First my apologies for being out of the loop on this blog for a few days. My family and I have been sick, and I’m just now recovering. I actually have a few more things I’d like to say about last week’s topic of adaptations (including thoughts on Song of Achilles and Some Kind of Fairy Tale), but I’ll leave those for another post.
So on to archaeology. I also read Sally Walker’s book in e-galley format, and snatched it up as soon as I knew it existed, for a bunch of intersecting reasons. First, Walker’s Written In Bone was one of my favorite NF books from 2009, and contained some of the best writing about archaeology I’ve read, for adults or children. Secondly, the Kennewick Man has interested me greatly since its discovery in 1996, when I was 15. I have not been religious about it or anything, but I have definitely paid attention all along to the news stories of what was happening with the science and the lawsuit, so I feel personally connected to the story. And finally, the story of the Kennewick Man was told in a chapter of my outright favorite book of 2010, Every Bone Tells a Story by Jill Rubalcaba.
So, I was very excited to see Walker write about Kennewick Man, and I agree with you that she did an amazing job of it. I think she has some of the sharpest nonfiction writing chops around and her books are just a pleasure to read.
The parallels to Murphy’s excellent book are indeed intriguing. I particularly liked your comment that in 1869 “Science as a discipline was admired, but not particularly well understood, at least by most people. Of course, that’s probably still true today.” The lack of understanding of science (as well as related disciplines of mathematics and statistics) is at the heart of many of the somewhat ridiculous arguments our society finds itself in, and it is certainly a large part of the reason for the controversies outlined in each of these books.
You also said: “together these two books really illustrate how differently our society and our scientific community deal with discoveries now than they did 150 years ago. It certainly seems that it would be much more difficult to pull off a hoax like the Cardiff Giant today.” While I definitely agree with this statement, I think a really fascinating data point between these two books is the Piltdown Man (I don’t have a copy of Murphy’s book on hand, but I’m pretty sure he did not mention this hoax in his conclusion). Despite Murphy’s (quite correct) points in his conclusion that Cardiff Man helped to make archaeology more disciplined and better equipped to handle hoaxes, the Piltdown Man was a hoax of a somewhat different order, in which real bones (of humans and orangutans) were used to pass off a specimen as a “missing link.” The amazing thing about Piltdown man was that it took over 40 years, until 1953 to be categorically exposed as a hoax. A YA book on Piltdown Man would make a really great middle piece to this trilogy of books on archaeological controversies. What do you think – wanna write it?