One of my favorite books as a child was C. W. Ceram’s Gods, Graves, and Scholars: The Story of Archaeology.* I checked it out from the Springfield public library over and over. It was one of the first books I bought with my own money.** I still have it and dip into it on occasion when I want to refresh my memory or just enjoy Ceram’s story-telling one more time.
Ceram gave me some of my earliest heroes: Schliemann, Evans, Champollion and Carter.*** He made deciphering Linear B as enthralling as discovering King Tut’s tomb. As an adult I was thrilled when I saw Mesopotamian artifacts at the Oriental Institute in Chicago and the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum. When My Own True Love and I traveled to Turkey for the first time I insisted on visiting the site of Troy, even though my ankle was in a cast and I needed a cane.
Ceram wrote with adults in mind, but his book was the perfect introduction to archaeology for a nerdy child. In his foreword, Ceram says his “aim was to portray the dramatic qualities of archaeology, its human side.” He succeeds. In his hands, archaeology was made up of “all manner of excitement and achievement. Adventure is coupled with bookish toil. Romantic excursions go hand in hand with scholarly self-discipline and moderation.” He took a subject often buried in technical language and found the stories at its heart. Is it any wonder that I was hooked?
Gods, Graves and Scholars has been continuously in print since it was first published in Germany in 1943 and translated into 28 languages. As a writer of popular history, I could do worse than take Herr Ceram as a role model.****
*What can I say? I earned my history nerd membership early.
**Let me pause for a brief moment of silence in memory of the indie bookstore of my youth, the Heritage Bookstore in Springfield Mo. It was a small store in a neighborhood strip mall, but Aladdin’s cave had nothing on it as far as I was concerned.
***This actually began as a blog post about Champollion and the Rosetta Stone. Then I pulled Ceram off the shelf….
****Except for that stint of writing propaganda for the 3rd Reich under his real name, Kurt Wilhelm Marek. Sometimes Google gives you unhappy surprises.