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Men among the mammoths Victorian science and the discovery of human prehistory. By A. Bowdoin Van Riper. Chicago University of Chicago Press. 1993. 267 pp. ISBN 0-226-84992-9. $16.96 (paper)

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AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL ANTHROPOLOGY 100:149-152 (1996)
Book Reviews
not the obvious nature of “the truth,” allowed for a n understanding of the age of huMENAMONG
THE MAMMOTHS:
VICTORIAN
SCI- mankind. Van Riper, while recognizing this
ENCE AND THE DISCOVERY
OF HUMAN
PREHIS- period as a n important turning point, downTORY.By A. Bowdoin Van Riper. Chicago: plays its revolutionary character. Instead,
University of Chicago Press. 1993.267 pp. he describes it as a culmination of a long
period of changing thought and also a s a
ISBN 0-226-84992-9. $16.96 (paper).
starting place for a new world view shared
This is a book about the recognition of hu- by many disciplines-a new face of science.
Van Riper is interested in the changes over
man antiquity by Victorian science. Develthree
periods in what he calls “intellectual
oped from Van Riper’s 1990 dissertation at
topography”
(after David Allen), a term used
the University of Wisconsin, it is now pubto
describe
the
relationships between discilished as part of a series edited by David
Hull, Science and its Conceptual Founda- plines and their shared world views. For the
tions. Although a book about the history of first period, comprising the two decades
science, it should appeal to prehistorians leading up to “the consensus,” he emphasizes
from a variety of disciplines. Van Riper im- the relative importance of and interrelationplies that it is particularly relevant for pa- ships between archeology and geology and
leoanthropology because the Victorian con- their impact on the human antiquity quessensus on human antiquity marks the tion. The chapter on archeology focuses, perbeginning of the multidisciplinary approach haps unduly, on the question of why archeolthat characterizes paleoanthropology today. ogists were uninterested in the antiquity
In a 5-year period between 1858 and 1863, question, a focus that in some ways seems
thinking about the age of humankind was a n artifice designed to make historical archerevolutionized. Even more dramatically, in ology appear more relevant to the story than
a 6-month period, March to September of i t was. Nevertheless, it is a n interesting and
1859, six papers arguing for human antiq- well-written account. Van Riper makes the
uity, all reflecting and promoting a major point that archeology at the time was solely
change in thinking, were read by some of historical archeology, a n extremely inducthe most preeminent geologists of the time. tive, data-oriented discipline that gained
This period of intellectual change in the nat- much of its support and many practitioners
ural sciences, beginning with the excava- from local communities interested in their
tions a t Brixham Cave, ended with Lyell’s historical roots. Given the Victorian archeopublication ofAntiquity of Man in 1863, and logical commitment to large data sets and
marks the emergence of a scientific consen- textual corroboration, prehistoric samples
sus that humans were old, contemporaneous were unattractive to historical archeologists,
with extinct species. Although the period has and prehistoric research was of no help in
been considered a “revolution” by many sci- reconstructing the histories of local parishes.
entific historians, who often described it as Human antiquity simply was not addressed
in the endeavors of historical archeologists.
a triumph of the powers of induction-that
By contrast, geology, while sharing archeis, after the blinders of dogmatic religious
and scientific objections to a n ancient recent ology’s empirical approach, was fundamenworld were lifted, the evidence for human tally interested in the human antiquity
question since the presence of humans deantiquity was obvious for everyone to seethis view has also been refuted: Donald fined the “recent world,” the period that
Grayson in The Establishment of Human marked the end of geological time. As did
Antiquity argued that before 1859 the evi- the archeologists for their local communidence for human antiquity was debatable. ties, the geologists sought to create a deHere Van Riper emphasizes that changes in tailed “picture” of the history of life on earth.
scientific interpretation and philosophy, and However, they tended to dismiss the evi0 1996 WILEY-LISS, INC.
150
BOOK REVIEWS
dence for human antiquity, either claiming teur, and then Falconer, a pillar of the Victothat burials in ancient strata were intrusive, rian geological community, of the case for
or that the stratigraphies of cave sites were human antiquity. Within 18 months Faltoo complicated for valid analysis. Men coner convinced the rest of the geological
Among the Mammoths outlines several community, first by swaying his colleague
changes in the geological thinking of the Prestwich with data from open air French
1850s-about progressionism, stratigraphy, sites, thus overcoming objections to the vaand glacial theory-that paved the way for lidity of cave data. At Falconer’s urging,
the acceptance of human antiquity. Van Prestwich visited Abbeville and St. Acheul
Riper may gloss too quickly over these is- with his friend Evans, who was a n archeolosues, which are critical to his argument that gist (historical) as well a s a geologist, and
the consensus was a n outgrowth of previous both returned convinced. In the spring of
thought. While the intellectual contexts of 1859, a t a special meeting engineered by
these shifts are sketched out (rather anglo- Prestwich and Falconer, Victorian geologists
centrically, as where Cuvier’s contribution announced the evidence from a number of
to the demise of unilinear progressionism is sites, both British and continental, for huunmentioned and only attributed to Owen), man antiquity. In September 1859, Lye11 anthe sociopolitical contexts are ignored. The nounced the new consensus to the public at
impact of changing relationships between the British Association for the Advancement
religion and science on the human antiquity of Science meetings in Aberdeen. The story of
question is not addressed, although recog- Brixham Cave and its repercussions is quite
nized a s a fait accompli by the 1840s. How- riveting, particularly in its depiction of how
ever, these topics lie outside Van Riper’s own this “revolution,” while greased by changing
research, and the first three chapters of the ideas in the geological community, was really
book do provide a nice description of the ar- pushed through by a handful of individuals,
cheological and geological intellectual com- acting primarily behind closed doors.
In the period following the BAAS anmunities up to the “revolution,” emphasizing
their similarities and differences, showing nouncement until 1863, when Lyell’s Antigthat the ‘‘revolutionary’’ events led by Fal- uity of M a n was published and brought the
coner, Prestwich, and Evans, among others, consensus to fruition, this core group of geolwere in some ways rooted in a flow of chang- ogists vigorously defended their data, sought
corroborative data in new sites and in old
ing geological thought.
The second part, the pivotal section of the publications, and extended the consensus
book, covers the period from 1858 to 1863, until virtually all members of the scientific
focusing on how the consensus on human community were convinced. During this peantiquity was reached, and how data, partic- riod archeology became involved as it beularly from Brixham Cave in southwestern came recognized that the stone tools, once
England, acted as a catalyst in this process ignored, could be viewed as data. In 1861the
of intellectual change. Before Brixham Cave, Ethnological Society (which included many
although the geological community was pre- geologists and many Darwinians among its
pared (more or less) to accept evidence of members) and the British Archeological Ashuman antiquity, they were reluctant to do sociation held joint meetings with both arso. This is the most interesting part of the cheologists and geologists in attendance.
book, a s Van Riper chronicles the excava- They actively cultivated the same popular
tions and interpretations of Brixham Cave, interest in prehistory and stone tools that
showing the relationships between the ama- had supported their disciplines in the past.
teur and career geologists involved in the Therefore in the human antiquity arena,
site, and ultimately how the force of individ- long-lasting unions were forged between disual commitment changed the thinking of a ciplines, and links were maintained with the
field and ultimately a world view. Brixham popular culture that had traditionally charCave contained undisturbed cave sediments acterized both archeology and geology.
The final chapters discuss the long-term
with stone tools among extinct fauna, convincing first Pengelly, the gifted local ama- impact of the new consensus on both the lay
BOOK REVIEWS
public and on science. Van Riper argues that
the human antiquity question simultaneously was made more relevant and was
eclipsed by the Darwinian issues that engendered such emotional response from both lay
and scientific communities. The case for human antiquity was more palatable than evolution and was accepted more readily, in
some cases almost as a compromise, even
by the very pious. It is less clear how the
intellectual topography shaped in this period
affected paleoanthropology as a discipline.
Men Among the Mammoths begins and ends
with the proposition that this period has had
direct bearings on the multidisciplinary nature of paleoanthropology today. As interesting as the story of the Victorian consensus
on human antiquity is, I am not convinced
that the multidisciplinary nature of human
paleontology is due to any particular intel-
151
lectual legacy. Modern prehistory owes at
least as much to the French and German
natural history traditions that focused heavily on anatomy and paleontology as it does to
the British geological/archeological alliance,
and it is probably anglocentric to overstate
the singular influence of the consensus on
future multidisciplinary studies. Nevertheless, this book provides new insights on the
origin of our discipline, pulling away from
the classic focus on the development of evolutionary thought. It is a good read, and I consider it a valuable contribution to our understandings of processes of intellectual change
and the history of anthropology.
RACHEL
CASPARI
Department of Anthropology
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
and useful. Here again, the various apVESTIGES
OF MORTALITY
AND REMEMBRANCE:
A BIBLIOGRAPHY
ON THE HISTORICAL
ARCHE- proaches to cemetery studies is presented
OLOGY OF CEMETERIES.
By Edward L. Bell. in orderly fashion with some chronology of
Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. 1994.419 trends in research under the various subtopics. Categories include a variety of theoretipp. ISBN 0-8108-2893-6. $47.50 (cloth).
cal approaches taken in historical cemetery
This is a nice reference work! Edward Bell studies, from functionalist to post-prohas taken on the task of collecting and iden- cessual, and several works are cited which
tifying a very substantial body of research aid in subsequent searches in the biblioon historical cemeteries. The book begins graphic sections.
with a n introduction if archaeological invesI devised a few searches through the biblitigations of historical cemeteries which also ography to see how well I could locate approincludes a n essay on “Scholarly Trends and priate references. These included AfricanProspects.” The bibliographic citations American cemeteries, demography, Souththemselves are divided into five sections: Ar- western United States, and several authors’
chaeological Survey and Excavation Re- names (including my own, of course). In genports; Biological, Physical, and Forensic An- eral, I was able to find many useful and inthropology and Historical Demography; teresting citations and to work back and
Deathway, Ethnography, and Theoretical forth from the indices to the bibliography
Perspectives; Grave Markers and Cemetery sections very easily. I did not find serious
Landscapes; Repatriation, Curation, and omissions of references; if anything, I was
Law. The book ends with a n appendix of key struck with how much material is cited of
words and author and subject indices. The which I was totally unaware.
I think there is much useful information
sections of the book are logical and useful.
It facilitates browsing in those areas where for physical anthropologists in this volume.
one is most focused a t the moment, and the There is quite a lot on skeletal analysis and a
key words give one a clearer sense of the great deal of material on Native Americans.
contents of each work. I found the overview Bell has been resourceful in capturing a
of scholarly trends and concepts interesting great deal of the work done by physical an-
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discovery, 267, paper, van, ripe, bowdoin, mammoths, university, isbn, among, 226, human, chicago, science, 1993, victoria, men, prehistoric, 84992, pres
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