Scenes from Prehistoric Britain

Scenes from Prehistoric Life: From the Ice Age to the Coming of the Romans
© 2021 Francis Pryor
320 pages

“The past is like a great country house: it is better appreciated if you can approach it from several directions. It is a lesson I have never forgotten.”

Scenes from Prehistoric Britain is a curious mix of extreme detail and fanciful speculation, visiting twelve sites in (mostly) prehistoric Britain that begin with the first trace of hominids in the area of Europe that would become Britain once the ice retreated and continuing to the Roman days. I’m not familiar with British prehistoric sites in general, save for Stonehenge, so this was a nice — if extremely detailed at times – tour of places that reveal how little we know. Pryor mixes details with speculation, so a frankly tedious description of how each stone at one site is oriented is followed by Pryor’s argument that the bluestones of Stonehenge may not have been sent by water, because that was too efficient and pragmatic for so important a construction. He believes it more likely that the bluestones were moved overland, in ceremonial progresses like those of medieval kings. This is sheer speculation, of course, but I do appreciate his awareness that not only material concerns would have motivated the ancients. Pryor frequently urges the reader to understand how dramatically our understanding can shift with context, both physical- and knowledge base. For instance, an axe head buried under a preserved wooden trackway might seem like an accident — but then other trackways also have hatchets underneath them, and we realize there is more meaning to be found here than we can know. Stonehenge is not an isolated site but is surrounded by burrows, and understanding its story involves grasping how that landscape was used and what it mean to Britons thousands of years ago. This is not a light read, but if you like archaeology it should prove interesting.

Stonehenge: 2000 B.C, Bernard Cornwell. A novel about Stonehenge.
Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble, Marilyn Johnson
Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death, and Art, Rebecca Sykes

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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3 Responses to Scenes from Prehistoric Britain

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    I have ‘Britain BC’ by him, that I *might* get around to this year or definitely next. He’s VERY chatty on his TV shows but rather entertaining…….

  2. Pingback: April 2023 in Review | Reading Freely

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