cover image When Science Sheds Light on History: Forensic Science and Anthropology

When Science Sheds Light on History: Forensic Science and Anthropology

Philippe Charlier with David Alliot, trans. from the French by Isabelle Ruben. Univ. of Florida, $18.95 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-0-8130-5654-8

Charlier, a French forensic medical examiner and specialist in ancient human remains, brings together summaries of his case studies—which include bones and bodies taken from prehistoric caves, charnel houses, royal tombs, and communal burials—to demonstrate what such remains can tell researchers. He finds ancient evidence of broken bones that healed and of skillful amputations. He also relates that, as far back as the Neolithic period, disabled members of society were apparently decently cared for, and stresses that people with congenital conditions were neither ostracized nor euthanized. In the medieval and Renaissance sections, Charlier delves into historical mysteries: for instance, bottles of wine said to contain the ashes of Joan of Arc instead turn out to hold remnants of burned Egyptian mummies. The book is full of similarly fascinating bits of trivia, such as what one can learn from dental tartar or the longevity of fecal material on ceramic pieces used for wiping. The book’s overarching premise isn’t entirely clear, however; Charlier’s presentation would likely be less muddled if he had organized his material by type instead of roughly by era. However intriguing the book’s individual examples, the material never coheres into a narrative and suffers as a result. (Oct.)