Review: Written in Bone by Sally Walker (audiobook)

27 Apr

Written in BoneHey, this is post #500 on this blog!!!!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Listening to this book was so cool!

On a hot summer day in 2005, Dr. Douglas Owsley of the Smithsonian Institution peered into an excavated grave, carefully examining the fragile skeleton that had been buried there for four hundred years. “He was about fifteen years old when he died. And he was European,” Owsley concluded. But how did he know?

Scientists discovered this grave inside the remains of James Fort, in Jamestown, Virginia. They were excavating the site with the goal of better understanding the Europeans and Africans who lived in Jamestown and the Chesapeake Bay area during the 1600s and 1700s. Who were these people? How did they live? And how did they die?

Just as forensic scientists use their knowledge of human remains to help solve crimes, they use similar skills to solve the mysteries of the long-ago past. From the skeletons, the burial practices, and remnants of objects found nearby, scientists can determine gender and ancestry, along with probable age, what the person ate, what lifestyle he or she lived, and the cause of death. In some cases, further research helps scientists speculate on who the dead were.

Join author Sally M. Walker as she works alongside the scientists who use state-of-the-art methods to decipher clues from America’s colonial past. As you follow their investigations, Walker will introduce you to what scientists believe are the lives of a teenage boy, a ship’s captain, an indentured servant, a colonial official and his family, and an African slave girl. All are reaching beyond the grave to tell us their stories, which are written in bone.

I’ve been a fan of fictional forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan since long before the TV show Bones. I like what she’s able to do with contemporary bodies, but I’m always interested in the asides about her ventures with older, more historic graves.

This book goes into many of the details of this process, using some bodies from colonial Jamestown.

The book goes into details of isotopes, of bone measurements, and of soil composition. It then takes this information as well as details as to how the body is positioned, and what is found nearby, and builds a portrait of the life of this individual. An attempt is made to match this portrait to the historical record, trying to identify who has been located.

The audience clearly is middle grade, but the information isn’t so simplified as to be uninteresting. The age of the intended audience is clear when the narrator gives a brief explanation of negative numbers, but it usually is fairly universal.

I came at this book interested in the scientific aspect, but the historical viewpoint also grabbed me. While listening, I kept thinking of the opportunities for a classroom unit featuring a truly integrated curriculum. I’m going to suggest it to the 5th grade teachers at my daughter’s school, since they cover Colonial America as well as basic human anatomy that year.

Audio Notes:

Narrator: Greg Abbey was a competent narrator, and I enjoyed listening to him.  For the target audience, I wonder if a somewhat less deliberate narration might be more engaging.

Production:  Good.  There was a disc of bonus material that I never looked at– My CD drive is broken, so I used another computer to load the book onto my MP3 player.  I suspect that would be interesting to explore, but I didn’t do so.

Print or Audio: I think that the print would be such a different experience that I can’t even begin to guess without actually looking at the book!

1 Comment

Posted by on April 27, 2011 in books, reviews


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One response to “Review: Written in Bone by Sally Walker (audiobook)

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