Synopses & Reviews
The ancient Celts believed they were descended from Father Dis (Dis Pater), a god of the dead who resided in the west where the sun set. Today, ideas of our prehistoric origins are more likely based on ocean core samples, radio-carbon dating, and archeological artifacts. But as Barry Cunliffe reminds us in Britain Begins
, an archaeologist writing of the past must be constantly aware that the past is, in truth, unknowable. Like the myth-making Celts, we too create stories about our origins, based on what we know today.
Cunliffe here offers readers a vision of both worlds, looking at new myths and old, as he tells the fascinating story of the origins of the British and the Irish, from around 10,000 BC to the eve of the Norman Conquest. Using the most up-to-date archaeological evidence together with new work on DNA and other scientific techniques which help us to trace the origins and movements of these early settlers, Cunliffe offers a rich narrative account of the first islanders--who they were, where they came from, and how they interacted with one another. Underlying this narrative is the story of the sea, and Cunliffe paints a fascinating picture of early ships and sails and of the surprising sophistication of early navigation. The story told by the archaeological evidence is enhanced by historical texts, such as Julius Caesar's well-known if rather murky vision of Britain. Equally interesting, Cunliffe looks at the ideas of Britain's origins formed by our long-ago ancestors themselves, when they used what scraps there were, gleaned from Biblical and classical texts, to create a largely mythological origin for the British.
About the Author
is Emeritus Professor of European Archaeology at the University of Oxford. A leading authority on British prehistory, he has excavated widely in Britain and in the Channel Islands, Brittany, and Spain. His books include the awarding-winning Facing the Ocean
and Europe Between the Oceans
. He has been President of the Council for British Archaeology and of the Society of Antiquaries, Governor of the Museum of London, and a Trustee of the British Museum. He was knighted in 2006.
Table of Contents
1. In the Beginning: Myths and Ancestors
2. Britain Emerges: the Stage is Set
3. Interlude: Enter the Actors
4. Settlement Begins 10,000 - 4200 BC
5. New People, New Ideas 4200 - 3000 BC
6. Mobilizing materials: a New Connectivity 3000 - 1500 BC
7. Interlude: Talking to Each Other
8. The Productive Land in The Age of Warriors 1500 - 800 BC
9. Episodes of Conflict 800 - 60 BC
10. Interlude: Approaching the Gods
11. Integration: the Roman Episode 60 BC - AD 350
12. Its Red and Savage Tongue AD 350 - 650
13. The Age of the Northmen AD 600 - 1100
14. Of Myths and Realities: an epilogue
A Guide to Further Reading