Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Book Review: Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland, by Sally M. Walker (2009, Lerner Books)

Recommended for ages 12+

Beginning in 2005, a group of scientists ad forensic anthropologists began a dig in the Chesapeake Bay region.Written in Bonecovers the dig and the findings in both the Jamestown, Virginia and Colonial Maryland settlements. Using forensic techniques, anthropologists were able to learn a great deal about many of the skeletons unearthed at the digs, including approximate ages at death, possible causes of death, and whether or not the inhabitants had been in America long. Some of the skeletons were even identified.
The book is illustrated with color photos of skeletons, dig sites, and artifacts, as well as maps and documents dating from colonial-era America. An illustrated timeline walks readers through Colonial Jamestown and Maryland events relevant to the digs, all the way through to 2009 when the Smithsonian’s “Written in Bone” exhibit opened to the public. Ms. Walker provides case studies on several skeletons excavated at the digs. Beginning with the discovery of the burial sites, each of the case studies goes through the process of discovery, unearthing, and using the bones and any surrounding material – dirt, arrowheads, vegetation – to learn more about the person, including their identity.
The author presents a great deal of fascinating scientific information and draws readers into a CSI-like investigation of the skeletons. One skeleton, discovered in a trash pit of a colonial home, is found to have likekly been that of a teenage indentured servant who may have been beaten to death. These stories, along with the compelling photographs, will keep the attention of reluctant readers as well as avid history fans.
Written in Bone was a Finalist for the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Excellence in Nonfiction Award; a Finalist for the American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children’s Book (2010); a Finalist for the Orbis Pictus Recommended Book (2010); it was designated one of the ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2010), and a Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People (2010).
Author Sally M. Walker studied archaeology in college, and primarily writes nonfiction books for readers of all ages, from early readers to older (middle grade-high school) readers. Her author websiteprovides information on school visits, about all of her books, contact information and a biography. The Written in Bone exhibit is a 4-year Smithsonian exhibit that will close in January 2013 with a robust website featuring videos, a webcomic, and case files on colonists profiled in the book. The publisher’s website offers more information, including links to the exhibit, downloadable research tips from the author, a Written in Bonetimeline of events, and a bookmark.

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