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on 6 July 2013
My initial thoughts upon completing this book were that it was too short and over all too quickly. So I guess on the positive side it was an easy read and not a slog. But I expected more. There's a prologue in which Stringer summarises the book's aims, an introduction in which he details the work of early antiquarians, a final chapter in which Stringer talks about climate change over the entirety of human history and going into the future, and a final section in which all of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain members talk about what they do. So only pages 35 to 159 actually discuss early human occupation in Britain. Of a 242 page book. That's only 124 pages on the book's actual subject, strictly speaking. Needless to say I feel a little disappointed about that. I was hoping for a really thorough read about Neanderthals, homo erectus, and homo sapiens in Britain in the stone age. It'd be okay if all of these add-ons were small additions to a much larger, meatier main text, but the main text is so short. Stringer discusses climate, flora, fauna, and archaeological work, but I was hoping for more on the actual people. What Stringer does write is clear, accessible, and lucid, and does provide a focus on specifically British material, and one can hardly sniff at Stringer's extensive professional credentials... I just wish there had been more of it.
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VINE VOICEon 7 November 2010
This book introduces the reader to the science behind the early human habitation of Britain by putting the people into their individual contexts of climate and the depending geography, fauna and flora. It gives a clear and detailed account of the various schools of thought that prevailed at one time or another and introduces us to human evolution through fossilised human remains and the development of hand tools, as well as the science behind understanding ice ages and interglacials. The language is not too scientific and easily understandable to the layman, just once or twice later on in the book he succumbs to the temptation of name-dropping a specific scientific term without further explanation. The illustrations, maps and photographs are first class and go some way towards providing the reader with a clear understanding of what this book is all about, so I would always prefer the hardcover edition to the paperback. I have to agree with some of the other reviewers that the last chapter (about future climate change) seems a bit out of place in a book about palaeontology; he does have a point in that humankind has always been very vulnerable to climate change, be it for better or worse, but to devote an entire chapter to it in which he is speculating and appears to be sermonising, is simply not in line with the rest of the book which is solidly grounded in scientific fact. In the appendix we have an opportunity to meet the core members of AHOB as well as one of their associate members and it was great to read about their obvious enthusiasm and their various and diverse backgrounds that come together to make this project so successful, but to have 25 pages of it was stretching my patience a little bit.

On the whole, a very worthwhile book and excellent introduction to a fascinating subject that whets the appetite for more.
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on 17 November 2015
A fascinating account of how Homo lived in Britain through the millennia. Highly recommende. I bought the original bound edition because you really canot read all the pics and charts on Kindle. Sorry!!
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on 31 May 2010
If you happen to have caught any of the slew of 'fossil stories' in the news over the last few years, you will almost certainly have heard or read a few words from Chris Stringer, Human Origins researcher at London's Natural History Museum and the author of this stimulating and well-written book. Widely viewed as the ultimate authority on the subject, Stringer brings to mind someone of the calibre of Richard Dawkins, possessing as he does that rare combination of an encyclopaedic knowledge and an enviable talent for communicating it.

In Homo Britannicus, Stringer explores the very early human occupation of Britain, from the first evidence of hominid activity some 700,000 years ago to the arrival of modern humans about 12,000 years ago. This vast stretch of time reveals a startlingly different Britain - one whose climate lurched from ice age to subtropical, and whose inhabitants would go from hunting reindeer and mammoth to living alongside hippos and elephants. For those of us more accustomed to red squirrels and "spits and spots of rain", the mental picture of such a volatile and unrecognizable Britain is one of this books great pleasures.

Stringer begins by examining the topic of fossils generally, chronicling the shift from Biblical explanations to scientific ones. For those who still buy into the religious-based myth that mankind (indeed the earth itself) is a mere 6,000 years old, Stringer details the numerous dating methods and spells out just how we know what we know. He devotes much of the book to revealing the key fossil sites, and pieces together the evidence from these different locations to create a picture of the first hominids to inhabit Britain.

Elegantly written, the text is not overly-technical, and it's noticeable that Chris displays an open mind throughout, taking an honest and measured approach to conflicting evidence and uncertainty - the sign of a true scientist. Good quality colour photographs of the artefacts also help this book come alive, as do the various black and white maps that pinpoint key fossil sites. If you have the slightest interest in Britain's distant origins, I would highly recommend it.
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on 4 January 2008
For a good many schoolchildren [too many, IMV], the history of Britain begins with Julius Caesar crossing the Channel. Confronted by resistance by the "blue people", he forcefully pushed the Island Kingdom into the historical arena. This outlook is regrettably shortsighted, as Chris Stringer makes vividly clear in this stunning account of pre-historic Britain. Although the first early human finds didn't occur there, the concept of "Stone Age" was vigorously debated in Britain as the artefacts and fossils emerged in view, particularly in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Moreover, it was British scholars like John Hutton and Charles Lyell who took the lead in extending the age of the Earth. That extension led to speculation and investigation of who and what had come before, demolishing the view of yet another Englishman, James Ussher who had postulated an Earth "created" in October of 4004 BCE. In short, stratigraphy began replacing Scripture.

Stringer explains how Britain was subjected to several "invasions" long before the Roman political martyr was glorified, then assassinated. These invasions weren't for booty or slaves, but for dinner. Changes in climate resulted in changes in sea level, with Britain forming a peninsula of Europe many times over the millennia. Another result of climate led to large parts of that peninsula being sheathed in ice, rendering it uninhabitable ' to human or other invaders. They made it, finally, with the first human artefacts being dated at 700 000 years ago. They weren't dining on mutton, however. It was deer, rabbits, and astonishingly, hippopotamus. The image Stringer offers of hippos crossing the Mediterranean and swimming along the Atlantic littoral to reach what is now Suffolk, isn't one easily dismissed from memory. They thrived in "Britain", along with wolves, lions and other tropical animals. And they were hunted by the humans who had followed them from Africa - albeit by a different route. Until the cold returned. Then it was reindeer, woolly mammoth and fur-bearing rhinos. As the ice advanced, such species, along with their hunters, vanished from the landscape.

These cycles of habitability over the British Peninsula have occurred several times just in the period of human occupation. The worst ice age there was 450 000 years ago, and it was severe enough to keep the peninsula free of humans for 50 thousand years after its retreat. After a temperate period allowing new settlement, humans were again pushed into Europe only twenty thousand years later. Other shifts led to inexplicable vacating by humans for a lengthy period, even though life abounded in Europe. Neanderthal arrived about 60 thousand years ago. A large-brained species, they worked out how to keep warm by burning bones in their hearths. The accumulation of fossil evidence, subject to close analysis and dating techniques, is providing an entirely new story of early human habitation in Northwest Europe. Mobility was a major factor - it's almost presumptuous to title this book "Homo Britannicus".

As a founder of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain [AHOB] research project, Chris Stringer is at once one of the driving forces and spokesmen of studies of the distant human past. For a time, it seemed this span reached back half a million years, but a recent underwater find at Pakefield pushed the earliest date back another 200 millennia. Stringer handles such challenges with ease. He's able to convey to the reader immense time leaps, yet apparently not leaving any gaps in the narrative. The information about palaeoclimates, changes in the British - European shoreline are well explained and supported by excellent maps depicting the era under discussion. How long have we known that the Thames was once a tributary of the Rhine? There are photographs - some portentous - about the conditions in Britain over time. One of the photos shows the edge of a village which will soon drop into the sea as a new climatic event - this one human enhanced - brings the sea ever further inland. The message is clear - climate has cleared humans from Britain or encouraged their settlement more than once. What does today's climate change portend for the British Isles - and for the rest of us? [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 24 December 2010
This is an excellent book, and well worth the read. To me it is an original subject area - some subjects are over represented on the Popular Science bookshelf, this was the first book that I had seen on this subject.

4 stars, because I found the structure of the book rather confusing. I rarely knew the focus of the chapter that I was reading. Is the book organised by theme or chronologically? Some topics seemed to arise again and again, spread across many chapters, but would have been better together. I'm not saying that I could organise the book better - maybe restructuring so that prehistoric technologies, modern dating technologies, migrations, DNA, sea levels, fauna, fossil evidence, etc. are treated more comprehensively would render other aspects of the book less coherent.

The author has a lot of information to share, and has concentrated on squeezing factual information into the text at the expense of narration, portraits or suspense. However, the book is quite short, so there was plenty of room to add some literary style (160 pages if you ignore the last chapter on climate change which is in the wrong book, and the short biographies of the author's colleagues).

A very informative book, that I would definitely recommend. The issues I have highlighted are probably because the author is a full time scientist and part time author, not vice-verse. Unlike some full time science writers, the author is careful to emphasise the limits of knowledge, areas of uncertainty and to avoid colourful speculation. For the same reason, the author has a more extensive knowledge of the subject than a populist writer could attain.
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on 30 November 2006
'A delightful addition to his previous 'Complete World of Human Evolution', Homo Britannicus, written by Chris Stringer, offers a fascinating account of the history of human occupation in Britain from the first evidence of hominid activity circa 700,000-500,000 years ago to the arrival of modern humans about 12,000 years ago. In addition to being of erudite specialist interest to his peers and students in palaeontology and archaeology, this clearly written book -- which offers useful additional background in text and illustrations, humour and a share of the author's own experiences -- is a real pleasure to read for the lay person with little knowledge of these disciplines. After a thorough study of the role of climatic changes in the history of human adaptation to, or extinction from, new environments, Chris Stringer ends his book with a crucial appeal for our common responsability in preserving our future, threatened by global warming today, not tomorrow. Essential for learning about the past, this is palaeontology at its best use for the present and future. Anyone interested in the complete story of the British Isles should read this book without delay'.
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on 28 February 2010
I completely back the other reviewers who say this is an excellent account of early human life in the U.K. The extensive illustrations and photos give the reader a chance to get up to speed on the superb work of the AHOB team.

However.. Like much of the work written by Recent-Out-Of-Africa proponents, it incorrectly represents the mtDNA analysis and alternative theories. For example, Page 227 has a headline quote of "mtDNA has been recovered from ten Neanderthal fossils *confirming* that these ancient humans represent separate genetic lineage from everyone alive today". I have great respect for Chris Stringer as a scientist but this conclusion is plain wrong and bad science. It is perfectly possible that both Neanderthals and ROOA Homo (and other e.g. asian erectus) could have contributed to our gene pool and for the recovered mtDNA to now be an extinct haplotype. Stringer also talks about Neanderthals as a separate species. Evolutionary bioligists know that the definition of species breaks down when animals are potentially interfertile - even if there are subspecies / breeds / races that can be destinguished by physical traites. The Most Recent Comment Ancestor of modern human mtDNA is approx 160K years ago. For us vs Neanderthals the figure is approx 400K years ago. Using Stringer's mtDNA / genetic clock analysis as a crude measure for relatidness would also show that the hominids from Israel some 100K years ago (some claimed to be both pure "Neanderthal" while others pure "ROOA Sapien") diverged around 300K years previously (from Homo Heidelbergensis). By extrapolating Stringer's analysis, these Neanderthals were about twice as different from their contemporary sapiens as I am from a San Bushman. This sounds to me like dubious grounds for claiming a separate species with no interbreeding resulting in gene flow between the "species". By comparison, other mammal "species" remain interfertile despite substantial isolation for up to 1M years or more. The mtDNA analysis provides an upper bound (maximum time) to the MRCA. Work by Joseph Chang shows that all modern humans likely share common ancestors within the past few 1000 years - and all ancestors are common around 10,000 years or so before the present. These figures also give an indication of the speed at which favourable genes could spread around the world through difference "races" and thus mix the international gene pool.

Ultimately, Stringer's premise that all hominid ancestors should fit on a radiating tree of ancestry is a bogus starting point in the same way that modern races are not related by a simple tree structure - only individual genes are. We are all tightly bound together as a species by continuous haphazard gene flow between groups yet retain regional racial traits due to local climatic and other regional selection factors. How can we be so sure that the past was so different? The excellent work by Alan Templeton examines the ancestry of multiple haplotypes and indicates it wasn't.

For a better account of this analysis (than Stringer's and mine!) I would strongly recommend people read the first few chapters of Dawkins: The Ancestor's Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life. In my opinion, Dawkins has it bang on.

This incorrect starting point (in my opinion) does bias Stringer's interpretation of the archaeological evidence. However, if you can brush over these imperfections, I'd still thoroughly recommend this book for the AHOB team's positive contributions which include pushing back the earliest dates of British occupation by a further 200K years to 700K years ago.
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on 13 May 2013
This is a highly readable and compact guide to the development of human life in Britain. Very well arranged and elegant in style giving a good understanding of the phases and the links with mainland Europe,of which Britain was once part. Stringer's treatment of the way climate dictated life is particularly good. I enjoyed it as an archaeologist but the seamless and clear way that the wider aspects of science are dealt with left me much better informed. The only reason that I did not award five stars is not to do with the text but because it is a short book the main theme of which ends on page 159 to be followed by a chapter on global warming followed by a lengthy biographical appendix about his team. I would have liked more examples. Please don't let this put you off buying it.
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on 11 November 2007
Palaeontologist Stringer entertainingly tells the story of Human life in Britan over the past 700,00 years.
It's amazing to learn how us Britons dealt with such severe climate changes, and outstanding to think that hippos once swam in the Thames.
Fancinating read, well written, beautiful photography, with a power underlying message that our occupancy of these islands cannot be guaranteed for ever.
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