supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
Full title: The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh. This book was excellent, just the sort of archaeological history that I like. Damrosch does a nice job of painting all the major players, from Smith and Rassam in the 1800s to Ashurbanipal, whose passion for literature and ancient library made the rediscovery of Gilgamesh possible. Highly recommended for those who like this sort of thing.

It had been too long since I'd read something like this. Really enjoyed it.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
Full title: The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mysteries of the Earliest Peoples from the West

I started this book at the end of April and finished it in mid-October. Don't let that fool you, though: the only real problem with this book is that it's too large and heavy to take on the train, and so (for someone like me, anyway) the only time to read it is at bedtime, when I can only get through four pages max before conking out, which is the only reason why it took almost six months of fairly regular reading to finish it. In terms of the content and the writing style, this book is a gem.

This book explores the Tarim mummies, the extraordinarily well preserved mummies found in central Asia, many of whom are of a Caucasian physical type, and tries to figure out who these people were and what they were doing in Asia. It's a really well-written, well-organized, and in-depth look at the history, prehistory, cultures, textiles, archaeology, anthropology, burial practices, and languages of the region. The writers come at the topic from every possible angle to try to gather more information that could help to understand the mummies' identities.

For the most part, the book is understandable at the layman's level. Mallory and Mair explain each topic clearly. My only comprehension problem was related to the length of time it took me to read the book; by the time I got up the late chapter on languages, I was four months away from my reading of the chapter on the groups of people who occupied these areas in the historical record, so I had a little trouble keeping the Andronovo and Afanasevo straight and remembering the characteristics of the Kucheans vs. the Saka and whether some of them might have been the same people. But if you read this book like a normal person in a reasonable amount of time, you should be okay there, although a few big maps in an appendix would have been a welcome addition. Overall, I really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it.
supercheesegirl: (books - petals)
The subject matter of this book was fascinating - how the people of London have handled the burial/disposal of the dead over many centuries - but the book left me a little flat. The chapters are in roughly chronological order, but within each chapter, I thought the material could have been organized a little better. There were some spots where Arnold repeats herself, which a good editor should have caught. There are a few photos included in the book, but I would have liked more, and some charts/graphs/timelines would have been useful too to help the reader understand (for example) the scope of the cemetery problem or the order of events. Although the chapters are chronological, sometimes they loop back on themselves, and I would have liked a chart to help me keep track of, say, the founding of Kensal Green in relation to other cemeteries or the dates various laws were passed. Some of the content also got a little repetitive - the Victorian funerals are kind of Arnold's bread and butter in a book like this, but you can only read about so many funerals (and so many black ostrich feathers on so many horses) before it all blurs together, especially when the funerals are for personages famous in the 1800s who are no longer famous.

Overall, I thought the book was an enjoyable read because I'm really interested in the topic. And it was a good book, but the flaws that are present are so fixable that it was just a little disappointing.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
I've been a fan of Lindsay's for a while, but I absolutely loved this poetry collection and it appealed to me even more than her older work. As an archaeology geek, the long middle section about the Kingdom of Nab got me both excited and teared up. Lindsay gets right to the heart of so many of the issues I love about archaeology: who were the people who left these things behind? What can we learn about them, and what will we never know? What stories have been lost?
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
Full title: Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures. This book was a lot of fun. Wittman has plenty of fascinating stories from his years as an art crime specialist for the FBI, and Shiffman does an excellent job of helping Wittman shape those stories into a cohesive, entertaining, and well written memoir. Recommended.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
This was really good, well written and incredibly well researched. Grann explores the mystery behind Colonel Percy Fawcett's disappearance into the Amazon in 1925; he tells not only Fawcett's story, but also the tales of the searchers who went looking for him, many of whom also never returned. Finally, Grann goes into the jungle himself looking for answers. The book is captivating and vivid and brings both Fawcett and the jungle itself to life. Highly recommended.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
This was pretty awesome. I particularly liked the article about Maya conceptions of beauty, but all the articles were really interesting!
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
I wanted to reread this for my honeymoon, and it definitely helped to refresh my memory about the glyphs and Mayan vocabulary. I was able to recognize the Tikal emblem glyph and a few verbs when we were at the various sites, I was so excited.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
Full title: The Lords of Tikal: Rulers of an Ancient Maya City.

I sometimes wonder if I'm the only person in the world who does research before her honeymoon--not travel research, research on archaeology. This book was pretty good. Harrison is one of the original University of Penn researchers who excavated at Tikal, and this book draws on his own and his colleagues' findings there. Harrison describes the city itself in great detail, and goes step by step through the known chronology to date.

This book would have been great in full color. That said, it is beautifully illustrated and has lots of terrific images. I definitely feel like I have a good background in Tikal's history, which will be nice since we'll only have one day there and Harrison specifically recommends at least three. But at least we're going. I'm really excited. I photocopied some pages to reference when we get there. I have to get out my hieroglyph books.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
This book presents a good general overview of Maya history and culture, including geography, architecture, linguistics, diet, mythology, and calendar. It's nicely illustrated as well, mostly with black and white photos, but there were several pages of color inserts as well. Coe doesn't delve too deeply into any one city's history but builds a picture of the Maya era as a whole. Although the focus is on the Preclassic, Classic, and post-Classic eras, up to around 1200 AD, Coe also includes a chapter at the end on the modern Maya people and what their future may be. As an appendix there's a brief section on visiting Maya sites that I found very informative (considering that I plan on visiting some Maya sites in the near future). Recommended.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
I found out that this magazine existed when K and I attended a lecture at the Penn Museum a few weeks ago. I looked it up online and ordered a back issue to check it out. It was really fun to read, all full-color glossy. I feel like it gave me a sense of what's going on in the archaeology world without having to delve into a thick book--which, you know, isn't a problem for me either, but the magazine provides a broader look at more material. In this issue, I read about bog bodies (nothing I didn't know, but bog bodies are awesome), India's village of the dead (a Stonehenge-like village in the middle of nowhere that I'd never even heard of), war in ancient Peru, the probability of humans discovering sailing during the Ice Age, and a whole story about a deceptive documentary aired on the History channel. Scandal! It's a bi-monthly magazine, so six issues a year plus some occasional special issues. There's a Mayan special issue coming out in November--I preordered it even though it won't arrive before our trip. I'm considering subscribing.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
Full title: Women in Late Antiquity: Pagan and Christian Lifestyles. Historical nonfiction.

This book rocked. Clark looks at all kinds of sources in order to examine how women lived in late antiquity (200 AD or so to 600 AD or so). She looks at the laws and how the laws changed and tries to extrapolate what the law meant for how women were treated and how they were expected to behave. She also looks at medical texts to see how women's bodies were understood and treated, and at religious and philosophical texts to see what women's place in the world was considered to be and how women interacted in their spiritual lives.

Although it didn't have quite enough information on my particular research topic (the unnamed concubine of St. Augustine of Hippo in Roman north Africa in the late 300s, or even just concubines in general or women in Roman north Africa or the provinces in general), it still got the closest of any book I've found yet. This is an excellent sourcebook, full of information and interesting facts, all related in a readable and understandable style.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
Full title: Route 66 A.D.: On the Trail of Ancient Roman Tourists. Nonfiction. Under the Pax Romana, the era from 100 BC to 200 AD became the first time in the history of the world when travel was safe and easy. The Romans were building roads and making maps and eliminating Mediterranean pirates all over the place. So of course, this is the era when tourism began, and when the tourism became an industry for the first time in Greece and Egypt. Tony Perrottet decides to research ancient tourism by actuallly taking a trip and following the path that ancient Roman tourists took, using ancient guidebooks to lead him along the way. However, Perrottet is traveling with his pregnant girlfriend, who gets bigger and bigger as they travel.

A book that combines ancient history with travel writing--you'd think I'd be thrilled, right? I don't know, it was just so-so for me. I honestly wanted more of Perrottet's own travels and experiences (although I know the point was kind of that he's submersing himself in the ancient to avoid what's going on in his life right now). And it seemed like a lot of the ancient history he covered wasn't new to me--I mean, yes, it's ancient Greece, we all know about Zeus and we know about the Parthenon, but for some reason it just wasn't that interesting. Parts of it were. It's a very well-researched book, and approaching the topic from the angle of following the tour was pretty original, I think. Perrottet does a good job of putting things in context--what the Romans would have wanted to see, what the places would have looked like when the Romans were there versus what they look like today (for example, all statues were brightly painted in ancient Greece), how Romans would have reacted to what they were seeing. In that respect it was a really good book. But for some reason it just didn't stand out to me. I think Heather H might like it. It would also be a good book for someone who wants an overview of ancient culture.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
Full title: Unholy Business: A True Tale of Faith, Greed & Forgery in the Holy Land. Nonfiction, about the James Ossuary, an artifact recently discovered in Israel but which has now been rumored to be a forgery.

I don't know, this was an odd book. Maybe because Burleigh is a journalist? She's trying to write a captivating, exciting story about the underground artifact trade, but I don't know that she's going about it the right way. She skips back and forth in time, so that I don't feel I have a clear picture of who saw the artifact when and what the chain of events was--even though the chapters are ostensibly organized by date, I didn't get a sense of that as I read, and I'm only seeing now that most chapters are labeled by date. The skips in time don't help her, either--she'll describe her own visit to interview a scholar, but then won't come back around to that scholar again for another 50 pages, when we've forgotten the name of this person and we don't connect that lady with all the cats to the person whose opinion on the artifact is being cited.

Burleigh also seems to want to write this as "creative nonfiction" rather than journalism--in one chapter, Burleigh gives a three-page account of getting stuck in traffic in Jerusalem in 2007, which is completely unrelated to anything else that happened in the chapter. Burleigh is trying to make the point that everything in the city hinges on the religious life (which was in an uproar at the time, hence the traffic), but she makes that point repeatedly elsewhere in the book. I was thinking that the chapter would then go on to talk about who she saw or talked to on that 2007 trip, but no. The logic she uses to connect her narrative together is thin. I'm not saying she didn't do exhaustive research, but she just doesn't seem to present it well in a cohesive narrative.

Burleigh would have been better served to have written this in a more scholarly format, I think. A chapter specifically on the patina controversy, for example, contrasting the differing viewpoints, rather than having that information scattered about in her various interviews with the scholars. Even if Burleigh had just pulled her own perspective out more, it might have been a better book--the time skipping confusion, I think, is caused by the fact that she's interviewing people in 2007, which I as the reader do not need to know at all to understand the story, but it's in there. Her physical descriptions of the people were kind of interesting, but I'm not going to remember later which lady had the cats and which guy looked like the monopoly banker. As it was, the book seemed like an uncomfortable mesh of 3rd person objective journalism with some 1st person subjective narrative thrown in, and I don't think the material warranted that.

Also, I am a bit confused by the fact that she wrote this book before the Israeli court case about the forgery had been concluded. The ending seemed a bit rushed, because the end hadn't happened yet. Why not wait a few years until you actually have a conclusion?

Interesting material, but overall, didn't love this one.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
Full title: The Portland Vase: The Extraordinary Odyssey of a Mysterious Roman Treasure. It's sort of a pop archaeology book; Brooks is described on the cover flap as "an actor and author"--he's not an expert in the field. It's well researched, though, with an extensive bibliography, and it's decently written. Brooks describes the (possibly falsified) finding of the vase in a Roman tomb in the 1500s and then follows its story ever since, describing all the crazy people who've owned it, studied it, copied it, or damaged it over its long life. He also goes into all the theories that abound regarding the mysterious figures depicted on the vase. A little slow at some points--I've been working on it since last week--but overall, it was a fun read.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
Full title: The Keys of Egypt: The Obsession to Decipher Egyptian Hieroglyphs. Nonfiction; another great library find. Starting with Napoleon's expedition to Egypt, this book describes how the ancient Egyptian civilization was rediscovered and how hieroglyphs came to be deciphered. The Rosetta Stone had a lot less to do with it than we were all led to believe. Also, Jean-Francois Champollion is my new goddamn hero. He learned a couple dozen languages and worked on it for over 20 years, while several different revolutions were going on in France and while he was living in poverty, but he's the guy who eventually came up with the method of decipherment that actually worked. He didn't receive nearly enough acclaim during his lifetime--there are apparently *still* people trying to discredit him today, and they were a lot nastier about it then--and he died way too young, at 41. I was really glad to read that he eventually got to go to Egypt, though. That made me happy that he was able to actually go and see it all in person.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
I liked his other book (The Rape of the Nile) better, but this one was okay. About how archaeologists use technology to find out things about the past, and all kinds of scientists are needed in order to gather information. There were some sections that I thought were really interesting, but other sections about the plant life and climate of ancient Mesopotamia that just made me doze off.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
Full title: Ancient Lives: The Story of the Pharaohs' Tombmakers. Heather sent me this. I admit I wasn't too excited at first, but once I started reading, I realized this book is really cool. It's the story of the village people who made the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, based on their own accounts. For 300 years, during the 19th and 20th dynasties, the people in this village trained as stoneworkers and artists and scribes, and they dug and decorated and made sacred the pharaohs' tombs. The scribes kept detailed accounts of their working materials, their payments, and their arguments. Because tombs were their trade, the villagers made really excellent and detailed tombs for themselves; they also kept shrines to the gods, and scratched graffiti all over the desert valleys in the area. There's just a ton of material about these people, and there have been some excellent excavations of the village and cemeteries, and the result is that there is so much information about them--not just where they lived and what they did and what they ate, but their names and their families and their petty disagreements, what they believed in, who they really were. I thought this book was fascinating.
supercheesegirl: (indy - rare antiquities)
Full title: The Rape of the Nile: Tomb Robbers, Tourists, and Archaeologists in Egypt. This book was AWESOME. Really really great and fun and exciting! And, I mean, sad too, because it talks about how for centuries people have been swiping chunks of ancient Egypt, and the Egyptians have been participating in it because they didn't understand their history. It's really only been in the past 100-125 years that Egypt has started really taking control of their antiquities and not letting foreigners steal their past. But it's sad how so much has been lost because of tourists being stupid, and Egyptians letting them be stupid (or getting pissed off about all the stupid tourists and destroying or selling the local attraction to get rid of the tourists), and how much was lost because early archaeologists wanted to save the objects from tomb robbers so they trashed their way through the tombs to get everything out as fast as possible.

It's a great book, really. It covers the business of antiquities, and the history of archaeology, and the development of archaeology into the science it is today. It also covers the development of Egyptology, and how the decipherment of hieroglyphs made a gigantic difference in how antiquities were treated. It's all just fascinating to me. I had a very vague idea that Napoleon was into Egypt, but I had no clue how influential his expedition was. And I had no idea that a circus strongman was a huge player in the Egyptology scene of the early 1800s. It's all incredibly interesting--the history of Egyptology is an adventure! AND this book had a lot of notes and recommended reading, much of which is going to show up on my amazon wishlist. :)
supercheesegirl: (monsoon - alice)
Wow, I am completely shocked by how much I absolutely loved this. What an amazing story. So great. And uplifting. And just... great. Apparently most of the other translations on the market are really kind of academic in nature; Mitchell, who is not in any way a scholar of ancient Akkadian, compiled this version by studying all the other translations and doing a lot of research into the word choices and finally just making poetic decisions that seemed to fit the tone of the original epic. And it worked. It was a quick read, and beautifully written, and I want my own copy now. (Besides which, Captain Picard references the story of Gilgamesh in one of my favorite Next Gen episodes! That makes it even more awesome.)

For those of you who don't know, Gilgamesh is basically the earliest epic in world literature--it predates The Iliad by a good thousand years. It's the story of the king of Uruk (present-day Iraq) and his true friend Enkidu and their adventures, and how Gilgamesh sets out to find an antidote for death. A few spoilers. )

Some quotes:

"Humans are born, they live, then they die,
this is the order that the gods have decreed.
But until the end comes, enjoy your life,
spend it in happiness, not despair.
Savor your food, make each of your days
a delight, bathe and anoint yourself,
wear bright clothes that are sparkling clean,
let music and dancing fill your house,
love the child who holds you by the hand,
and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.
That is the best way for a man to live."
- Shiduri the tavern keeper, to Gilgamesh

"...Gilgamesh, why
prolong your grief? Have you ever paused
to compare your own blessed lot with a fool's?
...
the gods have lavished you with their gifts...
...
Can't you see how fortunate you are?
You have worn yourself out through ceaseless striving,
you have filled your muscles with pain and anguish.
And what have you achieved but to bring yourself
one day nearer to the end of your days?"
- Utnapishtim, to Gilgamesh

More. )

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