I became interested in history almost as I became interested in anything. It's hard to point to anything in my early childhood that led to this interest, and it is not shared by anyone else in the family. Or among most of my friends, for that matter.
One early fascination was one of those big books from Time Publishing (later Time Life): The Epic of Man. It was a compilation of articlesthat appeared in LIFE magazine between 1955 and 1957. Back then, big middelbrow national magazines had a strong educational element, providing households across the country with history, science, and technology articles pitched at an ambitious, striving population. I remember LIFE having a lot of those, including a series on ancient Rome and one on Russian history. My dad would cut them out for me.
Being LIFE there was a heavy pictorial element, and the resulting book shows this strongly. Many of the illustrations from this book have stuck with me. I recently did some online searching for the various images I remembered, and didn't find that much. So I went on Alibris, found a cheap used copy, and bought it. I don't have any kind of camera or scanning setup for photographing things, so I just opened up the book and took pictures with my phone, so apologies for artifacts of the somewhat casual process.
Below are a few of the illustrations that had a particularly strong effect on my childhood mind.
Sumer, and onagers
A military chariot approaches a Sumerian cityThis was, I think, my first introduction to Sumer as a separate concept. Also, the caption in the book contains the sentence "The yoked animals are onagers, a kind of Asiatic wild ass". The word "onager" thereafter had a kind of magical feel to me. When, years later, I came across a Roman catapult called an onager (supposedly because of the way that animal kicked), I felt like I was encountering an old friend. I still count onagers as among my favorite equids, even though I don't really know much more about them than I did when I read this book around age eight.
The artist was Federico Castellon, a Spanish-born artist and illustrator.
Fishing, and butts
There's a kind of covert butt in the Sumerian illustration, but elsewhere in the book, human buttocks become a prominent design element. That interested me too.
Mesolithic Danes harvesting fish
I think you get what I mean. There are other illustrations of hot Danes of both sexes as well. I liked the idea of the fish traps across the stream, too. Seemed like an efficient way of getting your fishing done. I don't know if they managed non-agricultural sedentism, like the roughly contemporary Natufians of the Middle East (they founded Jericho) who hunted gazelles and harvested wild grains. It's easy to forget that some areas were so well-supplied with wild protein that a population could settle down and just harvest it.
I really wasn't thinking about this at the time, however. Nor did I actually read this part of the book, maybe because I was already a Fertile Crescent urbanist, something I've outgrown.
The artist was Simon Greco, an Italian-born illustrator who did a variety of LIFE magazine projects.
That's enough for today, though. More later.