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Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland, by Sally M. Walker

06 May

 2009, Lerner Books, ISBN 978-0-8225-7135-3

Plot Summary: Beginning in 2005, a group of scientists ad forensic anthropologists began a dig in the Chesapeake Bay region.Written in Bonecovers the dig and the findings in both the Jamestown, Virginia and Colonial Maryland settlements. Using forensic techniques, anthropologists were able to learn a great deal about many of the skeletons unearthed at the digs, including approximate ages at death, possible causes of death, and whether or not the inhabitants had been in America long. Some of the skeletons were even identified.

Critical Evaluation: The book is illustrated with color photos of skeletons, dig sites, and artifacts, as well as maps and documents dating from colonial-era America. An illustrated timeline walks readers through Colonial Jamestown and Maryland events relevant to the digs, all the way through to 2009 when the Smithsonian’s “Written in Bone” exhibit opened to the public. Ms. Walker provides case studies on several skeletons excavated at the digs. Beginning with the discovery of the burial sites, each of the case studies goes through the process of discovery, unearthing, and using the bones and any surrounding material – dirt, arrowheads, vegetation – to learn more about the person, including their identity.

The author presents a great deal of fascinating scientific information and draws readers into a CSI-like investigation of the skeletons. One skeleton, discovered in a trash pit of a colonial home, is found to have likekly been that of a teenage indentured servant who may have been beaten to death. These stories, along with the compelling photographs, will keep the attention of reluctant readers as well as avid history fans.

Reviews: Kirkus Reviews: (starred review) “Readers will be enticed by both the scientific detective work and by the tantalizing mysteries that remain.”

Booklist: (starred review) “Those intrigued by forensics and history will find [Written in Bone] absolutely fascinating.”

Awards: Finalist, Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) Excellence in Nonfiction Award; Finalist, American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children’s Book (2010); Finalist, Orbis Pictus Recommended Book (2010); ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults (2010); Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People (2010).

Reader’s Annotation: Forensic anthropologists and archaeologists have learned so much about the skeletons excavated at the Jamestown and Colonial Maryland digs – all from examining their bones.

Author Information: Author Sally M. Walker studied archaeology in college, and primarily writes nonfiction books for readers of all ages, from early readers to older (middle grade-high school) readers. Her author website provides information on school visits, about all of her books, contact information and a biography. The Written in Bone exhibit is a 4-year Smithsonian exhibit that will close in January 2013 with a robust website featuring videos, a webcomic, and case files on colonists profiled in the book. The publisher’s website offers more information, including links to the exhibit, downloadable research tips from the author, a Written in Bone timeline of events, and a bookmark.

Genre: Nonfiction. Subgenres: American history, Colonial America, Archaeology.

Booktalking Ideas: The forensic anthropologists at the Jamestown and Colonial Maryland digs discover amazing things about the colonists through the skeletons they leave behind. What did you find most interesting? Do you think it was harrder to be a child and teenager during Colonial times than it is now? How so?

Reading Level/Interest Age: 12+

Challenge Issues/Defense: None.

Why did you include this book in the titles you selected?

I was lucky enough to see some of the Jamestown dig open to the public a few years ago, and thought the book would be an interesting read.

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