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Written in Bones: How Human Remains Unlock the Secrets of the Dead [Paperback]

Paul Bahn
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 1 2003

Written in Bones brings together a team of international experts to show how the careful study of bones reveals a compelling picture of the lives, cultures, and beliefs of ancient societies from around the world.

This compelling and scientifically-accessible book:

  • Provides 38 case studies examining the discoveries at archeological sites
  • Introduces readers to ancient peoples
  • Includes more than 350 color photographs

Human remains tell us much about how our ancestors lived and died. In Written in Bones, significant discoveries are carefully brought together and analyzed. Readers learn how experts use modern scientific techniques to piece together the stories behind the bones. The data is used to create a picture of cultures and ritual beliefs. There are such astonishing discoveries as:

  • Han Dynasty aristocrat preserved in an unknown red liquid
  • Bog bodies in Europe
  • The riddle of Tomb KV55 - where a male body was found inside a female coffin
  • World's oldest dwarf
  • The headless men and giant wolves of the Mesolithic cemetery in Siberia


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Review

An excellent survey of the postmortem identification and interpretation of human remains... the text is complimented by beautiful color photographs. (Nikki Rogers Science Books and Films 2004-09-15)

Perfect for general readers interested in this fascinating topic... accessible to a wide range of readers. (Kymberly Goodson E-Streams 2003-12-00)

Grisly, gross and utterly compelling ... with 250 color photographs, you may find it hard to put this down. (Greensburg Tribune-Review 2003-02-09)

Well-written... tapestry of science and history will both motivate and challenge readers, it shows how science and history are inseparable. (Charles C. James The Science Teacher 2003-09-00)

A very comprehensive book on the interesting fate of human remains... an informative and fun read. (Sara J.M. Yoshida Canadian Society of Forensic Science Journal 2004-03-00)

About the Author

Paul Bahn, Ph.D. studied archeology at Cambridge University. For this book he worked with a team of 16 contributors from universities around the world. His numerous books, written alone or with a co-author, include Ancient Places, Images of the Ice Age, Journey through the Ice Age and The Cambridge Illustrated History of Archaeology, Tombs, Games and Mummies.


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In addition to the ongoing fascination with the peculiarities of burial ceremonies and mummification, the matter of how life was actually lived in bygone times is a compelling and informative aspect of archaeological discovery. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great introductory book Oct. 19 2003
Format:Paperback
As an introductory book to archeology and anthropology, this book is without peer. It's individual case studies are detailed enough to spark interest, but short enough not to bog down in details. There are lots of color photographs so the reader can see what the writer is trying to describe. The case studies cover many different parts of the world, including some that one doesn't readily connect with archeology, and many time periods, from 1.5 million years ago to a couple of hundred years ago.
From these case studies one can begin to understand how ancient bodies are yielding their secrets to forensic science. Each case study produces more revelations. For me one of the most amazing was "The Wife of the Marquis of Dai" who died in China some 160 years before the birth of Christ. Her body is almost perfectly preserved and it has been discovered that she suffered from about 10 diseases, including tuberculosis, but that she died from a heart attack due to overeating.
I found this book a delight. I've always been impressed by the way forensic anthropologists can sample, analyze and deduce human stories from these ancient bones. This book presents the results in a very readable fashion and should help to create wider interest and understanding of this fascinating topic.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great introductory book Oct. 19 2003
Format:Paperback
As an introductory book to archeology and anthropology, this book is without peer. It's individual case studies are detailed enough to spark interest, but short enough not to bog down in details. There are lots of color photographs so the reader can see what the writer is trying to describe. The case studies cover many different parts of the world, including some that one doesn't readily connect with archeology, and many time periods, from 1.5 million years ago to a couple of hundred years ago.
From these case studies one can begin to understand how ancient bodies are yielding their secrets to forensic science. Each case study produces more revelations. For me one of the most amazing was "The Wife of the Marquis of Dai" who died in China some 160 years before the birth of Christ. Her body is almost perfectly preserved and it has been discovered that she suffered from about 10 diseases, including tuberculosis, but that she died from a heart attack due to overeating.
I found this book a delight. I've always been impressed by the way forensic anthropologists can sample, analyze and deduce human stories from these ancient bones. This book presents the results in a very readable fashion and should help to create wider interest and understanding of this fascinating topic.
Was this review helpful to you?
4.0 out of 5 stars Broad-based regionally and by period Aug. 24 2003
Format:Paperback
Written in Bones is a multi-authored volume of articles edited by Paul Bahn, who coauthored along with Colin Renfrew my favorite book on archaeology, Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. I had therefore expected something a little more cutting edge in this department and so was a little disappointed. Other readers will probably not be. As with any book with several authors the quality of the writing varies from chapter to chapter according to the abilities of the various sources. In some instances the word choices and grammar suggested that a foreign language speaker or his translator had make an awkward word selection, in others it might have been an editing failure, but the overall style is very lucid and rapidly read. I took about an afternoon to read it.
Some of the material was already known to me from other sources; other information was new and fun to read. Because most of my study has been conducted in ancient history, in particular the Near East, Greece and Rome, I found the studies of modern remains and those in Chinese and Andean sites were of more interest.
Vilnius and the Ghosts of the Grande Armee was particularly arresting, describing as it does the tragic fate of the bulk of Napoleon's army during his ill-conceived Russian campaign. High-mountain Inca Sacrifices updated me on the discovery and examination of the freeze-dried remains of children sacrificed in the Andes Mountains. The find given the name Juanita was known to me, but much research has been done since her discovery almost a decade ago.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, But a Little Dry June 29 2003
Format:Paperback
"Written in Bones" explains what human remains can tell us about how people lived in the distant past. The book covers natural deaths, deliberate deaths (murders and massacres), burials, mummies and mummifications, as well as how ancient people lived and what they ate, all in 36 chapters. Each chapter is an article written by an expert on the subject, with editor Paul Bahn supplying the overall organization and continuity.
Because the chapters are written by different authors, they vary substantially in quality. Some are well-written and provide a context for the stories they tell; others are fairly dry and look as though they were based on academic articles with the footnotes removed. On the whole, however, the book is fascinating-- at times, it's even graphic and unsettling, especially when it deals with child sacrifice, murder, mayhem and (to the modern mind) rather bizarre burial practices.
If you are interested in the subjects covered by this book, here are a few other recommendations: Chamberlain & Pearson, "Earthly Remains: The History and Science of Preserved Bodies" (2002); David & Archbold, "Conversations with Mummies" (2000); Wilson, "Past Lives: Unlocking the Secrets of Our Ancestors" (2001); and Richards, "Meet the Ancestors." I found the last two of these books to be especially fascinating, because they devote a substantial amount of space to showing what the owners of the excavated skeletons would have looked like in life (something that "Written in Bones" does only in a few chapters).
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