A BONE FROM A DRY SEA by Peter Dickinson


Age Range: 11 & up
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 Dickinson (AK, etc.) returns to his native Africa for an imaginative look at humanity's dawn, postulating a male-dominated tribe of ape-like hominids who depend on the sea for food, have no tools, and communicate with calls that are not yet language. (In one of several scrupulous parenthetical explanations, Dickinson apologizes for the names he gives them as a fictional convenience.) ``Li'' has a genius surpassing Edison's: she not only invents useful devices (a net to catch minnows, a splint for a broken leg) but is the catalyst for changing the nature of tribal leadership so that ``it depend[s] less upon dominance and more upon consent.'' Young and female, Li lacks conventional power; what fascinates her is solving problems--especially how to get food in the coastal environment so persuasively described; and she's clever enough not to challenge authority but to bolster it in the most benign available leader. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, modern anthropologists investigate the site, their scholarly pursuits and rivalries subtly echoing the earlier time. Each expertly crafted story builds to a suspenseful climax, but most intriguing is their eponymous link: a fragment of a dolphin's scapula found on what's now an arid upland site, with a hole that could only have been drilled by a not-quite-human hand. An engrossing portrayal of a gifted early hominid, less contrived, more convincing than--and a fascinating contrast to- -the ape with a transplanted human brain in Dickinson's Eva (1989). (Fiction. 11+)

Pub Date: March 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-385-30821-3
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Delacorte
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1993


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