69 of 76 people found the following review helpful
An impassioned look back,
This review is from: Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland Before the Romans (Paperback)Pryor is candid about his intentions. He wants to understand the society of his homeland. To gain that understanding, he's dug more holes than "found in Blackbourne, Lancashire". He's also swept the literature of prehistoric Britain to learn what his colleagues have revealed in their work. The result is a compelling narrative of how Britain, in the years before the Roman invasion, lived, worshipped and died. He's gone a step further in trying out the life for himself. It all boils down to what might be an exercise in chauvinism, but Pryor's too professional to sink into that morass. Instead, he's given us a superb overview of the roots of the British Isles. He also provides an superlative insight into the workings of modern archaeology.
The title reflects Pryor's view that too much attention has been paid to the Roman era. Christianity's invasion on Roman skirt-tails, of course, has diverted attention from the beliefs of pre-Roman peoples. He wants to set that record straight, and does so thoroughly and admirably. Drawing on a wealth of resources, he casts away the "invasion" foundation of British pre-history to build a new structure. Sweeping hordes give way to a society that spread cultural innovations through limited, but far-reaching mobility. Instead of defensive fortresses, the British Isles are pocked with "henges", religious centres reflecting a stable, ancestor-worshipping society. Henges, he reminds us, totally lack defensive features. Weapons are found as often in bogs and streams, or buried with owners. They aren't the detritus of battle.
Pryor's start is the now-famous site of Boxgrove. His account of the finds there, a stone tool preparation site nearly half a million years old, is nearly as vivid as Mike Pitts' own. The site reflects the changing nature of archaeology - more attention is now devoted to assessing what the environment was like in that distant time. Weather, soil, forest or field, are among the many elements now assessed in building a picture of ancient humanity's life. Instead of racks of museum collections, tools, weapons and jewellry now form images of what our ancestors considered important. If Pryor delves into speculation in his depictions, it's clearly an informed conjecture. Details, hidden in time, may remain hidden, but much more is now available to consider than earlier researchers had at their disposal.
Pryor demonstrates how modern research has discerned Neolithic paddocks and trackways. Faint lines in crops or discontinuities in the soil exposed by aerial photography have led to amazing finds. His descriptions of discoveries, digs exposing ancient structures and artefacts reveal a wealth of new information while imparting Pryor's own love of the science. That affection carries over into his accounts of how his ancestors lived. To him, this information is intensely valuable. If nothing else, it shatters long-held, but false myths about what comprises the British peoples. People today will understand themselves better if they understand their ancestors better. If that reduces aggression, bigotry and dogma, that's all to the good. In Pryor's hands, archaeology becomes more than an arcane science removed from society. Instead, the research becomes a force for positive thinking and, hopefully, action.
With such an outlook, this author has produced an immensely readable book. His fondness for the work and the discoveries is apparent. He exhorts you to share it all with him. He draws the reader into the questions his research seeks to answer. His enthusiasm is contagious - you want to be there at the various digs and museums with him. If you can't arrange that, he provides a multitude of drawings, maps and photograph sets to help convey what he's seen. There are the dead, their possessions, sometimes their dress. Different conditions, he explains, preserve different things. Where they haven't been preserved, he reconstructs them. The wattle and thatch house at Fengate is built to verify how it was done. With all these elements assembled in one book, it becomes clear that Pryor has created a lasting volume. British focus aside, this book should be a feature on any shelf. It's about you.
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Initial post: 9 Jan 2012 17:23:45 GMT
Wednesday's child says:
Thank you for this excellent and comprehensive review. I can also thoroughly recommend the book on Boxgrove mentioned by the reviewer.
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