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Megalithic Empire, The Hardcover – Illustrated, 15 Sep 2012


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Nathan Carmody; 1 edition (15 Sept. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0954291115
  • ISBN-13: 978-0954291112
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.6 x 20.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 754,300 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

It is most unusual, mingling deep insight with flippancy, like music constantly changing key, and could appear to be the work of madmen, were it not incredibly well documented and perfectly stitched together. I find myself agreeing with most of it, revelling in the debunking of idiotic mainstream and alternative theories, but being extremely annoyed about the other bits. --Howard Crowhurst, Carnac

...an enjoyable and personal view of the past, linking together fields of enquiry which are not usually associated and encouraging a closer look at particular aspects of landscape. (Professor Ronald Hutton, Bristol)

The book certainly gave me much pause for thought, I suspect that several related reads will never be quite the same again.... I found this surprisingly refreshing, it's certainly rare - perhaps the freedom from a need to nod constantly to history enlivened the story-telling and style. (Nick Marchmont)

"hugely enjoyable and thought-provoking" (John Martineau, Wooden Books Ltd.)

Not since Alexander Thom have such revolutionary ideas been put forward with such confidence! --The Megalithic Portal

You may not agree with some of the conclusions in this unusually erudite book, but it is so well-written and entertaining that it will leave you wondering whether these theories could explain a hitherto neglected area of megalithic studies the driving forces behind the prehistoric economy. --Paul Broadhurst, author of The Sun and the Serpent et al.

"The Megalithic Empire is a fascinating read, informative, breath-taking and refreshing for both its thinking and its language. It fearlessly asks the right questions, many of them unheard before. We need more of this, particularly in the field of history."   Fred Hageneder, author of Yew – A History

Review

I Heart Megalithia (review of The Megalithic Empire)Anyone with even a passing interest in Stonehenge or prehistory in general “knows” that the megaliths that pepper the British Isles (and to a lesser extent parts of Continental Europe and the Mediterranean) were probably religious in nature—sites for rituals, probably having to do with solstices, etc. “Ritual purposes” is the standard explanation for archaeological features that don’t serve a practical purpose we can discern. But what if that’s all nonsense?

The authors of the new book The Megalithic Empire, M.J. Harper and H.L. Vered, approach the problem of megaliths and other related phenomena by thinking a bit more carefully about their possibly practical purpose, forgetting (for the moment) any possible ritual significance. What they discover is that megaliths conveniently (and ingeniously) answer a very pressing pragmatic need, once you put yourself in the shoes of a prehistoric trader faced with the task of getting his product (the example they use is tin, a major British export in prehistory) to a buyer, traveling to some distant point over land without the aid of a map or written signposts.

To briefly summarize their main argument: The abundant standing stones, stone circles, menhirs, and various dikes and earthworks across Britain, along its coastlines, and in more far-flung locales with which pre-Roman Britain traded make perfect, beautifully simple sense as durable components of a comprehensive land- and sea-based wayfinding system, a system that facilitated long-distance exchange of goods and people for thousands of years before the arrival of literacy. (Stonehenge, which certainly had an astronomical function, may have been the central observatory that calibrated the rest of the system.) The intellectual keepers of this system, which can be more or less identified with the pre-Roman Druids, retreated to Ireland during the Roman occupation but reasserted themselves during the Dark Ages under the guise of Celtic Christianity (Christian in name only), and gave rise to various medieval organizations centered on the themes of travel, trade, and building in stone, including the Cistercians, the Knights Templars, and the Freemasons.

Mainstream archaeologists don’t dispute that Britain had major trade ties to the continent and the Mediterranean throughout the Bronze Age and before, but the practical particulars of moving goods around have generally been ignored. Few have grappled with the problems of conducting major trade in the absence of writing and maps. By reconceiving of megaliths and prehistoric terraforming in terms of navigation and the moving of goods and animals over long distances, Harper and Vered fill this gap. In the process, they show that numerous details, not only of archaeology and geography but also of folklore, begin to make enormous sense as echoes of a pan-European trading society that needed to maintain the system with minimal labor and pay for its infrastructure and upkeep through the collecting of tolls.

How central and organized it all was is an open question that the authors don’t really answer, but with this term “megalithic” they seem to have put their finger on a nexus of important pre-Christian, pre-literate values, ideas, and practices that has survived to the present day, alongside Christianity and oddly in mockery of it, and often weirdly linked to toll-paying. You’ll never think about wishing wells, the location of pubs, or witches and their familiars the same way after reading this book. A lot of other conclusions and speculations also radiate from their central insights about “Megalithia Inc.”—including some fascinating possibilities about the history of animal and plant domestication and the true meaning of saints, dragons, and angels. The book is a goldmine of interesting ideas.

Like a lot of revisionist history/archaeology, the hypothesis in The Megalithic Empireamounts to a version of “the ancients were cleverer than we give them credit.” The key difference between the version of this narrative proposed by Harper and Vered and the breathless “lost civilizations” fantasies spun by Graham Hancock and his ilk is that there is no whiff in this case of pareidola—seeing faces in clouds, or Orion’s belt in the pyramids. (Well, the other key difference is, Harper and Vered are a lot funnier than Hancock.) Yet The Megalithic Empire‘s proposal, and the picture of the ancient world that compellingly takes shape around it, is no less exciting.

If they’re right, Harper and Vered have discovered a pretty major secret about prehistory (and after) that is secret not because of conspiracy but simply because of silence and forgetting: Megalithia didn’t use (and maybe even actively resisted) writing, so the only physical traces it left were in the landscape. This book offers a whole new way of seeing and reading that landscape—and on the book’s website, themegalithicempire.com, the authors invite readers to test out the theory themselves by taking their own “megalithic walks” through the British countryside. If I lived there, I’d take up that challenge in a heartbeat.

Harper, author of the equally dazzling The Secret History of the English Language (published in Britain as The History of Britain Revealed) is sort of the “leader” of a small and intensely interesting group of outside-the-box, non- or para-academic revisionists calling themselves “applied epistemologists.” Their snarky and endlessly fascinating trashings of received wisdom on everything from Beowulf to plate tectonics can be read and enjoyed at applied-epistemology.com. The applied epistemology approach to debunking orthodoxy is based on ruthlessly applying a few simple assumptions to whatever question is at hand. When it comes to history, they assume that things in the past were the same as they are now, unless there’s solid evidence they weren’t.

Professional historians (and archaeologists) make their living by telling stories, because stories are interesting—usually full of tumult and conflict and change—but applied epistemologists resist the lure of exciting-sounding stories. In the face of academic narratives they, well, apply epistemology, asking skeptically: How do we really know? When you actually look at it, it turns out, a disturbing lot of what academic historians say (and I can vouch that it is the same in other fields) is either the parroting of unexamined orthodoxies or professionally motivated strategic overstatement … when it is not outright fraud. Harper and his friends at applied-epistemology.com show that when you actually trace much of orthodox history or linguistics, for example, back to their sources, you find that many of those sources were probable forgeries created during the Reformation. Much of what we “know” about pre-Modern Northern Europe rests ultimately on documents with very iffy provenance that always seem to have conveniently supported the particular national allegiences of the original owner or his patrons.

Extrapolating, you can safely say that much of what we “know” about the past is probably wrong—even wildly wrong. This leaves a lot of room for new theories that are better, simpler, more explanatory than those in the textbooks.

The real unfolding of human events, applied epistemologists assume, is less often like a soap opera and more often like paint drying. Things don’t change unless there’s a compelling reason for it. And despite what any professional anthropologist will tell you, people are the same everywhere and at all times. This can often make ancient history vanish from view. Among the frustrating lacunae in the archaeology of pre-Roman Britain, for example, is the absence of evidence for villages; Harper and Vered sensibly point out that they are hard to find because they are right underneath the existing villages. Prehistoric Brits lived right where the modern ones do, their roads were replaced by generations upon generations of more modern ones, in exactly the same place. And as Harper argues in his previous book, they in all likelihood spoke more or less the same language the present-day villagers speak.

More to the point, prehistoric Brits had the same motives modern Brits do—namely, to live the good life, which included having nice stuff. Having nice stuff meant being part of an active, far-flung economic world. So, read this book, and erase your misty Pre-Raphaelite visions of Druids dancing around the ancient stones. Travel and trade is what Megalithia was all about. In a landscape full of strategically-placed stone circles and other markers, all you needed was a cross-staff, a little circle of leather and something to mark it with (you’ll have to read the book to find out how it works as a compass), and a purse of coins or salt to pay your way, and you were in business.

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Grant Sutton on 27 Sept. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What chance is there that the current picture of prehistory is true? The current orthodoxies are backed by so little evidence that the door has been left wide open for all kinds of fruitcakes with their theories of ancient astronauts, great goddesses and crystal skulls. Harper and Vered are not fruitcakes. What they have done is look again at the evidence from geology, biology and folklore, and come up with new and imaginative ideas about the behaviour of our ancestors.

Don't buy it expecting a dry academic tome with footnotes and bibliography. Let's leave that for the scholarly edition in twenty years' time. Instead it's a breathless and entertaining charge through the ranks of orthodoxy. I'm not saying it's all true - that would be statistically very unlikely - but if even 10% of their brilliant new ideas were correct this book is destined for classic status.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 20 Nov. 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Some traditional archeologists (TA) will hate this book. Why? Because TAs tend to have an obsession with death, priests and war, and anything they find that is not recognisable is called a Religious Artifact. In fact, there is an ever-mounting body of evidence to show that in many respects megalithic life was not that different from ours. i.e. while we hear stories of death and war, 99% of us are peacefully engaged in getting on with life and our jobs.

Megalithic jobs meant agriculture, farming, industry and trade. Trade was the thread that ties the whole of megalithic life together, and that trading network was spread over thousands of miles of Europe, by land and by sea. The British Isles was a home for industry even 5,000 years ago, as people came from all over Europe for highly valuable metals like tin, copper, silver and gold, which were mined and refined here before being exported in exchange for other trade goods. Stories of this megalithic culture became legend as far away as Greece and Egypt.

The authors of Megalithic Empire have done a great job of turning the TAs perspective on its head in a highly informative and entertaining way, with an emphasis on how people found their way around in an area before printed maps as we know them.
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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful By richard on 31 Mar. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was based on a load of assumptions, the main one being that archaeologists and historians are narrow minded nutcases.The authors tried to build a complete new theory but there were so many ifs and buts and sidetracks that the whole thing falls over.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 2 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
I Heart Megalithia 4 Oct. 2012
By Eric Wargo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Anyone with even a passing interest in Stonehenge or British prehistory in general "knows" that the megaliths that pepper the British Isles (and to a lesser extent parts of Continental Europe and the Mediterranean) were probably religious in nature--sites for rituals, probably having to do with solstices, etc. "Ritual purposes" is the standard explanation for archaeological features that don't appear to serve a practical purpose we can discern. But what if that's all nonsense?

The authors of the new book The Megalithic Empire, M.J. Harper and H.L. Vered, approach the problem of megaliths and other related phenomena by thinking a bit more carefully about their possibly practical purpose, forgetting (for the moment) any possible ritual significance. What they discover is that megaliths conveniently (and ingeniously) answer a very pressing pragmatic need, once you put yourself in the shoes of a prehistoric trader faced with the task of getting his product (the example they use is tin, a major British export in prehistory) to a buyer, traveling to some distant point over land without the aid of a map or written signposts. In short, the abundant standing stones, stone circles, menhirs, and various dikes and earthworks across Britain, along its coastlines, and in more far-flung locales with which pre-Roman Britain traded make perfect, beautifully simple sense as durable components of a comprehensive land- and sea-based wayfinding system that facilitated long-distance exchange of goods and people for thousands of years in the absence of literacy. Stonehenge, which certainly had an astronomical function, may have been the central observatory that calibrated the rest of the system.

Mainstream archaeologists don't dispute that Britain had major trade ties to the continent and the Mediterranean throughout the Bronze Age and before, but the practical particulars of moving goods around have generally been ignored. Few have grappled with the problems of conducting major trade in absence of writing and maps. By reconceiving of megaliths and prehistoric terraforming in terms of navigation and the moving of goods and animals over long distances, Harper and Vered fill this gap. In the process, they show that numerous details, not only of archaeology and geography but also of folklore, begin to make enormous sense as echoes of a pan-European trading society that needed to maintain the system with minimal labor and pay for its infrastructure and upkeep through the collecting of tolls. You'll never think about wishing wells, the location of pubs, or witches and their familiars the same way after reading this book. A lot of other conclusions and speculations also radiate from their central insights about "Megalithia Inc."--including some fascinating possibilities about the history of animal and plant domestication, the inside story of Celtic Christianity, and the true symbolic meaning of angels, to name just a few. The book is a goldmine of interesting ideas.

Harper, author of the equally dazzling Secret History of the English Language (published in Britain as The History of Britain Revealed) is sort of the "leader" of a small and intensely interesting group of outside-the-box, non- or para-academic revisionists calling themselves "applied epistemologists," whose snarky and endlessly fascinating trashings of received wisdom on everything from Beowulf to plate tectonics can be read and enjoyed at applied-epistemology.com. Their approach to debunking orthodoxy is based on ruthlessly applying a few simple assumptions to whatever question is at hand. When it comes to historical questions, assume that things in the past were the same as they are now, unless there's solid evidence they weren't. Historians make a living by telling stories, because stories are interesting--usually full of tumult and conflict and change--but the fact of the matter is that real history is more often than not dull. So, when it comes to historical evidence, ask: How do we really know? When you actually look at it, it turns out, a disturbing lot of what historians say (and I can vouch that it is the same in other fields) is either the parroting of unexamined orthodoxies or professionally motivated strategic overstatement ...when it is not outright fraud. On their site (and in his previous book) Harper and his friends show that when you actually trace much of orthodox history or linguistics, for example, back to its sources, you find that those sources, in many cases, were probable forgeries or hoaxes to begin with. Much of what we "know" about the history of pre-Renaissance Northern Europe is built ultimately on documents with very iffy provenance that always seem to have conveniently supported the particular national allegiences of the original owner or his patrons. Thus, much of what we "know" about the past is probably wrong--even wildly wrong.

Like a lot of revisionist history/archaeology, the hypothesis in The Megalithic Empire amounts to a version of "the ancients were cleverer than we give them credit." The key difference between their version of this story and the breathless "lost civilizations" fantasies spun by Graham Hancock and his ilk is that there is no whiff here of pareidola--seeing faces in clouds, or Orion's belt in the pyramids. (Well, the other key difference is, Harper and Vered are a lot funnier.) Yet The Megalithic Empire's proposal, and the picture of the ancient world that compellingly takes shape around it, is no less exciting. If they're right, Harper and Vered have "discovered" a pretty major secret about prehistory (and after) that is secret not because of conspiracy but simply because of silence and forgetting: Megalithia didn't use (and maybe even actively resisted) writing, so the only physical traces it left were in the landscape. This book offers a whole new way of seeing and reading that landscape--and on the book's website, themegalithicempire.com, the authors invite readers to test out the theory themselves by taking their own "megalithic walks" through the British countryside. If I lived there, I'd take up that challenge in a heartbeat.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
An excellent new view on megalithic life 1 Jan. 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Some traditional archeologists (TA) will hate this book. Why? Because TAs tend to have an obsession with death, priests and war, and "high status" things. Anything they find that is not recognisable is called a Religious Artifact. TAs also tend to have a professional aversion to "low status" things, like trade and engineering. A bit like a Victorian Clergyman suddenly being confronted by a stroppy builder or plumber. In fact, there is an ever-mounting body of evidence to show that in many respects megalithic life was not that different from ours. i.e. while we hear stories of death and war, 99% of us are peacefully engaged in getting on with life and our jobs.

Megalithic jobs meant agriculture, farming, industry and trade. Trade was the thread that ties the whole of megalithic life together, and that trading network was spread over thousands of miles of Europe, by land and by sea. The British Isles was a home for industry even 5,000 years ago, as people came from all over Europe for highly valuable metals like tin, copper, silver and gold, which were mined and refined here before being exported in exchange for other trade goods. Stories of this megalithic culture became legend as far away as Greece and Egypt.

The authors of Megalithic Empire have done a great job of turning the TAs perspective on its head in a highly informative and entertaining way, with an emphasis on how people found their way around in an area before printed maps as we know them.

Discussion of these topics can be found on the The Megalithic Empire website and forum.
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