on 3 March 2014
The NHM never puts its name to a poor publication and this concise, colourful book is no exception. It uses the latest data on new and reviewed finds to add to the story of humans in Britain. The date of first habitation, even if by nomadic small groups has been pushed back to beyond 800,000 years and shows that Homo erectus and H. heidelbergensis can be added to Neanderthals and modern humans as once having trodden our land. It clearly explains the effects of the ice ages and the regular differences in sea levels isolating and reconnecting Britain from the continent.
There are still answers to be sought, but generally this brings the interested reader up to speed on the latest finds. It is not meant to be a scientific tome of great complexity, rather it sets out where we have reached in our understanding today and keeps ones attention by means of fine photographs and illustrations. It deserves a place on ones bookshelf.
I bought this after visiting the exhibition at the British Museum. The book is very easy to read and is set out in an exceptionally clear way, together with wonderful illustrations.
The book includes the story of the various discoveries, how they were made, and how the evidence was interpreted. I often get bored with explanations of how science has been done (wanting to skip to the conclusions). But not here - the book is so well written that the 'how it was done' explanations are part of the attraction. A lot of the evidence is quite recent, and it is fascinating to see the pieces of the jigsaw gradually falling into place.
One thing I will take away is graph of temperature change over time, which has a rather regular pattern. Are we then on the edge of another ice age?
There were one or two slightly irritating sentences which show the authors falling into the human supremacy (as the pre determined end point of all evolution) trap, but otherwise this is superb.
This is a very readable and readily accessible work for the general reader with an interest in human origins. There are lots of helpful illustrations and three explanatory maps. In depth students may find it on the superficial side. In addition to a preface, timeline diagram and index there are five chapters: 1: The Earliest Pioneers. 2: The Handaxe Makers (and Friends) 3: Neanderthal Britain to Deserted Britain. 4: Neanderthals and Modern Humans on the Edge of the World. 5: At the End of the Ice Age. The book also includes a 'further information' section.
The existence of humanoid species in Britain can now be traced back almost a million years thanks largely to comparatively recent discoveries at Happisburgh (pronounced Haysborough) in Norfolk and Pakefield in Suffolk. This work provides illustrations of these finds and places them within the most likely evolutionary development sequence leading up to modern humans. It traces the evolution of their tool making skills, hunting skills, eating habits, shelter building and other skills including the development of first speech and use of fire and all is made very clear about what is known about them all and also what we don't yet know. The reader will find that, thanks to recent discoveries, we know much more about these humanoids today than we did as little as twenty years ago.
The period in question was interspersed by several ice ages during which the human ancestors came and went with the retreat and advance of the ice. We are also given information about the flora and fauna prevalent during the different periods. There were advances and retreats of forests and grasslands and the fauna included a species of now extinct elephant. With the passing of time the evolving humanoids got better and better at making tools and hunting weapons and grew very fond of eating bone marrow and innards. In Gough's Cave in the Cheddar Gorge in Somerset some almost modern style humans practised cannibalism and remains of cave paintings have been discovered in caves at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire.
An inter-glacial period over 400,000 years ago is named after Hoxne (pronounced 'Hoxen') in Suffolk where interesting information has been discovered. In those far off days Britain was joined to the rest of Europe with the southern North Sea, the Straits of Dover and some of the English Channel then being dry land. Sea levels fluctuated with the coming and going of the ice. One thing we may never know is whether or not the Norfolk and Suffolk folk of those days avoided going to Somerset through fear of ending up as Sunday lunch. However, we would be wrong to think that the Cheddar Gorge is so called because it was there that our early ancestors gorged themselves on each other.
I think lots of people will like this book and be fascinated by all that it reveals about the life and times of our evolutionary ancestors. It's well put together for the general reader and I like it.
This is a really rather good book that lays out the current thinking about the history of human habitation in the UK.
This is really a story of repeated colonisation, retreat and re-colonisation in the face of changing climate.
One million years is an unimaginable sweep of time and it is remarkable to think that people have been walking the land that would become Britain for that length of time.
The story of humans in Britain is laid out clearly and concisely, but by virtue of its brevity this book can never been more than an introduction to the subject.
An aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the way in which our changing understanding of human evolution and expansion is clearly linked to an evolving and expanding evidence base. Knowledge changes with the acquisition of evidence, and this story is a decent enough case study of that idea.
I am not entirely sure this book stands on its own, without the need to visit the exhibition as well (hence the 4 stars), but if it does not, it comes very, very close.
I recommended both the book and the exhibition at the Natural History Museum.
on 16 May 2014
This book makes an excellent companion to the Natural History Museum's wonderful exhibition of the same name.A must-read (and a must-visit) if you have any curiosity about our deep past. Good photos and maps of the changing British coastline and iceline. I liked the inset modules taking you a little deeper into the science of a particular topic.The climate chart at the back really helps to set it in context. Ideally I would have liked that cross-referenced to the Marine Isotope Stages with a table summarising climate and fauna/flora in each stage - it can be hard for a nonspecialist to keep up with the changes! The exhibition ends with stories of the ancient human migrations revealed by DNA, would be good to see something like this in the book too. But these are niggles - a fascinating read.