A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
First sex, then death: No one can accuse archaeologist Timothy Taylor of shying away from weighty topics. By day a specialist in Iron Age Europe at England's University of Bradford, Taylor is the author of 1997's The Prehistory of Sex (1997) and now The Buried Soul: How Humans Invented Death (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004; $27.50), which could just as easily be titled The Prehistory of Death.
The modern world, Taylor argues, suffers from "visceral insulation," an aseptic distance from the corporeal world, especially death. Spend a few hours with The Buried Soul and your viscera will be insulated no longer. Cannibalism, vampirism, ritualized slayings of young children--all are fodder for Taylor's attempt to re-engage the modern senses. This book is not so much about ancient concepts of death as it is about dead bodies, and lots of them.
The Buried Soul is replete with unexpected insights. Consider Taylor's description of cannibalism; in one sense, he writes, it serves to keep the dead safe and warm inside the body, rather than rotting alone in the cold ground. Any book that can make cannibalism sound reasonable deserves a close read.
Alexandra Witze is a science reporter for the Dallas Morning News.
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