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  • Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present
  • Brian Fagan
Deep History: The Architecture of Past and Present. By Andrew Shryock, Daniel Lord Smail, et al.(Berkeley, University of California Press, 2011) 342 pp. $29.95

Deep Historybrings together anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians to ponder the challenges of studying the remote past that extends back long before writing. A series of co-authored essays attempt to remove the barriers that separate what the editors call deep and shallow history, studied by seemingly different and distinct methodologies.

The chapters form "a master narrative" in four parts. Part I, "Problems and Orientation," comprises two chapters. An introduction stresses the importance of deep history, arguing that historians have not yet adjusted to the reality of such a past. Chapter 2, "Imagining the Human in Deep Time," develops four fundamental metaphors and orientations that can be used as links to the remoter past—kinshipping, exchange, extensions, hospitality, and genealogy. This thought-provoking chapter sets the stage for the three parts that follow.

Part II examines three topics. Chapter 3, "The Body," connects us to the past through the human form, shaped for most of our existence by culture, more recently by the epigenetic forces of the modern world. Chapter 4, "Energy and Ecosystems," argues that feedback loops and conjoined patterns of cause and effect, which can be traced far back into the past, are effective devices for deep history. Language receives emphasis, because of both the genealogical relationships between languages and the notion of a web or net; exchanges between languages were crucial to the development of human speech. Four chapters explore "Shared Substance," among them food and deep kinship, on the argument that sharing is a highly adaptable process that can reveal striking transformations in human behavior. Unlike our primate cousins, we have used food and kinship to create worlds that are highly aware of past and present. Networks of relationship and exchange are also shared substances that represent kinshipping, which allows us to communicate over distance and also to reconnect, a basic tool for creating history.

The final set of essays, "Human Expansion," takes a broad perspective. Migration discusses the movements of humans around the world, which is made possible by cultural toolkits and mobility. Changes in social networks, different food ways, and adaptations resulted from the settlement of different continents. "Goods" refers to material objects that connected distant populations and built complex exchange networks, the effects of which changed deep history. "Scale" ably dissects the assumption that human development is progressive, cumulative, and directional. Herein lies the central argument of this book: Deep time is visible in the structure of our minds and bodies and in our created material and social world—"the storehouse of the human experience" (272).

Deep Historyattempts to decipher the challenges of melding the remote and more recent past into a unified history of humankind. The chapters are perceptive, if at times esoteric in their arguments. They are [End Page 295]more of a challenge for historians than for archaeologists, who will be familiar with many arguments in these pages. But they make a compelling case for a scholarly communication and an interdisciplinary history that focus on understanding humanity—something that is long overdue.

Brian Fagan
University of California, Santa Barbara


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pp. 295-296
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