Better late than never, right? I’m sneaking in this Spring 2017 reading list at the end of the season because I’ve been slow to catch up on reading. As always, send your comments and recommendations for next season’s list!
Built on Bones: 15,000 Years of Urban Life and Death
by Brenna Hassett
Archaeologist, Brenna Hassett, guides readers forward through time from the past 15,000 years of human settlement. Starting with Terminal Pleistocene hunter-gatherers, Hassett explores how death is expressed through the material remains of settlements. This story changes as she follows different cultures and places through time, and new ways of expressing death emerge with each culture. This is a fascinating read that concisely covers a heady subject central to the study of archaeology. Follow Brenna Hassett on Twitter (@brennawalks), as her tweets are also must-reads.
by Aziz Ansari
Ok, ok. Hear me out. I know this isn’t archaeology, but this book from actor/comedian Aziz Ansari is a brilliant spin on ethnographic research. Ansari takes qualitative and quantitative data from dating websites/apps, surveys, interviews, and research from anthropologists, psychologists, and other researchers, and applies it to modern pair bonding in a generational study. How do millennial relationships differ from baby boomers? How have dating apps and websites changed the way we find mates? How does settlement behavior differ in urban landscapes across the past century? What could be more important in choosing a partner than a strong mustache and a love of donuts? These are all anthropological questions at the core, but delivered with the wit and humor only Aziz Ansari can craft. It’s a must read.
Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History
by Bill Schutt
Biologist Bill Schutt takes a comprehensive study of the taboo practice of cannibalism with the premise that it is a “natural” practice. This is an interesting read that explores different examples of human cannibalism practices throughout time (though at times it falls into the naturalistic fallacy – attributing non-human animal behavior to humans and vice versa). Schutt cites population pressures such as resource scarcity, overpopulation, crowding, and global climate change as factors that lead various species to practice cannibal behavior.
Why Preservation Matters
by Max Page
This critical addition to the “Why X Matters” series celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) by exploring how preservation can be used to fight inequality and gentrification. This critique of the dominant development philosophy in the United States might ruffle some feathers in its condemnation of unsustainable, expansionist settlement organization, but I think archaeologists will eventually come to internalize Page’s message in their practice of the discipline.
The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
by David Grann
In 1925, Colonel Percy Fawcett, his 21-year-old son Jack, and one of his son’s friends ventured deep into an unmapped region of the Amazon to find the fabled city of El Dorado. They were never heard from again, but their expedition was the catalyst for the period of colonial expeditions in the global south that resulted in the development of archaeology as the discipline we know it as today. This historical nonfiction follows the accounts of famed British explorer, Percy Fawcett, and his ill-fated expedition to find “The Lost City of Z” in the Amazon. Author David Grann used Fawcett’s unpublished journals, historical publications, and ethnographic records to piece together the final journey of the “Last Individualist Explorer” in 1925. In the height of the British Colonial period, many ventured into indigenous lands around the planet seeking glory and riches for queen and country, often costing their own lives and the lives of countless native peoples. Fawcett’s obsession with finding The Lost City of Z ultimately cost him and his crew their lives, but archaeologists later revealed that there was in fact a large ancient site in the vicinity of his expedition. This tale goes deep into the mind of a man who was, in hindsight, a spearhead for archaeology’s legacy of colonialism and exploitative material appropriation. While this book does at times take an uncritical approach that glorifies the treasure hunter phase of our field’s history, it is important to read, but keep a critical mind.
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