Tag Archives: archaeology

Searching the Florida past for the beginnings of human life

An Ice Age Mystery: Unearthing the Secrets of the Old Vero Site, by Rody Johnson. University Press of Florida. 224 pages.  Hardcover $24.95.

For 100 years, the human and other remains of Vero, Florida have engaged the skills and imagination of professional and amateur archaeologists. Just what was the region like during the Ice Age? What grew there? What were the geological features? Did animals thrive? Did humans leave their marks — and their bones – somewhere in the layers of sediment washed by intruding waters? Why are these questions important? 

The history of archaeological investigations of “the Old Vero site” is characterized by sporadic periods of accelerated interest and action separated by longer periods of general neglect. Rody Johnson tells the story in a highly accessible style, even making the forays into science understandable and engaging. It’s a story of diehard fanatics, professional rivalries, home town boosters, and local kids with nothing better to do than search for Ice Age tools, fossils, bones, and other evidentiary signs of life – individual and communal.

Yes, before there was today’s Vero Beach, perhaps 10,000 years before, there was Vero Man – or, more likely, Vero Woman.


Mr. Johnson’s book is divided into two parts. The first part begins with the 1916 discovery by geologist Elias Sellards of Ice Age human and animal remains. His interpretation, originally challenged by leading authorities, was eventually supported by radiocarbon dating technology. This justification came long after the dismissal of Sellards’s claims had crushed his career and spirit.

The author traces the ebbs and flows of interest in the Old Vero site, sets this pattern in the context of other Ice Age research sites, and ends this section with reference to a long period of research dormancy.  Along the way, we meet the important players in the field, generation by generation, and major findings nearby and far away that rival the Old Vero Site’s claim for attention. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the May 31, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 1 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Rody Johnson

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Past and present intersect in stunning archaeological thriller

The Oracle, by D. J. Niko. Medallion Press. 362 pages. Trade paperback $14.99.

The third installment of the Sarah Weston Chronicles finds Sarah, a British archaeologist, in Thebes. She and anthropologist Daniel Madigan, her professional partner and love interest, are working together (and also apart) helping to investigate the theft of Greek antiquities from a local museum. This theft, however, is not merely the usual pillage for profit. It is more like pillage for prophet! TheOracle

This highly original mystery has several layers and dimensions. Ms. Niko makes it difficult to discern, and for her characters to discern, which actions pose a serious threat and which ones are well-planned distractions to disguise the threat.

Neo-paganism is on the rise in Greece and elsewhere. There is a growing cult threatening to undermine monotheistic culture and religion. The ancient shrines where oracles once uttered the wishes of the deities are being taken over to fuel this resurgence of pagan power.

Or is this activity a complex feint – a way of gaining access to the sacred places of antiquity – places from which an incredible terrorist force can threaten the modern Western world? Certain artifacts and a long-hidden map are the necessary keys that pit the forces of light, represented of course by Daniel and Sarah, against the dark forces – an array of strange bedfellows twisted by raging resentments and driven toward revenge.

Stresses in the relationship between Daniel and Sarah are aggravated by the plotting of those who wish to use them or get them out of the way. Their love for one another is leveraged as a tool to control them, as each fears for the other’s safety and is manipulated by that fear. How can they reunite and lead those who would uncover and stop the greatest, most destructive terrorist effort ever set in motion? One that would literally rattle the world by generating earthquakes?

D. J Niko, photography by Lauren Lieberman / LILA PHOTO

D. J Niko, photography by Lauren Lieberman / LILA PHOTO

Ms. Niko deepens reader involvement by creating a second time line covering a slice of ancient history – 393 CE. Here the forces at work are the Christian suppression of pagan culture and the courageous resistance of the priestess Aristea of Delphi. These chapters are artfully composed, especially the descriptions of place and of Aristea’s state of mind. However, they do not match the highly suspenseful drama of the chapters set in the present. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 11, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Oracle

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Poisoned soil and souls threaten an island in the Gulf of Mexico

Isolation, by Mary Anna Evans. Poisoned Pen Press. 288 pages. Hardcover $26.95 (other formats available).

This is not just another murder mystery. As a psychological portrait of a women who has been plunged into despair, it is deeply moving. As an exploration of how the past informs and shapes the present, it is thought-provoking. As an examination of family dynamics, it is astute and engaging. It is a perfectly titled book, in which isolation is both an outer and an inner reality.  isolationcover

However, it is very much a murder mystery, just like the others in the Faye Longchamp Mystery series that has garnered much applause. This is number nine.

Faye Longchamp-Mantooth, archaeologist extraordinaire, has miscarried. Her teenage adopted daughter, Amande, is not going to meet a baby sister upon returning home from college. Faye has withdrawn into herself so severely that her husband Joe wonders if she can pull herself out. The trauma of this loss has altered Faye’s behavior. She seems not to notice what goes on around her. She cannot relate normally to her husband and her very young son Michael. She is in isolation, and her withdrawal creates isolation for those around her.

Ms. Evans’ achievement in this novel includes allowing readers to share Faye’s unbalanced emotional state and to follow the steps by which it is eventually restored to health.

The fact that a woman is killed at the mainland marina near Faye’s Joyeuse, an estate and coastal island in the Gulf of Mexico, would not seem to enhance her chance for recovery. Especially since that woman is Liz Colton, the marina’s owner, and also a friend. That other women are injured or threatened makes matters worse.

Moral pollution and environmental contamination hold sway. Tommy Barnett, the man who services boats at the marina has been illegally dumping waste materials. Faye’s property has unusually high levels of arsenic. And Faye, digging around as archaeologists must, has accidentally triggered a leak in a large metal kerosene container. What’s going on? Who is causing what – and why?



The Longchamp-Mantooth family has been suddenly expanded by the arrival of Joe’s father, Sly, with whom Joe has had little contact for many years. Sly’s skills, background, and the guilt that he harbors make for an especially interesting character throughout the novel. Because he has served time in prison, he is a ready suspect for the bad things that are happening on Joyeuse Island.

Others have shown up in the area for unusual reasons. A man named Oscar Croft had come to visit the Museum of American Slavery, which had been a hobby of Emma Everett’s late husband, Douglass. Now Emma, one of Faye’s best friends, runs the place.

Oscar, interested in a certain corner of American history related to his own heritage, has been led to this place by his companion and history guide Delia Scarsdale. He is excited about meeting Faye, whose expertise may help uncover the answers to his questions. He is trying to discover the fate of his great great grandfather, Elias Croft, who was supposedly held against his will and possibly murdered by a woman named Cally Stanton. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the September 16, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the September 17 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Isolation

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Past and present collide in Mid-East archaeological thriller

The Riddle of Solomon, by D. J. Niko. Medallion Press. 458 pages. $14.95.

Ms. Niko’s archaeological thriller continues the romantic and professional saga of Sarah Weston, a strong-minded, courageous woman determined to make her mark no matter what the risk. Teamed with anthropologist (and love interest) Daniel Madigan, she is working at an archaeological site in Saudi Arabia. They discover a papyrus scroll that holds a riddle. Before they can do much about dating the artifact, translating the hieratic script, and solving the riddle, their expedition is beset by sabotage and violence. The scroll disappears.  RiddleOfSolomon_front

The title gives away what patiently emerges in the narrative: they have stumbled upon rarities from the time (10th century B.C.E.) and perhaps the very person of King Solomon. These items and others may have found their way from the Judean hills as part of a caravan that perhaps had a connection with the queen of Sheba. At a time when modern archaeology has largely served to undermine the historical utility of scriptural narrative, this find may lead to the verification and even the elaboration of the majestic stories recounting King David’s aspirations and King Solomon’s achievement. 

The investigation leads to heart-pounding adventures in India, Jerusalem, and the rugged Judean region. Slowly, the information gained unlocks pieces of the riddle, revealing that it was indeed written by Solomon to insure the future. The hieratic riddle and a mysterious ring that they discover are connected to a manuscript that is nothing less than the plan for Solomon’s fabled temple.

Several blocking forces are at work: interests that would wish to possess the information and eventual authority of the truths that Sarah and Daniel are pursuing. Paramount among these is the megalomaniacal Trent Sacks, who has been looking for the evidence that would sanction his grand delusion – that he is the inheritor of the royal line that passes from David to Solomon and continues on an obscure path. If Trent is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy about the bloodline from which will spring the Messiah, then he must be . . .  You get it!

D. J. Niko

D. J. Niko

Author Niko taps into the extreme position in Jewish Orthodoxy that anticipates and sometimes urges on the rebuilding of the ancient temple (or construction of a Third Temple) as a prerequisite for the Messianic Age. Biblical prophesies of purgative catastrophes become battle plans for Sacks, who sees the need to foment the war out of which the divinely ordained peace will arrive. With the wealth of a major energy company at his disposal, along with superlative industrial and military technology, Sacks is ready to mount the Temple Mount as Israel’s savior.

Sarah and Daniel must foil his plans in order to avert calamity. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the July 17, 2013 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the July 18 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here Florida Weekly – Riddle of Solomon 1 and here Florida Weekly – Riddle of Solomon 2.

Reprinted in the October 2013 issue of the Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier County), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties) and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota / Manatee).

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Kuzneski’s new thriller offers suspense, sparkle, and smiles

The Death Relic, by Chris Kuzneski. Putnam. 464 pages. $26.95.

Mr. Kuzneski once again puts together his special blend of humor and suspense in this new archeological thriller featuring the investigatory team of Jonathan Payne and David Jones. These men, former Special Forces operatives who maintain key connections in the world of secret government agencies, are summoned by gorgeous, rising star archeologist Maria Pelati, with whom Jones had enjoyed an aborted romance. The Italian woman had been persuaded to come to the assistance of American archeologist Terrence Hamilton, who claims that he needs her special expertise in Christian history to further his research into a unique treasure of Mayan relics.  CoverArt-THEDEATHRELIC

Soon after she meets him in Cancun, Hamilton disappears. Not only is she perplexed, but she also feels threatened by some strange goings-on about which she has no clue. The dynamic duo of Payne and Jones arrive on the scene, all three having trust issues that need resolution before they can work together effectively.

Maria seems to have fallen into a tangled knot of crime and greed centered on a revenge plot against a kingpin in the world of high-profit kidnapping. Someone has turned the tables on Hector Garcia, taking his children as hostages and demanding an antique medallion as ransom. After his children, Garcia’s hoard of artifacts is his passion, and this medallion is the most treasured.

Having set a few plot engines in motion, Chris Kuzneski brings red-headed Tiffany Duffy onto the stage. She is in Mexico City on some kind of assignment, and her tourist education in Mexican history becomes the readers as well. Slowly but surely, the clouds obscuring Duffy’s relevance to the Death Relic quest, Maria’s obscure mission, and the threat against Hector Garcia’s children begin to disperse. What is revealed is astonishing and frightening.



A novel like “The Death Relic” requires mountains of exposition. Explorations of Mayan and Aztec history, the Spanish suppression of these Central American civilizations, and the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the settling and unsettling of the New World are all linked to the present-day situation.  Dialogue handles much of this task with a seeming naturalness – not small feat for the burden placed upon it. Beyond the tool of dialogue, Mr. Kuzneski uses his third-person narrator to bring readers other portions of the staggering fact-load. Here, the story-telling sometimes loses shape and pace.

Fortunately, there is always enough action just around the corner to rev up the momentum, and this author is a master of action scenes. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the January 10, 2013 Naples and Bonita Springs editions of Florida Weekly, and also the January 16 Fort Myers edition and the January 24 Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter edition, click here Florida Weekly – Kuzneski 1 and here Florida Weekly – Kuzneski 2

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 by Bernard Alpert and Fran Alpert. Hamilton Books. 110 pages. $24.99.

Though the Alperts make great efforts to distinguish (and separately value) the world of faith from the world of scientific discovery, their compact, knowledgeable book will probably ruffle many feathers and be declared heretical by those who read the Bible literally. The findings of modern archaeology, findings that Bernard and Fran Alpert have helped make, simply demolish the Old Testament narratives as history. While the books of Moses, the prophets, and the chroniclers are treasures, they are treasures of a special kind: repositories of truth rather than fact. They provide masterful portraits and understandings of the human condition; they set down guidelines for moral and effective human interaction; and they etch the birth struggles of a civilization.

 The authors point out that there is very little archaeological evidence to support the events and personages laid out in the Bible (which here means Old Testament). What we have in that assemblage of narratives, laws, and prophecies is a magnificent attempt, assembled in the 6th century BCE, to give coherence, meaning, and status to the Israelite experience.  Divinely inspired? Perhaps. . . .

To see the full review, on the Jewish Book Council site and slated for Jewish Book World, click here: Archaeology and the Biblical Record

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A combination of Coptic mystics, codices, and conspiracy

“The Tenth Saint,” by D. J. Niko. Medallion Press. 420 pages. $14.95.

In her first novel, D. J. Niko establishes Sarah Weston as an appealing character who can easily be carried through the two additional novels already under contract. A fine addition to the growing genre of archeological thrillers, “The Tenth Saint” benefits from Niko’s  persuasive handling of Sarah’s tenacious personality, the remote and exotic Ethiopian setting, conspiracy theories, and romance. Somewhat less persuasive is the time travel element, but that, too, remains at least intriguing. 

Born to wealth and privilege, Cambridge University archeologist Sarah Weston has long shed any debutante sensibilities she may have had. As she leads her research team in a remote mountain area, the ancient kingdom of Aksum, Sarah faces physical risk and hardship unflinchingly. Unexpectedly, she comes across a sealed tomb and unusual inscriptions.

Assisted by American anthropologist Daniel Madigan, she strives to translate the inscriptions and identify the tomb – which is somehow connected with the Coptic Christians and their saintly mystics. The clues take them to Addis Ababa, monasteries in Lalibela (a holy city), and to an underground library housing a codex that is the key to the mysteries of the past – and possibly to those of the future.

Ms. Niko’s narration alternates between the ongoing present that traces Sarah’s hazardous investigation and a remote past (4th century CE) in which an individual at first unidentified and suffering from amnesia is eventually revealed to be the tenth saint of Coptic tradition. He is a Caucasian westerner named Gabriel who has somehow turned up all but entombed under desert sands. Discovered and nursed to health by Bedouins, he becomes part of their community, mastering their medicinal lore. After five years, it becomes clear that he must move on to pursue his gradually revealed mission.

D. J. Niko

The messages left behind by Gabriel  – and echoed by a 14th-century letter which is given to Sarah in Paris – involve poetic prophecies of an apocalypse brought on by human endeavors. There are references, in particular, not only to climate change but also to dangerous initiatives to control its consequences.  While some would wish the apocalyptic vision revealed, others would wish that it remain hidden. Powerful vested interests, including those of Sarah’s father, are at work. What Sarah and Daniel discover brings them many more enemies than friends. . . .

To read this review in its entirety as it appears in the April 12, 2012 issue of Florida Weekly, the April 18 Fort Myers edition, and the April 19 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter edition, click here: Florida Weekly – D.J. Niko 1 pdf

For the Q & A with D. J. Niko, click here: Florida Weekly – D.J. Niko 2 pdf

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Murder and mystery in the Missisippi Delta

Plunder, by Mary Anna Evans. Poisoned Pen Press. 306 pages. $24.95 hardback, $14.95 trade paper.

This latest adventure of Ms. Evans’ protagonist, archaeologist Faye Longchamp, has many centers of interest. Faye is at work in the area where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico. That is, she is in Louisiana not far from New Orleans. Her client, a major environmental firm, has asked her to perform a routine archaeological survey. However, it is no longer quite so routine, as the Deepwater Horizon crisis, with crude oil approaching the Gulf coast, amplifies the urgency of the survey many times over. 

Mary Anna Evans

Faye, accompanied by her husband (Native American Joe Mantooth) and their one-year old son, is drawn into a strange situation that involves a teenager, Amande, whose grandmother and uncle are suddenly murdered. These murders occur soon after Amande’s mother, who had abandoned her to the grandmother’s care, dies of illness. Inheritance vultures are circling, but just what is it that is at stake? These are extremely poor people, though hardly salt-of-the-earth types.

What ties the murders and the jockeying for inheritance claims and the positioning for guardianship rights together?

It can’t be just the houseboat that Amande has lived on with her grandmother, or the few pieces of old coins and other relics that Amande has collected. No. There must be much more.

And there is: sunken treasure from the days when pirates roamed and sometimes ruled. Amande has an inheritance share of a small island that might be a key to finding and claiming those treasures.

Is the murderer eliminating other heirs? Is Amande in jeopardy? What can Faye and Joe do to protect this young woman whom, soon after meeting her, they greatly admire and respect – even love?

The novel’s ongoing present involves a race toward the resolution of these questions, a race accelerated by the enormous, spreading oil catastrophe that is threatening to foul the waters and the coastline. It represents a different kind of plunder and a different kind of piracy. How different, asks Mary Anna Evans, is pirate greed from petroleum greed? Who or what must die when plunderers battle to extract the riches of the New World?

The readers of Plunder will learn a great deal about the history of the Mississippi Delta region and about the unique weave of cultural strands that characterize it today. In addition, reading Ms. Evans’ series is an ongoing lesson in archaeology.

Special attractions in “Plunder” include the exquisite characterization of young Amande. Few sixteen year olds face her predicament of isolation and threat, and few show her maturity, her resourcefulness, and her determination. We can see why Faye and Joe want to help her. . . .

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the Naples Florida Weekly for March 22, 2012 and the Fort Myers edition for March 28, click here: Florida Weekly – Mary Anna Evans pdf

This review also appears in Southern Literary Review: “Plunder,” by Mary Anna Evans

See also: https://philjason.wordpress.com/2010/12/08/strangers-blueprints-a-mansion-of-evil/

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“Strangers” blueprints a mansion of evil

“Strangers,” by Mary Anna Evans. Poisoned Pen Press. 322 pages. $24.95 Hardcover, $14.95 Trade Pbk.

“Strangers” is the sixth novel in Ms. Evans’ Faye Longchamp mystery series. But now the fortyish protagonist is Dr. Faye Longchamp-Mantooth, eight months pregnant and finally possessing her doctorate in archeology. With her husband, Joe, she has founded an archeological consulting firm. Their first significant job brings them to St. Augustine, Florida to work for Daniel and Suzanne Wrather. 

Suzanne has inherited an important historical house, Dunkirk Manor, part of which is now a bed and breakfast . The Wrathers are considering additional changes, including installing a swimming pool. Faye will advise them about excavating the rear gardens in compliance with local preservation ordinances.  Not only does this lavish estate capture the atmosphere of the decades between its establishment in 1889 and its heyday in the roaring twenties, it also woven into St. Augustine’s longer history, which began in 1565.

Before long, Faye and Joe are involved in mysteries of the distant and recent past as well as a new mystery that opens up almost upon their arrival.

As Faye’s staffers sift through the garden areas, they discover tiles that edged a buried swimming pool. Under some of those tiles are belongings of the manor’s former owners – Raymond and Allyce Dunkirk. In the attic, Faye finds interesting curios of the past, along with the journal of a Spanish priest who had been among the explorer-settlers of the 16th century.  Old weapons, tools, toys, coins, and other items accumulate to give clues about the heyday of Dunkirk Manor and the centuries-old history of St. Augustine.

Also working for the present owners is a beautiful, intelligent young woman named Glynis Smithson. This ardent preservationist and conservationist is the daughter of a major local real estate developer, and her concerns are in direct conflict with her father’s. Manipulative Alan finds a new boyfriend for Glynis, a man whose values echo his own. However, the relationship between Glynis and Lex is a disaster. When both are discovered to be missing, “Strangers” shifts into high gear.

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the Palm Beach Gardens edition and other editions of Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Mary Anna Evans

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