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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and comprehensive overview of New Stone Age life, 27 May 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Stonehenge People: An Exploration of Life in Neolithic Britain 4700-2000 BC (Paperback)
I nearly didn't read this book because of the title. I am researching the New Stone Age (Neolithic) period but didn't want to get side-tracked by all the books published about Stonehenge. Consequently, 'Stonehenge' in the title put me off reading this book. I am glad that I did read it. Very little of the content is about Stonehenge itself but it is put into context by this book. It is a comprehensive overview of the New Stone Age period: the environment, early farming, settlements, causewayed enclosures, henges, stone circles, burial mounds, axe factories, pottery, communications. The first three parts of the book should be read by anyone interested in this period. In the final part of the book, the author attempts to explain some of the mysteries. Since we do not have evidence, archeologists today will be less happy about this last part. However, I feel that he has given some plausible explanations. The author has not mentioned that some of the causewayed enclosures show evidence of attack and destruction and that this wasn't an altogether peaceful period. Neither do I think that he has given enough consideration to communication by river, especially along the Thames. Anybody interested in the New Stone Age should start with this book - it is one of the best.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A storehouse of gems, 16 Feb 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Stonehenge People: An Exploration of Life in Neolithic Britain 4700-2000 BC (Paperback)
The Stonehenge People - Rodney Castleden
A wonderful book in every sense of the word, a true gem. If you too have nursed a life long fascination for the distant past and the fragmentary remains that have survived into our lives, you will find this book a revelation, no, an avalanche of revelations into the lives of our distant ancestors in British Isles.
The author treads a finely balanced path between the fine detailed scientific study of the archaeologist and the misty eyed dreamers of the new age visionary to evoke a new synthesis of what life felt like to those distant, forgotten people. Taking the results of countless meticulous surveys of monuments and artefacts throughout these isles and the related sites in Europe, he has lyrically brushed off the dust then carefully pieced them together like some massive jigsaw into a picture of such detail and clarity that I, for one, will never be able to look at some obscure, tattered little stone circle in the same way again.
This book has answered so many questions for me, put the whole subject of Stonehenge, who built it - and why - into its' true context for perhaps the first time. Many archaeologists must revile his name as he has overturned hundreds of tentative conclusions from so many digs by taking one long step backwards and reconsidering all of their work as a body and letting it speak for itself. In a way, it feels like he has organised a school reunion for a group of senior citizens, then taken notes of the flood of interconnections he'd never seen, or suspected, before and then re-written the whole subject again from scratch. In a similar way, the dreamers and crystal gazers, forever capitalising on their imagined fantasies of distant Arthur's battling dragons over Glastonbury in some timeless Golden Age must also be cursing into their beer as their visions crumble before this crystal clear - but loving - hard, steady look into the real lives of our forefathers of some 200 generations ago.
Frankly, I was gobsmacked when I first read this one and promptly ran out to buy my own copy. It was out of print - I was outraged, so outraged that I promptly set out to photocopy the whole thing to make sure I wouldn't loose this gem. Happily they've re-printed it - and it's available online, which is where I bought my latest, much valued copy. (It struck me also that its' a silly con of a world when a silicon chip is the only way to get the low down on the ultimate silicon chippers of all time...)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From the ground up, 4 Sep 2005
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Stonehenge People: An Exploration of Life in Neolithic Britain 4700-2000 BC (Paperback)
This work is among the best overviews of Neolithic life available. It's well written and covers a breadth of topics and ideas. Using the best evidence available, he breaks away from traditional approaches to reconstruct prehistoric society. Instead of stripping away modern elements to derive Neolithic life, Castleden builds the picture of that society from its basics. Opening with a portrayal of the Neolithic environment, he envisions how people would react to conditions then.
Environmental constraints and overuse of resources forced changes in lifestyle over the centuries. Neolithic peoples originally inhabited the fertile landscape as farmers. Their crops, however, quickly depleted the soil. Castleden cites a study in Denmark of Neolithic einkorn wheat reducing soil nutrients in only three seasons. Loss of fertility drove people to new locations or converted to a pastoral existence. In either case, the ommunities remained small and tightly integrated, with settlements only a few kilometres apart. The conditions also inhibited experimenting in farming or lifestyles. Maintenance of a secure life took precedence over trying the novel. The resulting conservatism led to a commonalty of thinking. We see evidence of that in the multitude of Neolithic religious sites. Stonehenge, Avebury,
Woodhenge, are distinct from each other in many ways, but their basic pattern is consistent.
Conservative rural life instilled fertility rituals dealing with crops and cattle breeding. Respect for surviving elders led to cults dealing with death. Castleden argues that it wasn't worship of the dead, but death itself that occupied their thoughts and practices. Burial rituals and cemetaries ultimately produced the great henges and stone monuments. Castleden acknowledges that the artefacts associated with the ditches, banks and the stone circles are the chief source of information we have in conceiving Neolithic life. One missing element, and he finds this highly significant, are structures for defence or other evidence of conflict. There are no large collections of arrowheads or spear blades found at the henge sites. From this he derives Neolithic society as essentially peaceful, with communities acting in relative harmony. Such an environment facilitated trade and information exchange. He traces the major likely trade routes across Southern Britain and across to Brittany in France. This view counters the long-held belief that these people were kept brutish and ignorant by being in a constant state of battle. He rightly argues that such a social milieu wouldn't have allowed the construction of such sites as Avebury or Stonehenge. He can't resist comparison with modern societies.
Castleden has enhanced a fluent presentation with numerous photographs, diagrams and maps. There is some presentation of contending views on various aspects of the topic. Perhaps the most surprising topic is the enigma of Stonehenge's source of the massive bluestones. Rejecting the "glacial erratics" position of Aubrey Burl, Castleden accepts the Presli Hills source. However, he proposes the most novel form of transport yet suggested. Instead of the usual Presli to Severn Estuary route some propose, Castleden argues for an all-sea route around Land's End. He contends some form of trimaran would easily make the journey. Oxen-pulled sledges managed the final leg.
Although this book focuses on southern Britain of the era, the approach can be successfully applied elsewhere, even for other times. Castleden's easy prose and frank approach to the material makes this book useful and informative. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seeking the neolithic, 26 Jan 2006
This review is from: The Stonehenge People: An Exploration of Life in Neolithic Britain 4700-2000 BC (Paperback)
I really enjoyed reading this! It is what I had been looking for – a book to explain the mysterious stone monuments spotted around Britain and Ireland. Intensely readable, Castledon boldly attempts to reconstruct the culture of a people whose way of life died out 4,000 years ago, and whose remains have been discarded, destroyed and re-interpreted by the many cultures which have followed; but what is left after all this time? What is there to reconstruct?

Castleden says: “The way to the truth is to try to forget Stonehenge in the first instance, to study the archaeology of other sites, and to try to piece the whole culture together like a jigsaw, starting with the corners and edges and working gradually in towards the centre; the most interesting parts of the puzzle-picture come last… Parts 1&2 of the book dealing with the material culture and Parts 3&4 going in to the more difficult areas of social and political structure and religion.”
Diagrams and photos throughout the text illustrate his points well, and using as much evidence as is available he attempts to complete the puzzle, for example, using evidence from near-contemporary Scandinavia to look at clothing. The final chapters on society and religion are very thought-provoking. The people remain intriguingly elusive and always will, but Castelden’s exploration captures the very essence of their culture and at times they felt very much alive.
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