Reviews

Book Review: Canada’s Stonehenge, by Gordon R. Freeman
Kingsley Publishing, Calgary, 2009, 293 pages
(review by Terry J. Deveau)

This is a wonderful book. It is filled with many wonders of very different kinds. It is also challenging on many different levels; and challenging to review. There is so much more to this book than one would guess from the title, or even from the subtitle: Astounding Archaeological Discoveries in Canada, England, and Wales. The author has a mastery of his subject that comes from a lifetime of intimate and meticulous development, of which the book is an attractively crafted summation. The book itself is beautifully arranged and magnificently illustrated; even the choice of paper and typesetting are immediately impressive.

Freeman is a scientist, in every sense of the term, but mostly in the oldest and truest sense. His formal career, for many years Chairman of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Alberta, has been in the interdisciplinary field of Kinetics of Nonhomogeneous Processes, where complex physical systems are investigated through pattern recognition and where novel, insightful thinking is required to obtain results. Freeman brings that same investigative approach, naturally, to his study of archaeoastronomy, but also a deep reverence for the people and cultures that constructed the ancient temples, as well as for their descendents today.

This book primarily reports important discoveries that Freeman has made of the authentic and surprising astronomical accuracy of two extremely ancient solar/lunar horizon sighting calendar devices; one, a mostly unknown “medicine wheel” on a remote prairie in Alberta, Canada, and the other, the ultra-famous Stonehenge megalithic complex on the Salisbury Plain in central England; not insignificantly, as it turns out, nearly at equal latitude. These discoveries were made gradually and methodically, over a period of many years of systematic and very careful on-site observations of not just the rise/set horizon events and alignments, but all aspects of the geography, topography, history, archaeology, and mythology that provide clues to understanding the function and design of these ancient masterpieces.

Along the way, Freeman offers a vast array of other insights and personal anecdotes to delight, enthrall, illuminate, and educate the reader in unexpected subjects. A large number of other ancient sites are also briefly discussed, which Freeman has also visited and investigated, prominently including Preseli Mountain, Wales (the source of the famous Bluestones of Stonehenge) and Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

There are so many important insights in this book, and their development for the reader is so masterful, that it almost seems inappropriate to give them short shrift in a review. But to briefly mention two, perhaps the most important, would be that solar/lunar rise/set horizon events can only be precisely measured by means of the first/last flash (and the ancient alignments prove that the original skywatchers understood this) and that the modern notion of equinox is physically unobservable, except in a uselessly casual way, but that the ancient skywatchers instead observed the true and precise directly opposed east/west rise/set directions as significant calendar dates (which are surprisingly different from our modern equinox dates). You must read the book, actually the entire book, to really grasp what this means and why it’s important.

Freeman has masterfully dispersed his teaching over the whole book, almost like a literary hologram. You can read any page, or any chapter, and learn some amazing information and enjoy the story he tells there, but it is only when the book is taken as a whole, or on a second reading even, that the complete clarity of the various insights Freeman has to impart coalesce into sharp focus. As one reads this book, one feels challenged by various points or approaches that Freeman makes at times. Read on to the end, and then reread the book a second time. Freeman does not make any statement frivolously. His reasoning and methods run much deeper than the book has room to present; but if the reader is humble enough to keep his mind open throughout, much can be learned. Highly recommended without hesitation or qualification. 

Book Reviews

 

Glozel: Bones of Contention by Alice Gerard

In this real life who-done-it young Emile Fradin could never have imagined in 1924 that his life would become embroiled in a fierce archaeological controversy that rages on today with ninety-four year old Emile still waiting to be exonerated.

It began high on the rolling plateau of the Allier region of central France, when in the tiny Hamlet of Glozel the cow fell into a hole. Once the cow was extricated Emile and his grandfather began to retrieve an astonishing assortment of artifacts, carved bone, clay tablets and pots with strange faces and even stranger writing, stone implements unlike anything seen before.

Fueled by the passionate and determined commitment of a doctor and amateur archaeologist, Dr. Morlet, from nearby Vichy, who believed it to be a collection of Neolithic relics, the news spread quickly through academia and sides were drawn. Some calling it the most important find of the century others a clumsy hoax. A myriad of time periods have been postulated ranging from the Neolithic through Gallo-Roman to Medieval, and of course, twentieth century fabrication.

Alice Gerard was introduced to the story in 1954 and has been actively involved with the “affair of Glozel” since. She and her oceanographer husband championed a scientific approach, advocating accepted methods of dating and analysis, and working with respected scientists here and in Europe. At last this bizarre story is available in English. Gerard presents a concise history of the convoluted development of opinions, research, dating efforts and confrontations surrounding interpretation of Glozelian material. She includes comprehensive descriptions and illustrations of the artifacts, and her conclusions remain open ended. As part of her story of Glozel, she weaves a diary her experience through the years and brings to life the cast of characters involved during the last fifty years.

Glozel, Bones of Contention,

Alice Gerard,

2005, IUniverse, Lincoln NE.

293 pages, available through Amazon for $21.95

 

The Fourth Part of Gaul by John Cabeen Beatty

In these days of excessive violence, gory scenes, and frantic action plots, John Beatty gives us a quieter, more innocent novel treating a violent theme in another violent age, that of the Roman conquest of Gaul.

In The Fourth Part of Gaul, Beatty follows the fortunes of Marcus Pontus, a young Roman tribune held hostage by Veneti, a Gaulish tribe in today’s Brittany. From aboard his captor’s ship, Pontus witnesses the fierce naval battle ending in the defeat of the Veneti and elects to flee with a flotilla of four ships. A Greek trader pilots the little fleet on a long forgotten Carthaginian trade route to a forgotten land in the west. The small settlement on the Connecticut struggles against bitter winter and treacherous attack. The Roman hostage learns the ways of the Veneti, take a Gaulish wife and in the end become key to their survival in the New World.

NEARA readers will appreciate the authors sea-based perspective. His careful research and the accuracy of his descriptions combine to give a flavor of authenticity to the story

Could there be more than a touch of truth in this novel? Read it and decide for yourself.

The Fourth Part of Gaul

John C. Beatty

2004, Xlibris available from Xlibris or Amazon for $22.99

 Controversies in Archaeology

Alice Beck Kehoe. 2008. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. 256 pp., Paperback, $29.95. Reviewed by  James L Guthrie

 Controversies in Archaeology is a textbook for undergraduate students of anthropology, but anyone who wants a peek at the inner workings of institutional American archaeology through the eyes of an outspoken insider, or who is sensitive to oppression of the First American Nations and other minority people, will find this a fascinating but disturbing read. Alice Kehoe, Professor of Anthropology emerita at Marquette University and Adjunct Professor in Anthropology, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is an independent thinker and a bit controversial herself.

Despite more than 50 years in mainstream archaeology, she describes herself as "a person not quite routinely accepted into American archaeology's core system." Practitioners inside the core, she observes, "hold outsiders to higher standards than they accept for ordinary puzzle-solving work. Conversely, a thoughtful person standing on the fringe of a core system may see a parade of proclaimed emperors with remarkably few clothes, when it comes to well-grounded procedures." She is not afraid to comment on the importance of politics, social position, and gender in academia, or on the role of personal biases in generating and accepting archaeological dogma. Anecdotes from her own experiences illuminate how things actually work in archaeology.

 

  Controversies analyzed by Kehoe often hinge on "core ideas" that proved to be fallacious but that were promoted by dominant scholars in ways that inhibited clear thinking for decades. Among these are belief that the Americas were totally isolated from other continents after the initial migrations, the myth of the ice-free corridor, the idea that cultures evolve universally through inevitable stages, ecological determinism, ranking of world populations according to their perceived capabilities and stages of development, advocacy of the circular "hypothetico-deductive" method, rejection of traditional oral histories and, most importantly, the view of indigenous Americans as savage tribes living off the pristine land without possessions or social organization who could benefit from subjugation and civilization. A novel feature of Kehoe's discussion is omission from the main text of names of individuals who promoted or opposed such ideas. Most are named in the notes, supposedly for the edification of instructors.

 

Included in the phenomena discussed by Kehoe, in no particular order, are:

  • Fraudulent TV documentaries.
  • Archaeologist Frank Hibben's delusions about Sandia Cave.
  • The Burrows Cave hoax.
  • Myth of the peaceful pueblos.
  • Cannibalism, warfare, slavery, and human sacrifice in American societies.

•   Failure to acknowledge the use of arches, domes, and vaults in American architecture.

  • Archaeoastronomy as a feature of American architecture.
  • Mexican influences in the Pueblo and Mississippian cultures.
  • The fad of processual archaeology (the search for universal laws).
  • Mischaracterization of sundry practices as "shamanism."
  • Censorship by journals of unorthodox findings.
  • Promotion of "sanitized" national mythologies.

Kehoe presents an array of issues to ponder, including:

  • Do remains belong to conquerors? Who owns artifacts?
  • How do working scientists actually try to make sense of observations?
  • Were Americans largely sedentary, or did they migrate over long distances?
  • To what extent were early Americans involved in long-distance sea trade?
  • How valid are treaties and land claims?
  • How can varying estimates of ancient population sizes be evaluated?
  • Is the concept of cultural evolution racist?
  • How important was agriculture in the rise of civilization?
  • What accounts for innovation?
  • How does the internet affect public understanding of the past?
  • Can archaeology benefit communities of First Americans?

Alice Kehoe tries to "tread a path between academic dogma and outre enthusiasms," and I think she has succeeded admirably. I enthusiastically recommend Controversies in Archaeology to NEARA members.