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From Black Land To Fifth Sun: The Science Of Sacred Sites (Helix Books) Paperback – 9 Apr 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 420 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; New Ed edition (9 April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738201413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738201412
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.4 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 399,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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About the Author

Brian Fagan is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. A former Guggenheim Fellow, he has written many internationally acclaimed popular books about archaeology, including The Little Ice Age, Floods, Famines, and Emperors, and The Long Summer. He lives in Santa Barbara, California.

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1 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 1 July 1999
Format: Hardcover
Fagan Brian. From Black Land to Fifth Sun. 1997. This is a look at the physical evidence that enables archaeologists to make conclusions regarding the belief systems of cultures long past. Is it valid to draw parallels between the Cro-Magnon people who lived in what is today, France, of 30,000 years ago and the San of the Kalahari in today's Botswana in Africa?
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0 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 1 July 1999
Format: Hardcover
Fagan Brian. From Black Land to Fifth Sun. 1997. This is a look at the physical evidence that enables archaeologists to make conclusions regarding the belief systems of cultures long past. Is it valid to draw parallels between the Cro-Magnon people who lived in what is today, France, of 30,000 years ago and the San of the Kalahari in today's Botswana in Africa?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 6 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
From Black Land To Fifth Sun 15 Sept. 2003
By Michael Gunther - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What can archaeology tell us about the spiritual lives of people who, like the painters of Lascaux cave or the builders of Stonehenge, lived so long ago that only (or mostly) their nonlinguistic material remains - their stones and bones - are left for us to study? Brian Fagan's book is a fascinating exploration, for the general reader, of this highly interesting question. The author takes his readers on a personal tour of various sacred sites, and explains how current methods of scientific excavation and anthropological research can help interpret the cultural meaning of these places and the context of belief and ritual in which they operated. While much of their spiritual content is necessarily unrecoverable in detail - think of trying to understand a cathedral with no missals or Creed - there is, still, much that can be learned.
Sites and cultures discussed in the book include: Chauvet, African rock art, Catalhoyuk, Knossos, Stonehenge, Moundbuilders, Egypt, Mayas, and Aztecs (one envies the author his frequent-flyer miles.) The book ranges in space and time from Europe in 15,000 BC, through Africa, and finally to the Americas in 1500 AD. Even so, many well-known sacred places had to be omitted. There is nothing about Malta (a personal favorite of mine), Easter Island, or Asia. Another limitation is that, with so much ground to cover (or uncover), the number of pages devoted to any one site has to be pretty small. The book does not have many photographs, and those that do appear are only in black and white.
I found the chapter on ancient Egypt less successful than the other chapters; Egyptian culture is abundantly literate, even from late predynastic times, so that its inclusion in a book of this kind seems superfluous, if not downright odd.
Written in 1998, the book still (2003) seems basically up-to-date. The author deserves great credit for producing a popular book which covers such a wide area and is at the same time generally reliable and accurate (although it should be noted that Geb, the Egyptian earth god, is not female as the book claims on page 283. Geb is male, an important exception to the usual concept of an Earth Mother in early societies.)
Fagan is of the school of archaeology that applies anthropological concepts and methods to his work. Shamanism, the mother goddess, ancestor cult, sacred-tree cosmology, and astronomical alignments will all make an appearance, although rather conservatively, in these pages. Some readers may feel he goes too far with this, while others may wish that he would take it even farther. I think he gets the balance right, but in any case his reasoning is presented in a clear and straightforward way so that readers can make up their own minds about it.
In summary, most readers who are fascinated by these ancient places, and want to learn more about how archaeology and science interpret them, will find this book to be a helpful and very interesting read.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Fagan fails to support his interesting thesis 15 May 2010
By Eric Henyey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I was introduced to Brian Fagan's writings when I majored in archaeology as an undergraduate. Many of his his books - notably "The Great Journey" - are very well written. This book, however, is a real disappointment. "From Black Land to Fifth Sun" starts with an interesting theory: that scientific methods can give insights into the spiritual beliefs of prehistoric peoples. Each chapter focuses on one prehistoric culture, describing one or more archaeological sites that have contributed to our understanding of that culture. While the evidence provided does convince us that the culture in question was concerned with spirituality, it does not provide insight into any particular beliefs, and thus fail to support the (admittedly challenging) premise of the book. When Fagan does make assertions about specific beliefs, he does not substantiate them. For example, he refers to some figurines as "goddesses," some sites as "shrines," and some assemblages as clearly indicative of "ancestor worship" - even though he (quite rightly) criticizes other authors for projecting their own presuppositions onto the archaeological record.

The book also suffers from poor editing. Frequently, the points of one paragraph are repeated (sometimes almost verbatim) in the next paragraph. Chapters generally lack clear openings and conclusions; a chapter on San religion, for example, opens and closes with little explanation of how the information relates to the rest of the text. And there is a dearth of illustrations: while the subject matter calls out for photographs and drawings of the intriguing sites and artifacts, most chapters contain only a large-scale map and a few unhelpful images.

Fagan can be a clear and persuasive writer - but he doesn't succeed with this book.
Good for the casual reader 17 Jun. 2014
By Ansen Plopbundle - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
From Black Land to Fifth Sun has a relatively easy purpose: to describe how archaeologists use science and archaeological techniques to determine the nature of ancient religious and cosmological sites. Fagan asks, "What can archaeology tell us about the relationships between ancient cultures and their world as they perceived it" (vii)? So, Fagan spends one chapter on a particular sacred site and tells a story about the archaeological history of that site (when it was discovered, who discovered it, the site's original interpretation, how modern scholars interpret the site). Fagan also discusses some of his own visits to many of these sites and what he experienced. After discussing the archaeological history of these sites, he compares and contrasts what is similar/dissimilar to how the site was interpreted in the past versus now. There are also interspersed throughout the book snippets of archaeological techniques and how they apply to the particular chapter in question.

There are fourteen chapters, so fourteen sites are discussed, beginning with Cro-Magnon cave paintings and ending with an Aztec city. The reader will be taken on a journey through France, England, ancient Central and north America, Africa, the Mediterranean, etc. So, there is plenty of geographical coverage here.

And that's pretty much it. My only complaint is that there are an unusual number of misspellings/grammatical errors. Some proofreader must have missed the boat. This doesn't affect the book itself, though. I think this would be a nice introductory work for the casual reader into archaeology techniques and their interpretations of religious sites.
2 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Are we like those who lived 30,000 years ago? 1 July 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Fagan Brian. From Black Land to Fifth Sun. 1997. This is a look at the physical evidence that enables archaeologists to make conclusions regarding the belief systems of cultures long past. Is it valid to draw parallels between the Cro-Magnon people who lived in what is today, France, of 30,000 years ago and the San of the Kalahari in today's Botswana in Africa?
2 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Fropm Black Land to Fifth Sun 22 Oct. 2009
By Beverley Chong - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Oxford University had this as the text book for 2008! It was woeful and boring and out of date. I'd suggest this as a gift for people you don't like.
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