Ancient Muses: Archaeology and the Arts

By John H. Jameson; John E. Ehrenhard et al. | Go to book overview

15
Archaeology
in Science Fiction
and Mysteries

David G. Anderson

Science fiction and mystery are among the most popular forms of modern literature. Some of the greatest stories in each genre have centered on archaeological themes, have archaeological endeavors for a backdrop, or have archaeologists as protagonists or, occasionally, the villains. Get archaeologists to talk about what they prefer for light reading, and more often than not they will mention a love for science fiction or mystery novels. Some archaeologists, in fact, own as many books in these genres as in their personal professional libraries. Collaboration between archaeologists and authors is also common. Every writer appreciates fans, especially those able to provide technical expertise and constructive commentary. The acknowledgments of a good many novels in these genres thus include the names of one or more archaeologists or anthropologists. And, as we shall see, archaeologists and anthropologists themselves have written some pretty impressive science fiction and mystery stories.

I read Mists of Dawn (1952), by anthropologist Chad Oliver, when I was 10 or 11 years old. I vividly remember its impact and how it helped to kindle my own interest in archaeology. In my conversations with other archaeologists, several have admitted being similarly influenced as children by this volume or by similar kinds of stories in which archaeology played a major role. In Oliver's story, a teenager is accidentally sent back tens of thousands of years into the past in a time machine, to an era when Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal populations were present and competing in western Europe. Oliver, while revered by science fiction fans, was a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas, and his stories provide rich detail on the life of the peoples or beings his protagonists encounter. Mists of Dawn vividly portrays life in the distant past and shows that even our distant ancestors were very much like us, real people who, while now largely lost in the mists of time, still lived and loved. In one highly moving episode his protagonist watches one of the Cro-Magnon shamans at work: “In this deep recess of the limestone caverns, far beneath the

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