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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


World Prehistory: A Brief Introduction (6th Edition) by Brian M. Fagan (Pearson Prentice Hall)

Three thousand, four thousand years maybe, have passed and gone since human feet last trod the floor on which you stand, and yet, as you note the signs of recent life around you – the half-filled bowl of mortar for the door, the blackened`lamp, the finger-mark on the freshly painted surface, the farewell garland dropped on the threshold – you feel it might have been but yesterday.... Time is annihilated by little intimate details such as these, and you feel an intruder. – Egyptologist Howard Carter, notebook entry on Tutankhamun's tomb, November 26, 1922

Golden pharaohs, lost cities, grinning human skeletons: Archaeology is the stuff of romance and legend.

Many people still think of archaeologists as adventurers and treasure hunters, like Indiana Jones of Hollywood movie fame seeking the elusive Holy Grail. Today, few, if any, archaeologists`behave like Indiana Jones. They are scientists, not adventurers, as comfortable in an air-conditioned laboratory as they are on a remote excavation. The development of scientific archaeology from its Victorian beginnings, ranks among the greatest triumphs of twentieth-century science.

Archaeology has changed our understanding of the human experience in profound ways. A century ago, most scientists believed humans were no more than 100,000 years old. Today we know that our origins go back at least 5 million years. Our predecessors assumed the Americas were settled in about 8000 B.C. and that farming began around 4000 B.C. New excavations date the first Americans to at least 12,000 B.C. and the begin­nings of agriculture to about 10,000 B.C. Most important, archaeology has changed our perceptions of ourselves, especially of our biological and cultural diversity.
Written by one of the leading archaeological writers in the world, Brian Fagan, University of California, Santa Barbara – in a simple, jargon-free narrative style – World Prehistory is a brief, well-illustrated account of the major developments in the human past (from the origins of humanity to the origins of literate civilization), ideal for those with no previous knowledge of the subject. State of the art in content and perspective, the book covers the entire world (not just the Americas or Europe ), placing major emphasis on both theories and the latest M archaeological and multidisciplinary approaches. The main focus is on four major developments – the origins of humanity; the appearance and spread of modern humans before and during the late Ice Age, including the first settlement of the Americas ; the beginnings of food production; and the rise of the first civilizations. World Prehistory features special boxes on Science (e.g., key dating methods and other scientific approaches), Sites (e.g., sites of unusual importance or interest, and Voices (e.g., quotes from writings of ancient times). Chapters include:

  • Human Origins
  • African Exodus
  • Diaspora
  • The Origins of Food Production
  • The Earliest Farmers
  • Chiefs and Chiefdoms
  • State-Organized Societies
  • Mesopotamia and the Eastern Mediterranean World
  • Egypt and Africa
  • South, Southeast, and East Asia
  • Lowland Mesoamerica
  • Highland Mesoamerica
  • Andean Civilizations

The Sixth Edition of World Prehistory has been edited to reflect the latest advances in the field based on suggestions of archaeologists and students. It contains important new dis­coveries about early human evolution, the late Ice Age, and the origins of agriculture. There is an up-to-date Guide to Further Reading at the end of the book along with a glossary of technical terms and one of archaeological sites and cultural names. Additions include:

  • New perceptions of world prehistory. Chapter 1 includes important discussions of archaeology and alternative perspectives on the past, reflecting new thinking on this topic.
  • Early human evolution. Chapter 2 discusses the latest advances in the study of human origins, including the latest fossil discoveries in Ethiopia and Kenya, among them Sahelanthropus tchadensis and Australopithecus garhi.
  • Origins of modern humans. Chapter 3 covers new research into the controversial issue of the earliest modern humans and perceptions of Neanderthal ances­try and behavior.
  • Origins of food production. Chapter 5 incorporates expanded coverage of the latest theories on the origins of agriculture and animal domestication. Chapter 6, which describes the first farmers, incorporates new dates for early agriculture obtained from accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dates and the results of new research in eastern Turkey, where some of the earliest farming settlements in the world are being found.
  • Origins of states and civilization. Chapter 8 includes current theoretical debates on the origins of state-organized societies, including the issues of factionalism and charismatic leadership. Chapters 9 to 14 offer an up-to-date description and analysis of the first civilizations, with expanded coverage of ancient Egyptian civ­ilization and of South and Southeast Asian states. Chapters 12 and 13 offer more comprehensive analysis of highland and lowland Mesoamerican civilizations than in previous editions.
  • The sixth edition's art program has been revised with new photographs and art to provide additional background on recent discoveries, amplify the narrative, or replace older art with new pictures.
  • For each chapter in the text, the Instructor’s Manual provides a de­tailed outline, list of objectives, discussion questions, classroom activities, and additional resources. The test bank includes multiple choice, true-false, and essay questions for each chapter.
  • The Companion Website works in tandem with the text; students and professors can now take full advantage of the World Wide Web to enrich their study of archaeology. The Fagan Companion Website correlates the text with related material available on the Internet. Features of the Companion Website include chapter objectives and study questions, as well as links to interesting material and information from other sites on the Web that can reinforce and enhance the content of each chapter.

Complete with extensive help with the research process and Research Navigator, three exclusive databases of credible and reliable source mater­ial, including EBSCO's ContentSelectTM Academic Journal Data­base, The New York Times Search-by-Subject Archive, and Best of the Web Link Library, Research Navigator helps students quickly and efficiently make the most of their research time.

The sixth edition of World Prehistory continues its tradition of providing an interesting, jargon-free journey through the 5-million-year-old landscape of the human past. Complete,`up-to-date, research based, yet succinct, World Prehistory is for anyone interested in archaeology, world prehistory, and human antiquity.  

The Proto-Neolithic Cemetery in Shanidar Cave by Ralph S. Solecki, Rose L. Solecki, & Anagnostis P. Agelarakis (Texas A & M University Anthropology Series: Texas A&M University Press) Archaeologists the world over breathed sighs of relief in April of 2003 when it was announced that of the three thousand artifacts looted from Baghdad's Iraq Museum, the prehistoric skulls and bones recovered from Shanidar Cave, which represented some of the earliest human ancestors found in the Middle East, remained safe and untouched.

One of the real-life inspirations for Jean Auel's popular 1970s novel, The Clan of the Cave Bear, Shanidar Cave, discovered in 1951 by Ralph S. Solecki and his research team, lies nestled in the Baradost Mountains about four hundred kilometers north of Baghdad and is the only prehistoric cemetery site east of the Mediterranean.

Long-awaited by anthropologists, The Proto-Neolithic Cemetery in Shanidar Cave systematically catalogs the thirty-five human skeletons, 26 burials and associated funerary artifacts excavated during the 1950s and 1960s. Other cave contents included stone tools, bone tools, gastropod shells, and animal teeth, all offering new evidence about the culture, agriculture, and trade of these people of the ninth millenium B.C. Although Shanidar Cave lies out of the main trade routes, its inhabitants maintained contact with distant areas in order to obtain obsidian, bitumen adhesive, exotic stones for beads, and other material. Because of this, cultural, social, economic, and religious customs were also being diffused throughout the area, heralding the "Neolithic Revolution."

According to the authors, Ralph S. Solecki, professor emeritus at Columbia University in New York City, Rose L. Solecki, research associate at Columbia University and Anagnostis P. Agelarakis, professor of Anthropology and director of the Environmental Studies Program at Adelphi University, "This was a period of significant cultural change in the Near East," ... and "thus adds a new geographic perspective to an investigation long dominated by the data and findings from the more extensively studied Levant area to the west. It also furnishes a new overview of the prehistory of Mesopotamia. The human skeletal samples recovered from the cemetery located to the rear of Shanidar Cave likewise represent a unique population data set, providing new insights into the population of the Near East at a time of transition from an earlier hunting and gathering way of life to a full Neolithic one, dependent on domesticated plants and animals."

In addition to detailed diagrams, maps, figures, and tables showing the layout and contents of Shanidar Cave, the authors compare these prehistoric funeral practices with those of the Levant, discuss cultural developments in the Near East, and analyze the Proto-Neolithic human condition based on osteological research of bones and possible causes of death.

Shanidar Cave has been inaccessible to archaeologists since 1961 because of political developments in Iraq, and as events in the Middle East currently stand, it's unlikely excavation work will resume even in the distant future. At such a time, when even museums are victimized, the rare artifacts described within the pages of The Proto-Neolithic Cemetery in Shanidar Cave take on even greater value and significance.

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