• Allison Diehl

Accidental Archaeologists: True Stories of Unexpected Discoveries (Review)

Interest Level: Grades 5 - 7

Author: Sarah Albee

Illustrator: Nathan Hackett

Publisher: Scholastic, 2020

Reading Level: Lexile 990

Pages: 224

Retail: $9.99, paperback

Summary: Seventeen well-researched stories about ordinary people making discoveries that led to huge leaps in our knowledge of human history. Includes one story about a mystery yet to be solved. Written to be entertaining and accessible to kids with lots of additional information about archaeology.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. While most of the stories were not new to me, the Sarah Albee does an excellent job of recounting the discoveries and giving background information about the people and places involved. She uses often irreverent language (as if!), and isn't afraid to call out unethical practices that were followed in the past. I appreciate the way she inserts the issue of cultural patrimony into the stories without it feeling preachy.

Each chapter of this book is a different story told in chronological order by date of discovery (1709 - 2012). Photos, whimsical spot illustrations (all in black and white) and section headings keep the text from feeling overwhelming. Pronunciation guides help with new terminology and unfamiliar place names. Boxed information sections give additional context or dispel common myths.

Although the main focus of the book is chance discoveries by non-archaeologists, this book includes a chapter about a historic African-American cemetery that was re-discovered in Manhattan as part of a federally-mandated professional archaeological investigation. It is a very interesting chapter that includes important information about slavery and American history, and I'm glad it was included.

The chapter names are amusing, but not very descriptive, so here is a list of topics covered:

  1. Pompeii and Herculaneum (Italy)

  2. The Rosetta Stone (Egypt)

  3. Giovanni Belzoni's discoveries (Egypt)

  4. Ancient papyruses (Egypt)

  5. The Antikythera Mechanism Shipwreck (Aegean Sea)

  6. The Folsom Site (New Mexico)

  7. Lascaux Cave (France)

  8. Copper Coins of Marchinbar Island (Australia)

  9. The Dead Sea Scrolls (West Bank)

  10. Tallund Man and Graubelle Man (Denmark)

  11. Golden Buddha statue of Wat Traimit (Thailand)

  12. Terracotta Army (China)

  13. Hidden Aztec city (Mexico)

  14. African-American burial ground in Manhattan (New York)

  15. Otzi mummy (the Alps)

  16. The grave of Richard III (England)

  17. Homo naledi (South Africa)

  18. The search for the burial of Genghis Khan (Mongolia)

End matter includes information about how to be an amateur archaeologist (with important guidance about not moving discoveries and notifying authorities), an Author's Note that drives home the fact that there is much yet to be discovered, a lengthy selected bibliography and source notes, and suggestions for additional reading and exploration.

I highly recommend this book for children who are reading chapter books and are interested in ancient and not-so-ancient history. I'll be checking out more of Albee's books. Accidental Archaeologists is available to purchase at the I Dig Books Store and through Bookshop.org.

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