TIME SONG by Julia Blackburn


Journeys in Search of a Submerged Land
by ; illustrated by
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A search for a lost land reveals secrets of prehistory.

In the early 1990s, archaeologist Bryony Coles began research to find evidence of a submerged land bridge connecting Britain to Europe, a place she named Doggerland, styling it after other lands (England, Jutland) abutting the sea. Coles is one among many individuals—paleontologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, geologists, fishermen, and fossil collectors—who shared their insights with Blackburn (Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske, 2015, etc.) as she engaged in a quest to discover Doggerland’s past. Doggerland, she discovered, had been a solid landmass from 2.6 million years ago until melting ice and rising seas completely flooded it around 7,000 years ago. From a plethora of fossils—one researcher collected 150,000 kilos of bones, including 70,000 mammoth teeth—the author learned that early in its history, the area had been a savannah, where mammoths, woolly rhinos, and mastodon elephants grazed. As the climate became colder, the landscape was transformed into tundra, to which the mammoth, with its shaggy covering of hair, was well adapted to survive. A dramatic temperature rise 11,500 years ago produced marshes, swamps, rivers, and woodlands and an enormous density and diversity of wildlife. Artifacts offer proof that the land was inhabited, as well, by humans: Neanderthals hunted and gathered until they abruptly disappeared, victims of violent and dramatic confrontations.” They lived in settlements, able to form “a sedentary society,” Coles told Blackburn, “because the food they needed for survival came to them.” The author creates a lyrical narrative of her journey: deft portraits of the men and women she interviewed and poetic reflections on her discoveries, her husband’s death, and the infinity of the past. Her narrative is more poetic, surely, than her 18 “Time Songs,” whose rhythm and language are decidedly proselike. The book is illustrated with maps, and the songs are accompanied by pen-and-ink drawings, some evoking the fanciful style of Paul Klee, by Spanish painter Brinkmann, Blackburn’s longtime friend.

A sensitively rendered chronicle of discovery.

Pub Date: Aug. 6th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-101-87167-6
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2019


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