Sunday, May 15, 2005

Brava, Brenda Fowler

I enjoy archaeology and it was no surprise to myself but it may come as a surprise to you that I checked out Iceman by Brenda Fowler, published in 2000 by Random House.

Synopsis: In 1991, a five thousand year-old corpse thawed out of a glacier in the Italian alps and became a hot commodity in the European scientific community and captured the attention of people around the globe. A lot of people wanted a piece of the iceman. Fowler's book is a chronicle of the discovery and the fight over the iceman's remains, between countries, scientists, as well as a detective story of the story of the iceman's true past.

SPOILER ALERT - If you know nothing of the iceman and want to read the book, stop reading this entry here. I checked it out knowing how the story stands today and so I was surprised when her writing stopped short of the most show-stopping detail of the iceman's post mortem story: the discovery of the arrowhead in his back. Less than a year after Fowler and Random House published Iceman, a scientist looked at x-rays and saw the arrowhead that solved the mystery of his death. What an uber bummer for the author to spend several years piecing together a patch work of personalities and forensic detective elements, only to have the climactic scene elude her. (Fowler foreshadowed a possible telling discovery in her final chapter, and followed up her book with an in-depth article about the arrowhead episode for the New York Times in 2001.)

Brenda Fowler, is without a doubt, the de facto American journalist expert on the iceman story. The book jacket featured a brief bio about her: born in Iowa, attended university at Madison, WI, but it skipped what I consider the most interesting aspect of her personal life. In the acknowledgment section that followed the last chapter she said:

"As a fifth grader at Brookridge Elementary school in Overland Park, Kansas, I had the tremendous fortune of landing in the class of Ms. M. Kay Willy..."

Fifth grade, at least back in the 1970s, was the year the Shawnee Mission schools showed elementary school kids the National Geographic film about the Leakey's discovery of the jawbone in the dirt at Olduvai Gorge. It was a watershed moment for Fowler, and it was satisfying to discover another Shawnee Mission school kid who did good, and who remembered to thank a teacher. Well done.

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