Books : reviews

Brenna Hassett.
Built on Bones: 15,000 years of urban life and death.
Bloomsbury. 2017

Imagine you are a hunter-gatherer some 15,000 years ago. You’ve got a choice – carry on foraging, or plant a few seeds and move to one of those new-fangled settlements down the valley. What you won’t know is that urban life is short, dangerous and riddled with dozens of new diseases – so why did we decide to do this?

Using research on skeletal remains from around the world, Brenna Hassett explores the history of humanity’s experiment with non-foraging life, and why we have largely stuck with it. It explains the diseases, the deaths and the many other misadventures that we have unwittingly unleashed upon ourselves throughout our metropolitan past, and as the world becomes increasingly urbanised, what we can look forward to in the future.

Telling the tale of shifts in human health that have occurred as we transitioned from a mobile to a largely settled species, Built on Bones offers a fascinating insight into a critical but relatively unheralded aspect of the human story – our recent evolution.