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Bones, Rocks and Stars: The Science of When Things Happened (Macmillan Science) [Hardcover]

Dr Chris Turney
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

13 Jun 2006 Macmillan Science
What is the Turin Shroud? When were the Pyramids built? Where are the branches on the human family tree? Why did the dinosaurs die out? How did the Earth take shape? With questions like these, says Chris Turney, time is of the essence. And understanding how we pinpoint the past, he cautions, is crucial to putting the present in perspective and planning for the future.

In ten chapters, each focussing on a well-known dating controversy (from the existence of King Arthur to the last Ice Age), Turney reveals the leg-work behind the headlines. Drawing on years of professional experience, most recently with the celebrated 'Hobbit' fossil of Indonesia, Turney explains how written records, carbon, pollen, tree rings, constellations, and DNA sequencing can help archaeologists, paleontologists and geologists to 'tell the time'. We ignore or misunderstand these techniques and their results at our peril, he concludes.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 2nd edition edition (13 Jun 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1403985995
  • ISBN-13: 978-1403985996
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 15.2 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,113,193 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Chris Turney is an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow and Professor of Climate Change at the University of New South Wales. Working in both the Antarctic and Arctic, Chris is extending historic records of change in the polar regions back to 130,000 years ago to help better understand the future. Described by the UK Saturday Times as the 'new David Livingstone', he is passionate about communicating science from the field and laboratory.

Chris is the author of numerous books, scientific papers and magazine articles. His most recent book is called '1912: The Year The World Discovered Antarctica'. 1912 has received rave reviews and tells the largely unknown scientific endeavours of the five scientific expeditions in Antarctica one hundred years ago. He shows how the endeavours of 1912 marked the dawn of a new age in understanding of the natural world, and how lessons from a century ago might reawaken the public's passion for scientific discovery and exploration. Inspired by this remarkable period, Chris led the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-2014 (www.spiritofmawson.com).

In 2007 Chris was awarded the Sir Nicholas Shackleton Medal for outstanding young Quaternary scientists, and in 2009 he received the Geological Society of London's Bigsby Medal for services to geology. To do something positive about climate change, he helped set up a carbon refining company called Carbonscape (http://carbonscape.com/) which has developed technology to fix carbon from the atmosphere and make a host of green bi-products, helping reduce greenhouse gas levels.

Chris is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Geological Society of London, and the Royal Geographical Society.

Product Description

Review


'A fabulous, entertainingly written account of the amazing science
behind calendars, dates and dating objects. Essential reading for anyone
interested in prehistory.' - Professor Tim Flannery, Director of the South Australian Museum


'A rollicking run through the story of telling the time - lively and well-researched, with many fascinating stories.' - Professor Michael Benton, author of When Life Nearly Died

'This delightful introduction successfully fuses history, prehistory and earth science. It captures the imagination from its first page, and then takes the reader on a fun and fact-filled world tour through the past.' - Professor Tim White, University of California at Berkeley, USA
'What I like best about the book: It's a scientist clearly explaining what he does for a living and why it is important, at a level that any literate person can understand. Not an easy accomplishment.' - scienceblogs.com/pharyngula

'Absorbing - will appeal to a wide audience, particularly those who got a kick out of Blink or Freakonomics.' - Publishers Weekly


'If you like detective stories, you'll love this book. With a passion that radiates from every page, geologist Chris Turney, who did the radiocarbon dating on the 'hobbit' human fossil recently discovered in Indonesia, reveals how scientific dating techniques have helped solve the biggest mysteries of all time. What really happened to the dinosaurs? How old is the universe? Why did giant kangaroos die out? When did early Homo sapiens sweep aside the Neanderthals in the Middle East? What caused the ice ages? Turney explains how trees, amino acids, carbon, luminescence, volcanic ash, stars and even pollen can all give objects or events an exact place in history. The book is easy to understand and it should satisfy the hungriest of infovores.' - New Scientist

'5/5: a book that tackles [these] issues is welcome indeed - that it succeeds so brilliantly is a wonderful surprise.' - Peter Andrews of the Natural History Museum, BBC Focus Magazine

'Well researched and covers a lot of ground in a splendidly personal style. Highly recommended' - Quaternary Australasia

'A fascinating guide to the measurement of time' - Chemistry World
 
'The value of Chris Turney's Bones, Rocks and Stars: The Science of When Things Happened is that it provides a concise, simple, readable introduction to the full range of dating techniques...Altogether a very useful little book.' - Current World Archaeology







About the Author

CHRIS TURNEY is a British Geologist based at the University of Exeter. He did the radiocarbon dating on the 'Hobbit' fossil of Flores, Indonesia, that hit the headlines worldwide. He has published numerous scientific papers and magazine articles and done many media interviews thanks to his infectious enthusiasm for working out what happened when. In 2007, Chris was awarded The Sir Nicholas Shackleton Medal for outstanding young Quaternary scientist for his pioneering research on past climate change and dating the past.

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Customer Reviews

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4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun but expensive 29 July 2006
Format:Hardcover
This is a lovely little book, but the emphasis ought to be on the "little." Chris Turney was a member of the team that dated the tiny fossil creatre from Indonesia (the "hobbit") that might be our nearest relative, and he is very good at telling a lively tale about all aspects of dating the past, from the mystery of leap years to the age of the Earth and carbon-14 dating of things that used to be alive. But even with the Amazon discount, this is a lot of money to pay for a very small book. I'd suggest waiting for the paperback.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Do We Know, and When Did We Know It? 29 Oct 2006
Format:Hardcover
"Bones, Rocks and Stars" is an engaging and wide-ranging romp through "the science of when things happened." Each chapter covers a single topic, such as how the calendar evolved, when King Arthur would have lived (if he existed), when the Santorini volcano erupted in the Mediterranean, when the Shroud of Turin was forged (pulling no punches there), when (and why) the earth experiences ice ages, and when (exactly) the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid impact. Turney's style is approachable, so even carbon 14 dating, the precession of the equinoxes, Milankovitch cycles and other challenging topics are clearly explained.

If you enjoy enlightening and surprising books like Malcolm Gladwell's "Tipping Point" and "Blink," Cordelia Fines' "A Mind of Its Own" and Michael Leavitt's "Freakonomics," you may find this little book to be an eye opening and entertaining look at how scientists have figured out when things happened.
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Was this review helpful to you?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The mysteries of time revealed 29 Dec 2007
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Format:Paperback
In this series of evocative essays, Turney explains how our continually changing concept and use of time affects how we view the world and ourselves. Using a sprightly prose style, he opens with a description of various calendar systems developed by the ancients. It was difficult for them to reconcile the irregularities of lunar month, solar year and constantly changing heavens. Egypt, Babylon and Rome all struggled to maintain some control over the calendar. Many forms of adjustment were implemented but precision was difficult, if not impossible. The device of the "Leap Year" to adjust for the lack of precision was the best humans could do until the invention of the atomic clock.

The atom, with many versions and intricacies, has proven an effective tool in time-keeping. From measuring split seconds to granting us some insight on circumstances billions of years ago, "atomic clocks" in their various forms have provided many solutions to long unresolved problems. Turney's chapter on the Shroud of Turin is but one example of a practical application. Its status as a forgery went undetected for centuries until radiometric measurements revealed its true age.

A grander sweep of time, yet one with significant implications for today's world are the chapters on the eruption of Santorini in the Mediterranean and what led to the Ice Ages. Thera has been described as the cause of the elimination of the Minoan Empire. Based on Crete four thousand years ago, the Minoans operated an intricate network of trade routes in the region and were a highly sophisticated and successful people. Yet, they disappeared almost instantly around thirty-five hundred years ago. The author examines the evidence that Santorini might have been responsible.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The mysteries of time revealed 29 Dec 2007
By Stephen A. Haines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In this series of evocative essays, Turney explains how our continually changing concept and use of time affects how we view the world and ourselves. Using a sprightly prose style, he opens with a description of various calendar systems developed by the ancients. It was difficult for them to reconcile the irregularities of lunar month, solar year and constantly changing heavens. Egypt, Babylon and Rome all struggled to maintain some control over the calendar. Many forms of adjustment were implemented but precision was difficult, if not impossible. The device of the "Leap Year" to adjust for the lack of precision was the best humans could do until the invention of the atomic clock.

The atom, with many versions and intricacies, has proven an effective tool in time-keeping. From measuring split seconds to granting us some insight on circumstances billions of years ago, "atomic clocks" in their various forms have provided many solutions to long unresolved problems. Turney's chapter on the Shroud of Turin is but one example of a practical application. Its status as a forgery went undetected for centuries until radiometric measurements revealed its true age.

A grander sweep of time, yet one with significant implications for today's world are the chapters on the eruption of Santorini in the Mediterranean and what led to the Ice Ages. Thera has been described as the cause of the elimination of the Minoan Empire. Based on Crete four thousand years ago, the Minoans operated an intricate network of trade routes in the region and were a highly sophisticated and successful people. Yet, they disappeared almost instantly around thirty-five hundred years ago. The author examines the evidence that Santorini might have been responsible. Further back in time, he reviews another threat to society in the form of invasive glaciers. Atoms play a role even in ice as accumulations of oxygen isotopes tell the story of climate change events. Even though some of those shifts rely on Earth's orbit and tilt relative to the sun, their signature rests with those oxygen atoms.

Human societies have their own fluctuations, as Turney notes in other chapters. The dating of hominid fossils has contributed a great deal in deriving both the time and place of our origins. Rocks surrounding bones tell us when the fossils lived, and tiny grains of pollen indicate the type of environment they lived in. One of the enigmas of science is why there is but one species of upright-walking ape remaining - us. There have been competitors for living space, most notably the Neanderthals. But at least one other species co-habited the planet with us. The "Hobbit" fossil found on an Indonesian island resided there only 18 thousand years ago, as Turney's own dating research revealed. The possibility that there may be remnant populations yet to be found raises compelling questions.

Turney's book may seem light-hearted at first glance, but it rests on serious work by dedicated workers. Dating the rocks was a difficult science in the 18th and 19th Centuries, but technology has provided astonishing new insights on our world. There's much to be learned and the author's effective presentation makes this book a stimulating introduction to this field. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable 21 July 2008
By David C. Brayton - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
After the first two chapters, this book get really interesting. The first two chapters are about how the different calendars used throughout history are synchronized and whether King Arthur actually existed. Not much science there.

But once we get into science (as opposed to history) things get interesting. For example, the chapter on the Shroud of Turin was great and the way tree rings can be used to date things is fascinating.

Unfortunately, there is very little science here. Instead, this book talks about the stories surrounding various scientific controversies.

I was much more interested in learning about the technical details of things like potassium argon dating, thermoluminesence, and electron spin resonance. But I wasn't gonna get that. Here's the disclaimer from the author when he starts talking about isotopes: "Unfortunately, to understand the [age of the Earth], it's going to be necessary to cross to the other side. I'll try and keep [references to isotopes] to the absolute minimum."

Unfortunately? "The Other Side"? Jimminy Cricket! I learned about isotopes in seventh grade, for crying out loud. I wish someone would write about science as if I actually made it through high school. I want to know about why these methods work, their limitations and when they should be used.

And I think I have the right to be disappointed. The book is subtitled: The Science of When Things Happened." Overall, though, it is quite interesting.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What Do We Know, and When Did We Know It? 29 Oct 2006
By William Holmes - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Bones, Rocks and Stars" is an engaging and wide-ranging romp through "the science of when things happened." Each chapter covers a single topic, such as how the calendar evolved, when King Arthur would have lived (if he existed), when the Santorini volcano erupted in the Mediterranean, when the Shroud of Turin was forged (pulling no punches there), when (and why) the earth experiences ice ages, and when (exactly) the dinosaurs were wiped out by an asteroid impact. Turney's style is approachable, so even carbon 14 dating, the precession of the equinoxes, Milankovitch cycles and other challenging topics are clearly explained.

If you enjoy enlightening and surprising books like Malcolm Gladwell's "Tipping Point" and "Blink," Cordelia Fines' "A Mind of Its Own" and Michael Leavitt's "Freakonomics," you may find this little book to be an eye opening and entertaining look at how scientists have figured out when things happened.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential pick for college-level collections strong in scientific inquiry. 7 Nov 2006
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
How does dating affect authenticity in identifying relics and linking historical facts? Eleven chapters each focus on a famous dating controversy, examining the procedures of dating, common methods used to date everything from tree rings to astronomical bodies, and common problems which involve dating. Discrepancies in evidence, forgeries, and misinterpretations are all covered in BONES, ROCKS AND STARS: THE SCIENCE OF WHEN THINGS HAPPENED, an essential pick for college-level collections strong in scientific inquiry.

Diane C. Donovan

California Bookwatch
4.0 out of 5 stars Who, what. where but mainly when 5 Sep 2011
By C. Griffith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Turney, a geologist, uses case studies to explore how events are dated. Topics such as whether or not the explosion of the volcano on the island of Thera destroyed Minoan Crete, when the Earth originated, whether or not the Shroud of Turin is a forgery, when King Arthur might have lived, and the extinction of the dinosaurs are discussed. The means of dating covered include dendrochronology (tree rings), carbon dating, other radioactive decay sequences such as potssium to argon and argon-argon, and uranium to lead decay. Turney takes the view that a "young earth" (6000 years) creationist viewpoint would require a lot of science to be overturned; in particular it would require the speed of light (in a vacum) to have been changing. The author keeps to prose rather than mathematical formulas, so those without a science background are unlikely to have difficulty in understanding the text.
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