New Book Chronicle

Article excerpt

Invitation to the voyage

One of the fleeting pleasures of being Reviews Editor at Antiquity is opening parcels. Publishers daily send exciting dispatches from the four corners of the world, and too few books, albeit a respectable proportion, make it into the reviews section. The opportunity, and distraction, of reading out of pure curiosity is always present. In this chronicle I propose to take fellow readers and procrastinators on an express transcontinental tour from the luxe, calme et volupte of a deep armchair.

... in western and central Asia

THOMAS E. LEVY. Journey to the Copper Age: archaeology in the Holy Land. 112 pages, over 100 colour illustrations. 2007. San Diego (CA): San Diego Museum of Man; 978-0-9378-0883-2 paperback.

GAJUS SCHELTHEMA. Megalithic Jordan: an introduction and field guide (American Center of Oriental Research Occasional Publication 6). 142 pages, 85 b&w & colour illustrations. 2008. Amman, Jordan: American Center of Oriental Research; 978-99578543-3-1 paperback $35.

GEORGE MICHELL, MARIKA VICZIANY & TSUI YEN HU, photographs by JOHN GOLLINGS. Kashgar: oasis city on China's old Silk Road. 160 pages, numerous colour illustrations. 2008. London: Frances Lincoln; 978-0-7112-2913-6 hardback 25 [pounds sterling] & $50.

WILLIAM N. MORGAN. Earth architecture from ancient to modern, xx+ 186 pages, 175 b&w & colour illustrations. 2008. Gainesville (FL): University Press of Florida; 978-0-8130-3207-8 hardback $34.95.

Where better to start than in the Levant, with a real expedition. Journey to the Copper Age has all the right ingredients: treasure, stunning landscape, adventures with donkeys, ethnoarchaeology and a big research question--the origins of metallurgy and attendant transformations in social structure, economic balance and ritual behaviour. The exhibition staged at the San Diego Museum of Man in California in 2007 (it closed in February 2008) and accompanying book are a resounding success. The book combines three elements: the discovery in 1961 by Psaach Bar Adon of over 400 beautifully crafted copper objects in the Cave of the Treasure on the western shore of the Dead Sea; Tom Levy's National Geographic Society-sponsored expedition of 1997 lasting 10 days with 10 donkeys travelling over a distance of 150km to understand the logistics of copper extraction in the Faynan district of Jordan and transport through the Negev desert to Shiqmin in Israel (the site of a long-term excavation project led by Levy); and an evaluation of the region from Pre-Pottery Neolithic to Iron Age times, but particularly the 'metal revolution' in the Copper Age (4500-3600 BC). The study established that the copper for prestige goods and tools was produced locally in the southern Dead Sea region, advanced knowledge on economic aspects such as the introduction of irrigation cultivation in the Beersheva valley by 4200 BC, and introduced along the way new techniques for ascertaining the position of vast underground storage areas at Shiqmin, through geophysical diffraction tomography. Add to this archaeological historiography--the 1960s Israeli army-supported expeditions to the Dead Sea caves and experimental archaeology by master craftsmen in South India to document the lost wax casting process and the social implications of copper technology, and you have a fantastic package, crammed into just a hundred pages. I would unreservedly recommend this short book as a model of communication.

Across the border in Jordan, the former Ambassador of the Netherlands, GAJUS SCHELTEMA, collected, during his four-year diplomatic stint in the kingdom between 2003 and 2007, as much information as he could locate on megalithic remains still extant in the region, mainly north-western Jordan. The resulting guidebook, Megalithic Jordan, produced by the American Center of Oriental Research in Amman is not only useful--it gives precise locations in a region where maps are difficult to obtain and contains an extensive bibliography--but a testimony to what curiosity and doggedness can achieve. …