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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?

There’s always space for more books!

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 and potentially will provide us with a small commission, which goes toward upkeep of the site. 

(c) Damon Hart-Davis

As Mid-Winter approaches, it’s time to consider the accompanying consumerfest. Whether you’re buying gifts for someone else, or just giving yourself a year-end treat, the following is a list of books, in no particular order, that we have enjoyed throughout the year. You may too.

Note that not all of these are new books by any means, but they are books we’ve read, enjoyed and can recommend.

  • Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland Before the Romans – Francis Pryor. The first in a four-part opus spanning athe Ice Age to Modern Times, this books concentrates on the birth of Farming and Agriculture in Britain, a subject close to Pryor’s heart.
  • A History of Ancient Britain – Neil Oliver. A companion to the TV series, this book spans half a million years of human occupation, through several Ice Ages to the Romans, looking at the various objects left behind for us to interpret. A thoughtful read.
  • A Brief History of the Druids (Brief Histories) – Peter Berresford Ellis. Forget the romantic antiquarian view of the Druids, this books tells it like it is, using the latest research into classical sources to give a good general overview of life and society in the pre-Roman period.
  • A Brief History of Stonehenge – Aubrey Burl. Although titled ‘A Brief History’, the scope and detail in this book is remarkable. casting aside the more lunatic fringe ideas, this book deals purely in facts, but is no less readable for all that. The ‘Brief History’ series generally is to be recommended, whatever your historical period of interest.
  • The Modern Antiquarian: A Pre-millennial Odyssey Through Megalithic Britain – Julian Cope. First written in the 1990’s and recently re-printed, this book spawned a website of the same name that has gone from strength to strength. A series of extraordinary essays followed by a decent gazetteer of some 300 ancient sites to visit in Britain.
  • Standing with Stones: A Photographic Journey Through Megalithic Britain and Ireland – Rupert Soskin. “Across the length and breadth of Britain and Ireland lies an unsurpassed richness of prehistoric heritage. Standing with Stones is a personal voyage of discovery, taking the reader to over a hundred megalithic sites in a photographic journey through the British Isles.” Stunning photography and an easily accessible text make this book a must-have. A companion DVD is also available.
  • A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany – Aubrey Burl. A superb gazetteer of stone circles. Provides what it says on the cover. In our view, an indispensible item.

Any of the above should provide a decent background to our ancient heritage. There are of course many more academic books we could recommend which go into fine detail about specific sites or time periods, but those above are targetted to a more general readership. If you think we’ve left anything important off our list, please add a comment to let us know.

The decorated horse jawbone fragment from Kendrick’s Cave, Wales (BM 1959,1203.1)
Dated as about 14000 years old, the jawbone of a horse decorated with zigzag patterns from Kendrick’s Cave, near Llandudno in North Wales, is the oldest known work of art from Wales. While it was on loan to Llandudno Museum as part of the British Museum’s UK Partnership Programme, the opportunity arose to reproduce it as a hologram using the most accurate currently available imaging technology. This contribution describes how the jaw fragment was reproduced using the latest techniques in three-dimensional colour holography, developed at the Centre for Modern Optics (OpTIC) at Glyndŵr University, St Asaph.
The Kendrick’s Cave horse jawbone
In 1880 the lapidary Thomas Kendrick found a decorated chin fragment from a horse jawbone in a cave on Great Orme, Llandudno, Wales which was then named after him. The bone has a pattern of incised zig-zag lines on the underside and is the oldest work of art known from Wales. Dated to about 14000 years old it is one of only a small number of decorated Late Ice Age objects found in Britain. After Kendrick’s death the object disappeared but came to light again in London in 1959 when a new owner brought it into the British Museum and it was identified as the missing piece from the cave. As there was no museum service in Llandudno at that time, the British Museum acquired the object and it has been on permanent display ever since.
From Volume Four in the British Museum’s Technical Research Bulletin series.
The Staffordshire Hoard by Kevin Leahy and Roger Bland
On 5 July 2009 a metal-detector user started to unearth some gold objects in a Staffordshire field. Thus began the discovery of the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found. Consisting of over 1600 items – including fittings from the hilts of swords, fragments from helmets, Christian crosses and magnificent pieces of garnet work – the Staffordshire Hoard is set to rewrite history. This is just the beginning of the story.
The British Museum has launched a rapid-response book on the hoard… One pound from each copy sold will be donated to the appeal to acquire the treasure for local museums, to keep the extraordinary objects on display in the county whose history they have transformed.
The Guardian
The Staffordshire Hoard. Authors: Kevin Leahy and Roger Bland
ISBN: 9780714123288
More here.
Prehistoric Wiltshire: An Illustrated Guide by Bob Clarke. Foreword by Francis Pryor
Wiltshire contains some of the most important archaeological sites in Britain and its Prehistoric remains range from the splendour of Stonehenge to the awesome Avebury stone circle, with Silbury Hill and the Kennet Long Barrow being other noted megalithic monuments in the county.

Among these important sites are also found smaller, perhaps lesser known monuments to the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages, including the cursus barrow cemetery at Fargo Plantation and Woodhenge.

Bob Clarke, author of numerous books on military archaeology and history, takes us on a tour of the prehistoric sites in this archaeologically rich county, using aerial photography and outstanding images, which accompany the informative text and diagrams.

Amberley Publishing. ISBN 9781848688773. Paperback. 128 pages. B&W and colour illustrations throughout.

Bob Clarke will also be talking about his book this Sunday (6 November) at the Wiltshire Heritage Museum. The talk will be followed by a book signing. Venue: Sunday, 6 November, 2:30 – 4:30. Entrance fee £3 which includes tea/coffee and cakes.








CHAPTER I. Origin and Progress of Idolatry ……. 1
CHAPTER II. On Barrows ……. 9
CHAPTER III. Origin and Extent of Druidism ……. 16
CHAPTER IV. Silbury Hill …….. 30
CHAPTER V. On the Serpent at Abury ……. 43
CHAPTER VI. The Temples at Abury …….. 55
CHAPTER VII. Temples at Abury continued—Grand Astronomical Diagram ……. 66
CHAPTER VIII. Temples of Mercury and Venus ……. 73
CHAPTER IX. Ancient British Trackway … 83
CHAPTER X. St. Ann’s Hill—Remarks on the Feudal System …. 91
CHAPTER XI. Temples of Mars and Jupiter ……. 102
CHAPTER XII. Stonehenge ……. 110
CHAPTER XIII. Names of Stonehenge …….. 115
CHAPTER XIV. Stonehenge continued ……. 126
CHAPTER XV. On the Fosse of Stonehenge, and the Stones located on it ……. 133
CHAPTER XVI. Stonehenge the conjoint Temple of Saturn and the Sun …….. 150
CHAPTER XVII. Temple of Saturn continued ……. 164
CHAPTER XVIII. The Platonic Cycle ……. 177
CHAPTER XIX. Summary of the foregoing Arguments, and Conclusion ……. 184

THE DRUIDICAL TEMPLES OF WILTSHIRE by the Rev. E Duke. Thanks to Chance on The Modern Antiquarian for bringing this to our attention.

Published tomorrow The Origin of Our Species by Chris Stringer
Writing in The Guardian on 15 June, Peter Forbes reports that –
The Cro-Magnons were the creators of the cave paintings at Lascaux and Altamira – the ice age hunter gatherers whose art astounds us (“We have learned nothing,” said Picasso, after seeing Lascaux). They were modern humans who entered Europe only about 40,000 years ago, and there, despite the hostile ice age environment, created the first artistically sophisticated culture. But that wasn’t the end of human evolution. Modern genomics has now shown us that biological evolution actually accelerated from this point on, especially since the beginning of farming 10,000 years ago.
Stringer is most concerned with the period from the emergence of Homo sapiens in Africa, around 195,000 years ago, to their arrival in Europe and the subsequent demise of the Neanderthals (who had left Africa hundreds of thousands of years before). The archaeological record shows Homo sapiens in Africa several times on the verge of a cultural breakthrough, but this is not consolidated until their arrival in Europe. Stringer writes: “It is as though the candle glow of modernity was intermittent, repeatedly flickering on and off again.”

Last year, the Neanderthal Genome Project, led by the Swedish biologist Svante Pääbo, finally established that modern humans in Europe and Asia (but not Africa) have some admixture of Neanderthal genes, thus ending decades of speculation. And in December last year the same team produced a total surprise: a genomic analysis of human remains from a cave in Denisova, southern Siberia, which proved to be genetically distinct from all known human types. The team declined at this stage to give the find a Linnean species name, but, by analogy with the Neanderthals, named it Denisovan after the location. The actual Denisovan specimens in Siberia were 30-50,000 years old, and the type predated both modern humans and Neanderthals.

Apart from having what is probably a new species to fit into the pattern of human evolution, the big shock of the Denisovans is that they also have contributed something to the modern human stock in Melanesia (the islands north of Australia that include Papua New Guinea). We now see a pattern emerging of interbreeding between modern humans and earlier types: Neanderthals in Europe and Asia and Denisovans in Melanesia. There will surely be further finds. Especially interesting is East Asia, first peopled by Homo erectus as long as 1.7m years ago.

Format : Hardback
ISBN: 9781846141409
Size : 153 x 234mm
Pages : 352
Published : 20 Jun 2011
Publisher : Allen Lane

Gathering Time by Alasdair Whittle, Alex Bayliss and Frances Healy

Gathering Time: dating the early Neolithic enclosures of southern Britain and Ireland, “…is a research project funded by English Heritage and the Arts and Humanities Research Council. A monograph by Alasdair Whittle, Alex Bayliss and Frances Healy that marks the completion of this eight-year project is published by Oxbow Books.” ISBN-13: 978-1-84217-425-8 and ISBN-10: 1-84217-425-8.

More here.

Here at Heritage Action, we’re always trying to think of more ideas for spreading the word about our heritage in the UK, and trying to get recognition for the value in that heritage.

We are currently compiling a small library of books (physical and e-books) on the subject of the ancient monuments of the UK, from the Stone Age through to the Romano-British period. The library is of necessity small at this stage, and available only to our widespread membership on a postal basis. But we’re looking to grow both the library and our membership.

By Ramchand Bruce Phagoo (own work). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

If you are an author or publisher of books or magazines on our preferred subject matter and would be prepared to donate one or more review copies to our library, then we would be more than happy to write a short review and publicise it on the web site in return.

Please contact us in the first instance at the usual address if you can help in this endeavour.

Writing in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald, Karen Darley reports that,  “A COUPLE of rare books which date back to the 17th century are due to hit the market at a special sale in Kirkbymoorside next month. The books, which were found during a house clearance, are in good condition and currently on display at Ryedale Auctioneers run by Angus Ashworth. Angus, who set up the business just before Christmas, said the books were both unusual. “One book is dated 1655 and is about Stonehenge while the other, written in 1689 is about the government of James II,” he said. “The Stonehenge book is illustrated with maps and drawings and both books are written in old English.””
More here –


June 2023

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