Monday, March 11, 2013

Morbid fascination

Faces from the Past: Forgotten People of North America by James M. Deem is a remarkable history book blending science and storytelling. 

By looking at current forensics practices, archaeologists, historians, and artists delve into the stories of people who lived and died long ago.  There is an aura of mystery as skeletons are found in seemingly unlikely places when long forgotten cemeteries are rediscovered as sewer lines are dug up or new buildings are constructed.

What happens to the bones of people who lived in times so different from our own when they are disinterred?

Mostly, the bones get studied.  Scientists look to see how these individuals died, how old they were, how hard they worked, or how well or poorly they ate.  Further research about the place the bones were buried typically provides additional information about their living conditions and the context of their death, if they were part of a larger historical event such as a battle, an epidemic or shipwreck or died of more everyday causes like old age and poor health.

For me, the best part of this book is when the faces of our ancestors stare back at us.  Artists’ recreating the faces is a fascinating process that has its roots going back to the 1800s.

The life stories of American sailors, soldiers, slaves, servants, orphans, and the mentally ill are told here.  This nonfiction book has a great sense of narrative like that of a mystery novel.

Suggested for grades 5-9.

Forensic Identification: Putting aName and Face On Death by Elizabeth A. Murray also tells us how science helps to identify human remains of a much more recent nature.

Again, investigators try to find out who the people are and how they died.  This book presents the processes used to solve cases of unidentified remains and missing persons in a more factual, typical nonfiction format.  Interesting ‘cases’ are interspersed throughout that pose a situation where human bodies have been found and then how the cases were resolved.  This book gives us a very good sense about the wonders and sometimes the limitations of technology.

Suggested for grades 4-8.

Every Bone Tells a Story: HomininDiscoveries, Deductions, and Debates by Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw have just arrived at the Doucette Library.  It’s now been added to my TBR (to-be-read) pile.  Without having read the book and glancing through its table of contents this book will focus on remains of humans from thousands of years of ago, such as the Kennewick Man (9,000 years ago), Otzi the Iceman (5300 ya), Turkana Boy (1,600,000 ya) and the Lapedo Child (24,500 ya).  Here too there is lots of information about the science that goes into becoming reacquainted with our ancestors.  Each chapter has section entitled 'Deductions' and 'Debates' suggesting the dynamic nature of investigative research.

Suggested for grades 8 to 12.

Today is Nonfiction Monday being hosted at Sally's Bookshelf.  Check out the interesting list of recommended nonfiction children's lit.


Resh said...

Tammy, these look like fascinating reads. We took DD to a Museum nearby where they have an exhibit on Human history and evolution. I wonder if there are any children's non-fiction books on this subject. It seems to be fascinating to DD.
Thanks for sharing!

Sue Heavenrich said...

I love bones... from the time I was a kid I was fascinated by animal bones and skeletons. These look like great books for curious kids.

Perogyo said...

These look very cool!

My grandfather found some very old human bones on his farm in Northern Alberta and it took years at that time to get any information about them. I always wanted to know what happened at the university and how they could tell what they learned about them- maybe I should check these out to find out.

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