Non-Fiction: Written in Bone – The Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland

Once in a while you open a book that really surprises you. For me, this was Sally Walker’s absolutely absorbing non-fiction Written in Bone – Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland.

Written in Bone follows a team of archaeologists conducting a couple of digs. First, they dig into an area of Fort James, Virginia, followed by digs in Maryland. The team discusses in detail how the process of choosing sites to dig at works, followed by the methods they employ while preparing for and actually conducting a dig. In addition to the text explaining it, there are multiple pictures on each page to illustrate the processed exactly. At one point, the team unearths a few iron caskets that were sealed shut and it was their goal to try to extract some of the air sealed inside. This air, they believed, would give them an idea of what the air quality was in the 17th century. Besides being really interesting historically, Walker has included a number of photos of the process of identifying where the remains were within the casket, the drilling of the casket, and the extraction of air.

In addition to explaining the processes of a dig, Walker goes into great detail about identifying remains. We learn how scientists can take bones, as well as how they figure out what sort of work they may have done in their lives, whether or not they were wealthy, what their gender was, and even what ethnicity they may have been. Again, the use of illustrations and images illuminate the text. Walker makes a large point in emphasizing that all of these details are put together not only through science, but also through the historical record (which makes the geek in me so excited). I spent more time looking at the photos than reading, making this book one that may be short on words but long on memory and on reading experience.

When I first had heard about this book, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I am pleased with this and found myself really fascinated with what archaeologists do with human remains. I think that this book has a huge appeal, both to those interested in history and science, as well as those interested in the all-too-common “something different.” Oh, and boys will eat this one up! This is a book about people doing something and it gives boys tools to learn with (I mean, there’s also really cool images of skulls and bones, too).

The text is highly readable and the use of images enhanced it. An index, a historical time line of events, and a sizable list of further resources that include both print and web sources also make this a book that can be read and referred to again and again for reports. But what makes this one special is that it’s not just a report book — this is a strong, stand alone non-fiction for teens and adults.

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