Saturday, January 7, 2017

More Than the Flintstones

Lydia Pyne “Seven Skeletons” (Viking, 2016)

In the last few years there has been a trend of writing about a group of objects, & using those objects to talk about larger cultural issues or history.  Pyne uses this approach to talk about some famous (& infamous) ancient remains.

Why did certain fossils become famous? How did they feed into existing narratives about humans and our ancestors?

It turns out that existing racist cultural narratives created theories that cast aspersions on the sophistication of our cousins.  Thinking of Neanderthals as brutal cavemen slotted neatly into a worldview that was fundamentally racist.  And yet now we know that those images were just projections. And we know that many modern day humans have Neanderthal DNA.

The subject matter here is fascinating.  My only complaint is that Pyne’s skill as a prose stylist is somewhat lacking.  She communicates the information clearly and directly.  But she doesn’t have the turn of phrase needed to elevate her writing into a truly compelling read.

So while this is an informative and entertaining read, it stops short of being truly essential.

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