Memoir of a food-and-travel journalist who displays her love of archaeology.
Bahrami (Historic Walking Guides: Madrid, 2009, etc.) covers events from 2010 to 2015, most of them at the dig at La Ferrassie in France, where seven nearly complete Neanderthal skeletons were found. The author describes her position as “the upstairs-downstairs journalist-crew-anthropologist folded into [a] camp of some thirty quirky, very opinionated, very international, and very bright archaeologists and students as they worked into one of the great mysteries of the human journey on earth.” Interviews and informal conversations with these men and women abound as Bahrami picks their brains about their work. Debates center on how much Neanderthals were like modern humans. Did they have language and symbolic thought? Did they participate in rituals, such as burial of the dead? Though Bahrami does not provide all the answers, she effectively portrays the rich atmosphere at a dig. Over good food and drink after a day’s work, she talked to the scientists, seeking different perspectives, and she quotes their opinions at length. In addition, she came to know and appreciate the local amateur prehistory experts who are invariably proud of the fact that Neanderthals once thrived in their area. Bahrami’s technique results in lots of repetition and some entertaining but extraneous information; however, this is not intended to be a textbook but rather a memoir and an amiable introduction to a bit of prehistory. In one chapter, the author concentrates on what the science of genetics has brought to the study of the migrations out of Africa, to the evolution of modern man, and to our closest kin, the Neanderthals, with whom we share 99.7 percent of our DNA.
Written with all the flair and enthusiasm of an experienced writer eager to share her love of her subject.