Digging for Troy, by Jill Rubalcaba and Eric H. Cline, for Non-fiction Monday

Jill Rubalcaba is no stranger to writing non-fiction about the distant past--her books cover hominin discoveries (Every Bone Tells a Story) and the more recent ancient times of the Mayan and Egyptian empires.

Digging for Troy: From Homer to Hisarlik (Charlesbridge, 2011) co-written a classisist, Eric H. Cline, Rubalcaba sets her sites on Homer's Troy. Her concern is not so much the story of the Trojan War, although she does retell that story by way of introduction (and very well she does this--this is one of the best Trojan War retellings for kids I've read). Instead, Rublacaba focuses on the history of the archaeological search for Troy, from Schliemann in the 19th century, through the various digs of the 20th.

"Schliemann spun dramatic stories about his search for Troy around Homer's battles and the heroes who had fought them. If he found a cup, then Achilles must have drunk from it; if he found an earring, then Helen must have worn it. But nothing would make Schliemann as truly unforgettable as what happened next. On May 31, 1873, Schliemann discovered treasure." (page 32)

It's a fascinating look at how archaeological evidence can be interpreted in various ways depending on the expertise, and the agenda, of the archaeologist. As each archaeological expedition progressed, more and more information about the various occupations of the site was uncovered, and Rubalcba explains how the story of the many "Troys" that are found at the place now called Hisarlik evolved over time.

Being an archaeologist myself, I would have appreciated more illustrations of the actual artifacts--I think there's nothing like artifacts for making the past come alive, and I found the book curiously skimpy in that regard. And I would have liked to have been told what happened to "Priam's treasure," the rich cache of artifacts that included the jewelry with which Schliemann's wife was famously bedecked. The bulk of it disappeared from a German bunker in WW II, and turned up in 1993 in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, where it remains to this day.

This would make a great book to read while exploring the Greek myths--there are so many fascinating lines of discussion that it raises, from the mutable nature of "scientific evidence" to the historical basis for many myths.

Here's some of the treasure in its modern setting at the Pushkin Museum. I wouldn't mind trying it on myself!

And in that vein, a lovely companion to this book, that similarly deals with the trickiness of archaeological interpretations of material culture is Motel of the Mysteries, by David Macaulay. At right is my favorite illustration from that book! In case you can't read the writing on the headband, it says "Sanitized for your pro...."

Today's Non-fiction Monday Round Up is at Three Turtles and Their Pet Librarian.
(disclaimer: review copy of Digging for Troy received from the publisher)


  1. I will definitely be checking this one out. It might be a good resource to have when we study Ancient Greece and Rome.

  2. I think it's helpful to see that there's a material basis for the stories...although I can't help but wish the authors had done just a tad more to make Troy come alive again, which, given their focus on the history of the archaeology, didn't quite happen!

  3. This looks cool! If I had extra lives to live, I would use one of them to become an archaeologist. :p

  4. I LOVE Motel of the Mysteries!! Charlotte, I think it's extremely possible that we would have been friends in middle school!

  5. I am sure you would have added greatly to my middle school experience, Karen!

  6. I love "Motel of the Mysteries" and this book on Troy looks really interesting. Thanks.


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