A coloring book starring prehistoric tooth extractions, plague rats, and ancient colon contents could be just the right stress reliever for this holiday season. Coloring books are supposed to be soothing — but this one is also scientifically accurate.
Called “Adventures in Archaeological Science,” the 12-page book delves into what microbial archaeologist Christina Warinner calls the “archaeology of the invisible”. Warinner, the book’s editor, investigates how tiny microbes like bacteria have shaped human health over time. She studies the gunk still caught between the teeth left in human skulls, ancient poop, and the leftover streaks of food still coating prehistoric pots. So you’ll find a gap-toothed skull and plenty of bacteria, like the ones that cause plague and leprosy.
The coloring book is the product of a two-week workshop on digital illustration that Warinner and her colleague Jessica Hendy taught at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. Each student in the course designed and illustrated a page, and Warinner and Hendy added the finishing touches. Right now, the book is available for free as a PDF in English, German, and Spanish. But more translations are on their way, including Chinese, Nahuatl, Italian, and Mongolian.
Its purpose is to inspire the next generation of archaeological scientists, Warinner says. “Human history belongs to all of us, and the research and discoveries we feature in the book have taken place all over the world,” she writes in an email to The Verge.
But you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy coloring an arc of disembodied teeth. Beyond the soothing exercise, the coloring book is comforting in another way: it’s a reminder that even after past peoples have disappeared, scientists can still learn about them from the traces that remain — stuck between teeth, and lodged in ancient poop. Happy holidays.