15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A big, stimulating book
Though it followed on from a TV series, this is emphatically not the "book of the programme". Frances Pryor is a field archaeologist, whose views have excited some controversy in the academic world. This book, for all its bulk, isn't aimed at archaeology students. Nor is it aimed at the "Time Team" audiences, to whom Pryor's genial ginger figure is by now very familiar...
Published on 13 Oct 2010 by Peasant
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Biased and Skewed
As a student of Roman archaeology I decided that I should educate myself on what 'came before,' and picked up this book.
Having read the excellent Richard Oram and Historic Scotland's Ian Armit, the book came as a dissappointment. It isn't hard to see where Pryor's interests are, and it isn't hard to argue that the book is SE England-centric [he ignores a lot...
Published on 23 Oct 2012 by Dignitas
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A big, stimulating book,
Though it followed on from a TV series, this is emphatically not the "book of the programme". Frances Pryor is a field archaeologist, whose views have excited some controversy in the academic world. This book, for all its bulk, isn't aimed at archaeology students. Nor is it aimed at the "Time Team" audiences, to whom Pryor's genial ginger figure is by now very familiar. To whom, then, is it aimed?
Despite an easy and at times chatty style, the book covers a huge amount of information and some fairly tricky concepts. I think Pryor has aimed it the well-read amateur, with the intention of getting across his personal reading of our prehistory. Pryor's own work in East Anglia has led him to a view that continuity is far more of a feature of the population of these islands than dislocation; a very different perspective from that of older theories, which tended to see change in terms of invasion and displacement, rather than contact and communication.
"Britain BC" is rarely dry, and at times is a very enjoyable read, even if following the thread takes a lot of concentration. Anyone reading the reviews here will understand that the picture of prehistory Pryor presents is a personal one, and one that many disagree with. Some clearly dislike his style - personally, I enjoyed it. Read it with that in mind, and for balance try some of the other writers on the subject. I can particularly draw your attention to Hengeworld, a book which, for all its faults, is an excellent read.
97 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Debunking Bad History,
By A Customer
Francis Pryor's Britain BC is not a book for those who cling on to old ideas concerning the prehistory and early history of Britain. This is an adventurous book written to bring daring new ideas based on data from archaeological fieldwork. If the old stories of waves of invaders replacing one after an other don't work for you - from Neolithic revolutionaries, to La Tene Celts - if you ever suspected that there was something funamentally wrong with the traditional depictions of the Ancient British past - then read this book!
The author, backed by years of fieldwork experience as a professional archaeologist based in the East of England argues for the case for continuity - that there was no Neolithic Revolution, no invasion of Beaker folk, no mass arrival of continental 'Celts'. Francis Pryor is clearly passionate in his views that modern Britain owes more to prehistoric Britain than is generally accepted. Rome is portrayed as an alien empire that suppressed and stifled the self-identities of a growing and developing prehistoric Britain. Pryor suggests that far from being sparsely populated by painted savages - Late Iron Age Britain, following centuries or even millenia of metal-working, art, monument-building, and agriculture - was thriving and in the process of developing high art forms, tribal federations, trade and cultural links with the Continent, kingdoms, and Oppidi (sprawling ruralised towns) based on age old indigeneous traditions and identities.
Francis Pryor leads you through a series of prehistoric landscapes - the world of the Pre-Anglian Glacial hunters of Boxgrove, hunter-gatherers crossing the Great North Sea Plain, the vast open ritual landscapes of the Neolithic, the diversity of the archaeology of Iron Age Britain and Ireland. An excellent introduction and revision of prehistoric Britain and Ireland.
82 of 89 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent and opinionated introduction to prehistory.,
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Many years ago, I read Alfred Watkin's eccentric account of ancient monuments, the wonderful "The Old Straight Track", but was interested to learn shortly afterwards just how flawed this book was. All of a sudden, alot of the mystery and magic about this era disappeared.
Fortunately, Francis Pryor's excellent book manages to bring back much of this magic combined with sound archeological reasoning. The truth, as we now understand it, is even more remarkable than the theories put forwards by Watkins over eighty years ago. Quite clearly, Pryor has his own agenda (I.e. that many finds are, in fact, ritualistic in origin) but his arguments are very compelling. This is a book that is impossible to put down and this reviewer was left wanting more. As the author clearly states, 500-odd pages are not sufficient to do justice to the missing 99% of the history of the British Isles. In fact, most readers will be amazed just how much has been found and, better still, what can be visited today by those readers with a more enquiring mind.
For me, I particularly enjoyed the early section of the book about the very first humans to live in Britain and Ireland. This is amazing as the author reminds the reader just how different the countryside was then. The size of the population in the country then being little bigger than a large village. There were even different species of human .
I must admit to having a few quibbles. I would have liked to know more about the origin of settlements and the acquisition of intelligence and speech, but appreciate that these are specialist fields.
Viewers familiar with Channel 4's "Time Team" will be able to vouch for Francis Pryor's expertise in his field, although he frequently cites other significant archeologists in this book - even if he does not agree with them. All in all, this is an excellent introduction to pre-history and I very much expect that many readers will want to explore the subject further after reading this book. An essential purchase for fans of history books.
69 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An impassioned look back,
Pryor is candid about his intentions. He wants to understand the society of his homeland. To gain that understanding, he's dug more holes than "found in Blackbourne, Lancashire". He's also swept the literature of prehistoric Britain to learn what his colleagues have revealed in their work. The result is a compelling narrative of how Britain, in the years before the Roman invasion, lived, worshipped and died. He's gone a step further in trying out the life for himself. It all boils down to what might be an exercise in chauvinism, but Pryor's too professional to sink into that morass. Instead, he's given us a superb overview of the roots of the British Isles. He also provides an superlative insight into the workings of modern archaeology.
The title reflects Pryor's view that too much attention has been paid to the Roman era. Christianity's invasion on Roman skirt-tails, of course, has diverted attention from the beliefs of pre-Roman peoples. He wants to set that record straight, and does so thoroughly and admirably. Drawing on a wealth of resources, he casts away the "invasion" foundation of British pre-history to build a new structure. Sweeping hordes give way to a society that spread cultural innovations through limited, but far-reaching mobility. Instead of defensive fortresses, the British Isles are pocked with "henges", religious centres reflecting a stable, ancestor-worshipping society. Henges, he reminds us, totally lack defensive features. Weapons are found as often in bogs and streams, or buried with owners. They aren't the detritus of battle.
Pryor's start is the now-famous site of Boxgrove. His account of the finds there, a stone tool preparation site nearly half a million years old, is nearly as vivid as Mike Pitts' own. The site reflects the changing nature of archaeology - more attention is now devoted to assessing what the environment was like in that distant time. Weather, soil, forest or field, are among the many elements now assessed in building a picture of ancient humanity's life. Instead of racks of museum collections, tools, weapons and jewellry now form images of what our ancestors considered important. If Pryor delves into speculation in his depictions, it's clearly an informed conjecture. Details, hidden in time, may remain hidden, but much more is now available to consider than earlier researchers had at their disposal.
Pryor demonstrates how modern research has discerned Neolithic paddocks and trackways. Faint lines in crops or discontinuities in the soil exposed by aerial photography have led to amazing finds. His descriptions of discoveries, digs exposing ancient structures and artefacts reveal a wealth of new information while imparting Pryor's own love of the science. That affection carries over into his accounts of how his ancestors lived. To him, this information is intensely valuable. If nothing else, it shatters long-held, but false myths about what comprises the British peoples. People today will understand themselves better if they understand their ancestors better. If that reduces aggression, bigotry and dogma, that's all to the good. In Pryor's hands, archaeology becomes more than an arcane science removed from society. Instead, the research becomes a force for positive thinking and, hopefully, action.
With such an outlook, this author has produced an immensely readable book. His fondness for the work and the discoveries is apparent. He exhorts you to share it all with him. He draws the reader into the questions his research seeks to answer. His enthusiasm is contagious - you want to be there at the various digs and museums with him. If you can't arrange that, he provides a multitude of drawings, maps and photograph sets to help convey what he's seen. There are the dead, their possessions, sometimes their dress. Different conditions, he explains, preserve different things. Where they haven't been preserved, he reconstructs them. The wattle and thatch house at Fengate is built to verify how it was done. With all these elements assembled in one book, it becomes clear that Pryor has created a lasting volume. British focus aside, this book should be a feature on any shelf. It's about you.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars About time...,
Thank you Mr Pryor, for a book that helps set the record straight. It's because of work like this that we are beginning to see through the fogs of mis-information and lack of knowledge generated by the Victorian Rome worshippers and far too many opinion makers and educators right up to very recent times.
It's well written, engagingly personal and comes from a man whose understanding of the practical routines and necessities of daily life lets him see the practical and the necessary in the archaeological evidence. The occasional complexities of archaeology he explains in easily grasped fashion without over simplifying. In short, he gives us the benefit of long training, high expertise and the best of current thinking and makes it clear, exciting and satisfying.
If you want to understand what really happened in our islands before written records began this is a must read. What's more - you'll enjoy every chapter.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kindle edition,
Just a warning to those who are considering purchasing the Kindle edition, as I did - the photographs are missing! I've only just realised, after reading the book for the second time and discovering a list of plates, that they're omitted from the Kindle edition. And - although the illustrations/ figures are there, they're minute and more or less useless, even if you go to the bother of enlarging them. I'm thinking of getting the paper version, so I can get the maximum from this fascinatng book.
37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars why the antagonism?,
This is a landmark book in terms of understanding Britain(ie the British Islands) in prehistory. All this talk of "missing celts" and "making Britain = England" is kind of missing the point somewhat. There WERE no celts in this period. No Welsh. No Scottish. No Cornish. Just BRITONS. Just lots of tribes and family groups living on this island. It wasn't until the Romans shut the Northern Britons off behind Hadrians wall that you get a notion of a "Scottish" country, land of the Picts. It wasn't until later again when the Saxons forced the Britons into the west, that you get a notion of Wales (Walas included modern-day Wales, Cumbria and Cornwall back then). As such, the notion of "celts" is a subject for Britain AD. They simply didn't exist in Britain BC. "Celt" is style of art of the period, found all across Europe. Not a type of people.
Francis has, and is doing, brilliant work in this field, this book should be required reading for anyone doing British history and/or archaeology. Also should be read by anyone with an interest in "celtic" spirituality and religion - everything the ancient Britons do has a religious aspect, and Francis is making the connections no-one else seems to be making (even though they seem obvious after he explains them)
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In praise of Mr. Prior and not those who try and interpret incorrectly what he says.,
I loved this book, it confirmed many of my hunches, it is logical and it made me think.
The history of the British Isles and its people goes far deeper than the history of the last 2000 years, so revered by the Victorians and carried on today in so many ways. This history covers the time before the arrival of the Romans and later invasions by the Vikings, Anglo Saxons, and Normans.
It covers some of the history of the indigenous peoples of these islands and describes them as peaceful, ritualistic, and huge respecters of their ancestors. They had developed craftsmen in wood and metal working amongst others, and were largely settled farmers that lived in a complex society not very well geared up to defend themselves against the might of the above invaders. They were far more intelligent than they are ever given credit for, and are people to be very proud of as the early ancestors of the British people.
Those peoples have obviously retreated in the face of such aggression on countless occasions and some of their descendants still occupy the Western and Northern reaches of these Islands. The only remnants of those peoples can no longer be identified genetically due to centuries of cross fertilisation with those invaders but through their traditions and culture and languages they still retain that strong link with the people described in this wonderful book.
Francis Pryor does not intend to air-brush the "Celts" out of our history, all he does is debunk the whole idea of mass invasions by various tribes, including the Celts, in the pre-Roman period. He merely states that the peoples of these islands evolved and adopted, and in-deed adapted, new ideas from peoples from other parts of Europe and the rest of the World that they traded with. In that way a common culture existed in so many ways across large areas and may be one of those time periods of evolution could well be called "Celtic". It isn't a race of people, more a cultural and economic status of a groups, or tribes, of people that co existed over large tracts of Europe before the might of the Roman Empire smashed that system to shreds.
The same model still persists in modern society where the victors will always continue to dominate the vanquished and those traditional cultures and languages are in grave danger of being buried for ever under the mass of Anglo/American cultural imports. Unfortunately languages and cultures cannot be excavated by archaeologists in 2000 years time from some peat bog in East Anglia; once gone they will be lost forever. A lesson that should be learnt before it is too late and let's hope that Francis Pryor has done a little to convince people of that point.
I'd like to add a very small example where living languages and "myths" have passed on links to the past; a small village in West Wales is called Llan Grannog. An area currently lying under Cardigan Bay was once farmed and populated according to a Welsh legend, and now we know it was farmed by these very people. The old languages and cultures are a huge font of information not to be lost.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Britain BC - Francis Pryor,
An outstanding book with comprehensive compasion for the subject with simple descriptions in "lay man's terms" of findings and life how it used to be before 'history'.
Mr Prior was written the book so well that when I was reading it I almost felt as if he were narrating it to me. His passion for the subject shines through and I have gained a much deeper understanding of the subject areas the book covers since reading it. Because of this book I wish I could meet him just to listen to his knowledge of his subject.
I would thoroughly recommend the book to anyone who has a love of archaeology.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Splendidly readable stuff,
Well researched and very readable account of the archaeology of pre-Roman Britain. I found the early chapters especially interesting, e.g. the Boxgrove site showing the earliest evidence of human habitation in Britain 500,000 years ago, and the remarkable inventiveness of early hunter-gatherers. It did get a bit dry and technical at times in discussing the details of Neolithic and later monuments. The author also sometimes gets a little carried away in describing his or others' theories which seem to me perhaps a bit simplistic, e.g. the wood=life and stone=death theory of late Neolithic/early Bronze age monuments, verging on interpreting facts to fit the theory; the design of Iron age roundhouses mirroring the rising and setting sun also sounded too rigid to me. The author is quite convincing in dismissing the idea of a mass invasion of Neolithic farmers and prefers the theory that it was the idea of farming that swept across Europe to Britain. He cites as evidence DNA from Palaeolithic bones in Cheddar Gorge natching DNA from some modern inhabitants of the same area; on the other hand, there is also DNA evidence from the descendants of "Jasmine, the younger daughter of Eve" from Syria making up a sizeable slice of the British farming population in Neolithic and later society. All in all, a wonderful read that could get almost anyone interested in archaeology and pre-history.
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Britain BC: Life In Britain and Ireland before the Romans by Francis Pryor (Hardcover - 1 Sep 2003)
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