In Unlocking the Past, Martin Jones, a leading expert at the forefront of bioarcheology—the discipline that gave Michael Crichton the premise for Jurassic Park—explains how this pioneering science is rewriting human history and unlocking stories of the past that could never have been told before. For the first time, the building blocks of ancient life—DNA, proteins, and fats that have long been trapped in fossils and earth and rock—have become widely accessible to science. Working at the cutting edge of genetic and other molecular technologies, researchers have been probing the remains of these ancient biomolecules in human skeletons, sediments and fossilized plants, dinosaur bones and insects trapped in amber. Their amazing discoveries have influenced the archeological debate at almost every level and continue to reshape our understanding of the past.
Devising a molecular clock from a certain area of DNA, scientists were able to determine that all humans descend from one common female ancestor, dubbed Mitochondrial Eve, who lived around 150,000 years ago. From molecules recovered through grinding stones and potsherds, they reconstructed ancient diets and posited when such practices as dairying and boiling water for cooking began. They have reconstituted the beer left in the burial chamber of pharaohs and know what Ötzi the Ice Man, the five-thousand-year-old hunter found in the Alps in the early nineties, ate before his last journey. Conveying both the excitement of innovative research and the sometimes bruising rough-and-tumble of scientific debate, Jones has written a work of profound importance. Unlocking the Past is science at its most engaging. It is, quite simply, the best account of bioarcheology’s coming of age.
Unlocking the Past, by Martin Jones
Author: Martin Jones
Paperback: 348 pages
Publisher: Arcade Publishing, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, New York
“Some books change the way we think … [Unlocking the Past] is one of the most important books of the year.”—New Statesman
“Very timely and a delight to read … Martin Jones brings together, for the first time, the story of the spectacular achievements of a generation of scientists from around the world. It is a story told with all the enthusiasm of one who has been among the pioneers. The birth of molecular archaeology is a scientific revolution that is transforming our concepts of the past.”—Barry Cunliffe, author of The Ancient Celts
“An immensely absorbing account of modern molecular archaeology … Jones writes with clarity and marvelous control, with elegance, wit, and large helpings of brilliance.”—Financial Times
“Refreshing and lively … Martin Jones captures the flavor of the chase and the enthusiasm of the researcher using some of the remarkable new techniques now available for investigation of the remote human past.”—Colin Renfrew, author of Archaeology and Language
“[Unlocking the Past] is a mine of information about a fascinating field of scientific inquiry. You should come away enlightened and inspired.”—Guardian
Martin Jones is the first holder of the George Pitt-Rivers Professorship of Archaeological Science at Cambridge University and was chairman of the international Ancient Biomolecules Initiative research program.