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Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind…
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Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind (Modern Library Chronicles)

by Colin Renfrew

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A survey of pre-historic archeology, advancing the argument for a period of human speciation followed by a period of culture change, termed the tectonic phase of human development. The speciation mainly took place in Africa. About 60,000 years ago, a relatively small number of homo sapiens, already possessing the same basic anatomy and genome of modern humans, spread across Asia and Europe, and beyond. The Neanderthals were mainly in Europe, and might have been an indigenous speciation from an earlier group. There are regional differences in development, with cave art being more prominent in Europe, only one site known in Africa. Finds of artifacts interpreted as evidence for use of symbolism, like decoration, occur very early, and are evidence for mind. The ability to learn tool making and transmit culture probably existed prior to language, enabled by human abilities to imitate others. The transition from wandering as hunter-gatherers to sedentary life and agriculture, marked in the archeological record by the finds of houses and pottery about 9000 years ago, allowed development of writing, social structures and civilization.

The history of recent academic controversies dominated the first part of the book, and I found myself reading the same sentence several times as the author addressed different aspects of prior topics, but a recent (copyright 2007) overview with interesting pictures was welcome ( )
  neurodrew | Mar 15, 2014 |
There is no doubt Colin Renfrew has written an easily read account of prehistory. He is a distinguished professor of archaeology and this is his field of specialization. Hence he is very knowledgeable about research into prehistoric times. Yet the narrative generates a general unease. Perhaps he just tries too hard to bolster a sense of mystery. Certainly his emphasis of concrete aspects is unsettling. Indeed at times he sounds too much like a logical positivist of the early 20th century. Consequently one commonly gets the impression that the author is probably missing important considerations.

Thus he is often quite unconvincing eg when he criticizes memes, or when he assigns pre-eminence to just one of many factors. Furthermore he does not clearly distinguish speculation and reasoned opinion. Nevertheless in spite of these concerns, the book eventually ends well. ( )
  Jewsbury | Dec 30, 2012 |
This book was more a book on the history of prehistory (that is, a look at how modern scholars' research into prehistory has developed since the discipline began in the 19th century) than a book focused specially on prehistory itself. Although that was not what I expected when I picked the book up and initially began reading, it was exactly what I needed and I'm very grateful for that now. I'm very widely read in history, especially in intellectual history (that is, the history of the human mind and its ideas), but this is the first book that I've read focused specifically on prehistory. I was not, however, in any way overwhelming or confused. Dr. Renfrew is quite clearly writing for the non-expert and does a great job in introducing new subjects and defining specialist terminology. His look at the origins of the human mind and what it is that makes us uniquely human was a very interesting and enjoyable look. My only complaint is that I wish there would have been more! ( )
1 vote davidpwithun | Sep 16, 2011 |
This is a nice introduction to how humans evolved their life and culture before the time of written records. Part 1, the Discovery of Prehistory is very well written and an engrossing read. Following mankind as they evolve from the paleolithic through neolithic stage and into the bronze age is fascinating. Looking at how human groups evolved in the Indus Valley, Mespotamia, the Yucutan Peninsula, and various sites in China and Europe shows how a lot happened and we have only some sparse data to track it properly.

The second part of the book, the Prehisotry of the Mind, was not quite as fulfilling, as the author has to speculate a bit more as to how the mind really functioned thousands of years ago, how economies worked, how tools were used, what the function of rituals were. I sometimes wish we could time travel back and observe our ancestors.

All in all, this was a good summing up. ( )
  vpfluke | Jul 18, 2011 |
Some interesting ideas about the timing and nature of the growth of human consciousness in the light of DNA researches and analysis of historical cultural development. But I think this suffered from not having any diagrams and pictures to break up the sometimes overly abstract and theoretical text. ( )
  john257hopper | May 7, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679640975, Hardcover)

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; Darwin’s 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 humankind’s 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 book’s 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 author’s 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:06 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

This title looks at the gradual discovery only 150 years ago of a remote human past going back tens of thousands of years and the subsequent dramatic growth of the study of prehistory.

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