Among the New Books

By James, N. | Antiquity, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Among the New Books


James, N., Antiquity


The environment

Environmental archaeology (details below) considers the `profound fracture ... between archaeologists dealing with the artefactual evidence and those engaged in the study of biological and geological remains' (p. 4). The editor opens by assessing several reasons for the division, including the distractions of `post-processualism' and the organization of teaching in universities. There follow 13 very interesting discussions from various points of view, some addressing each other helpfully, including S. Roskams & T. Saunders piling in with marxism against post-processualism, T. O'Connor exchanging with the offer of an anthropological approach from Y. Hamilakis, and G. Hughes, A. Hammon, R. Roseff and P. Graves-Brown on the situation of fieldwork for rural and urban development. Then there are seven sets of case studies (and commentaries) from around the world, including R. Shiel on `using religious belief to derive environmental information'. G. Barker rounds off the proceedings with reflections on the issues. They are, indeed, very substantial; but they cannot be resolved without a clearer notion of what all the archaeology is for anyway. Dr Hamilakis was sniffing about in the right direction; but a yet broader view of the `data' is needed. The solution could, indeed, come from university: archaeology needs to be taught as a science directed by anthropological agendas.

UMBERTO ALBARELLA (ed.). Environmental archaeology: meaning and purpose, x+324 pages, 34 figures, 3 tables. 2001. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic; 0-7923-6763-4 hardback 80 [pounds sterling], 118 [European Dollar] & US$125.

SING C. CHEW. World ecological degradation: accumulation, urbanization, and deforestation, 3000 BC-AD 2000. ix+217 pages, 12 figures, 4 tables. 2001. Walnut Creek (CA): Altamira; 0-7591-0030-6 hardback $62,0-7591-0031-4 paperback $24.95.

Mr CHEW recounts how regions of the world have been undone in six ages: that of Mesopotamia and Harappa; that of the Minoans and Mycenaeans (described at some relative length) and then those of Classical Greece and (exploiters, he explains, but also restorers) the Romans; the turns of China and Southeast Asia and of western Europe, AD 500-1800; and then, `Europe at the helm', during the last two centuries. He concludes with a chapter on `ecological consciousness and social movements' since 2700 BC. Plenty of references are provided but -- small wonder -- the story is very compressed. Following the Mycenaean period, for instance, `pottery styles became austere, unlike the decadent style of the prior era ... The lack of intense firing suggests ... dwindling energy supplies. As recovery proceeded ... we find the plain ... designs giving way to images depicting animals and humans' (p. 60).

DAVID W. WOLFE. Tales from the underground: a natural history of subterranean life. xi+221 pages, 32 figures. 2001. Cambridge (MA): Perseus; 0-7382-0128-6 hardback $26.

Every archaeologist -- and everyone else -- will enjoy Dr WOLFE'S fascinating and very readable account of the life, the physics and the chemistry of soil and of the history of research and of human abuse. There are nearly a billion bacteria per gramme of earth near the surface of (temperate, presumably) soil! Congratulations to Perseus on such a thoroughly enlightening, well-designed and well-bound little book; and see their The dragon seekers (`Note too', below).

Middle & Near East

RAINER MICHAEL BOEHMER. Uruk: fruheste Siegelabrollungen (Ausgrabungen in Uruk-Warka Endberichte 24). xii+319 pages, 159 figures, 2 tables. 1999. Mainz: Phillip yon Zabern; 3-8053-1901-0 hardback DM198 & 101.24 [European Dollar].

Prof. BOEHMER reports on the earliest cylinder seals and sealings recovered in the great long-running German excavations at Uruk (Warka). First, the finds from the Eanna temple complex are described, in historical groups (Uruk V, IVb, IVa) with attention to contexts and to the respective pictorial themes. …

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