent expansion out of Africa; replacement of the Neandertals in Europe by Cro-Magnons; the production of the spectacular cave art that followed in the same region; and the domestication of plants and animals in the Near East, leading to writing and the first appearances of urban life. But this is not the story that Mithen tells.
Before the end of the Upper Paleolithic, the world endured the last major ice advance, which peaked around 22,000 years ago at the Last Glacial Maximum. It is in those trying times that Mithen begins his history, documenting how our ancestors managed to survive-and even prosper-and setting the stage for the rapid cultural developments that followed the end of the Ice Age nearly 12,000 years ago. At that point, around the time of the transition from the Pleistocene to the Holocene, a rapid warming began the shift toward modern climatic conditions. Farming, towns and civilizations originated over the next 5,000 years. By 5000 B.C., Mithen tells us, "the foundations of the modern world had been laid and nothing that came after-classical Greece, the Industrial Revolution, the atomic age, the Internet-has ever matched the significance of those events."
Mithen develops his narrative by weaving together four threads. Guiding us across space and time is John Lubbock, a fictional modern time traveler Mithen has created, who is named for the 19th-century polymath who wrote the classic Prehistoric Times. Through the experiences of the 21st-century Lubbock, Mithen (re)constructs the appearance and actions of the people and the sights, sounds and smells of various locations-in sum, aspects of life that an ethnographer might record but archaeologists can only imagine. At 10,800 B.C., Lubbock visits the site of Pedra Pintada in the Amazon basin, which until recently was assumed to have been uninhabited for at least another 6,000 years after that time:
In the cave's airy interior there are at least ten people standing in a circle admiring the catch. They wear few clothes and are reminiscent of today's Amazonian Indians-stout, with copper skins, straight black hair and elegantly painted faces. The floor is covered with mats made from enormous leaves; there are baskets and bags stacked along a wall; spears, fishing rods and harpoons are propped in a corner. Wooden bowls at the rear of the cave contain lumps of red pigment that have been crushed and mixed with water. Along another wall there are bundles of soft grass, tied with plant fibres into cushions. In the middle, a small smouldering fireplace next to which the fish lies magnificently on the ground.
A woman crouches and with a stone knife removes the fish's head. This is offered to a young man, the fish bearer, who takes it with a grin. He sucks at each eyesocket in turn while blood and juices trickle down his chest. With that preliminary over, the fish is taken outside and gutted.
Lubbock spends the next few days with the people of Pedra Pintada, helping to gather freshwater mussels and collecting a bewildering assortment of fruits, nuts, roots and leaves. . . .
Full Text at American Scientist http://www.americanscientist.org/BookReviewTypeDetail/assetid/42352
To unsubscribe from this list send a blank Email to bksvol-discuss-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx put the word 'unsubscribe' by itself in the subject line. To get a list of available commands, put the word 'help' by itself in the subject line.