Martin Jones - The Molecule Hunt

from the publisher:
In The Molecule Hunt, a leading expert at the forefront of bio-archeology--the discipline that gave Michael Crichton the premise for Jurassic Park--explains how this pioneering science is rewriting human history and unlocking stories of the past that could never have been told before.

A revolution is underway in archeology. For the first time, the building blocks of ancient life--DNA, proteins, and fats that have long been trapped in fossils and earth and rock--have become widely accessible to science. Working at the cutting edge of genetic and other molecular technologies, researchers have been probing the remains of these ancient bio-molecules in human skeletons, sediments and fossilized plants, dinosaur bones, and insects trapped in amber. Their amazing discoveries have influenced the archeological debate at almost every level and continue to reshape our understanding of the past.

Devising a molecular clock from a certain area of DNA, scientists were able to determine that all humans descend from one common female ancestor, dubbed “The Mitochondrial Eve,” who lived around 150,000 years ago. Extracting DNA from Neanderthal bones, they used the same clock to measure how closely we are related to the Neanderthals. Employing different techniques on other molecules recovered from grinding stones and potsherds, they have been able to reconstruct ancient diets and posit when such practices as dairying and boiling water for cooking began. From the traces of blood proteins on an arrowhead, they can identify its animal source and the prey of the long-dead hunter. They have reconstituted the beer left in the burial chamber of pharaohs and know what the Iceman, the 5,000-year-old hunter found in the Alps several years ago, ate before his last journey. They have not only revised the date for when the first humans crossed the Aleutian land-bridge to America but also have determined what fellow creatures, both domesticated and bacterial, must have accompanied them.

The cracking of the genetic code has opened a whole new window on the past for archeologists. Here, told from the vantage of a pioneer in the field, is the first comprehensive account of the major breakthroughs in bio-archeology for the last quarter century. Conveying both the excitement of innovative research and the sometimes bruising rough-and-tumble of scientific debate, Martin Jones has written a work of profound importance. The Molecule Hunt is science at its most engaging.

"[Jones] presents science as a detective story, and the spirit of discovery he and his group manifest when analyzing a fossilized seed or piece of rice is infectious. . . . Sans reanimated dinosaurs or Neanderthals, Jones makes ancient history less fictional and really no less fantastic." -- Will Hickman - Booklist

"The Molecule Hunt is an amazing and informed glimpse into how the disciplines and technologies of science can connect ancient mysteries with modern marvels. . . . [It] is a serious, authoritative, highly accessible introduction for the non-specialist reader." -- Wisconsin Bookwatch