Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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from the trenches
Television: The Skeleton Sleuth Volume 61 Number 2, March/April 2008
by Eti Bonn-Muller

(Courtesy Discovery Channel)

Scotty Moore is the latest archaeologist to don the Indiana Jones fedora and venture into the wilds of television documentaries in the new series Bone Detectives (Discovery Channel, Mondays 10:00 p.m.). The program explores how modern forensic and archaeological techniques are used to unravel the stories of people made anonymous long ago.

Moore, a Ph.D. candidate in archaeology at the University of Washington, journeys around the globe to sites like a cave in Belize known as "Midnight Terror" that holds a Maya mass grave. Moore's eyes shimmer in the light of his headlamp and his grin widens as he approaches a pile of skeletal remains. "It's like bone soup," he says enthusiastically.

Given its technical subject matter, the show has the potential to baffle audiences with complex science. Moore, however, does a great job of weaving historical facts into the series and providing enough scientific information to put the finds in their proper cultural contexts. In the Belize episode, for example, he points to both the presence of stone blades in the cave and climate data as evidence that people were probably sacrificed at Midnight Terror to appease the Maya rain god during a severe drought around A.D. 750.

Moore's appeal comes from his goofy candor and refusal to dumb-down the subject matter. It's rare to find someone who provides intelligent commentary in a TV series that is also extremely entertaining. I can't wait to see where he takes us next. My bullwhip is already packed.

© 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of America