Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archaeology

Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archaeology

By Eric H. Cline
(Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 2017), 480 pp., 50 line illus., 2 maps, $35 (hardcover); Glynnis Fawkes (Illustrator)
Reviewed by Jennie Ebeling

As the title of his new book promises, Eric Cline’s goal in Three Stones Make a Wall is to tell “the story of archaeology.” Fortunately for the readers of this excellent volume, Cline is a skilled storyteller who brings many of the great discoveries in world archaeology to life. He also provides an overview of archaeological theory, methodology, and policy that is informative and entertaining to lay readers and experts alike.

An archaeologist with more than 30 seasons of excavation experience, Cline is also Professor of Classics and Anthropology at The George Washington University. In 19 chapters and four interludes (called “Digging Deeper”), Cline describes important archaeological discoveries worldwide but focuses on his main areas of archaeological interest: the Middle East and the Aegean. He immediately grabs the reader’s attention with a prologue on British archaeologist Howard Carter’s discovery of the ancient Egyptian tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun in 1922 and holds our attention throughout Part I—“Early Archaeology and Archaeologists”—which covers discoveries at Pompeii, Troy, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Central America and the personalities who made them. Although these will be familiar stories to many BAR readers, Cline tells them in a new way, offering anecdotes and inside information along with up-to-date research on sites first excavated a century ago or more. This approach continues through the rest of the book in sections on human origins and early farming, the Bronze Age Aegean, Greece and Rome, the Holy Land, and New World archaeology.

In the four interspersed “Digging Deeper” chapters, Cline tackles some of the questions typically asked of archaeologists: How do you know where to dig? How do you know how to dig? How old is this, and why is it preserved? Are you allowed to keep your discoveries? His responses to these questions are brief yet thoughtful, with well chosen examples. In the epilogue, “Back to the Future,” Cline challenges the reader to consider what will become of our own material culture and what future archaeologists might make of our cell phones and Starbucks. Throughout the book, Cline relates his own archaeological experiences from his early days as a volunteer digging in an ancient well in Athens to his years as Co-Director of Excavations at Megiddo and Kabri, both in Israel. Cline’s sincere enthusiasm for field archaeology, combined with his experience interpreting the past for students and the general public, makes him an ideal spokesperson for archaeologists and others invested in cultural heritage.

The endnotes in this book are substantial yet unobtrusive, and the bibliography is extensive for a popular book. Cline has done a great service by providing plenty of information for those who wish to know more about the sites and subjects he covers. The beautiful pen-and-ink illustrations by Glynnis Fawkes fit the tone of the book, but readers who are new to archaeology may have benefited from photographs of some of the sites, artifacts, and individuals he describes.

Three Stones Make a Wall is a well-paced introduction to world archaeology that is accessible and engaging for students and amateur enthusiasts. Had I not already made the decision to become an archaeologist at a relatively young age, reading this book would have sealed the deal.

Cline reminds practitioners like me, who sometimes get bogged down in the minutiae of archaeological research, of our duty to share with the public what we do. This is particularly important at a time when, as Cline notes, “we are seeing the greatest prevalence of looting of archaeological sites worldwide that has ever been documented.”

Cline’s aim in this book, perhaps most clearly expressed in his final sentences, is to help preserve and curate the past for future generations. Three Stones Make a Wall thus serves as both an up-to-date story of our human past and a call to arms to protect our shared heritage before it is too late.

Jennie Ebeling is Associate Professor of Archaeology at the University of Evansville in Indiana and Co-Director of the Jezreel Expedition. Ebeling is the author of Women’s Lives in Biblical Times (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2010) and has edited books on ground stone artifacts, household archaeology, and Old Testament archaeology and history.

Click here to read an interview with Eric H. Cline on Three Stones Make a Wall.

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