Prehistoric jerky…

Author:  Björn Kurtén

deep-freeze-a-mammoth-127x202What did woolly mammoth taste like?  I assume it tasted like chicken, but modern humans may never know.  Our Paleolithic forebears had plenty of experience with the beasts, however.  They stalked, killed and consumed mammoths with some regularity, possibly contributing to the beasts’ eventual extinction.  If pondering the lives of our ancient human ancestors and the wild creatures they lived with tickles your frontal cortex, I can enthusiastically recommend How to Deep-Freeze a Mammoth by Björn Kurtén.

A professor at the University of Helsinki from 1955 until his death in 1988, Kurtén gained some level of notoriety for his unconventional approach to science.  His almost eccentric style is readily apparent in this collection of fourteen essays.  He explores a variety of paleontological topics, from the birth of the Mediterranean Sea to the search for evidence of humankind’s first appearance in Europe.

A model of a woolly mammoth at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.

A model of a woolly mammoth at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria.

While the mammoth deep-freezing instructions receive only passing mention in one essay, the collection’s title accurately conveys the imaginative, almost playful, approach to science that Kurtén presents.  Translated into English from the original 1981 edition in Swedish, the book undoubtedly espouses some now dated concepts.  But the creativity of Kurtén’s thought process is timeless.  He’s not the cold, analytical stereotypical scientist.

Frequently focusing on the stories that fossils can tell us about extinct species – from wooly rhinos to steppe bison to Archaeopteryx – the author also expounds on the spiritual life of our Neanderthal brethren and the finer points of European prehistoric cave art.

Fully revealing that science is a creative art at its core, How to Deep-Freeze a Mammoth is fun and fascinating reading for anyone who enjoys a trip back to humanity’s prehistoric origins.

— D. Driftless

mammoth model photo by Flying Puffin (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Check out these reviews of other books about human prehistory:

In the Shadow of the Sabertooth   /   How to Think Like a Neandertal   /   The World Until Yesterday

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