Origins and Revolutions: Human Identity in Earliest Prehistory Paperback – 17 May 2007
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'Origins and Revolutions is an effervescent read that skilfully challenges many of the sacred cows of archaeology. it is rich and deep in the philosophical acumen and attention to social theory for which Gamble is known. He also writes with an admirable sense of humour and irony; he knows how to join humanistic flair with empirical rigour at the dig.' Nature
'… an engaging style, and a healthy lacing of humour … Origins and Revolutions is well worth the effort. It displays considerable erudition and theoretical subtlety, challenges orthodox histories of our deep past, and sets out an agenda for thinking about the fragmentary remains of the remote societies of early prehistory in new and refreshing ways.' British Archaeology
'… Gamble has written a book that deserves serious attention and engagement, and hi sideas are original and far-reaching …' Journal of Archaeological Science
'Clive Gamble's Origins and Revolutions enters new, virtually unexplored territory in the field of what may be termed cognitive archaeology: the archaeology of mind. And it makes a contribution because it tries deliberately to look at the early phases in human cognitive development, during the Palaeolithic period, in new ways. … Gamble writes well about 'material metaphors' in a way which appreciates this decisive role in the creation of new social worlds. … Gamble's approach is to undertake a thoroughgoing examination of the notion of personal identity, during what he terms the 'long introduction' to modernity, up to 100,000 years ago. … What I like about these chapters … is his series of detailed examples, drawn mainly from the Palaeolithic of Europe. … There are many good and unfamiliar ideas here … For the moment, he has given us a pioneering work in the cognitive archaeology of the Palaeolithic period. It is a major step forward and it offers many challenges.' Cambridge Archaeological Journal
'… dense with provocative ideas, fresh points of view, an intellectual background that ranges far and wide between academic disciplines and schools of thought … this book should be read by professionals and graduate students as an eye-opener to alternative narratives of human evolution … an intriguing book …' Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Gamble examines how changing identities can be understood and charts the prehistory of innovations. Theoretically innovative and supported with in-depth case-studies, this important and challenging book will be essential reading for every student and scholar of prehistory.See all Product Description
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Nonetheless, the ideas are novel and thought provoking, so I persevered to the end. He is not the only author to challenge the notion of the neolithic revolution, but he puts forward alternative explanations that deserve consideration.
In summary, if prehistory is your passion and you're a determined reader, then buy it. But if you're looking for something readable and entertaining, look elsewhere!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Then he turns in the second section to his serious rebuilding of archaeology by emphasizing the need to bring the people back into the artefacts. And for this he turns very productively to material culture studies and many of the thinkers who are testing the waters of material agency. Sometimes his language can seem a little convoluted, but the ideas are rich, well illustrated, given many examples from many excavations throughout prehistory, and convincing. Just listing his ideas for how people used objects and tools gives a feel for the way he brings artefacts into people-using forms: sets and nets, enchainment and accumulation, containers and instruments, consuming and fragmenting, additive and reductive technologies, planning depth and tactical depth and curation (maintaining technology over time), and childscape within habitscape. His use of the studies of others who have recreated individual archaeological sites for the manufacture of blades and flakes in the use of flint to apply these concepts brings life to the imagined activities uncovered in these studies. The ample examples, photos, and drawings greatly reduce the tedium of the sometimes heavy theory.
In the last section he then takes his new concepts and applies them to give a different sense of the gradual movement of prehistory. Here, the richness of the extant archaeological studies tumbles out as he brings his new concepts into simpler view. This part was the easiest and most rewarding to read. He is probing how to rebuild the contours of prehistory without the facile origins and revolutions that have defined it sometimes in the past.
What is best about the book for those of us who are not archaeologists is the exploration of material agency and the social-action dimensions of objects. What was oddly missing from the book were connections to biology and evolution, especially cultural evolution. Presumably, he left this out to keep the focus from becoming too wide, but the issues he raises beg to be integrated with cultural evolutionary theory and other fields such as cognitive science. What he does give us, thankfully, is a deep overview of the field of prehistoric studies and a promising set of tools to explore material agency, which is tenaciously taking hold within material culture studies and which is philosophically radical.
"Exactly how archaeologists classify a chipped stone as a core is not, however, my main concern. It is enough to appreciate that cores are the result of both fragmentation, knapping a nodule of raw material, and the consumption of those fragments that is structured in a social technology by accumulation and enchainment. Cores are also a good example of a material metaphor where the body provides an understanding of the skills and technique involved. The outer covering of a stone nodule is called the cortex, from the Latin for bark, and has a skin-like appearance. As flakes and blades are detached from the nucleus, or core, they are described in terms of two different faces (Figure 7.2), ventral (front) and dorsal (back). The terms proximal and distal are applied to the head and the foot of both cores and flakes as determined by the origin of the force applied, a geographical proxy for the knapper herself (Figure 7.4). The act of fragmenting is spoken of as leaving scars on the core's surface. These are ridges and hollows that can on occasion be re-fitted to the struck fragments. It is the convex and concave shapes of the surfaces that makes the cores in a PCT both instrument and container (Table 7.4)."
He's using modern word games to create a metaphor in order to reconstruct the thought process of a Paleolithic crafter. He then uses these insights to play additional word games with high-level conceptual metaphors of 'instrument' and 'container.' Some of this is very perceptive, but it's an extended prose poem, not science. Exactly how poets classify a chipped stone is not my main interest.
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