They Were Here Before Us
Stories from the First Million Years
by Eyal Halfon; Ran Barkai
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Pub Date 12 Mar 2024 | Archive Date 5 Mar 2024
This is not a book about archaeological sites. We shall come across flint tools, bones, skulls, surprising structures, and layers of earth that we can date to different periods—but they are not the heart of the matter. This book is about us, human beings, and about our place in the world. About what we have done, where we came from, which other humans used to be here, why they are no longer with us, and how and why our lives have changed. It’s also about where we went wrong. What did early humans do because they had no choice and what is the price we are paying for this now?
Taking as the focus ten sites in Israel, the land corridor through which the human species passed on its journey from Africa to Europe, the story ranges far and wide from France, Spain, Turkey and Georgia to Morocco and South Africa, North America, Columbia and Peru. The authors follow the footsteps of our ancestors, describing the tools they used, the animals they hunted and the monuments they built. Fascinating revelations include:
- The earliest evidence of human use of fire;
- The meaning of cave art and the transformative effect of touching rock;
- The woman for whom 90 tortoises were sacrificed;
- What happened in the Levant following the disappearance of elephants;
- The monumental tower built at the lowest place on earth;
- Why we should envy modern hunter-gatherers – and much more ...
This provocative and panoramic book shows readers what they can learn from their ancestors, and how the unwavering ability of prehistoric people to survive and thrive can continue into the present.
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 23 members
Great storytelling about our great-great stone-age ancestors
I am glad this book caught my eye. The authors really know their archaeological stuff, but even better they know to tell a great story about what was life like for the first humans and how the changes in the world around them changed their world as well.
The story focuses (not exclusively) on the Levante / Israel because all those migrations from Africa had to pass through this area and some great archaelogical finds were discovered in this area - kudos to the governments past and present for funding those digs.
I liked that the stories of those big discoveries and those who made them (and some great women among them!) were woven into the story of our great-great ancestors and I liked the dry humor when the authors told us about their travels (yes, coffee is a must have) and what they witnessed with their own eyes.
This book was a great tapestry which made the early days of humanity come alive, I loved when all those connections became clear and to sum it up I really enjoyed the read.
I received an ARC via netgalley. The review is left voluntarily.
This caught my eye because of its relevance to my thesis, and I'm glad I read it. I've read around half of the primary source materials cited in the first half of the book, and I thought that the authors did a good job of interpreting it for a general audience. However, I wish it was more clear that it was originally written in Hebrew with an Israeli audience in mind, as some of the historical and political references were a little confusing for me. I highly recommend this for anyone interested in this area of the world, especially to gain a deeper historical perspective on how this land has been used over time in light of the ongoing ethnic cleansing in Gaza.
this was a fascinating read! my only (minor) complaint is that it sometimes became a little too speculative, and i went into it thinking that it was a more factual book — perhaps it should be marketed as somewhat speculative, what with the dialogues included in the book and whatnot? i don’t know, really, but i do think that the fictional aspect of it should be highlighted a little more. other than that, though, i really enjoyed it!
I loved this book. For me, it took the novel approach of looking at the various early people that moved from Africa to Asia through what is now Israel. The authors examined ten sites in Israel and gave great descriptions using a highly conversational tone. The writing is clear, with the perfect amount of detail; it never gets bogged down in minutiae. The biographies of the people who first examined the sites are excellent. And in several places the authors’ humour showed through. This book is well worth reading for anyone with an interest in early humanity. Thank you to Netgalley and Watkins Publishing for the advance reader copy.
3.5 stars rounded to 4.
"They Were Here Before Us" takes a look at human evolution through the lens of several different archaeological sites, emphasizing the skill, intelligence, community, and humanity of our ancient ancestors. Hand axes, elephants, rock quarrying - clever prehistoric humans had their fingers in all of it.
The book is written in friendly everyday language, making this one very approachable for the non-science reader; it also appears well-referenced for anyone interested in diving deeper into the primary sources. Readers who regularly watch the PBS series NOVA or other similar archaeological television will find this book to be familiar ground.
As another reviewer noted, this book appears to have been translated from the original Hebrew, so the localization of the political/historical references may be unfamiliar for some readers. Additionally, I felt like many of the individuals discussed blended together, and would've liked to see more distinctions established between the main "characters". Though a few images were included, the addition of even more visual elements throughout would go far in improving the connection readers feel with the story.
Overall, "They Were Here Before Us" was an enjoyable read for anyone interested in a the story of human evolution, and contains something new for even the most well-learned couch archaeologist to read and discover.
Thank you to the publisher, author, and NetGalley for the eARC in exchange for honest review.