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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not what I expected, but good nonetheless!,
I purchased this book, expecting to read quite a bit about the furore about the so-called 'desecration' of this site by archaeologists. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this aspect of the discovery of the monument was not the central theme of the book.
What we have here is an almost biographical account of Francis Pryor's life as an archaeologist. It starts in his early days as a post-grad student and describes his gradual acceptance of what has become his life 'quest' - investigation and interpretation of Neolithic landscapes on a wide scale. The book moves through his earlier work on Fengate and the Flag Fen area, and culminates in the Seahenge discovery, touching on the furore mentioned earlier, but using the discovery to pull together all the earlier threads in the book to put forward a coherent theory of what life was like in the Neolithic.
Because of this, I found the book to be an enjoyable, entertaining and educational read. Not so academic that it becomes difficult to follow, yet at the same time not pitched too low to become boring.
Recommended for anyone interested in the Neolithic.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Looking for liminals,
Archaeology's a dirty business. For Francis Pryor it goes further - becoming muddy, peaty, mucky and worse. And that's ignoring the incoming tide filling excavations. Dusty, mucky or just plain wet, the business is rewarding. It tells us about the past and, hence, about ourselves. His focus is the British Isles, particularly eastern England, and how ancient societies there developed over time. In some cases the span of time is vast. Many of those developments have persisted to our day, while others were cast aside. Pryor neatly summarises the work of many years in this book. He describes the current thinking during his schooling, then demonstrates how new analysis techniques and data interpretation have overthrown old concepts.
Pryor is passionate about his field. He shares that passion expressively and it proves infectious. He doesn't hide disappointment or failure, because the successes reap rich rewards. He's found ancient pastures long hidden by modern farms. He's revealed tracks for livestock and humans alike. The pathways reveal indications of human value systems, the locations are sites of sacrifice and limits of family holdings. Burial sites, unlike our modern sterile cemetaries, are rich with artefacts hinting of social hierarchies. The distribution of the sites refute the notion that Western Europe was overrun by peoples invading from the east. War, he argues, never happened on the scale earlier writers described. Instead of closed villages, fortresses and stockades, Britain's early people were scattered widely, groupings based on family ties. The nearest thing to war was cattle rustling raids by young men expressing their prowess - perhaps even part of marriage rituals.
Pryor's best known find is the mis-named "Seahenge". At Holme-Next-the-Sea along the coast of The Wash, his team discovered an oak stockade. Within the circle of logs was an inverted oak stump. Pryor reluctantly accepts the media's designation for this site, although it by-passes the accepted definition of "henge". He wants to understand why such a structure was built is of greater importance to him. Unlike stone circles, the logs of Seahenge form a solid barrier. The stump, lacking evidence of being a burial site, remains an enigma, although Pryor offers a reasonable suggestion. Seahenge became of scene of conflict between science and New Age religionists. Pryor's account of the resolution of the issues makes wonderful reading. As does all the book.
Pryor offers insights into how the work of archaeology is done and what it reveals. Local conditions clearly set social systems. Seahenge, he asserts, was a local shrine of limited use and duration. It stands in sharp contrast to sites in use for millenia. He reminds us that most Neolithic communities, with their lifestyles and observances exceed the history of Christianity by a millennium or more. The wooden trackway at Flag Fen, he notes, was in use "from two centuries after the death of Tutankhamun to the lifetime of Christ". In other words, a wooden walkway was used and maintained for 1300 years. Such persistence, he argues, demonstrates that Neolithic Britons maintained a firm belief in a continuous state between the living and the dead. The walkway and other sites are described as liminals - transition zones where the living showed respect for the ancient dead.
With sets of photos displaying the working conditions and the finds, further enhanced by line drawing maps and diagrams, Pryor provides background and environment. His "Further Reading" list is brief and directed by chapter topics. Following many of his suggestions will lead you to academic libraries or expenditure for books rarely encountered in North America. Both are worth the effort and expenditure. A superb read with much new and exciting information, this book is a treasure. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5 Stars are not enough!,
If you only ever buy one book about 'old things in the ground', this should be it. Francis Pryor gives a fast-paced, highly readable account of his career as an archaeologist, and has a refreshingly dismissive approach to some of the traditionally presented facts of prehistory (e.g. pottery used as evidence of mass-movements of people in Europe.)
The story gives a very nice picture of the different interests that want a say in any significant new discovery, including New-Agers! But it was English Heritage who took a chain saw to the central tree of Seahenge, adding an interesting possible answer to the question "who's history is it, anyway?"
Brilliant, and it'll teach you 10 times more about prehistory than any textbook.
2007 update: I'm now biased; I met Francis when we invited 'Time Team' to dig a site on Anglesey last year. The man's as enthusiastic as his books.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable,
This is much more than just about Seahenge; it is an autobiography of someone who loves his work. Anyone who has watched the author in Time Team will have sensed his enthusiasm.
Francis Pryor's writing style makes for a very readable and enjoyable book, not too heavy on the academic or technical, yet occasionally throwing in explanations of methods or terms that are a great help to the non-archaeologist.
Some of the detail in some of the photos (most I suspect are very old) is hard to pick out, but this does not detract from the fact that overall this is a very good book.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth digging into,
Francis Pryor gives us the interesting story of his career in archaeology. It is built around the discovery and excavation of the intriguing Seahenge site in Norfolk, but includes his fascinating and rewarding work in the Fens.
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and accessible,
This review is from: Seahenge: a quest for life and death in Bronze Age Britain (Kindle Edition)
While only a fraction of this book deals directly directly with Seahenge (which I quickly learnt is not a henge at all), it does contain an immensely readable account of Francis Pryor's professional work in East Anglia. This multi-faceted autobiographical approach gives readers a great deal of interesting and thought provoking background information that ultimately provides context to the story of Seahenge and its possible origins. I think that (as a non archaeologist) the book's technical content is about right and that the explanations are clear and concise. This book is written with obvious passion and enthusiasm and I very much enjoyed reading it.
5.0 out of 5 stars Seahenge,
This is more of an autobiography of an archaeologist; starting from where he s tarted and following him through his decisions and careet until he eraches Seahenge. Perhaps that background was essential to properly understand Seahenge - I found it a fascinating read, accessible without being patronising.
I really must visit Flag Fen one day!
5.0 out of 5 stars SEAHENGE the North Norfolk Enigma....,
Having grown up in North Norfolk I was eager to learn more about one of the country's most baffling conundrums... that of the wooden henge enclosure (RE) discovered on the beach at Holme - next - the Sea in Norfolk.
Francis Pryor shares his experience as a renowned archeologist , of a number of fascinating and historically important sites it what has previously been thought of as relatively a ' historically empty ' corner or England...
A passionate and at times whimsical insight to the author who shares his interest in an easily readable and informative book. There is enough to enthrall the average ' Time Teamer ' and enough education the further entice amateur antiquarian..
I bought the paper back but wished I had bought the hard copy..!
this is my only complaint... .
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book truly gets you thinking or I love that oak tree am I wierd?,
Into Mega/Meso/Neolithic stuff? Prehistory and Ancient monuments? and dare I say SACRED SITES? Then this is definitly for you. I struggled to put it down and probably managed to read it in two or three shifts!
It was the first time I had read any Francis Pryor stuff and I am now hooked as a fan. How sad can you get?
quote me -
"Archaeology is not rubbish really, you just have to analyse a lot of the stuff".
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Seahenge: a quest for life and death in Bronze Age Britain by Francis Pryor