As we explained in this month’s feature article, archaeology—which is focused on human history—is different from paleontology—which is focused on other species. But these two fields are often thought of together: when many people imagine ancient human history, they often imagine ancient creatures, even if those animals didn’t live at the same time as humans. They imagine woolly mammoths and saber-toothed cats. And dinosaurs.
The connection between archaeology and dangerous creatures is an element from classic literature. Consider two adventure novels that depict intrepid scientists and explorers who end up in undiscovered places where they find terrifying beasts and unique human—or humanish—communities.
Perhaps the most famous example comes from Jules Verne, who also wrote Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea, the work we discussed in our marine science issue. In 1864, the influential French author wrote Journey to the Center of the Earth, an adventure novel about a professor and his nephew who discover an underground world inhabited by human-like beings. About fifty years later, in 1912, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the famed creator of Sherlock Holmes) wrote The Lost World, another adventure novel, about a scientist, an adventurer, and a reporter who travel to a land where dinosaurs still live, and where an indigenous people are in the midst of a war against “ape-like creatures.” (It’s available for free at Project Gutenberg.)
As you read one of these two books (or both!), consider the following questions. Afterward, tell us what you think by submitting an essay on one of these topics to Your Turn or sending your review to Recommended Reading and you might be published in next month’s issue!
- Verne’s work has been turned into a number of movies, and Doyle’s was a precursor to popular films like Jurassic Park—which even borrowed Doyle’s title for the second film in the series. Why do you think these stories have captured readers’ imaginations for so long? How do you think that has changed how people think of ancient human history?
- How are science and scientific discovery presented in these books? How do the characters approach learning new things? Do you think they are good models for archaeologists to emulate?
- Why do you think both books include the presence of “ape-like” humans? How are non-European and non-white peoples represented in these books? Do you think those two things are connected? Do you think those elements of the books would have changed if the books were written today?