If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge (Review)
Updated: Nov 21
Interest Level: Ages 10 and up
Author: Mark Aronson
Publisher: 2010, National Geographic Children's Books
Reading Level: Grades 5 - 6; Lexile 1070L
Retail: $17.95, Hardcover
Summary: Part biography and part history, this book chronicles the life and recent research efforts of Mike Parker Pearson, an archaeologist who took research about Stonehenge in a different direction after inviting a native of Madagascar to visit the site and look at the evidence with a fresh perspective.
With beautiful photographs and kid-friendly prose, Marc Aronson takes children on a journey through the minds of historians and archaeologists who have puzzled over the origins and functions of one of the most well-known ancient sites on earth. This book shows how hypotheses are tested and how new methods of scientific analysis can find answers that were previously hidden. It is not presented as the final word on Stonehenge, but rather If Stones Could Speak shows how archaeologists build on the research of others. It also emphasizes the importance of stepping back and taking a new look at the past.
This is a children's book, but curious adults will find it quite compelling. Struggling readers may find the dense text and high vocabulary level challenging, but the book can be tackled one short chapter at a time. There is no need to feel discouraged about all the names and dates that stream past the readers' eyes. An "Encyclopedia of Stonehenge" and factfinder index at the end provides ready review as well as new and interesting information about the many people and sites that comprise the Stonehenge area. A birds-eye view of the Stonehenge landscape at the start of the book is an extremely helpful visual.
Librarians and educators should note that this book was published in 2010, and even while in press, additional theories about Stonehenge were being tested. The book acknowledges this in the epilogue and encourage readers to keep learning. Unfortunately, the online resource links no longer work, so a bit of additional sleuthing is necessary. My hope is that kids who read this book are encouraged to look into history and archaeology without worrying that everything known is "set in stone."
Archaeologists often consult the Human Relations Area Files, Yale University's database of documented practices and beliefs from cultures around the globe to gain insight on archaeological finds and patterns. Mike Parker Pearson also consulted with a member of a native group in Madagascar to get a new perspective upon Stonehenge. One of the main points of If Stones Could Speak is that even the most experienced archaeologists can be limited by their own cultural biases. Collaboration is the key to great research.
As a Southwestern (U.S.) archaeologist, I found it fascinating to look at the photographs of excavated houses from the Neolithic period in the vicinity of Stonehenge. The layout, shape, and character of these homes is very similar to what we see in the Tucson area from our equivalent time period (adoption of agriculture). It would be an interesting exercise to ask students to compare floor plans from photographs and maps and make guesses about why people living in different parts of the globe would have similar practices.
Another thought experiment could be to name famous archaeological sites around the world and consider what new perspectives and modern scientific practices could bring to our understanding of them. Imagine the possibilities when a new generation questions what we know about the past.