ISSN 1357-4442Editor: Simon Denison

Issue no 53, June 2000


Origins of society

Reviewed by Paul Pettitt

The Palaeolithic Societies of Europe
Clive Gamble
CUP £22.95
ISBN 0-521-65872-1 pb

This will surely be regarded by Palaeolithic specialists as one of the major books published in recent years. Clive Gamble, Professor of Archaeology at Southampton, tries to pull aside the intellectual curtain that separates the Palaeolithic from later periods, for which prehistorians have no hesitation in setting society as their goal of study. In doing so he makes a brave attempt to study the Palaeolithic's denizens in terms of their social relations with each other, rather than their ecological relationships with hazelnuts.

His starting point is that that a form of social life `extends throughout the hominid record from 5 million years ago to the present day'. There are real, complex issues here to resolve. For example, when were social relations `released from proximity' - ie, from being confined only to one's immediate family and group - and stretched in time and space, aided by the production of material culture?

Gamble sees Palaeolithic society as being created `bottom up' by individuals interacting with one another, rather than `top down' through a set of precepts about how to behave inherited from a previous generation. Individuals, he says, interacted through `networks' at different levels of intimacy - family, close group members, more distant group members and so on. And these interactions happened at various scales. One scale was the locale, where personal exchanges took place and material was preserved (ie, at individual sites). A higher level was that of regions, wider landscapes habitually visited in which the behaviour of foraging groups was linked by common ways of doing things.

Throughout, of course, Gamble is trying to make sense of the Palaeolithic material record, and why we tend to find things done in the same way over very large areas. For him, material culture was used as a kind of social adhesive - a recognition device for indicating that another individual was `one of us'. This applied not only to the artefact itself, but also to the way it was made and used. And the less intimate the network, the more important a uniform material culture may have become.

The idea that Palaeolithic behaviour was intentionally restricted in order to allow individuals to bond with one another is controversial. Many archaeologists will disagree, preferring to see Palaeolithic behaviour constrained to a certain extent by the `top down' pressures of habit and the insistence of dominant members of the group that things were done a certain way. Some will also point out that Gamble's hypothesis on motive is probably untestable.

One might also ask how far back into the mists of the Pleistocene such social use of material culture applies. The answer remains unclear. To Gamble, hominids in Europe up to about 300,000 years ago had social lives governed by routines mainly occurring around resources such as waterholes and flint outcrops. Later, Neanderthals elaborated the ways in which material culture could be used and it was by such means that they were able to colonise new regions for the first time, such as the Russian and Ukrainian plains.

Gamble's last chapter takes us down to about 21,000 years ago in what is arguably the strongest part of the book. By now, people had not only material culture and gestures, but also specific symbols - such as art and complex language - ultimately facilitating the creation of extended social networks incorporating hundreds of individuals. Social life was now `truly complicated'.

Overall this is a monumental book, academic and theoretical in style but full of perceptive ideas, albeit ones with which not all researchers will agree.

Paul Pettitt is the senior archaeologist at the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit and a Junior Research Fellow at Keble College

Crusaders abroad

Reviewed by Kay Prag

Crusader Archaeology
Adrian Boas
Routledge £30.00
ISBN 0-415-17361-2 hb

This book contains summary guides to a selection of Crusader places and objects from Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine. It provides a useful introduction to the material assemblages of the 12th and 13th centuries, and includes some new information on unpublished excavation material.

Jerusalem and Acre were the major cities of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, and some of the recent important discoveries in the great headquarters of the Knights Hospitallers at Acre are described. The descriptions, however, are little more than lists of topographical identifications requiring more detailed maps than are provided, especially for Jerusalem. For the smaller ports and towns, the organization is in alphabetical order, so they are divorced from their contexts and proper relationships.

A fuller picture is provided of the rural villages, with plans and some indication of the social context. Only a small percentage of villages were probably Frankish. Boas, a lecturer at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, notes that there were no mixed Muslim/Frankish villages, but the issues surrounding the relationships of the various communities in the Crusader kingdom (Franks of varied European origin, Eastern Christians of varied sects, Jews, Samaritans, Muslims) are barely dealt with.

There are good charts illustrating the typology of Frankish castles, monasteries and churches; and there is a lively section describing arms and armour. Overall, however, although the book gives good coverage of the highlights of the material assemblage and is well-produced, it does not fully cover the subject of Crusader archaeology.

Kay Prag specializes in Near Eastern archaeology at Manchester University

Warfare forever

Reviewed by Richard Osgood

Ancient Warfare
John Carman & Anthony Harding (eds)
Sutton, £25.00
ISBN 0-7509-1795-4 hb

This book, the proceedings of a conference, draws together a number of eminent authors writing on aspects of warfare mainly within European archaeology. It is broad in scope with distinct studies ranging in date from early hominids right up to the Anglo-Saxon period, and with a couple of approachable theoretical chapters by way of introduction.

The book explores numerous themes, some more well worn than others. Weaponry and fortifications tend to dominate, but space is also dedicated to palaeopathology and the bodies of those killed in conflict. A fascinating chapter by Deborah Shepherd explodes the myth that fighting was solely a male preserve, whilst also warning archaeologists not to assume that a burial with weaponry is necessarily that of a male (see News in brief, this issue).

A noticeable absence from the book is any chapter on Egypt or the Near East - a rich and interesting source of information. For example the battles of Ramesses II are richly attested in the archaeological record through both finds of weaponry and depictions of battles against the Hittites, such as the battle fought at Kadesh in 1294 BC. This battle merits just one paragraph in John Carman's chapter.

Warfare may not have been part of the everyday lives of all ancient societies, but still played an important role. The book highlights the way in which warfare can shed light on other aspects of the lives of past cultures, such as settlement, votive practices and trade. The book has an academic style that is nonetheless readable - some achievement. However, the illustrations are a bit patchy, varying in quality and style. This book will stimulate discussion, and certainly adds weight to the famous assertion of the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, that early life was at times `nasty, brutish, and short'.

Richard Osgood lectures on ancient warfare at Oxford University

Changing strongholds

Reviewed by John Kenyon

Stronghold Britain
Geoffrey Williams
Sutton £25.00
ISBN 0-7509-1554-4 hb

This may look like yet another popular, general book on castles, but the subtitle, Four Thousand Years of British Fortifications, indicates its range.

The eight heavily illustrated chapters (over 240 images) take the reader from prehistory - where many of the sites can hardly be called `strongholds' - to the 20th century.

The prehistoric, Roman and early medieval periods (the latter termed `The Dark Ages') merit a chapter apiece, the Middle Ages two, and the post-medieval period three, covering the Tudors to the nuclear age. A list of sites mentioned in the text with map references is followed by a poor index. There is no bibliography, nor even suggestions for further reading.

The author seems to bear a chip on his shoulder as far as the academic world is concerned. That apart, the main text is marred by phrases such as `Ah ha, the centurion!', `Jolly old Saxon England' and `Let us not beat about the bush', together with other facile remarks.

The chapters provide a brief chronological overview of some of the main developments in fortification, but a few of the sections could have been structured in a more reader-friendly way (for example, the English Civil War is covered by two separated sections). The most useful aspect of the book is the series of special or box features on individual sites, representing a partial gazetteer, many with plans and/or views, and several occupying all or much of a single page. These range from Butser Ancient Farm (no mention of Castell Henllys - surely more of a `stronghold' than the recreated Butser settlement in the Iron Age), Ardoch Roman fort and Tintagel, through to Castle Rising, Southampton town walls, the Chatham forts and Troy Wood nuclear command bunker in Fife.

Twenty years ago a similarly wide-ranging book of fortifications was published. How do the two compare? The other volume in question was Charles Kightly's Strongholds of the Realm. I still recommend Kightly to those with a general interest in fortification at lectures and evening classes, and will continue to do so. Although many of its illustrations are in black and white and look dated, as opposed to the clearer, colour photographs in this book, Kightly's text is the better work, particularly on castles. No fictitious mottes at Corfe and Carew there.

John Kenyon is the Librarian at the National Museum of Wales and a specialist in the history of fortifications

Conservation vs access

Reviewed by Laurence Keen

Managing Historic Sites and Buildings
Gill Chitty & David Baker (eds)
Routledge £16.99
ISBN 0-415-208157 pb

This book is an important review of the problems that confront anyone involved in presenting the historic environment to the public. Visitors to a historic site have many different expectations of what should be offered, just as the monuments themselves vary enormously in characteristics and management problems.

On the one hand, owners and managers have the almost impossible task of realising visitor expectations. On the other hand, they have to balance the needs of conservation and public access. Access is insidiously destructive; but there is a natural reluctance to limit it, because the monument - however nationally or regionally important - contributes to the local economy and tourist industry. Hadrian's Wall, for example, contributed an estimated £184 million to the local economy in 1994. And tourists are a major source of income for day-to-day running costs.

All the chapters in this book, which originated in a seminar in 1997, have important lessons. One is struck by the contrast between Norton Priory in Cheshire, largely seen only as foundations, which `speaks for itself usually in a language completely unintellibible to the majority of visitors', and Stokesay Castle in Shropshire, still roofed, where Henry James in 1877 `lazily appreciated the still defininte details of medieval life'. The first has an excellent museum and displays, the second one of the best audio-guides available and an excellent guidebook.

David Baker's contribution on churches and cathedrals highlights problems with which many will be familiar: the never-ending wear and tear, bookshops, visitor centres, lavatories and restaurants, and the apparently insoluble question of how the hordes from all over the world can be expected to understand the reason for these buildings' existence and continuing mission as places of worship.

Glyn Coppack's chapter on Wigmore Castle in Herefordshire deserves special mention since it explains a completely new philosophy of repair and approach to archaeology by English Heritage, in sharp contrast to previous approaches of excavating and displaying as much as possible for the visitor.

A paragraph on Bedford Castle in David Baker's thought-provoking introduction is a warning that local pride and complex and factional local politics may sometimes bring pressures to over-interpret or over-present. Using sites to stimulate local interest in archaeology, as at Roman Ancaster in Lincolnshire, is quite another matter.

But local politics is focused on tourism and the economy, and many sites - once gently conserved and visited by the few - will be brought swiftly and uncomfortably into the tourism circus if they are promoted inappropriately. Then real problems will occur.

Laurence Keen is a consultant and former county archaeologist in Dorset

Not for the timid

Reviewed by Simon Denison

Disgraceful Archaeology
Paul Bahn & Bill Tidy
Tempus, £9.99
ISBN 0-7524-1476-3 pb

This `lowbrow little tome', to quote the author's own introduction, is a kind of `well, fancy that!' collection of sexual and scatalogical anecdotes about the ancient world, with cartoons by Bill Tidy. Chapters cover farting, brothels, `animal lovers', perverts, genitals, cesspits, underpants and suchlike.

The best way to describe the book is to quote it. From the `real perverts' section: `The Greek sculptor Praxiteles (4th century BC) carved a nude Aphrodite, using his mistress Phryne, a famous hetaira (courtesan), as the model. Pliny relates that one man became so enamoured that he embraced the statue during the night and left a stain on it.'

From the chapter on booze: `In a newly-discovered letter from the Roman fort of Vindolanda, in northern England, a commander of a cavalry section wrote to his prefect: The lads have no beer - please send some.'

From the section on excrement: `Several 17th century travellers to Tibet reported that the grandees of the kingdom were very anxious to procure the excrements of the Grand Lama, which they usually wore about their necks as relics, in the form of amulets or as powder in bags; and they mixed his urine with their victuals, imagining this would secure them against all bodily infirmities.'

Paul Bahn is a fluent writer and Bill Tidy an excellent cartoonist. The book is well done - if you like this sort of thing. Amazingly, it is dedicated, alongside two of Bahn's family members, to Henry Cleere, a distinguished former director of the CBA. I think we should be told why.

Simon Denison is the Editor of British Archaeology

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