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Other titles in the Modern Library Chronicles series:
Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind (Modern Library Chronicles)
Synopses & Reviews
In Prehistory, the award-winning archaeologist and renowned scholar Colin Renfrew covers human existence before the advent of written records-which is to say, the overwhelming majority of our time here on earth. But Renfrew also opens up to discussion, and even debate, the term “prehistory” itself, giving an incisive, concise, and lively survey of the past, and how scholars and scientists labor to bring it to light.
Renfrew begins by looking at prehistory as a discipline, particularly how developments of the past century and a half-advances in archaeology and geology; Darwins ideas of evolution; discoveries of artifacts and fossil evidence of our human ancestors; and even more enlightened museum and collection curatorship-have fueled continuous growth in our knowledge of prehistory. He details how breakthroughs such as radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis have helped us to define humankinds past-how things have changed-much more clearly than was possible just a half century ago. Answers for why things have changed, however, continue to elude us, so Renfrew discusses some of the issues and challenges past and present that confront the study of prehistory and its investigators.
In the books second part, Renfrew shifts the narrative focus, offering a summary of human prehistory from early hominids to the rise of literate civilization that is refreshingly free from conventional wisdom and grand “unified” theories. The authors own case studies encompass a vast geographical and chronological range-the Orkney Islands, the Balkans, the Indus Valley, Peru, Ireland, and China-and help to explain the formation and development of agriculture and centralized societies. He concludes with a fascinating chapter on early writing systems, “From Prehistory to History.”
In this invaluable, brief account of human development prior to the last four millennia, Colin Renfrew delivers a meticulously researched and passionately argued chronicle about our life on earth, and our ongoing quest to understand it.
Book News Annotation:
In one sense rehistory is everything that occurred before human beings developed writing, all the way back to the beginning of time. Renfrew narrows that definition to the earliest traces of human societies. Renfrew is a renowned British archaeologist who has worked in the field and taught at Cambridge. His books on the subject are used in classrooms and devoured by armchair archeologists. Here he turns from reports on his work to the study of the discipline of prehistory. The first section of the book gives the development of the field over the past two hundred years through the theories of Darwin to radio-carbon dating and DNA. After this, Renfrew discusses his own conclusions about how and, more importantly, why human civilizations developed in the way they did. This is an elegant and absorbing distillation of the wisdom accrued during a life in prehistory. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Colin Renfrew was professor of archaeology from 1981 to 2004, at Cambridge University where he is now a Fellow of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. Also a Fellow of the British Academy, he has won numerous international medals and prizes and was made a life peer in 1991. A leading figure in archaeology worldwide, he is known for his work on the radiocarbon revolution, the prehistory of language, archaeogenetics, and the prevention of looting on archaeological sites. He has led many excavations, especially in Greece. He is co-author, with Paul Bahn, of Archaeology: Theories, Methods, and Practice, the definitive student reference.
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