Archeological Finds in the Ice Age
Waco Mammoth Site
Three fascinating books I've read recently helped me to know more about people from the past than any class in school or documentary I'd seen. Most documentaries talk about one or two archaeological digs, but these three books are overviews of lots of digs, so you get to understand what life was really like for stone age people.
Just recently, very close to us in the Central Texas area they have discovered tools which prove that people were living in North America at least 15,000 years ago, longer than most people had expected. Moreover, we also recently visited the Waco Mammoth Site, which has recently been designated a National Monument. The Waco Mammoth Site is one of the only ice age mammoth sites open to the public in the United States. It is also unusual because it has deposits which show a mass killing of many Mammoths, probably because of a mud slide, with a baby being cradled in the tusks of an adult. After visiting there with my family, I began to want to more know about the Mammoths and the people who saw these amazing creatures.
Waco Mammoth Site
What Were Mammoths Like?
What was it like to watch these enormous beasts migrating through the landscape? Did ice age people hunt these creatures? I realized I didn't really know very much about these people. Were Stone Age people like animals, living by instincts? Or were these people that lived 15,000 years ago more like us? Did they work together to solve problems with creativity and innovation? What was their culture like and how did they see the world? In searching for some answers, I came across three fabulous books that I devoured cover to cover and shared with my family. After reading these books, I felt like I really had a picture of stone age people and their environment.
Great Book About Mammoths
Mammoths: Giants of the Ice Age by Adrian Lister and Paul Bahn has fabulous pictures of actual archaeological finds of mammoths as well as many photos of mounted skeletons. It also includes beautiful pictures of sculptures and cave drawings of mammoths by ice age people. In addition, the book is full of diagrams and drawings of mammoths and the stone age people who lived with them.
Wonderful Art: The quality of the art and photos in the book makes this a valuable book even for children, who can learn a lot just by looking at the pictures and reading the captions or having parents read to them.
Fascinating Read: Even though the reading level of the book is definitely for the average reader, the book manages to be a really comprehensive history of mammoth evolution, behaviour, extinction, interaction with humans and the archaeological digs which have revealed this ancient history to us.
Information about Frozen Mammoths: I had heard about frozen mammoths being found in Siberia, but was unprepared to learn that thousands of mammoths are believed to be buried in the ice, with hundreds probably uncovered every year (although only a few are actually found and reported to archaeologists).
People who Lived Off of Frozen Mammoths: Moreover, there was a group of people living at Mezhirich in the Ukraine who apparently lived off of these frozen mammoths 18,000 years ago! They built huts using as many as 37 skulls, 95 lower jaws, and 35 tusks as well as many other bones!
Explains Science Clearly: One thing I really appreciated about this book is that it clearly explains how the scientists were able to make conclusions from their finds. For instance, archaeologists were able to conclude that these huts were made of scavenged bones from frozen mammoths rather than hunted mammoths because they determined the age of the bones in the huts varied by some 10,000 years. Details like this abound in the book and make this a truly comprehensive, though easily readable study.
Mammoth Book Reviewed
Great Gift for Archaeology Buffs
Discovery: Unearthing the New Treasures of Archaeology edited by Brian Fagan. The wonderful pictures and storytelling in this book makes it a great gift for anyone interested in discoveries or archeology. The pictures and storytelling method makes it accessible for even older children, but interesting enough for adults who love archeology too.
Comprehensive Book on New Archaeological Digs: Before reading this book, I had never realized how many different kinds of archaeological digs were taking place around the world. Discovery: Unearthing the New Treasures of Archaeology, edited by Brian Fagan, gives short two to four page reports from over sixty different recent archaeological digs from Egypt, Peru, North America, England, Africa and many other sites.
Written by Archaeologists for Average Person: What makes this book especially interesting is that each report is given by the archaeologists involved in the dig. The archaeologists are often an adventurous lot and the book records their adventures in underwater excavation, hikes (and getting lost) in the jungle, and racing against time to uncover ruins about to be covered by water from a new dam.
Great Storytelling Makes Great Reading: The first-person storytelling makes this book a great read, as well as giving the reader a picture of how archaeologist work to first find things, then uncover them and record what they find, and finally to determine what they can learn about the people who left these things behind.
Interesting Stories Keep Reader's Attention: One interesting story included is the search for the site of the lost city of the people who built the pyramids. Actually, I'd just been to the Mayborn Museum in Waco which has a traveling exhibit on this and other Egypt exhibitions this summer.
Fabulous Photos: Like the Mammoth book, the photos in this book are wonderful and would be interesting for kids to look at. In addition, my kids have loved to have the stories of these recent archaeological finds read to them. Because they are so short, they make great reading for kids.
Great for teaching Geography and History too: In addition, because these finds take place all around the world, this has been a good time for us to get out our world map in order to find out where these archaeological finds are located. I think this would be a terrific book for homeschooling or anyone who likes to teach their kids about history and archaeology.
Archeology Book Reviewed
Documentary Stone Age People
Stone Age People Book Review
Interesting Book about Stone Age People
Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age by Richard Rudgley is not a picture book, but it was perhaps the most fascinating to me of these three books because he really explains what we have learned about stone age people from archaeological digs.
Readable Book: Lost Civilizations is a very readable book and Rudgley does use diagrams, graphs and a few pictures to explain how archaeologists draw conclusions from things which mostly look like rocks to the rest of us. I really appreciated his readable explanations and the fact that he takes a lot of different discoveries and ties them together into a story.
Stone Age People like Us: Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age attempts to prove that stone age paleolithic people were actually a lot more civilized than we usually give them credit for being. Rudgley says the typical story that writing, culture and civilization emerged "suddenly" 5,000 years ago in Sumeria with cities, writing, art and culture fully developed. Instead, he suggests that the stone age people had started all of these developments earlier in the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age from earliest man to 10,500 years ago), the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age from 10, 500 to 10,000) and the Neolithic (New Stone Age from 10,000 to 5,000 years ago).
Teaches About Ancient People in an Interesting Way: Drawing on specific recent archaeological finds around the world, he goes through different categories of culture and talks about how these early people seem to have been more "cultured" and more like us than we usually realized. What I like is that he talks about each of the finds in a topical way, discussing the archaeological evidence for stone age people developing writing, counting. medicine, surgery, pyrotechnics, mining, art and religion.
Stone Age Miners: Particularly fascinating to me was the evidence of extensive mining for flint and chert. One site at Grimes Graves in Norfolk, Britain, has over 360 mine shafts dug down through three layers of flint to find the best quality of flint. In addition, these flint shafts were made into balls in order to extract the most flint possible. They estimated that at each mine the workers had to extract 800 to 1,000 tons of chalk and sand in order to finally reach the 8 tons of flint in each mine! They did this using picks made from antlers and probably some sort of leather bags to hold the dirt. They estimate more that 40,000 antler picks were used at this one site.
Stone Age Businessmen: Of course, this also is evidence of an extensive trade network, since the workers wouldn't have a reason to mine that much flint for themselves. All of this took place before the Bronze age! Other archaeological digs have shown mines for chert going back 30,000 years or more.
Stone Age People do Brain Surgery and More! Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age is full of many more fascinating tidbits of stone age life like the fact that stone age people did brain surgery, may have had elaborate calendar systems and had a developed technology of using ochre for painting. One final thing I appreciate about Rudgley's book is that he doesn't shy away from discussing controversial interpretations but also gives the reader both sides of the story so they can make up their own mind.
Learning about Stone Age people is facinating!
All three of these books have just whet my appetite for learning more about the past. On my bookshelf to read next are books about Ice Age Art and the California Indians. Look for more reviews soon!