My review of Caligula: A Biography by Aloys Winterling has been published by BMCR. You can read my review here.
Sunday, 15 April 2012
Sunday, 1 April 2012
Since the 19th Century, the view which the general public has been presented concerning the ancient world has been censored. The history of sexuality, in particularly, was thought unsuitable for a broad audience. Early museums stored their more explicit artefacts behind closed doors, out of sight of impressionable eyes. As the title suggests, this book aims to expose the range of archaeological evidence for the bawdy, scatological and downright inappropriate.
Paul Bahn is a leading archaeologist who is best known for his co-authorship of the leading textbook for archaeological theory and practice. Bahn's mastery of his field is evident from the range of artefacts and anecdotes that he describes in admirable detail. Bill Tidy is a prolific cartoonist. His cartoons are worth the cost of the text alone.
There is clearly an enthusiastic audience for uncensored archaeology. No one who visits the Jorvik Viking Centre can forget the authentic smells of the Viking city. The authors of this book note the popularity of scratch and sniff postcards in the Jorvik gift shop! I understand that an accurate reproduction of the largest piece of human excrement to have been found from Viking York is a real hit with schoolchildren at the York Archaeological Trust's Dig centre. The popular Horrible Histories books and CBBC series also focus on the bizarre aspects of history. Such enthusiasm is not limited to the United Kingdom. Visitors to Pompeii are inevitably directed to the remains of the Roman brothel, scenes from which are sold in vast quantities by the traders outside of the city walls.
Disgraceful Archaeology ranges over a broad selection of topics, from sex to bizarre deaths to underpants and bizarre medical treatments employed in the past. The examples used are drawn from a wide geographical and chronological range. It is a work of admirable learning, particularly as so little has been published on this topic as a whole before.
I would strongly recommend this book as a gift for anyone with an interest in the more 'human' aspects of archaeology. Short chapters with a generous spread of cartoons mean it is perfect for dipping in and out of. My only word of warning would be that the adult nature of some of the topics would make this unsuitable for younger readers. Nevertheless, the authors and publisher should be congratulated on producing such an innovative and entertaining book. Bahn notes in the Introduction that they hope to produce another volume on similar lines. I trust we will not be waiting too long for the sequel to this marvellous text.