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Britain Begins [Paperback]

Barry Cunliffe
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
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Book Description

18 July 2013
The last Ice Age, which came to an end about 12,000 years ago, swept the bands of hunter gatherers from the face of the land that was to become Britain and Ireland, but as the ice sheets retreated and the climate improved so human groups spread slowly northwards, re-colonizing the land that had been laid waste. From that time onwards Britain and Ireland have been continuously inhabited and the resident population has increased from a few hundreds to more than 60 million.

Britain Begins is nothing less than the story of the origins of the British and the Irish peoples, from around 10,000BC to the eve of the Norman Conquest. Using the most up to date archaeological evidence together with new work on DNA and other scientific techniques which help us to trace the origins and movements of these early settlers, Barry Cunliffe offers a rich narrative account of the first islanders - who they were, where they came from, and how they interacted one with another. Underlying this narrative throughout is the story of the sea, which allowed the islanders and their continental neighbours to be in constant contact.

The story told by the archaeological evidence, in later periods augmented by historical texts, satisfies our need to know who we are and where we come from. But before the development of the discipline of archaeology, people used what scraps there were, gleaned from Biblical and classical texts, to create a largely mythological origin for the British. Britain Begins also explores the development of these early myths, which show our ancestors attempting to understand their origins. And, as Cunliffe shows, today's archaeologists are driven by the same desire to understand the past - the only real difference is that we have vastly more evidence to work with.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 568 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; Reprint edition (18 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199679452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199679454
  • Product Dimensions: 24.4 x 18.8 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 19,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Cunliffe's text is lively and thoroughly accessible and is supported by nearly 300 high-quality figure drawings and photographs... The book is beautifully produced. Britain Begins is a model of its kind, but this particular beginning may be an impossible act to follow. TLS Barry Cunliffe's beautiful and enthralling Britain Begins (Oxford) puts us all in our place. Andrew Motion, Books of the Year 2012, Guardian A beautifully illustrated, erudite book. His clear and deeply knowledgeable text is brought to life by hundreds of bright, glossy images and detailed, extremely helpful maps ... this is an invaluable introduction to Britain's earliest years. Dan Jones, Daily Telegraph Cunliffe steers a masterful course thorugh more than 11 millennia of human development ... This beautifully produced and informative work of synthesis and interpretation will provide an ideal starting point for those interested in the British past and a useful point of re-engagement for those who feel that thet are already over-familiar with the basic narrative. BBC History Magazine Barry Cunliffe's account is handsomely produced and impeccable in its scholarship, the nearest thing we have to a definitive account of Britain's story from the end of the ice Age to the Norman Conquest. The Scotsman Sweeping from the end of the last Ice Age to the eve of the Norman Conquest, this book contains a vast amount of information, accessibly presented. It is an enjoyable journey, and one that never loses sight of the wider picture. Current Archaeology The best available synthesis of research on the early peopling of these islands ... with marvellous maps and illustrations. Stephen Howe, The Independent When it comes to hard facts, Cunliffe has the data, and the often dramatically beautiful or startling photographs to give them life. His whole account must create a renewed respect for our British and Irish ancestors. Tom Shippey, The Guardian --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Barry Cunliffe taught archaeology in the Universities of Bristol and Southampton and was Professor of European Archaeology at the University of Oxford from 1972 to 2008, thereafter becoming Emeritus Professor. He has excavated widely in Britain (Fishbourne, Bath, Danebury, Hengistbury Head, Brading) and in the Channel Islands, Brittany, and Spain, and has been President of the Council for British Archaeology and of the Society of Antiquaries, Governor of the Museum of London, and a Trustee of the British Museum. He is currently a Commissioner of English Heritage. His many publications include The Ancient Celts, Facing the Ocean, and The Druids: A Very Short Introduction. He received a knighthood in 2006.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
60 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Archaeology and DNA too --- I love it 5 Nov 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Another beautifully produced, glossy book by Oxford University Press, in which the renowned Emeritus Professor Sir Barry Cunliffe surveys the state of knowledge of prehistoric Britain, as well as later periods up to 1100 AD in which I personally am less interested.

I pre-ordered the book, and when it arrived I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it addresses Ireland as well. No prehistory of Britain could do otherwise. But the need to avoid the politically incorrect term "British Isles" does make titling difficult, such as with Bryan Sykes's "Blood of the Isles," which is about the DNA of Britain and Ireland. Anyway, the alliterative title "Britain Begins" does not do justice to the coverage of Ireland in this book.

At least one eminent archaeologist has scoffed at the idea that DNA studies are of much use in studying prehistory. So I was delighted to see that Prof. Cunliffe considers DNA findings in at least 17 places in the book. Skeptics will be satisfied to see that he does not believe everything he reads about DNA. To my knowledge, this book sets a precedent in at least considering DNA studies as part of a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the past.

This author's analysis of where on the Continent the people of these islands originated is the clearest I have seen anywhere. I finally think I have it straight in my own mind.

The section on the origin and spread of the Celtic languages is a concise summary of work published previously in the book Celtic from the West, which Prof. Cunliffe co-edited, and enhanced here by a brilliant new map depicting a model of that spread.

The book has no footnotes or bibliography.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A pleasing introduction to dip in and out of. 8 Nov 2013
By S. Zigmond VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This heavy paperback covers an awful lot of history that is difficult to get one's head around. It covers the period from 10,000 years BC to the precise year 1066 (The most well-known date in English history.) However I wouldn't recommend it as a book to be read from beginning to end, as a one-star reviewer has done. It is not meant to be read like that. It is the sort of book one dips in and out of using the index. You want to know about the diversification of tribes, languages and DNA types into the British Isles, then look them up. If you want to learn about the impact of the various ice-ages and when the British Isles were separated from the European mainline, then ditto. (And there's plenty more of interest such as topics including climate change to pottery, burial types and religious observances.)

So, this is an excellent and comprehensive overview. I was pleased to see a large section giving further detailed reading of the topics covered. So having got a taster, you'd be best advised to concentrate on the topics that appeal to you more.

As I said, 'Britain Begins' is a good basic guide and a jumping off point but not a cover-to-cover read. Besides, it's far too heavy to read in bed!
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yet Another Cunliffe Masterpiece 4 Nov 2012
Barry Cunliffe is surely one of Britain's finest ever historians and he doesn't disapoint here. As with his previous books 'Europe Between the Oceans' and 'Facing the Ocean' he has produced a fantastic review of the archaeology and history, this time of early Britain.

It's scholarly yet simple and full of illustrations, diagrams and maps. It works on all levels for history readers, whether you are a beginner or an expert. You will find this book addictive and thoroughly absorbing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting 19 Dec 2013
By Basement Cat VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a fascinating book, covering the early origins of our country, almost up until the Norman Conquest in 1066. This is not an easy read, by any means, there is just so much information to absorb, but the many maps, photographs and drawings certainly help. I have not found that this is book which I have wanted to read from the beginning to the end so far, but rather, by looking through the index, I've found bits about interesting subjects, such as Doggerland, and read those in isolation. There is just so much incredible information within these pages - much more is known about our very early history than I had realised, and some of it has inspired me to investigate further into a period in history I had largely ignored until I got this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Britain Begins 5 Dec 2013
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Sir Barry Cunliffe is a renowned archaeologist and Emeritius Professour at the University of Oxford. He has produced a host of excellent books regarding the ancient peoples of the British and Irish isles. Britain Begins is a stunningly produced and enthralling book. Moving through 11 millennia of history: from the very earliest prehistory of these islands to the pivotal year which every school child knows; 1066.
Lavishly illustrated with maps, diagrams and photographs of archaeological sites and finds Britain Begins is a fascinating and erudite introduction to the beginnings of Britain and Ireland. It's a shame that the title doesn't reflect the inclusion of Ireland but Ireland is included and no history of these islands would be complete without it so don't be put off by the title.
This is not the sort if book which you can read straight through. Many of the ideas are extremely complex and it would be far too much information to take in in one straight read through. I think the reader would get more out of the book if they read single sections or chapters at a time or the bits which interest you most. The book starts with a chapter on the myths and legends of the British Isles from Herodotus, Tacitus and Caesar and then moves on to the earliest settlers after the last ice age and then every age in between in chronological order until 1066. Cunliffe also includes interludes about physical characteristics and DNA, language and religion which really add something extra to the information. A fascinating and beautiful book and well worth buying if you are interested in the beginnings of Britain and Ireland and the people who occupied these ancient isles.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Is this really the case?
I read 40% of this book, but was unable to continue. I may return to it at a later date. When I started the book, I found it fascinating, and had no doubts, whatsoever, that this... Read more
Published 8 days ago by Steve
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Summary of Britain before the Normans.
If you don't know the rough outline of Britain before the Normans, avoid this book like the plague as it reviews the information rather than explains to those who know nothing. Read more
Published 22 days ago by Mr. Clifton Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!
I' ll put is as simple as i can.If you want to have a great overall picture about the populations living in britain from the pehistoric hunter- gatherers till the vikings, this is... Read more
Published 24 days ago by Harry
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book
Well worth reading, beautifully written account of British history from 10000BC to 1100AD, very informative and easy to read, loved it
Published 1 month ago by Gord
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly but oh so readable
This is a tour de force: an overview of British Prehistory and how our knowledge of it has been advanced by science over the last 2 decades. It is a joy to read. Read more
Published 1 month ago by P. L. Tickell
5.0 out of 5 stars Kindle edition is the business when viewed on iPad!
A fantastic ibook with lots of expandable pictures and maps. Not quite academic, (no references) but better than generalist and easy tp read.
Published 2 months ago by Melissa Roberts
5.0 out of 5 stars Even better than "Europe between the oceans"
I have read several of if Barry Cunliffe's previous books, and particularly enjoyed the scope and breadth of "Europe Between the Oceans" (Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sussex by the Sea
5.0 out of 5 stars 'The islanders have always been a mongrel race and we are the stronger...
Wow! This book is a fascinating and exciting compendium of diverse facts, beautifully illustrated, telling the most incredible story. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sebastian Palmer
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, perhaps a little dry
I have enjoyed Barry Cunliffe's books and this covers a huge period of history, much of it traditionally neglected (except for the Roman Period). Read more
Published 4 months ago by Kev
5.0 out of 5 stars Latest reliable research presented in a form to be read by the...
This book fills a space in our knowledge of our past that can now be filled with the help of recent developments in DNA testing and other more detailed research. Read more
Published 5 months ago by polly Holbrook
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