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The Modern Antiquarian: A Pre-millennial Odyssey Through Megalithic Britain : Including a Gazetteer to Over 300 Prehistoric Sites Hardcover – 14 Apr 2011
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Julian Cope has come a long way since the Teardrop Explodes. For eight years he has researched Britain's megalithic heritage in order to write about its inspirational and mythic importance.The Modern Antiquarian is quite an achievement, in which the singing space cadet once more reconciles himself to Earth. Book One is a series of ten essays reconstructing British paganism prior to the muscular intervention of Christianity. Seriously subjective, frequently wayward, they collectively seek to recover the Great Goddess, and restore a sense of femininity and spirituality to our landscape, dotted with its long barrows and standing stones. In the process, Cope introduces imaginative etymosophies [sic] and some wonderful chapter headings, such as "Why the Romans were so Heavy", and "Ur Indoors", while indulging his distaste for cities and his love of Roman-bashing, for their corruption of collective folk memory, and the straightness of their roads. Cope's own infectious vision is, understandably, more circular, if not exactly rounded. It would be easy to mock, with its amateur snaps (sometimes including a variously coiffed Cope or family, for scale, one presumes), and homespun New Age philosophy. However, Book Two, a rainbow-indexed gazetteer to over 300 prehistoric sites in Britain, is tremendous. Each entry combines a photograph, Ordnance Survey directions, a paragraph of geo-historical significance, and a personal observational note of Cope's. Occasional poetry surfaces--"Atop Knap Hill I eat my snot/For 'tis the only food I got"--but generally the absurdities are kept at bay, as St Julian leads us on a pilgrimage. There are even charming guidelines for those who use the gazetteer properly, including the invaluable tip to keep a plastic bag down your sock to collect rubbish in (Julian does). Splendidly eccentric, impossible not to enjoy, and as much a map of the errant genius of Cope as the land with which he so passionately communes. --David Vincent
'Utterly unique…opens a real window on Britain's prehistory.' The Times
'A unique blend of information, observation, personal experience and opinion… A strange and marvellous artefact.' The Independent
'Not only a joy, but a useful field guide.' The Guardian
'Immensely detailed and sumptuously illustrated…an essential guide' The Daily Telegraph
‘A remarkable fusion of scholarship, practical advice and visionary insight’ Daily Express
'A sumptuous technicolour delight. Erudite, playful and provocative.' MojoSee all Product description
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The gazetteer is arranged geographically with each section colour-coded for ease of reference. Unfortunately some of the background colours are so dense that the print becomes difficult to read. In part one in particular there are some garishly photoshopped images laid out in various eccentric styles so that no two pages look quite the same. But these add to the charm of the book and what it might lack in academic rigour it makes up for in sheer enthusiasm. The binding of the book has come in for some criticism although my own copy is still all in one piece despite constant reference for 4 years or so now.
Cope lists many sites I would never have known about let alone have visited were it not for The Modern Antiquarian. The bizarre Figsbury Ring, near Salisbury, is a good example. There are some other sites listed and described here that I may have been put off from visiting had I not double-checked elsewhere.
Some of the material is already quite dated and some is just downright inaccurate. The entry on Stoney Littleton really needs to be updated as things have improved immeasurably at this site. The information on The Chestnuts in Kent needs some revising and correction. I'm sure there are many others besides.
But whatever the imperfections this is a marvellous and very worthwhile book, funny, informative, at times angry and passionate, always opinionated and all the better for that.
I believe a follow-up, looking at sites across Europe, is now being written; maybe this will carry some updates and corrections. But either way I look forward to it and recommend The Modern Antiquarian to you without hesitation.
The essays at the beginning are entertaining; I wouldn't know how true they are, but I have to say that I suspect it has to be wishful thinking. I speak Welsh, and some of the things he says in the sections about Wales are completely wrong (eg his translation of Pontypridd is so far off the mark, it's laughable), or misleading (eg he says that the ancient Welsh in former days called Britain 'Prydain'. That's true but, err, so do the modern Welsh in current days. Didn't he know that?) These aren't difficult things to find out, so it makes me wonder about everything else he presents as fact.
So if you're looking for a scholarly, reliable guide to ancient British monuments, don't buy this book. If you're looking for a personal, entertaining interpretation of these sites, which will encourage you to get out there, get this book and take it with a large pinch of salt. I'm glad I've got it though.
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