Some of the ideas discussed in this blog are published in my new book called "The Stonehenge Bluestones" -- available by post and through good bookshops everywhere. Bad bookshops might not have it....
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Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The Making of Prehistoric Wiltshire

The Making of Prehistoric Wiltshire (2017)
by David Field and David McOmish
Amberley, 160 pp, £16.99

Brief Review

I have been browsing through this pleasant book, which concentrates more on geography and history than on archaeology.  For the authors, landscape is not exactly everything, but they recognize that spatial relationships have been somewhat neglected in the bulk of archaeology texts in recent years, and they seek to redress the balance.  In their introduction they talk of "the archaeology of landscape", and the words "land" and "landscape" crop up frequently throughout the text.  The chapters are organized not by conventional time periods, but by the differing landscape impacts of particular cultures.  So we hear about the first monuments, agricultural landscapes, enclosures, forts, farms and so forth -- all with an emphasis on how successive waves of settlers adapted what was there before and brought new features into the landscape.  The natural landscape underpins or shapes everything, and there is a nice emphasis on associations, development, abandonment and redevelopment during the ebb and flow across the millennia.

What I particularly like about the book is that it is evidence- or fact-based, and mercifully free of speculation and fantasy.  Not a sign of hyperbole anywhere.  The bluestones are briefly mentioned, but there is nothing about so-called quarrying at Rhosyfelin and Carn Goedog.  Stonehenge hardly figures at all in the text -- and that's really rather refreshing!  As a result of this rather fastidious attention to accuracy and impartiality, the book reads at times like a slightly dusty academic tome -- so in that sense it bears comparison with "Stonehenge and its Landscape" (1995) by Ros Cleal and her colleagues, which is also mercifully free of fantasy.  But that vast tome is now somewhat dated, and the Field / McOmish book is up-to-date, as well as being a short and easy read.

There are a few gripes.  The system of notes gives the book a rather academic feel, and might deter the non-specialist reader.  I found the habit of using archaeological long-hand for dates extremely irritating;  what on earth does this mean?  "..... dating to the late third / early second millennium cal BC"..........  If they meant 4,000 years ago -- or whatever -- why didn't they just say so?  The book's design leaves much to be desired, with figures that are almost all over-reduced and covered with a grey wash, making them mostly incomprehensible.   The maps are also difficult to read because of the grey obsession.  The colour plates have a very flat appearance, largely because the book is printed on a matt or silk paper, and I cannot understand why they are all clustered in a group near the middle of the book.  There is absolutely no reason for doing that, with modern printing technology, and they would all have been much more effective if they had been placed in their "right" positions in the text.

But these are minor gripes.  Overall, an interesting and reliable book, thoroughly recommended.


Evergreen said...

I read this a couple of weeks ago and enjoyed it.

Agree about " to the late third / early second millennium cal BC".. that style did become irritating. Whats wrong with "the centuries either side of 2000BC?"

But a very solid read and it was nice to see some of the other Wiltshire monuments in the spotlight for once!

TonyH said...

It's probably a fairly unique book on the subject of the prehistory of Wiltshire in that it aims to redress the imbalance usually found in rival books which give most of the spotlight to Stonehenge & Avebury landscapes.

What is most regrettable, I think, is that there is no INDEX. Why on earth not! That needs correcting for the Second Edition.