Citadel of the Scots
Reading the land
Great sites: Meols
Editor Simon Denison
Reviewed by Bill Bevan
Prehistory in the Peak
Book 1 review text
This is a refreshing and stimulating account of the prehistory of the Peak District. It combines an often eloquent narrative (by Edmonds) with beautiful images (by Seaborne) to tell a history of prehistoric people and their relationship with the landscape. Covering the period from 16,000 BC to AD 100, the majority of chapters concentrate on the author's period strengths - the 4th-2nd millennia BC.
Central to the study is the subject of how successive generations have perceived and inhabited the landscape differently over time, at sites ranging from Mesolithic chert quarries and Neolithic monuments, to earlier Bronze Age barrows and later Bronze Age/Iron Age settlements, fields and 'hillforts'. The book also dips into how prehistoric landscapes have been regarded, altered and sometimes used for political purposes over time by Romans, antiquaries, hill farmers, ramblers, anti-quarry protesters and independent archaeologists. This adds a dynamic time depth to the present landscape and shows how monuments continue to be interacted with long after their period of construction. Present-day perceptions are well highlighted by a series of photographs of archaeologists, protesters, pagans and stone-masons at Nine Ladies Stone Circle.
The photographs (there are no drawings) are as important as the text, hence the joint authorship. They do more than simply illustrate the words but in themselves interpret the landscape. As such they are as impressive a collection of black and white landscape images of the region as has ever been published. Along with short passages of 'narration' they also act as pauses which enable the reader to take time to reflect on the many ideas conveyed in the main text and to imagine the worlds described.
The text builds on Edmonds's Ancestral Geographies of the Neolithic. It can be read with the ease of a well-written novel yet is founded on strong academic background and research. Thus it makes accessible some very complex social theories and interpretations - an achievement not often made by either traditional academic or popular publications. Even so, some people may object to the style, the lack of references in the text or the absence of site plans. The book ends with suggested reading, sites to visit, and a series of period/thematic maps. The latter are the weakest part of the publication with over-minimalist keys inhibiting their use by anyone not already familiar with the material.
Bill Bevan is an archaeoogist with the Peak District National Park Archaeology Service
Reviewed by Holger Schutkowski
Shadows in the Soil
This is a book about the substance to be unveiled from the 'shadows in the soil' - human skeletal remains found in archaeological contexts. It is a very personal book, written by a respected scholar who for many years has promoted the study of human bones in this country. Tony Waldron's empathy with the dead and enthusiasm for his subject have allowed him to produce a gentle, yet always well-informed, guide to the secrets of the dead.
The shadows are put into shape and equipped with substance in three major steps. Part One, 'Life', introduces a selection of methods and techniques required for the assessment of sex and age-at-death from a skeleton, along with formulae to calculate characteristics such as height and weight. In an elegant comparison of Danish and British heights over time, Waldron rectifies a misconception widespread at least among lay readers, in showing that people in the remote past were by no means necessarily shorter than in more recent historic times. After a brief discussion of occupation-related bone changes, Waldron explains how all these biological data can help to form a broader picture of the population as a whole, for example in terms of epidemiology or demography.
In recognition of the difficulties bone specialists face in determining the cause of death in ancient skeletal remains, Part Two, 'Death', first explores pathological conditions likely to have caused natural death in the past. A second chapter then addresses skeletal evidence of death brought about intentionally, and covers lesions indicative of suicide, executions and what may be a hint towards dismemberment or cannibalism.
Part Three, 'Disease', gives a very useful overview of joint and infectious disease, trauma and its treatment, the occurrence and significance of cancer in the past as well as dental disease. The section is rounded off by a brief survey of trace element analysis and stable isotope analysis, in so far as they are related to elucidating ancient disease.
The book is illustrated by various interesting and unusual examples, such as skeletal remains from an 18th century anatomy school in London, a suicide case from Spitalfields, and skeletal evidence of child abuse. It always provides enough information to enable the reader to form his or her own opinion, and to understand how biocultural information is encoded in the skeleton and how it may be brought to light.
Holger Schutkowski is a human bones specialist at Bradford University
Reviewed by Trevor Watkins
Europe's First Farmers
The more information we have, the harder it is to see the wood for the trees. When it comes to devising accounts of what was happening and why in prehistory, it may be preferable to have almost no facts at all that might get in the way of our theorising.
Half a century ago and more, Gordon Childe was in that position when he wrote about the Neolithic Revolution. His Europe was a practically empty map, just waiting for colonising farmers to work their way out of the Near East, sweep across and populate it. The problems begin when there is more information. In particular, we know that Europe was not an uninhabited wilderness; and we have much more knowledge of the hunter-gatherers in different parts of the continent. We also have much more information on the early farming groups, and the cultural and economic patterns are certainly no longer neat and clear.
T Douglas Price, Professor of European Archaeology at the University of Madison, Wisconsin, has carried a flag for the under-rated hunter-gatherers for many years, and recently (1995) co-edited a book titled Last Hunters - First Farmers, whose contributors ranged all around the world in their review of the transition from hunting and gathering to farming. This new book on Europe's last hunter-gatherers and first farmers is the offspring of a small symposium held at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in 1995. The contributors of the various chapters, each taking a regional perspective on the theme of the book, have had the advantage of hearing and discussing each other's papers.
Price is frustrated by 'the tenacity of more traditional perspectives among archaeologists who continue to see a continent gradually covered from southeast to northwest by waves of immigrants originating in the Near East'. The contributors were selected by Price for the purpose of elaborating the view that the transition between hunting and gathering and farming was a complex and varied process, in which the hunter-gatherers played an important and active role in many parts of Europe.
Having selected his little flock, Price shepherds them into the book, introducing their regional contributions with a general essay, and making sure that we have not missed the point by concluding the book with another essay. He also contributes one of the regional studies, the last in the book, on Scandinavia.
For a book whose title focuses on the first farmers, a surprising number of the contributors are best known for their specialist work on hunter-gatherers of the Mesolithic (Marek Zvelebil, João Zilhão, Peter Woodman). The complexity of interactions between hunter-gatherers and farmers, and the variety of interaction processes put forward by the different contributors mean that there is no simple overview to be extracted at the end of the book. The detailed discussions of the transition in particular regions, insofar as the picture can be reconstructed anywhere, make interesting reading. But even more interesting are the general and theoretical discussions offered by the different contributors.
Peter Woodman offers a sobering, challenging review of the state of knowledge in Britain and Ireland, where 'opinions are much more easily discovered than information'. It appears that our own home patch is the least well worked in Europe in terms of hard information and informed debate. At another level, if there were any archaeologists left 'clinging tenaciously' to the old view of a Europe simply colonised from south-west Asia, I should be surprised. I am not aware of European Neolithic specialists who still promulgate that old, simplistic view. But perhaps Price knows of dinosaurs still roaming the New World plains.
Trevor Watkins is a Professor of Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh
Reviewed by Helen Paterson
Landscapes of Lordship
Castles must be some of the most evocative buildings of any age, and countless books have been written on the subject. But castle studies have rarely taken the 'holistic' approach - a fashionable concept in the contemporary archaeological world, in which historic sites are studied from the perspective of the landscape as a whole. This book remedies this imbalance albeit encompassing the Norman castles of only a small area of the English landscape, Norfolk.
The book starts by acknowledging recent developments coming from landscape archaeology, and sets out to demonstrate the importance of the location of the castle in its environment, and the manipulation of that environment by the Normans for communication, defence, subsistence, status, and visual amenity.
The ownership of land before and following the Norman Conquest is investigated in some detail, with an analysis of the reasons for the comparatively low density of castles in Norfolk. The main thrust of the book is the detailed examination of three major castles, Castle Acre, Castle Rising and New Buckenham, followed by six lesser castles at Wormgay, Horsford, Mileham, Middleton, Weeting and Wymondham. Finally attention is given to minor castle earthworks of the period, and a shorter resumé of later medieval high status residences.
The construction of each castle is described in varying detail. An interesting theory regarding the location at Castle Acre, Castle Rising and New Buckenham is highlighted. All three are overlooked by higher ground, not situated on the highest point of their immediate landscapes, which compromises their defensibility but promotes their visibility, providing a dramatic display of lordly power.
The book discusses the 'associated archaeology' close to each castle, including planned settlement, religious house, church, deer park, rabbit warren and dovecote, showing similar topographical arrangements at all three major castles. In conclusion, the author suggests that in Norfolk castles reinforced existing settlement patterns of dispersed villages and hamlets on the edges of commons. More regional surveys are needed to clarify the number of castles with associated parks and warrens at national level.
This book has been extremely well researched, as evidenced by an excellent series of plans, maps and earthwork surveys, and the copious notes at the end of each chapter. The end plates give a good impression of castles in their landscape but are of variable quality, some rather dark and some a little blurred. The origin of the volume lies in a PhD thesis; and the numbering of paragraphs certainly gives the impression of a report written for a professional rather than a non-specialist audience. But for anyone interested in the effect of the Norman elite on the landscape of Anglo-Saxon England, the book presents some new theories and is a fascinating read.
Helen Paterson works for the Norfolk Monument Management Project
CBA web:Jan/Feb 2005