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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your ancestors revealed!, 23 Sep 2003
This review is from: Prehistoric Avebury (Paperback)
A priceless treasure of information about the Neolithic world, this work will long endure. The physical evidence described here is enhanced with carefully derived suppositions about why stone circles, avenues, burial sites, ditches and banks were built. Burl has a keen analytical mind. He weaves inferences about Neolithic lifestyles with the information garnered from the available evidence. While the information he presents is almost overwhelming in its complexity, Burl's writing style keeps the account lively. You aren't submerged in arcane mysteries nor scholarly pedantry. His adroit presentation keeps your attention captured as he leads you through the likely history of Avebury, Stonehenge and other Neolithic communities.
"Communities" is a word you will have in mind throughout this narrative. Burl reminds us that Avebury's structures were built by normal people. They lived in the region, farmed, dug ditches, herded cattle and pigs, erected stones, traded with neighbours, and died. Life, he asserts frequently, was tenuous and brief. From this he derives their culture put much time and energy in dealing with the dead. Ancestor worship? Probably. Fertility rituals? Almost certainly. All this activity, however, was chiefly pragmatic. Neolithic society tried to propitiate spirits it could comprehend.
Burl scorns the modern mystical interpretations of Avebury and other sites. He lightly dismisses the astronomical alignments as overblown. The henges and stone circles may have marked some solar and lunar moon-rises and -sets, but only in a general way. These people had practical needs, he says. Precision alignments of stones or posts would be excessive effort. Much work went into just building these structures. Enough information to launch certain seasonal festivals or a reminder of births or deaths was sufficient. Burl has gleaned enough information to outline the growth and decline of prehistoric societies, with the Stonehenge ultimately supplanting Avebury in dominance of the area.
The text is enhanced with a finely balanced mixture of diagrams, old and new illustrations of people and places involved, topped off by a collection of excellent coloured photographs. One of the few shortcomings in this book is the selectivity of his Bibliography. Many works cited in the Notes are not listed there. Whether to keep the list short or to emphasise favoured works is obscure. A minor point, but a nuisance when delving further into the topic. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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Location: Ottawa, Ontario Canada

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