Book review: Bones and Ochre: The Curious Afterlife of the Red Lady of Paviland. Marianne Sommer. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007, xii + 398 pp, list of archives consulted, 14 figures, 2 appendices.


  • Heather T. Battles McMaster University



In Bones and Ochre, author Marianne Sommer, a historian of science, aims to address her discipline’s neglect of paleoanthropology and prehistoric archeology (11). Sommer situates her book among other recent works in the history of science, such as Keller (2000), Secord (2000), and Daston (2000; 2004), as well as those which contextualize the anthropological sciences, including Hammond (1980), Bowler (1986), and Delisle (2007). Drawing on both published and archival sources, Sommer takes on the large task of tracing the history of paleoanthropology through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as she follows the changing biography of the “Red Lady of Paviland.” She uses this ochre-stained fossil skeleton and its role (along with that of associated artifacts) as an “anthropological object,” at once a natural, material object and meaningful concept (6), to demonstrate the historically contingent nature of anthropological interpretation, as the Red Lady’s age, sex, ethnicity, and place in human history shift multiple times from discovery in 1823 to the present day.