Faces From the Past:
Forgotten People of North America
A book about the facial reconstruction of historic remains found in North America
Reviews from Professional Publications
School Library Journal (December, 2012) starred review
"Gr 5 Up–Beginning with the startling photograph of a partially reconstructed face on the cover, this book effectively brings to life the people of North America forgotten by the history books.Beginning with the oldest existing mummified human remains–a man discovered in Spirit Cave, Nevada, dated to approximately 10,500 years ago–Deem moves forward chronologically to burials belonging to the Monacan tribe of Virginia (1000-1400), a French sailor traveling with La Salle (1686), the forgotten burial of a woman in colonial New York (1742), a rediscovered slave burial ground (1750-1790), and a Mexican soldier killed shortly after the Alamo (1836). He discusses the poor buried in an Almshouse Cemetery (1826-1926), a Buffalo Soldier (1865), and, finally, Chinese Miners in Wyoming (1881). Each chapter highlights the hardships endured by these early Americans as documented by the bones they left behind and interpreted by anthropologists. A thorough explanation of the archaeological techniques used to exhume these forgotten remains is combined with the known history of each period to create a clear picture of the difficult lives the people uncovered in these forgotten burials faced. Further humanizing these forgotten people are the careful facial reconstructions painstakingly rendered by sculptors whose careful, scientific process is outlined in fascinating detail. Deem tactfully addresses the issue of excavating and displaying human remains and gives an emotional resonance to the lives of these early Americans through the inclusion of poems exploring some of the painful aspects of American history. Clear prose, pleasing layout, and crisp photographs combined with subject matter rarely explored in history books make this book an excellent choice for most collections." (Caroline Tesauro)
Booklist (November 15, 2012) starred review
"People live and people die, but once in a while they get to come back to shed light on their origins and societies. Deem, Sibert Honor-winner for Bodies from the Ice (2008), introduces some of those people, from as far back as 10,000 years ago, buried and rediscovered. Now, their bodies and burial materials are making both historical and scientific contributions, thanks to the archaeologists, anthropologists, and forensic artists examining them. Beginning with the discovery of Spirit Cave Man, who was thought to be a thousand years old and turned out to be 10 times older, and ending with an African American Civil War soldier, whose body was nabbed by grave robbers, this describes how the bodies were found, the stories surrounding them, and the science that elucidated them. In fact, this is as much a book about scientific techniques—especially that of facial reconstruction—as it is about history. Whether he’s describing how a French sailor under the command of La Salle died in shipwreck or the way 20th-century inmates of an almshouse were treated, Deem’s writing is riveting and his research deep. Illustrated with copious photographs and historical artifacts, the only small bump in the design is the way the sidebars sometimes interrupt the flow of the text. Otherwise, a top-notch effort with solid backmatter, too." (Ilene Cooper)
Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2012) starred review
"An absorbing introduction to anthropological facial reconstruction. Deem introduces five particular individuals and four other specific burial sites in North America where remains and archaeological contexts offer clues to the identities of the dead. He explores how people who were poor or enslaved or at war lost their lives in ways that left them forgotten or unknown. Seeing their faces reconstructed from the skull remains is compelling and moving in and of itself and provides a vehicle for us to understand more deeply who they might have been when alive. From the remains of Nevada's Spirit Cave Man, discovered in the 1940s (and in the 1990s realized to be 10,500 years old) to the burial grounds of poor and enslaved people in New York and immigrant Chinese miners in Wyoming, Deem's straightforward prose and consistently precise and respectful approach makes this exceptionally readable as history as well as science. The photos, especially of the skulls, casts, masks and diagrams used in the work of reconstruction, are clear and sharp. Diagrams and archival photos are also provided. Sidebars offer additional information and sometimes serve as segues to historical accounts that expand on the narratives, though the book's design means that readers must occasionally jump past this supplementary material over a page turn in order to follow the narrative. Extensive, comprehensive backmatter includes detailed acknowledgments as well as footnotes and sources for further inquiry. Impressive and fascinating."(Nonfiction, 11-15)
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (January, 2013)
"Readers familiar with Jackson's The Bone Detectives (BCCB 4/96) and McClafferty's The Many Faces of George Washington (BCCB 6/11) have already considered how forensic sciences and facial reconstructions have been used in the service of crime investigation and envisioning historical figures. Here Deem takes a chronological look at nine cases in which such reconstructions help interpret a specific moment in American history. Each study is a well-polished gem of a tale, framing the details of archaeological excavation, historical background, public policy issues, cultural controversies, and final disposition of the human remains with an unwavering respect for the dignity of the deceased and the communities that claim them. Packed with illustrations (color not seen) and carefully placed sidebar information, this title brings to life such diverse figures as paleoamerican Spirit Cave Man; "Pearl," a slave from eighteenth-century upstate New York; a buffalo soldier whose corpse was reassembled and given an honorable burial; nine persons among the 1,271 bodies found in pauper's graves in an almshouse cemetery. Quotation sources and thorough bibliographic notes for each chapter are included, as well as an index and suggestions for further reading on each topic. A strong choice for independent reading, this will also be a boon to social studies and science teachers in search of classroom readalouds." (Elizabeth Bush)
Horn Book (November/December, 2012)
"The talented practitioners of historical facial reconstruction draw on their knowledge of history, art, and science to show us what the faces of long-dead humans may have looked like. Working from skulls, sometimes only partially intact, the sculptors carefully build layers of bone, muscle, fat, skin, and hair. Deem explores nine periods in American history and prehistory, recounting the lives and times of people—from 'Spirit Cave Man,' a resident of the American Southwest thousands of years ago, to the unnamed inhabitants of a New York almshouse from the early twentieth century—whose remains have been located across North America. The profiles detail the careful work of modern-day archaeologists to uncover and preserve these skeletal remains, as well as the science behind the reconstructions, including the fascinating use of typical measurements of the position and thicknesses of various facial elements to make estimates for the sculptures. Copious illustrations include portraits of the sculptors at work, the facial reconstructions themselves, and the historical and modern-day sites in which these people lived." (Danielle J. Ford)
Curriculum Connections (November 6, 2012)
"In Faces, Deem, the author of many books, including the 2009 Sibert Honor title, Bodies from the Ice (Houghton Mifflin, 2008 Gr 5-8), covers the fate of often-unknown individuals and the repatriation efforts to honor them. Deem's account takes readers from Spirit Cave outside of Fallon, NV, and a 17th-century French ship found at the bottom of Matagorda Bay on the Gulf coast of Texas, to a Colonial burial ground in Albany, NY, and the site of the Battle of San Jacinto near Houston, TX. As the subtitle notes, the author set out to explore the lives of the 'forgotten,' often 'nameless,' people of our past; a Paleoamerican man, a sailor on Le Salle's last expedition, enslaved workers at an upstate New York farm, and massacred Mexican soldiers left unburied during the Texas War for Independence. In detailing these discoveries, Deem discusses what their remains have taught us about these individuals: their physical appearance, the foods they ate, their labors, and the causes of their deaths, when known. He includes primary source materials—letters, family and city records, and early maps and reproductions—to reconstruct their daily lives and their histories. He documents how researchers poring over old newspapers in were able to determine that a particular Wyoming location was the likely burial site of six Chinese workers killed in a mine blast in 1881. Sidebars provide additional, related information on such topics as The Texas War of Independence, The Chinese Exclusion Act, artifacts, NAGPRA cases, and more. The author also describes radiocarbon dating and surveys the history of facial reconstruction from late 19th-century to modern techniques, with notes on the work of anatomists and sculptors and the challenges their assignments present. He illustrates the latter with fascinating step-by-step photographs." (Daryl Grabarek)
Books about Doing Science, International Reading
Association (September 25, 2013)
"In Faces from the Past, Deem details how archeologists use the combined powers of chemistry, biology, history, and art to learn about those who lived before us. The book includes nine case studies of forgotten people rediscovered, beginning with 'the man from Spirit Cave,' whose remains were first discovered in 1940 and 50 years later were determined to be more than 10,000 years old. Others whose lives were brought to light long after their deaths include ancestors of the Monacan Indians of Virginia, a French sailor from LaSalle's failed expedition to the New World, a Mexican solider who died at the Battle of San Jacinto, and a Buffalo Soldier who died of cholera while serving at Fort Craig in New Mexico. Discoveries near Albany, New York, echo a theme of 'the forgotten poor'-a servant woman whose remains were found during excavation for street improvement, slaves whose burial places were undocumented, and residents of an almshouse-infants to elderly-buried in a cemetery discovered again through construction. Each case study can stand alone for individual reading, but together they highlight the delicate dance between scientific exploration and social concerns. The text is clear, direct, and engaging, replete with photographs of archeological work and supporting artifacts, plus sidebars that often provide more insight into the human stories." (Suzii Christian Parsons, Oklahoma State University)
School Library Journal: "Contemplating the Cranium"
(Nonfiction Booktalker, February 19, 2013)
"James M. Deem’s Faces from the Past: Forgotten People of North America (Houghton, 2012) not only describes faces from thousands of years ago to the early 1900s, but also tells us exactly how the artful science of facial reconstructions is performed, with work-in-progress examples. To a face fanatic like me, this book is a visual feast. What do we learn from the skulls of soldiers whose bodies were left to rot on the battlefield of San Jacinto in 1836 Texas? And who even thought to collect them? It was bird-lover John James Audubon who picked up four of them as a gift for a collector friend in Philadelphia. Who knew there were skull collectors? Yuck.
"Deem reconstructs the lives of those buried in the Almshouse Cemetery in Albany County, NY. The poorest of the poor are buried with convicts from the nearby penitentiary and drowning victims retrieved from the Hudson River. Poor as they may have been, life in the Almshouse was an improvement—the skimpy food, horrible living conditions, and lack of stimulating activities were better than starving to death or living without shelter. The riveting facial reconstructions reveal their lost lives: bad teeth often led to death, a common revelation of many ancient skulls. Maybe we aren't grateful enough for modern dentistry!
"Stare at the face of a French sailor from 1686, or of a Buffalo Soldier, a Chinese miner, or a lost Monacan Indian. The stories go on and on. And they can all be seen in people's faces. Without saying a word, these skulls and skeletons tell us much about ourselves. Ask your booktalk audience, What does your face say about you?" (Kathleen Baxter)
"When scientists discover skeletons from centuries past, they want to use the remains to identify things about the culture and people of that time period. Sometimes the skeletons themselves can provide details to the scientists. Sometimes specialized artists are asked to create facial reconstruction using models of the skulls found. Using more than thirty markers, these artists can create a clay replica to show what the person may have looked like. The clay replicas are painted to look more realistic and sometimes a wig is added. These are often displayed in museums. Faces from the Past explains the process of facial reconstruction and follows the stories of the reconstruction of faces in several important discoveries in North America, including the remains of a man who lived more than ten thousand years ago. Though some of the details are grim, this book provides valuable insight into the process of facial reconstruction and its purpose. Author James Deem masterfully weaves together the history of each forgotten person or group and shows how the reconstruction process brings those stories to life again. Recommended." (Kasey Giard)
Ingram Library Services: News and Reviews for the Youth
Librarian (July 12, 2012)
"Deem can be counted on to deliver high-quality narrative science nonfiction. Bodies from the Ice was a 2009 Sibert Honor Book, and Bodies from the Ash was picked by the National Science Teachers Association as an Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K–12 in 2006. In Faces from the Past, the reader is taken on an archeological journey from the discovery of skeletons in various North American areas to the completion of life-size reconstructions of the faces. When bones are discovered during scientific digs or construction, archeologists and anthropologists are called in to evaluate the bones to glean information about how the person may have lived and died, perhaps even, in the course of the exam, determining if a crime was committed. Even though bones may be thousands of years old, scientists can still learn the person's gender and ethnicity; they can also get an idea whether the person lived a long or short life, experienced an easy or difficult lifestyle, or received regular medical attention. Then, in some cases, artists are used to sculpt a face on the skull using average tissue depth measurements that have been collected and calculated by scientists since the late 1800s. Sidebars offer reinforcement or elaboration of information presented in the text. Photographs, maps, illustrations, and reproductions add to the authority and impact of the work done by archaeologists and anthropological artists. The end materials are impressive: quotation sources; a bibliography arranged by topic/case study; acknowledgements; a further research section listing books, museums, and Web sites; and an index. A fascinating topic! Recommended for ages 12 and up." (Becky Walton)
Reviews from Blogs
Infodad.com (November 2012)
"An engrossing mixture of history, detective work and art, Faces from the Past is packed with information on people who lived many thousands of years ago – or, in some cases, a little more than a century ago – and who died unknown, vanished for many, many years, then were resurrected through the work of people with titles such as 'archeological-crimes investigator,' the wonders of modern technology, and the old-fashioned skill of sculptors. It is a book about lives and deaths distant in time, of people far from famous, and of the clues to their lives that scientists painstakingly assemble when old bones are uncovered by excavations, grave robbery or natural forces. A man who sailed with the French explorer La Salle in the 1680s seems to live again after a CT scan and some excellent sculpting work by Amanda Danning show what he looked like when alive. Replica skulls of Monacan Indians from the early 17th century are fleshed out by sculptor Sharon Long until they seem to look around and contemplate the new era into which they have emerged. The stories of these and other people from long ago are fascinating, the ways their remains were discovered are highly intriguing, the excavations and other methods by which the bones came into modern times are amazing to read about and to see (the book’s photos are uniformly excellent), and the pictures of modern archeologists carefully exhuming bits of the past provide tremendous insight into the way history is rediscovered and brought back to life. James M. Deem's prose makes this factual book read much of the time like a story: 'They were the poorest people in town when they were buried in the almshouse cemetery. The oldest of them died in the almshouse hospital or dormitory, the youngest in the nursery at birth.' 'Sometimes, though, even when written information was available in diaries or journals, church records, court documents, and newspaper accounts, certain people were not respected enough or considered important enough to have their stories told. And sometimes people were simply erased from history altogether.' Deem takes readers to 'the forgotten burying ground at Schuyler Flatts' (1750-1790), to the ruins of Fort Craig in New Mexico (deactivated 1885), to Spirit Cave in Nevada (where the remains of a man who lived more than 9,000 years ago were found), and to many other sites where archeologists, anthropologists and other explorers of the past – amateur and professional – delve into mysteries left behind by long-ago deaths, long-ago battles, and long-ago lives of all kinds. Faces from the Past brings history vividly to life while telling and showing readers the remarkable work that goes into reconstructing the remains of people who died so many ages ago."
Miss M.'s Excellent Science Explorations (April 16, 2013)
"Have you ever wondered how humans migrated to North America? Children will learn about our changing facial structures overtime, nomadic behaviors, and what happens to skeletons and bones over time. This book introduces historical and scientific concepts simultaneously. This book is great for whole group reading with third or fourth grade."
Reviews from Newspapers
"Small Print" The Toronto Star, February 1, 2013
"Times past — whether Victorian or earlier — and an interest in the dead take an unusual turn in this work of history, science, archaeology and art. Using nine archaeological finds as examples, Deem shows how artists and archaeologists can use a skull to estimate the appearance of long forgotten faces. Cases include a 12,000 year old man buried in Nevada; a French sailor shipwrecked in the Gulf of Mexico in 1686; and 19th century almshouse inhabitants from Albany, New York, among others. Each case becomes a mini social history and sharply focused glimpse into the personal life of one long-gone individual. Haunting, informative and thought-provoking." (Deidre Baker)
"Literary Happenings: Bond, Faces Rise Out of the Past"
Ventura County Star Mobile, August 4, 2012
"Perfect for teen readers, 'Faces from the Past' by James M. Deem will be released in November. Subtitled 'The Forgotten People of North America,' it's a fascinating look at what happens when archaeologists, historians and sculptors combine science and skill in the art of facial reconstruction. From a nameless woman in New York in 1742 nicknamed 'Pearl' by researchers, to Buffalo Soldier Thomas Smith of Fort Craig, N.M., in 1865, Deem introduces past lives whose poignant stories still touch readers today." (Jo Ellen Heil)