By Brian Fagan
Bloomsbury Press, $28.00, 313 pages, 4 stars
This is a fascinating book about how early civilizations developed on the banks of seas, rivers and oceans. The author points out that “deliberate seafaring” began more than 50,000 years ago. Farming began much later so the sea was an important source of food and other necessary items. Author Brian Fagan does a terrific job of piecing together snippets of known history to reconstruct what early water going crafts may have looked like. Starting with the Polynesian Islanders, the book travels west to the Mediterranean civilizations, then on to the North Sea waters between England and northern Europe and across to the western coast of North America, ending with the Mayan culture in Central America. One of the most ingenious boat designs came from the Aleuts who inhabited the Alaskan coastline. To survive on the forbidding waters of the ocean, special watercraft needed to be developed. Aleut women sewed outer garments consisting of the intestines of sea lions that were tightly lashed around the heads and wrists. In addition, parkas made from 30 to 40 cormorant skins were sewn into a single garment. This outerwear was then secured around the kayak’s opening and the paddler to make a single waterproof unit. This book shows in great depth the ability of early civilizations to adapt to the watery world around them. This is a part of history that is largely unfamiliar and those who enjoy exploring the past will thoroughly enjoy this book.
“Much of the southern North Sea was a low-lying maze of marshes and wetlands long after the Ice Age.”
Reviewed by Brian Taylor