Built on Bones
October 30, 2019 8:56 PM - by Brenna Hassett - Subscribe

Humans and their immediate ancestors were successful hunter-gatherers for hundreds of thousands of years, but in the last fifteen thousand years humans have gone from finding food to farming it, from seasonal camps to sprawling cities, from a few people to hordes. Drawing on her own fieldwork in the Mediterranean, Africa, Asia, and beyond, archeologist Brenna Hassett explores the long history of urbanization through revolutionary changes written into the bones of the people who lived it. For every major new lifestyle, another way of dying appeared. From the "cradle of civilization" in the ancient Near East to the dawn of agriculture on the American plains, skeletal remains and fossils show evidence of shorter lives, rotten teeth, and growth interrupted. The scarring on human skeletons reveals that getting too close to animals had some terrible consequences, but so did getting too close to too many other people. Each chapter of Built on Bones moves forward in time, discussing in depth humanity's great urban experiment. Hassett explains the diseases, plagues, epidemics, and physical dangers we have unwittingly unleashed upon ourselves throughout the urban past--and, as the world becomes increasingly urbanized, what the future holds for us. In a time when "Paleo" lifestyles are trendy and so many of us feel the pain of the city daily grind, this book asks the critical question: Was it worth it?
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (3 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This book (once again thank you Mark K) is fucking phenomenal. For one thing it is basically everything I was into in my last couple of years as an Anth undergrad so I'm just mad I didn't read this book sooner. For another this remarkable woman- a founding member of the TrowelBlazers, a group of female archaeologists, geologists and paleontologists, uses footnotes like the late Terry Pratchett in a way that had me literally stifling laughter on my commute. This woman is hilarious. This book is a look at the bio-archaeological evidence for how urbanization changed humans. Like how did humans react to agriculture? LETS LOOK AT TEETH. How did urbanization change disease patterns? LETS LOOK AT SHINBONES. It's so dense and wonderful and funny and sad and scientific and angry and informative. God I wish all non-fiction was written like this. Better yet she doesn't perpetuate the bullshit that cities are killing us- she explains how it's inequality that does that, the cities can stay. Seriously! She references luxury automated space communism! Just- read this book. You wont regret it!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:04 PM on October 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

argh!! another book to add to the pile!
posted by supermedusa at 8:42 AM on October 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Added to my pile, as well. :-)
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 6:25 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

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