Thursday, February 3, 2011

Case Closed? Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science

by Susan Hughes, illustrations by Michael Wandelmaier
Kids Can Press, 2010. 88 pgs. Nonfiction.

Hughes and Wandelmaier have assembled and pictured a sparkling collection of historical mysteries which have been solved--or mostly solved--by applying modern scientific techniques. Arranged in chronological order, the book begins with the Egyptian Pharaoh-regent Hatshepsut who ruled for her stepson until he was old enough to take the throne and who then disappeared completely. Her tomb was empty, but a tooth in Hatshepsut's funerary box matched exactly with the empty socket in the jaw of an unidentified mummy from tomb KV60, leading scientists to believe that mummy to be Hatshepsut's as well as confirming that she was not murdered but probably died of cancer. Subsequent case studies reveal causes for the disappearance of the Anasazi, reveal the location of the lost city of Ubar, and confirm that Anastasia was, alas, killed along with her family during the Bolshevik revolution. One of the most interesting cases involved the missing John Franklin arctic expedition which disappeared on a search for the Northwest Passage in 1845. The thirty search parties sent out to find Franklin lost more men than disappeared from the original expedition, but other than an occasional body and artifacts from the Erebus and the Terror, nothing else was ever found. But testing of hair samples from the bodies that were found suggests that members of the Franklin expedition may have suffered mental confusion and/or death because of lead poisoning, since their three-year supply of food was sealed with lead solder on the inside of the lids. Children even the least bit interested in science and history should find these stories gripping and motivating--leading to further investigation and interest.

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