35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Introduction to Prehistory
This lengthy text incorporates serious heavyweight scholarship with an unusual narrative style. Using a "time travel" analogy Mithen brings to life some of the most significant archaeological sites of the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and early Neolithic in a way that most archaological texts, even those aimed at an educated lay audience fail to do.
His style, whilst at...
Published on 31 Aug 2004 by A. Carney
14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but a little too long (and contains time travel science fiction)
Steven Mithen tells the story about how agriculture was discovered on the different continents of the earth. He is a gifted writer and being a researcher he has a lot of stories to tell and a lot of information to give.
Sadly Mithen has chosen to dedicating a fairly equal number of chapters to each of the continents of the Earth. So when he gets to Australia...
Published on 8 May 2008 by Bobby Bob
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35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Introduction to Prehistory,
His style, whilst at times rather too chatty for my personal taste, will undoubtedly draw in a far wider audience to this rather esoteric field than any other text I have so far come across. Please note I am not an archaeologist by training! ;)
The breadth of material covered is truly breathtaking,from Chile to Siberia, North America to Australasia, the entire world is covered in a way that many "eurocentric" scholars could take serious lessons from; it is clear that he has familiarized himself in depth as well with many of the sites used in the text.
If you only ever buy one book about this vital period of modern human development, then you should seriously consider making this your choice.
74 of 76 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ancient life as revealed by time-travel.,
Anatomically-modern humans, the same in every physical respect as we are today, evolved perhaps 100,000 years ago, and for 80 millennia eked out a living in the harsh conditions of the Ice Ages. Soon after 20,000 BC, global warming began, and the great ice sheets began their retreat. Fluctuations in climate brought about immense changes in animal and plant species and their distributions; with them came a wholesale change in the character of human societies. By 5,000 BC, says Mithen, the foundations for the modern world were laid. Farming, a sedentary lifestyle, craft specialisation and social stratification all emerged in the period running up to the zenith of the Neolithic. "Nothing that came after -- Classical Greece, the Industrial revolution, the atomic age or the Internet -- has ever matched the significance of those events".
Many books have been written about the Mesolithic and Neolithic ages, yet none of them has attempted anything as ambitious as this book. Mithen has aimed his work at the widest possible readership while maintaining an appropriate level of academic rigour; readers who wish to follow up on any of the themes, sites and periods discussed can refer to his comprehensive bibliography. The chronological and geographical scope of the book is immense, as its subtitle suggests. The true ambition of the book, however, is to close the gap between ourselves and the distant past. He accomplishes this through the introduction of a time-travelling explorer, whom he names John Lubbock after the 19th Century anthropologist and author of "Prehistoric Times". Mithen's explorer, however, is equipped with the modern theoretical tools and archaeological knowledge his Victorian namesake lacked, recognising our ancestors as intelligent humans no different to you or me, rather than savages with childlike minds. Throughout the book, the modern Lubbock encounters the inhabitants of archaeological sites, witnessing their daily routine, the struggles they face and the incredible innovations which form the basis of the modern world.
This metaphor - excavation as travel - attempts to convey Mithen's own experience of archaeological investigation. When exploring the past, one is, as Paul Theroux said, "a stranger in a strange land". Despite this strangeness, the experience of being "other" to the inhabitants of the past, Mithen succeeds in underlining how similar our ancestors were to us, a theme carried over from his previous work. In "The Prehistory of the Mind", Mithen argued that human achievements can be attributed to the evolution of a peculiar kind of mind, in which the barriers between cognitive modules were broken down to produce a mental toolkit that was "cognitively fluid". The birth of that stone-age consciousness produced an adaptivity with much greater responsiveness than the glacial pace of physical evolution, and saved humankind from going the way of the mammoth. Our ancestors survived cold, drought and starvation by remaining adaptive to change. "After the Ice" is the story of that survival.
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Way We Were,
This review is from: After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000 - 5000 BC (Paperback)Various forms are being applied to popularise what science has discovered about Nature, particularly our nature. Paleontologist Steven Mithen utilises a favourite technique of SciFi - time travel - to explain how our ancestors once lived. Although this might be a risky method in the hands of someone less talented, Mithen carries it well as he takes us on a global journey. From Western, Southern and Eastern Asia, through Africa, Europe and the Americas and Australia, he introduces us to the daily activities of those people who moved across the planet as the glaciers retreated. While that sounds highly speculative, Mithen's method is a way of introducing us to the numerous dig sites prehistoric scholars have found and analysed. The evidence for his depictions is laid out and the interpretations arising from the data is carefully presented.
Mithen isn't our guide in this tour. He assigns that task to a figure named for a contemporary of Charles Darwin. "Victorian John Lubbock", as Mithen dubs him, wrote one of the earliest paleoanthropological works, "Prehistoric Times" - an attempt to describe what our ancestors were like. Lubbock coined the terms "Palaeolithic" and "Neolithic" to give order to a chaotic scene. In this account, the Time Traveller refers to his namesake's publication for comparison of what has been revealed today by Mithen's digging colleagues. What did your ancestors do during the day? What challenges did they face and how did they overcome them? Time Traveller Lubbock tries to impart these questions and their answers with distant observation and active participation alike. The method, when the releaved evidence is explained, proves an excellent balance. You are there at the time of events and alongside the archaeologists as they sift through artefacts thousands of years old.
Human prehistory is probably science's most contentious field. For years, the story of how and when the Western Hemisphere was populated has been a simmering issue. Mithen, although giving passing attention to the "Clovis debate" and other questions relating to the human invasion of the America's, gently disentangles himself from the specifics. Instead, he focusses on how the environment affected the way in which societies formed here. This isn't just an evasion tactic. Mithen is more concerned with how humanity solved various problems facing them as they settled in uncontested lands. What adds to our interest is the comparison of such elements as the domesticating grains and animals here with that of Western Asian populations. Mithen meticulously describes how the genetic patterns of grains and animals alike were changed by human intervention.
It's easy to admit to a sense of wonder at reading this book. The scope is vast, fifteen thousand years of time and the entire globe. That one author could accomplish this feat is at least admirable, if not astonishing. Yet, Mithen's own sense of awe is clearly evident, if not infectious. He's not a classroom-bound academic and some of his own site visits are incorporated into the narrative. His passion for the science is clear and present - something that should prompt younger readers to emulate. The recent dates given for dig sites plainly indicate that real work remains to be done. And speed is critical - the number of sites discovered and worked under the threat of dam, highway and shopping mall building is too depressing to recount here. If you, or anyone you know is looking for a career in science, buy this book, read it and encourage a career in human prehistory. Mithen shows how rewarding it can be. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is how archaeology should be written,
This review is from: After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000 - 5000 BC (Paperback)This is a large book about a period that, on the face of it, has little excitement to offer. However, 20,000 to 5,000 BC was a time when human `civilisation' was born and in Mithen's hands, the story becomes an epic. Taking each region of the world in turn, Mithen shows how people adapted to the retreating ice and the opportunities that came in its wake. In most places, this meant a change from hunter-gathering to farming and Mithen shows how common themes were repeated around the world by completely disparate communities. Mithen's explanations are good and he never gets waylaid with too much detail (there are extensive footnotes and a bibliography that provides this). He also vividly recreates the past by having a fictitious observer - antiquarian John Lubbock - observe what was happening. These vignettes help to round out the narrative and add an extra level of excitement. The central theme of the book - the warming earth - also has relevance today and, whilst Mithen does not labour the point, it is always there as a menacing subtext. I have always said that this is how archaeology should be written and my own book - Prehistoric Belief - is modelled on After the Ice. This is definitely meant as the sincerest form of complement. So, read Mithen's book - you will enjoy it.
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The latest definitive guide to where we all came from,
Brings fascinating insights from the very latest research both archaeological and genetic. Sprinkled with details of every day life from savage caves in Ice Age Britain, to the beginings of urban life in Turkey.
Some description could be of my own family with all the technology striped away, others represent something alien and disturbing compared to modern life.
Read it for study, or just dip into it a chapter at a time for surprising facts, you won't be disapointed.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, and an easy read!,
This review is from: After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000 - 5000 BC (Paperback)A fantastic book, spot on topics I find very interesting. Written in a easy-to-read, non-academic language, but still with the incredibly wide and detailed knowledge of a respected professor of archaeology with long, firsthand experience with excavations and interpretation. I couldn't put it down once I started!
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A genuinely enthralling study.,
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This review is from: After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000 - 5000 BC (Paperback)Most people have at least a passing interest in prehistory, and the origin of modern human civilisation, and they generally do not want to wade through, as Mithen aptly puts it 'jargon-laden prose' which only academics of archeology and the like will be able to comprehend. And now, the 'casual' reader has been catered for by Mithen in this hefty tome; 'After the Ice'. And indeed, it works very well, being a reletively simple read, and yet being stimulating and informative - it does not patronise the reader.
We are given a detailed glimpse of the past through a device that works rather well; Mithen uses a fellow named John Lubbock (who shares a common name with a Victorian archeologist) who wonderes the globe, stopping by at various hunter-gather campsites in order to learn of their day to day life. Sensibly, Mithen doesn't give this Lubbock chap a personality as such, nor does he engage with conversation with the ancient peoples, he is merely a by-stander, Mithen simply describes what he sees. As I said, the device works well, however whilst these sections are mostly a joy to read, they tend to grow somewhat repetetive, even rambling in some cases. Occasionally one suspects that the everyday behaviour these tripespeople were supposed exhibit isn't based on archeological evidence, and rather he is making an 'educated guess' on how these people went about their daily affairs; however it is nice to see the author inject some imagination into the book, rather relying completely on strict scientific fact.
The rest of the book is made up of descriptions of the excavation of various hunter-gatherer sites, and the evidence found therein. These sections are again, thrilling and endlessly fascinating, however as the book wares on, the endless discussions of old animal bones, so-called 'stone nodules' and scrpas of charcoal and other human waste can become very repetative, and even boring in some cases.
So prehaps the book is a tad too long, the main 'book' itself is 511 pages of rather small print. The rest of the book is extensively endnoted - one doesn't have to read these, but if you want a deeper and more complex read, the endnotes will provide more detail on various points, so one certainly can't complain about a lack of detail - but prehaps it's length and repetition of various similar points will render it tiresome for some less comitted readers.
The book generally fills the reader with a sense of wonder and awe, and leaves you in high spirits. Unfortunatelly, Mithen saw the need to blight the end of the book with a chapter looking to the fururte of the human race, and he makes several bleak and grim predictions about global-warming. Ending the book on this deeply pessemistic note was completely inappropriate, and other blighted an otherwise uplifting book.
All in all, this is a generally fascinating book, and will enlighten the interested casual reader to no end. Recommended - provided you are a commited reader, and are prepared to wade through some repetition.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Wonderful Book,
This review is from: After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000 - 5000 BC (Paperback)If you have even the remotest interest in history, archaeology, anthropology or sociology you NEED to have this book. Its brilliantly written, engaging and well researched (although the field is moving so fast some of the ideas a little outdated especailly in respect to the populating of the americas/clovis debate). It takes you on a journey in time around the world to look at our earliest ancestors from a unique first person perspective- and allows you to feel like you are actually THERE watching these distant peoples. I really cant praise this book enough.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommnded for student and casual reader alike.,
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This review is from: After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000 - 5000 BC (Paperback)History books generally come somewhere between two extremes, ranging from dry and dusty tomes for hi-IQ academics to glossy picture books with few words for an uncommitted `passer-by'. Good ones successfully combine them to be dependable yet accessible and easily assimilated. After The Ice is an example of the latter - despite its 600 pages of solid information with few illustrations it attempts to be entertaining and informative. Perhaps unsuitable for casual readers, it nevertheless acts as a solid introduction for those with an interest in the origins of society while simultaneously acting as a springboard for readers who wish to delve deeper into the subject.
By-and-large Mithen carries it off triumphantly, despite misgivings about the hugeness of the task and his chosen methodology: to describe the past through the eyes of an imaginary time-travelling `visitor' from modern times. It sounds rather naff, worthy only of science fiction novels, but actually it really does work once the reader adjusts to the idea. Mithen's narrative firstly discusses the world being experienced by this `visitor' before explaining where this picture came from in terms of archaeology and scientific research. In this manner is the past brought more vividly to life than it might be with a simple trawl through scientific data.
There is so much to learn from a book like this. Covering 15,000 years, and visiting all continents in turn, it contains a mind-boggling array of fascinating material on cultures sometimes barely understood and seldom discussed outside of academic circles. It certainly underlines how little some of us know about huge swathes of our worldly past. Much of it must be conjecture and thus open to debate, potential contradiction and subsequent displacement by new theories. But that in no way detracts from Mithen's ambitious achievement. One can always `nit-pick' about errors in a book like this, but that would be to miss the point entirely: that a reader's interest is engaged to such an extent as to make further exploration highly desirable, an activity ably assisted, indeed encouraged, by extensive notes and huge bibliography (together covering 100 pages at the book's end!).
Perhaps best tackled in continent-sized chunks, After The Ice is nevertheless a worthwhile undertaking by anyone seeking to broaden their knowledge of our prehistoric origins.
29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Time travelling paleontologist,
This review is from: After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000 - 5000 BC (Paperback)For someone who has been waiting for a compendium of everything paleontologists know to date about prehistoric Man, this book is a must-have. For the passing enthusiast, 511 pages on everything there is to be known about pre-Neolithic hunter gatherers can be a bit much.
The format chosen, however, makes the treatment of the subject matter less dry than it might have been. Perusing the evocative chapter titles gives a hint as to what is in store- Village Life in the Oak Woodland, In the Valley of Ravens, Islands of the Dead, Baked Fish by the Nile. Each features captured moments in time and place, vignettes of hunter-gatherer life as a paleontologist, John Lubbock, floats ghost-like across the millenia to happen upon prehistoric scenes just at the moment they leave their archaeological remains -- the infant in Southeast Europe just as his tribe buries him along with a jawbone under the hearth, hunters of arctic hare in 10,000 B.C. Australia as they cook, a cave painter as he paints. Each scene is followed by a scientific discussion of everything paleontologists have said about those remains.
There are revelations concerning some big questions in paleontology: the Earth did indeed suffer great flooding at the end of the last Ice Age; the transition to farming from hunter gathering was a traumatic one, forced upon humans by severe climatic change; Homo sapiens did indeed arise out of Africa; the Clovis hunters did indeed contribute to the extinction of megafauna; Just how long ago was early Man in the Americans? These are gems tucked into endless info on types of microlith (stone chippings used to make tools) and shapes of pottery bowls.
Being an archaeology nut, this is the sort of book where I would usually devour each and every footnote – it has a luscious 61 pages of ‘em -- underlining things in the book and making notes for future research. However, the book was just so long (did I mention? -- 511 pages), I was proud of myself just for getting through the text.
As the ghost Lubbock doesn't speak or understand Mesolithic languages (otherwise, he could just go up and ask the cave painter ‘Why did you put a red handprint next to your painting of that mammoth?’) we don't get treated to much dialogue or characterization. This can get a bit boring.
More problematically, the analysis can be a bit undialectical at points, following hypotheses suggesting that human societies did things for purely ideological reasons. At these points, the author’s anti-Marxist bias leads him to some silliness. Contenders for a woman ‘offer their head’ in some ritual fashion to be bashed in, for example. Most of the analysis is, however, sober.
An underlying sub-theme of the book is the dangers the earth and its creatures face from global warming. When you read about the disastrous consequences of that 7 degree warming 10,000 years ago, how much more afraid do we need to be about what we are doing in the 21st century? As the book is about paleontology, it naturally doesn’t suggest any political solutions- which makes the anti-Marxist bias even sillier.
A bit hard to get through, but worth it.
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After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000 - 5000 BC by Prof Steven Mithen (Paperback - 4 Mar 2004)