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Every Bone Tells a Story
Every Bone Tells a Story
By authors: Jill Rubalcaba, Peter Robertshaw
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Binding Information: Hardback 
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Price: $18.95
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Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and Debates

Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw recount the unearthing of four hominins--Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man, and Iceman. Each discovery leads not only to deductions that scientists made in laboratories, but also to controversial debates over the scientists' differences of opinion over how, or even if, the pieces fit together.

Learn how specialized the field of archaeology has become and how new technology can change both scientists' theories and the way we view the past.

This book is good for your brain because:
Archaeology, Geography, Evolution, Environment

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If you like this book, you'll love these:

  • Life on Earth--and Beyond
  • Cars on Mars
  • The Day-Glo Brothers

  • Awards
  • A Junior Library Guild Selection
  • CCBC Choices
  • NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
  • NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12
  • Subaru/SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books--Young Adult finalist
  • YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults (finalist)

  • Reviews
      School Library Journal - March 1, 2010
    The authors have taken an unusual approach in this look at members of the human family tree. Rather than sketch all of human prehistory, they focus on four particular discoveries, noting the deductions that scientists have made and the debates that these conclusions have sparked. The finds that they detail are Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man, and Ötzi the Iceman. This approach will be helpful for students as it makes clear the type of work done by paleontologists, archaeologists, and their ilk. There is a lot of painstaking effort and a lot of careful thought. It is particularly interesting to learn what sorts of debates an activity as innocent-seeming as archaeology can engender. Full-color photos, an occasional map or diagram, and an illustrated time line enhance the presentation. As they have focused on only four individuals, readers may miss their personal favorites, such as "Lucy" and the recently discovered Homo floresiensis, nicknamed "hobbits." There are also some scientific points that aren't explained as well as they might be. In their discussion of genetics, for example, the authors refer to C, G, A, and T without ever explaining that these are the initials of cytosine, guanine, adenine, and thymine. While there are a few print sources from recent years, many go back 10 years or more. Despite a few quibbles, this is an excellent look at an engaging area of science that should find broad readership and use.
      Booklist - February 15, 2010
    Archaeology and paleontology are the exciting focus in this accessible account of four hominins who lived long before recorded history. The authors explore not only how and where their remains were discovered but also what they tell scientists today about how they lived and why they died out. Were Neanderthals brainy or brutish? Man or beast? When did language begin? The informal style never oversimplifies the engaging science and technology, and the authors raise as many questions as they answer in the detailed chapters, which cover each of the four fossils and the research and debate that surround them. The design is lackluster but readable, with clear type on thick paper and occasional full-color illustrations of sites, skeletons, and scientists at work. Meticulous source notes and bibliographies (including Web sites) at the end of each chapter will stimulate further research. Adults will want this, too.
      Kirkus Reviews - February 15, 2010
    This ambitious exploration of archaeology approaches the popular subject through four important discoveries of hominin skeletons in the past 30 years. The famous finds, located on three continents and dated 1.6 million to 5,300 years old, include Turkana Boy, the most complete Homo erectus yet discovered; Lapedo Child, a Paleolithic ritual burial; Kennewick Man, whose bones became the subject of a major legal battle; and the Iceman, which had skin as well as bones preserved under a glacier. Since each of the discoveries could merit an entire book, the coverage is at once tantalizing and frustrating. The authors, both professors, provide a narrative about each discovery, describe the process of studying the remains and discuss scientific debates about broad implications of the finds. They tackle large topics in too little space while also straining to add a conversational tone that sometimes falls flat. The study's strength is in the fascinating details and in its potential for inspiring readers to learn more. Unfortunately, suggestions for further reading are primarily books written for adults, although website recommendations are more helpful. Infrequent color photographs add information.
      JLG Monthly - March 1, 2010
    When did language begin? How did early humans populate the globe? By looking closely at four of the most significant hominins ever discovered, the authors explain how Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man, and Iceman have influenced debates about the nature of the earliest members of the family Hominidae. Further reading. Time line. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. Map. Full-color photographs.

    JLG Reviewers say:

    A good treatment of the topic.

    Clearly discusses and explains the significance of the four hominin discoveries.

    The "debates" sections of the book demonstrate how important the finds are for answering scientific and historical questions.
      Yellow Brick Road - March 31, 2010
    The discovery of four hominins, Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man and Iceman expanded our knowledge of the pre-historic world to a vast degree. Scientists' conclusions about the discoveries are surprisingly controversial, illustrating the varying approaches and opinions of different experts in the field of archaeology.
      NSTA Recommends - May 11, 2010
    Many books and television programs give us information about prehistoric humans, their anatomy, their lifestyles, their cultures, and their migrations. This book reveals the fascinating process by which this information has been obtained by archaeologists and other scientists.

    Focusing on four specific hominin specimens, the authors describe each one in terms of the three Ds of archaeology-discovery, deductions, and debates. The four specimens examined are Turkana Boy, a 1.6-million-year-old Homo erectus fossil; Lapedo Child, a 24,500-year-old specimen believed by some to be a Neandertal/modern human hybrid; Kennewick Man, a 9000-year-old possible ancestor of Native Americans; and Iceman, a 5300-year-old specimen preserved in Alpine ice.

    The "Discovery" section for each hominin is an adventure story, introduced with a creative scenario of how the particular individual died and ended up as a fossil. This leads to an account of the eventual discovery of its remains, its excavation, and the subsequent study and analysis of the specimen. The "Deductions" section reveals the thoughts and ideas of scientists as they consider the significance of the remains. Materials from a fossil site are used by scientists from various disciplines to reconstruct the size, structure, health, and age of the body; the environment in which it lived; what it ate; and how it interacted with other species, both human and non-human.

    There is an amazing amount of detail in the conclusions resulting from the scientists' deductions. For example, one scientist claims that the facial structure of Kennewick Man indicated that he "cried a lot." The "Debates" section confirms that the story of these hominins is not a closed book. There is much disagreement and controversy on some of the deductions. Often, a new discovery challenges someone's long-held theory, that person is reluctant to accept a new interpretation, and arguments become rather heated. This section is an eye-opener to the process by which scientific information becomes established.

    This book would be appropriate for high school and advanced middle school classes. Several branches of science are introduced, and the scientific process is well-illustrated with numerous examples of how scientists work, interpret evidence, make deductions, debate interpretations, and refine points of view. Many different technologies, from microscopic pollen analysis to DNA analysis, are explained as some of the ways used to unlock the secrets of the human past. The book also includes numerous illustrations, many in color, as well as suggestions for further reading, a timeline, a glossary, a bibliography, and identifications of all of the scientists mentioned in the stories of the hominins.

      Bookslut - April 1, 2010
    For real life mysteries and the men and women who spend their entire careers solving them, I recommend settling down at the desk with Every Bone Tells a Story by Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw. This look at a series of four critical hominin discoveries is the kind of science done right that should jazz up any teen with a forensic bent. The authors use straightforward prose and break the discussion down into sections entitled "Discovery," "Deductions," and "Debates" as they summarize the finding of four sets of bones commonly known as Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man and Iceman. The skeletons range in age from 1.6 million years (Turkana Boy, found in Kenya) to 5,300 years (Iceman, found on the Austria/Italy border). Each has a special circumstance surrounding his death and each is found in startling and often unbelievable ways. (The boys who found the skull of 9,000 year old Kennewick man on the banks of the Columbia River during a boat race are my personal favorite.) Just like the vast array of scientists involved, readers will also learn something new from each discovery. Taken as a set, however, they teach a great deal about how we perceive human history and how much we still have to learn.
      ASM Ink - June 1, 2010
    This short, very readable book takes a look at four major archeological chance discoveries that presented special mysteries which, when resolved, expanded our knowledge of the past.

    Each story is divided into three sections: an account of the discovery of the remains and what happened afterward, the deductions that followed the discovery and the debate that followed the deductions.

    The stories revolve around Turkana Boy, a 1.6 million-year-old skeleton found in Kenya; Lapedo Child, a 24,500-year-old found in a Portuguese rock shelter; Kennewick Man, the 9,000-year-old body found eroding out of the Columbia River in Washington State, and the Iceman, the 5,300-year-old remains found sticking out of an Alpine glacier on the Italian-Austrian border.

    Each find caused a flurry of speculation over what exactly had been discovered. How old were the bones? Was Turkana Boy a human, meaning man had evolved that long ago, or something further down the tree of evolution? Where did Kennewick Man come from since his looks were so singular? The deduction and debate segments move the reader through the search for answers.

    Take the Iceman. Found by hikers high in the Alps, the body wasn't immediately recognized as being so old. But when that was established and from the artifacts recovered with it, a wealth of information was revealed about life 5,300 years ago. The more the body was examined, the more surprises were uncovered. Using modern DNA techniques, researchers even discovered that a descendant of Oetzi was among those working in a lab helping examine the remains.

    Or take Turkana Boy. How can you tell if it was a human or a pre-human? The answer is more than the technology he used, it also involves the location of his larynx, because that plays a key role in speech and because speech plays a key role in the development of technology.

    These four colorful, well-illustrated accounts take you through the process of chance discovery to scientific advancement. It is a journey worth taking.
      DIG Magazine - October 4, 2010
    Every Bone Tells a Story is a kid-friendly, fascinating read that focuses on the unearthing of four hominins (Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man, Iceman), as well as the lab deductions and debates that followed. Highly recommended.
    Truth is often stranger (or more fascinating) than fiction. Take the archeological discoveries of four hominins: Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man, and the Iceman, in Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw's Every Bone Tells a Story: Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and Debates (Charlesbridge, 2010; Gr 8 Up). Beyond explorations into the painstaking processes and forensics at work in archeological investigations, the book includes revelations about murder, grave robbers, professional infighting, and laws about handling human remains. Glossy color photos of the hominins and others of scientists at work in the field and in the lab document the quest for answers. Questions about the way farming might have spread across Europe, and whether Neanderthals could have mated with modern humans, make this a relevant title for discussions about current scientific inquiry.
      Science - December 10, 2010
    The authors present the fascinating stories of four of our ancient relatives: Turkana boy (from 1.6 million years ago in Kenya), Lapedo child (24,000 years ago, Portugal), Kennewick man (9000 years ago, Washington state), and Ötzi the iceman (5300 years ago, the Alps). They divide each narrative into sections that cover the field discoveries of the hominin remains and their contexts, subsequent deductions from laboratory work, and the debates over interpretations of the findings. At the end of each story, the authors suggest further readings and relevant Web sites and provide source notes for their meticulous accounts. Rubalcaba and Robertshaw clearly present the thought processes that scientists use to reach their conclusions, introduce the scientists as people while illustrating why they are so excited about their research, and accurately describe the scientific data for the reader’s evaluation. Exceptionally well written, the book provides an exciting read that makes the joy of being a scientist come alive.
      A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy - December 22, 2010
    The Good: One of the shortlisted books for the 2011 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults.

    As the book explains, this isn't the Indiana Jones version of archaeology; it is the scientific version, of analysis, of tests, of careful study. It does so by examining four different hominin discoveries, organizing it on a timeline of the oldest (Turkana Boy, 1.6 million years) to the Iceman (5,300 years). The discoveries themselves took place at different times, in different locations, and each was significant or unique.

    Disclaimer: I find the subject matter of this book fascinating. Learning about the past, discovering what people ate, burial practices, all from bones? How amazing is that? The problem is, I have to be careful when I review or analyze because when I say "great book" is it a great book because of the topic matter or because of the writing?

    Every Bone Tells a Story does a great job of using and explaining scientific terms without being confusing, over technical, or entering the technobabble area. Putting it in chronological order also assists the reader in seeing the development and evolution of hominins and scientific theory and what we know about the past.

    The Kennewick Man was discovered in the United States on federal land. The 1990 Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act which prevents grave robbing and protects Native American people's rights provides a process. When the remains of the Kennewick Man were dated at 9,000 years NAGPRA was invoked to stop additional testing and to bury his remains. Scientists argued against this for many reasons. As summed up by the authors, "many (but not all) archaeologists fought against reburial because they were alarmed by the number of pricelss bones reburied and destroyed by the earth - knowledge lost. Many (but not all) Native Americans fought for reburial because they were alarmed by the number of sacred bones unearthed and violated - loved ones lost." Both arguments are compelling and, within the context of the Kennewick Man, additional issues were raised by the age of the remains, claims being made by several tribes, and the initial description of the bones as "Caucasian-like."

    Both Turkana Boy's and Lapedo Child's discovery and scientific analysis are shown to be done with respect to scientific principles. While separated in time for when they were discovered, both were discovered and so excavated by scientists who, even if they did not look at the bones as "loved ones," did look at them with respect and followed scientific procedures that included proper handling of the bones and remains.

    The Kennewick Man and the Iceman were both initially discovered by, well, regular people. Ironically for the Kennewick Man, the treatment of his remains that caused me the most unease in terms of mishandling occurred after NAGPRA was invoked. In the case of the Iceman, the treatment of the body (especially when it was initially thought to be "just" another dead body) made me cringe. I appreciated that the authors made their point about treatment of the various bones and remains by showing the readers how these bones were excavated, treated, and used.

    Every Bone Tells a Story has plenty of photographs and illustrations, as well as plenty of notes and resources for more reading. This book has plenty of great content and invites the reader to think about scientific and political debates. It's chock-full of science and is a great example of the types of books so-called "non readers" love to read.

      Reality Rules - December 22, 2010
    Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw's book about archaeologists (and palaeontologists) and all of the other forensic scientists needed to correctly identify and make the scientific discoveries involved with the long dead has a fairly complex name, albeit one that more fully identifies the narrative included: Every Bone Tells a Story: Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and Debates.

    The titular "bones" belong to the 1.6M year old Turkana Boy, the Palaeolithic Lapedo Child, the 9,000 year-old bones of the Kennewick Man and the Iceman. While some of the stories have been included in other books or been the subject of books (particularly the Iceman), what makes this book stand out and will appeal to either teens interested in archaeology or science is the information gleaned from the discoveries. Notable examples of this include development of human language from the Turkana chapter and the information scientists gather from sites involving painstaking efforts which then gives them a picture of the existing vegetation, animal life, and evidence of human occupation. Detailed examinations of each recovery includes reports on illnesses, potential causes of deaths and frequent debates among scientists when these reports did not jibe with the accepted science. Readers are given all sides of the arguments and will be left to make up their own minds. Each section includes photographs, concludes with websites and further readings and will find a home in school and public libraries. This title has been named a finalist for the 2011 YALSA Award of Excellence.

    This book offers nonfiction lovers a close look at four of the most important "early man" finds – Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man, and the Iceman. Each find is detailed (both in terms of what was going on when the person died and how the discovery of the remains was made) and then the findings and controversy surrounding each is discussed. I really enjoyed reading what scientists learned about each person’s life by examining the skeletons — a nick or a bump can reveal quite a bit to someone who understands what they are looking at.

    Part mystery and part anthropology, this book is a must for anyone interested in archaeology. But don’t turn the pages expecting a dry text book. Rubalcaba finds the humor involved in the various debates ranging from how flowers might have been introduced into a grave (by accident or did Neanderthal have religion?) to bumbling about trying to decide if a find is a missing hiker (dressed in extinct furs) or an early man.

    And don’t be surprised if it sounds a bit like a CSI investigation. Forensic scientists built their specialties upon the foundations of archaeology. Each group studies the remains and surrounding items for clues. In one case, the remains may be only hours old. In the other, thousands of years.

    This is definitely the book to whet the appetite of a future archaeologist.

      CCBC Choices - May 31, 2011
    Discovery, deduction, and debate about four hominins-- people who lived before recorded history-- are detailed in this lively, accessible narrative focusing on Turkana Boy, Lapedo Child, Kennewick Man, and Iceman. The four discoveries present a host of compelling stories from the moment each fossilized skeleton, bones, or mummy were first sighted, through the thorough study of the remains, and especially when experts propose reasoned but conflicting explanations of those results. Extensive back matter offers further reading, a timeline, glossary, list of individuals involved in discovery and research of the four hominins, and a bibliography. The engaging text draws readers in, and is enhanced with well-captioned photographs and a consistent design that allows easy comparison of the four cases.