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DEATH BY THEORY: A TALE OF MYSTERY AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL THEORY

By: Adrian Praetzellis
AltaMira Press, Walnut Creek, California
2000

This book is a bit of a departure from those I have reviewed in the past few months.  It is a work of fiction; it is a novel of mystery and skullduggery; it does incorporate archaeology as a backdrop or motif.  But it is also something of a textbook

Author Praetzellis, an associate professor of anthropology at Sonoma State University, has cleverly crafted a fictitious archaeological dig on Dougal’s Island, off the coast of the State of Washington.  He has populated his little (153 pages) novel with engaging characters, including Hanna Green, a famed and flamboyant archaeologist called upon by Ian Tuliver, a fellow archaeologist of dubious distinction and few accomplishments after a long career in academia.  Hanna is accompanied by her nephew Sean Doyle, who is attempting to find meaning to his life by pursuing archaeological studies.  Tuliver needs Hanna Green’s stamp of approval on his preposterous project—excavating a Neolithic European site on an island off the coast of Washington State!  The plot takes a number of weird and wacky turns as New Age goddess worshippers, good old boy looters, and archaeology students stumble over and around each other with each turning of the page.  But the cleverest aspect of this clever little book is Hannah Green’s on-going discourse (mostly with her nephew) about the history and theory of archaeology.  Without really noticing, the reader is treated to an erudite and often very humorous explanation of such topics as cultural resource management (CRM), the New or Processual Archaeology of Lewis Binford and his followers, Marxist-influenced archaeology, and other postprocessual archaeologies.  I was completely captivated by the book when Praetzellis (or Hanna Green) presented a cogent and understandable description of postmodernism in archaeology.  I believe that any author who can even make me think I could ever understand postmodernism is a genius of the writing profession!

This is simply a book that is fun to read and from which the reader can actually learn a lot about the academic discipline of archaeology.  It could certainly be included in any college level introductory archaeology class as a welcomed humorous and often even ribald supplement to the usually dry as dust (you’ll pardon the expression) standard textbook.

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*MVAC Educational Programs are supported in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
*This project was supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.  Opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Foundation.