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Bones, Rocks and Stars: The Science of When Things Happened by Chris Turney

Bones, Rocks and Stars by Chris Turney

Bones, Rocks and Stars by Chris Turney

I found this smallish book to be very entertaining, but it left me wanting for more.

Not more topics, mind: besides chemical dating methods, it delves into far more and vastly different methods than one would have expected. This includes exhaustive descriptions of historical dating methods and how we go about putting “time” into a working calendar. It is fascinating how many methods can be employed to try and pinpoint when and how the dinosaurs died out, “King Arthur” might have lived, why the Turin Shroud’s grand origins are just another medieval fiction, or what kinds of human species might have lived at which geological times. (Turney, by the way, was one of the experts involved in dating the “Hobbit,” the Homo floresiensi, a subject still far from being settled. But then again, which ever is.)

From there, I’d launch my three points of criticism. Given the scope of Chris Turney’s book, and its topics’ import and interest, it is way too small indeed; I would have happily devoured 400+ pages instead of its meager 167. Then, with regard to chemical and other “hard” scientific dating methods, Turney walks on tiptoes to make it an easy yet educating read; I would have appreciated more “meat” on these methods (possibly after each chapter or in the form of an appendix), and more diagrams wouldn’t have hurt either.

Thirdly, what’s really missing is a final synopsis or tables as a reference section: summing up what dating methods are available right now; what works when and how and under what circumstances; their specific time windows of reliability (standard deviation and such); and maybe one or two important cases where they have been successfully applied.

Especially such a reference section would have been exceptionally useful when following news involving dating methods; not only to understand the respective scientific arguments, but also as a one-stop source for debunking the cocktail party myths such news invariably generate.

Turney, Chris. Bones, Rocks and Stars: The Science of When Things Happened. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2008
This review was also published at LibraryThing (but isn’t there anymore for reasons related to my physical library).

If you have something valuable to add or some interesting point to discuss, I’ll be looking forward to meeting you at Mastodon!

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