The Halloween goodies have been packed away, the firework shops that spring up in October are starting to close down again for the year, so that means it’s time for the next round of consumerism to take hold.
At this time of year, I like to browse the Archaeology ‘New Arrivals‘ on Amazon and make a reading list covering the British prehistoric era. I’ll admit some of the more esoteric titles can be mind-numbingly expensive, but that’s what families are for, aren’t they?
Top of this year’s list for me has to be “Britain Begins” by Sir Barry Cunliffe, probably the No. 1 expert on the Iron Age. Britain Begins is nothing less than the story of the origins of the British and the Irish peoples, from around 10,000BC to the eve of the Norman Conquest. Before the development of the discipline of archaeology, people used what scraps there were, gleaned from Biblical and classical texts, to create a largely mythological origin for the British. Britain Begins explores the development of these early myths, which show our ancestors attempting to understand their origins.
Next is the intriguingly titled “The Megalithic Empire” by M J Harper and H L Vered. I can do no better than quote the blurb on the Amazon web site:
Nobody knows how long distance trade was carried out in Ancient Britain, though it is known from the archaeology that everything from stone axes to bronze swords were moved around on a huge scale. This book shows how it was done using an ingenious system of menhirs, obelisks, dolmens, cursuses and chalk figures all linked together by stone circles. The organisation responsible for the upkeep of this network is identified and this Megalithic Empire is shown to have operated not only in the pre-literate era of the Bronze and Iron Ages but again in the Dark Ages.
An older book from 1992, now available in e-book format (at a horrific price!) is “Late Stone Age Hunters of the British Isles” by Christopher Smith. I’ve not read the original, but secondhand copies seem to be available on Amazon, and this will no doubt be a cheaper option for those with shelf space to spare. Covering the Upper Palaelithic and Mesolithic periods, the book departs from the usual stone tool typology coverage and reassesses the archaeological evidence within a wider context.
Avebury welcomes many thousands of visitors every year. Most walk from the car park to the circle, visit the Barn and Manor then depart. “Beyond the Henge: Exploring Avebury’s World Heritage Site” by Bob Trubshaw takes the visitor away from the circle, and is a guide to four different walks of between one and six miles which take in all the significant surviving archaeological sites within the area. Three of the walks focus on the Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments while the fourth walk explores Avebury’s Anglo-Saxon and medieval origins.
Whilst Avebury is clogged with tourists, slightly further west is the enigmatic complex of Stanton Drew, thought to be older than the circles at both Avebury and Stonehenge. Gordon Strong has spent many years exploring this underrated site, and his “The Sacred Stone Circles of Stanton Drew” presents the archaeology, local folklore and views of antiquarian commentators, as well as his own unique take on the site.
Some years ago, I holidayed in Ireland and spent some time visiting many of the megalithic structures in County Cork. “Iverni: A Prehistory of Cork” by William O’Brien presents a general study of the prehistory of Cork and looks at the archaeology of some 8,000 years of human life, from the end of the Ice Age to the arrival of Christianity in the fifth century AD.
Finally, no list would be complete without a TV spin-off, and this year, although it’s outside our usual time-frame of interest, it has to be Neil Oliver’s “Vikings“. Neil has the capacity to be both entertaining and annoying, but the book, without shots of him constantly striding across the screen should hopefully be the former rather than the latter.
Are there any must-haves that we’ve missed? If so, please let us know via the comments.
Note: All book links above lead to Amazon.co.uk and potentially will provide us with a small commission, which goes toward upkeep of the site.