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After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000 - 5000 BC Paperback – 4 Mar 2004

4.2 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: W&N; New Ed edition (4 Mar. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753813920
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753813928
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 4.3 x 21.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 221,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

This massive and clever book opens modern scholarship about the distant past to nonspecialists. Buyers of this book will get their money's worth. It comes with a generous supply of maps and pictures of artifacts and digs, some of which are in color...Erudite and also quirky, Mithen summarizes the work of contemporary archaeologists, often by recounting his own visits to archaeological sites and drawing on insights from recent research on paleoclimates and human genetics...This impressive book stands out as the new standard work.--David M. Fahey "The Historian "

Book Description

A fantastic voyage through 15,000 years of history that laid the foundations for civilisation as we know it by award-winning science writer Steven Mithen.

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is nothing less than a global history of the world after the Ice Age ended, describing how people adapted to the new, favourable climatic conditions of the Early Holocene, and to the advent & spread of agriculture. Professor Mithen set out to balance the conflicting needs of readability with academic rigour - and has succeeded admirably. This book will be of interest to anybody from the casual reader to the informed academic.
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Format: 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.
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Format: Hardcover
Archaeologists, both amateur and professional, struggle with the vast gulf of time that separates them from human activities in the distant past. The architects of the pyramids in Egypt, for instance, are at least a millennium further from the era of Christ than we in the 21st century. How then can we conceive of the impossibly remote Last Glacial Maximum, clocking in at 20,000 BC?
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.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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