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What's new with the old?,
This review is from: Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans (Hardcover)
In Cro-Magnon, Brian Fagan delivers the current state-of-knowledge regarding our stone-age selves and summarizes archeological evidence to date. As someone with a casual interest the subject, I might read up on it every 10 years or so; watching a handful of documentaries in the meantime. Fagan collects the various wealth of scientific knowledge, and distills it for mass consumption.
So what's new with the old? For starters, better dating techniques and mitochondrial DNA analysis has improved our understanding of the timeline. The Cro-Magnon (and focus of this book) are the ancestors of modern Europeans, and the book begins with their co-habitation with the neanderthal before moving into a series of eras defining differences in Cro-Magnon cultures. Fagan intersperses analysis of the current evidence with tales describing what he imagines daily life to be in a certain place and time. Much of this is speculation, and on problem with the book is that historic record is very fragmented and only very durable (ie, stone) artifacts remain. Make no mistake, the author does make some very good educated guesses that fit with the evidence at hand, but still, there is an awful lot of conjecture, and parts of the story are bound to change over time. In the end, I was less interested in the speculation and more interested in the significance of actual evidence.
There were a few editorial problems with the book worthy of note -- most having to do with captions of illustrations and references to them in the text. Some compound illustrations, for example, were lettered but the caption neither explained all of the letters, nor were always in sync with what the letter actually represented.