Everyone who studies ancient history relies on archeological finds. That makes sense, and it’s fascinating to see all the artifacts in books or, even better, in museums. It’s also fascinating to learn about ancient people’s cultures, religion, and daily life from objects found in ruins.
But wait, do the objects really tell us the story…or are there interpreters who may argue among themselves and may even all be wrong? When I first read Motel of the Mysteries, I suddenly realized that even if all the history books agree, they could actually be completely off track.
Every few years our family needs a reminder of this fact, so we borrow this hilarious book by David Macaulay from the library again.
In 4022 AD, Howard Carson, an archeologist, fell down a shaft in the detritus that covered the ancient country of Usa. This advanced civilization had been destroyed in one catastrophic day in 1985. (And, no, there had not been a nuclear blast.) The ancients who had inhabited Usa, called Yanks, had obviously worshipped many gods, as evidenced by the many monuments placed along the mysterious grey stripes that crisscrossed the country, deep under the debris of the catastrophe. Excavations had discovered many other facts about the Yanks, but the picture of their civilization remained incomplete until Carson fell down the shaft and noticed light gleaming off the ancient burial seal.
His incredible discovery of an undefiled grave chamber, still intact with the ancient burial seal ‘Do not disturb’ on the door, led to a complete understanding of the ancient civilization of the Yanks of Usa….
Motel of the Mysteries is divided into three heavily illustrated sections. The first describes Carson’s find in great and solemn detail, outlining the meaning and original location of the various artifacts. The second section illustrates and describes each of the treasures on display at the Museum, including notes about their significance. The third section describes souvenirs and quality reproductions for sale at the Museum shop. A final epilogue underlines the impact of Carson’s amazing discoveries.
I can vividly remember the epiphany I experienced while reading this book for the first time, years ago. ‘Facts’ about the past may not necessarily be so…and perhaps the civilizations we call ‘ancient’ would find our ‘knowledge’ just as hilarious as Motel of the Mysteries seems to us. I wasn’t the only one enchanted by this book. My husband also loved it and the children chuckled their way through it, gaining a healthy dose of skepticism as they read.
Although it is a barbed commentary on Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb, Motel of the Mysteries easily stands on its own. One of the funniest spoofs around, and full of astonishing interpretations, Motel of the Mysteries is an essential companion to the study of archeology and ancient history.
Note that I have nothing against archeology, which is vital to the study of ancient history. However, all its pronouncements should not be blindly accepted.
Disclosure: We borrow this book from the library every few years and are pleased to share our honest opinions with you. I was not compensated for writing this review.
-Written by Annie Kate, a Christian homeschooling mom of five, who reviews and blogs at Tea Time with Annie Kate