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Café Neandertal. Excavating Human Prehistory in One of France’s Most Ancient Places

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Original Language: English | 340 pp. | March 2017

2 Seas represents: Dutch, French and Nordic rights.

HISTORY | TRAVEL

“With a pilgrim’s reverence and a scientist’s exactitude, Bahrami captures the textures, smells, and sounds of the excavation sites and adjacent towns… At the heart of this story is Bahrami’s trek through densely overgrown pre-historic territory in search of a visceral connection to and deeper understanding of all humankind.” —Publishers Weekly

“We need to understand who we were in order to know where we are headed. In the caves and forests of France’s Dordogne region, Beebe Bahrami guides us on a haunting encounter with what may be our earlier selves, a creature whose passions and powers and motives we have only begun to fathom. A fascinating read for anyone who claims to be human.” —Peter Stark, author of Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire; A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival. 

“Ms. Bahrami has written a very readable book, blending personal travel experience and history in a relatively off-the-radar swath of France. She seamlessly marries archeology and Gallic culture that brings the region’s people and history to life.” —David Farley, author of An Irreverent Curiosity

“… [A] beautifully crafted book… Bahrami is a wonderful writer who brings many of the attributes of the novel to a clear and compelling narrative that encapsulates a snapshot of the state of our current knowledge about Neandertals. Peopled with a vast cast of fascinating characters, from village locals to querulous scientists, it brings to life the excitement of unearthing the past and de-scribes the ‘new, more enlightened era in studies of human evolution’ that is dawning.” —Cosmos Magazine

“Memoir of a food-and-travel journalist who displays her love of archaeology. Bahrami (Historic Walking Guides: Madrid, 2009, etc.) covers events from 2010 to 2015, most of them at the dig at La Ferrassie in France, where seven nearly complete Neanderthal skeletons were found. The author describes her position as “the upstairs-downstairs journalist-crew-anthropologist folded into [a] camp of some thirty quirky, very opinionated, very international, and very bright archaeologists and student! s as they worked into one of the great mysteries of the human journey on earth.” Interviews and informal conversations with these men and women abound as Bahrami picks their brains about their work. Debates center on how much Neanderthals were like modern humans. Did they have language and symbolic thought? Did they participate in rituals, such as burial of the dead? Though Bahrami does not provide all the answers, she effectively portrays the rich atmosphere at a dig. Over good food and drink after a day’s work, she talked to the scientists, seeking different perspectives, and she quotes their opinions at length. In addition, she came to know and appreciate the local amateur prehistory experts who are invariably proud of the fact that Neanderthals once thrived in their area. Bahrami’s technique results in lots of repetition and some entertaining but extraneous information; however, this is not intended to be a textbook but rather a memoir and an amiable introduction to a bit of prehistory. In one chapter, the author concentrates on what the science of genetics has brought to the study of the migrations out of Africa, to the evolution of modern man, and to our closest kin, the Neanderthals, with whom we share 99.7 percent of our DNA. Written with all the flair and enthusiasm of an experienced writer eager to share her love of her subject.” — Kirkus Reviews

Award-winning writer Bahrami is a delightful guide in this thoroughly enjoyable look into the research and recovery of a group of Neandertal remains in the French Dordogne region. With a background in archaeology, she is certainly qualified, but her wide interests in travel, memoir, food, wine, and more make this exceedingly engaging title more like a French version of Under the Tuscan Sun (1996) with an origins-of-humanity spin than the expected scholarly tome. Bahrami immerses readers in the countryside where the Neandertals were found, introduces individuals actively involved in studying them, and takes readers along on the thoroughly modern adventure of understanding who the Neandertals were, why they disappeared, and how humans are related to them. She also shares her own journey of signing up to write about the Dordogne discoveries and how she found herself quickly becoming consumed by her subject. The story became bigger and bigger, encompassing not only the Neandertals and those in the field recovering them but also the people of this unusual region. Ultimately, Bahrami determined that the biggest truth of the discovery was that we are “all in this together, and it’s messy. Welcome to the family.” Highly recommended for archaeology and prehistory buffs and armchair travelers. — Colleen Mondor, Booklist (starred)

A cross between a nonfiction Clan of the Cave Bear and singular-pursuit travel memoirs likeAn Irreverent Curiosity or The Telling Room, taking readers into the thick of an excavation, neck-deep in Neanderthal dirt, and to the front row of the heated debates about our long-lost cousins

In this travel narrative in pursuit of an ancient mystery, writer Beebe Bahrami takes a journey into the clues, evidences, geographies, and theories of the Neanderthals, following a core team of archaeologists who come together annually in southwestern France’s Dordogne region, a place easily called Neanderthal Central or, given its penchant for the good life from prehistory to the present, Café Neandertal. The book is also a detective story, investigating one of the biggest mysteries of prehistory and archaeology: Who were the Neandertals? Why did they disappear some 30,000 years ago? And more mysteriously, what light do they shed on us moderns?

Beebe Bahrami is known for award-winning travel, memoir, archaeology, outdoors and adventure, food and wine, spiritual, and cross-cultural writing. Author of The Spiritual Traveler Spain, her work appears in Archaeology, Wine Enthusiast, National Geographic books, andMichelin Green Guides, among others