DEATH BY THEORY: A TALE OF MYSTERY AND
By: Adrian Praetzellis
AltaMira Press, Walnut Creek, California
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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