Wednesday, October 6, 2010

If Stones Could Speak

If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Screts of Stonehenge by Marc Aronson
64 pages
published by National Geographic

Publisher's description:
What are the secrets of the ancient stones? Were they a burial site, an ancient calendar, a sports stadium, a place of Druid worship... or even a site of sacrifice? World-renowned archaeologist Mike Parker-Pearson recently began a new quest to excavate the wider area around Stonehenge to answer these and many other questions. National Geographic helped sponsor their mission, and now Mike takes our young readers behind the scenes to experience this groundbreaking story first-hand, through the eyes of the experts.
Within the past three years, Mike and his team have revolutionized our understanding of Stonehenge by exploring the surrounding landscape for clues about the stones. The results have been breathtaking: the team recently unearthed the largest Neolithic village ever found in England. If Stones Could Speak brings young readers the inspirational story of the incredible discoveries now taking place at this World Historical Site. The informative and drama-driven text includes tales of dead bodies, cremations, feasting, and ancient rituals, as well as science like carbon dating. The images include some of those featured in National Geographic's cover story on the discoveries, for which the stones were "painted in light" at night with awe-inspiring results.
The expert text, stunning photography, and explanatory maps and illustrations will all help young readers see this ancient monument in totally new ways, and no doubt inspire future generations of archaeological explorers.

My comments:
I found this to be a fascinating book in the vein of Written in Bone, one of my favorites from last year. It combines history, mystery, and the thrill of seeing scientists form and test a theory that leads to exciting discoveries. Concepts important to the archaeologists' work, like carbon-14 dating and strontium analysis, are explained in a clear manner. So is one major problem the scientists in the book encountered when studying Stonehenge, by way of the hypothetical discovery of basketball court 4,000 years from now (p. 27). If most experts agree that the court was used for religious rituals and one suggests that it was used to play a game, who would be believed?

I really liked the middle chapters, (four, five and six) for the story they tell. Mike, an archaeologist from England, brings Ramilisonina, an archaeologist from Madagascar, to Stonehenge to look at the stones with "fresh eyes." In Madagascar, people live in wooden homes and build monuments to the dead out of stone, and this is what Ramilisonina saw: a monument to the builders' ancestors. In chapter seven, their theory bears fruit when they discover the remains of an ancient village.

There are an abundance of beautiful color photographs, as well as an illustrated map of the stone circle and surrounding archaeological sites to give readers a sense of the area being studied. Despite these images, I had a hard time grasping the connections between all the different sites (Southern Circle, the Long Barrow, the Cursus, etc.). I understand what each one was, but not how they are bound together. Maybe this is because there is so much that is yet to be learned about each one of them.

The materials at the end include an annotated factfinder index, a list of archeologists and their theories, a chronology of the riverside project, and a list of its members. Unfortunately, when I wanted to go back and read the basketball court analogy again, I couldn't find it using the index. There's also a timeline for Stonehenge, accompanied by an explanation that this timeline is ever-changing becasue of continued scientific investigations. I was disappointed that the timeline didn't help me to better understand the connections between the different sites. On the very last page is a list of books for further reading (divided into categories for kids and adults) and a few online resources including National Geographic, where you will find more stunning photographs.

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