Britain BC : Life in Britain and Ireland Before the Romans, Paperback

Britain BC : Life in Britain and Ireland Before the Romans Paperback

4.5 out of 5 (4 ratings)

Description

An authoritative and radical rethinking of the history of Ancient Britain and Ancient Ireland, based on remarkable new archaeological finds.

British history is traditionally regarded as having started with the Roman Conquest.

But this is to ignore half a million years of prehistory that still exert a profound influence.

Here Francis Pryor examines the great ceremonial landscapes of Ancient Britain and Ireland - Stonehenge, Seahenge, Avebury and the Bend of the Boyne - as well as the discarded artefacts of day-to-day life, to create an astonishing portrait of our ancestors.

This major re-revaluation of pre-Roman Britain, made possible in part by aerial photography and coastal erosion, reveals a much more sophisticated life in Ancient Britain and Ireland than has previously been supposed.

Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 544 pages, 50 b/w illus, 64 col plates (32pp), (4 x 8pp four-colour plate sections), Index
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: European history
  • ISBN: 9780007126934

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Reviews

Showing 1 - 4 of 4 reviews.

Review by
5

I love prehistory, and this book is what started it. I think that thinking about other societies and how they were organised makes the problems of our own seem different.

Review by
5

Well researched and very readable account of the archaeology of pre-Roman Britain. I found the early chapters especially interesting, e.g. the Boxgrove site showing the earliest evidence of human habitation in Britain 500,000 years ago, and the remarkable inventiveness of early hunter-gatherers. It did get a bit dry and technical at times in discussing the details of Neolithic and later monuments. The author also sometimes gets a little carried away in describing his or others' theories which seem to me perhaps a bit simplistic, e.g. the wood=life and stone=death theory of late Neolithic/early Bronze age monuments, verging on interpreting facts to fit the theory; the design of Iron age roundhouses mirroring the rising and setting sun also sounded too rigid to me. The author is quite convincing in dismissing the idea of a mass invasion of Neolithic farmers and prefers the theory that it was the idea of farming that swept across Europe to Britain. He cites as evidence DNA from Palaeolithic bones in Cheddar Gorge natching DNA from some modern inhabitants of the same area; on the other hand, there is also DNA evidence from the descendants of "Jasmine, the younger daughter of Eve" from Syria making up a sizeable slice of the British farming population in Neolithic and later society. All in all, a wonderful read that could get almost anyone interested in archaeology and pre-history.

Review by
4

It has actually taken me two years to read this book. I started it in July 2008, and I remember finding it hard to comprehend. It seemed all over the place and I had difficulties with the way Pryor went into long, confusing descriptions of various archaeological dig sites. I felt extremely stupid as I just could not visualise that which he attempted to illustrate with words in detail. I became frustrated and, instead, found other books to distract.This year I have made a concerted effort to finish those books I struggled with in the past. I picked up <em>Britain BC</em> again, but instead of returning to the beginning, I continued from where I had left off in order to distance myself from the earlier frustrations. It worked! I was able to read this book somewhat more comfortably and actually absorb most of the information.The detailed and wordy descriptions of various artefacts and archaeological digs sites still left me reeling, but pictures and illustrations are provided (more frequently in the second half of the book) which help to clearly demonstrate what Pryor is tries to describe in words. In some cases, I still skipped the details in favour of understanding how the site/artefact furthered the understanding of a particular time, people, community or way of working.<em>Britain BC</em> did provide me with insight in the world of archaeology; its progress over the years; and an idea of how archaeologists work today both in terms of learning about our past and in preserving it for the future. I marvelled at the amount of speculation involved in seeking to put finds into context, giving the impression that the purpose of a site or artefact can never be certain where archaeologists are involved. This was quite a lesson for me. I found it disconcerting that as Pryor dismantled the ideas of others, he sought to replace them with his own imaginings, a few of which I thought less credible than those he had just rejected. Still, what do I know?It has actually taken me two years to read this book. I started it in July 2008, and I remember finding it hard to comprehend. It seemed all over the place and I had difficulties with the way Pryor went into long, confusing descriptions of various archaeological dig sites. I felt extremely stupid as I just could not visualise that which he attempted to illustrate with words in detail. I became frustrated and, instead, found other books to distract.This year I have made a concerted effort to finish those books I struggled with in the past. I picked up <em>Britain BC</em> again, but instead of returning to the beginning, I continued from where I had left off in order to distance myself from the earlier frustrations. It worked! I was able to read this book somewhat more comfortably and actually absorb most of the information.The detailed and wordy descriptions of various artefacts and archaeological digs sites still left me reeling, but pictures and illustrations are provided (more frequently in the second half of the book) which help to clearly demonstrate what Pryor is tries to describe in words. In some cases, I still skipped the details in favour of understanding how the site/artefact furthered the understanding of a particular time, people, community or way of working.<em>Britain BC</em> did provide me with insight in the world of archaeology; its progress over the years; and an idea of how archaeologists work today both in terms of learning about our past and in preserving it for the future. I marvelled at the amount of speculation involved in seeking to put finds into context, giving the impression that the purpose of a site or artefact can never be certain where archaeologists are involved. This was quite a lesson for me. I found it disconcerting that as Pryor dismantled the ideas of others, he sought to replace them with his own imaginings, a few of which I thought less credible than those he had just rejected. Still, what do I know?I was taken by the idea that, immediately prior to the arrival of the Romans, British society was not necessarily a cohesive whole but rather made up of small community groups, some of which had banded together to form larger societies. Pryor also speculates that some of these communities did not have a formal structure, but were loosely banded together, and there may not have been an elite class as previously thought or imagined by rich burial sites. Prior to reading <em>Britain BC</em>, I was unaware the Iron Age extended into the early part of first millennia CE with crannogs and brochs being in use in 600 CE, but only in those areas where the Romans had not tread. And, although I have gained some insight into what is known about the various “ages” of history, I might have assimilated more if the author had refrained from flitting between archaeological dig sites, with a quick tangent into the future of one or another site "<em>... but we will explore that further later in another chapter</em>" (to paraphrase) and back again. As a reader, I felt disconnected from the finds or how they corroborated what was known about the people and/or communites of the age and how they lived in the landscape. I was lost quite a bit of the time; I needed lots of breaks from reading this book in order to take my bearings. I know the author is enthusiastic - I can read it in his text - but I think more careful editing might have made the evidential information more accessible.Overall, the book did provide me with a basic knowledge of prehistory in Britain and it's all in one place instead of the myriad of bits and bobs floating around in my head from reading news updates from various archaeological websites. I have definitely learned more than I ever did at school about the subject. It's just <em>Britain BC</em> is not a book I would, or even could, use as a reference to with which to check my understanding.I am not sure what is says about the book when the first thing I can say about it is: "<em>I now know the difference between pre-history, proto-history and history</em>". As a reader, I felt disconnected from the finds or how they corroborated what was known about the people and/or communites of the age and how they lived in the landscape. I was lost quite a bit of the time; I needed lots of breaks from reading this book in order to take my bearings. I know the author is enthusiastic - I can read it in his text - but I think more careful editing might have made the evidential information more accessible.Overall, the book did provide me with a basic knowledge of prehistory in Britain and it's all in one place instead of the myriad of bits and bobs floating around in my head from reading news updates from various archaeological websites. I have definitely learned more than I ever did at school about the subject. It's just <em>Britain BC</em> is not a book I would, or even could, use as a reference to with which to check my understanding.I am not sure what is says about the book when the first thing I can say about it is: "<em>I now know the difference between pre-history, proto-history and history</em>".

Review by
3.5

I'd only add to the existing reviews this observation. Pryor at one point commends a fellow archaeologist for doing a meticulous excavation and documenting it superbly without making any assertions about what it might signify. Pryor on the other hand is essentially using this book to talk about what archaeology in the British Isles signifies. This isn't a contradiction, but it is a distinction. Sometimes, working through this very readable (and admirable) book, the reader is challenged to tease apart the observation from the observations. But for all that, highly recommended.

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