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Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland…
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Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland before the Romans (2003)

by Francis Pryor

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Francis Pryor, a sometime contributor to Channel 4's Time Team, presents us with a highly readable, fascinating study of Britain's prehistory, from the Stone Age right up to the Roman occupation of AD46. What is revealed is far from the savage tribes that conventional history would have us believe (we are still taught that the Romans brought 'civilisation' to us, conveniently ignoring the complex, sophisticated culture that these islands already possessed). Pryor traces the development of the Britons through the Stone, Bronze and Iron ages, putting forward persuasive theories about the role of religion, death and the landscape in our ancestors lives. Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the history of this land and its peoples. ( )
  David.Manns | Nov 28, 2016 |
This book provides a superb background into Britain's pre-Roman past. The only mention of this period of history that I remember, in my entire schooling, was at infant level when we were made to feel superior to those dullard cave dwelling primitives.

I have not given this vast chunk of time a great deal of consideration since then and so, I have subconsciously held on to this view. Francis Pryor, clearly a great advocate for early Britons, effortlessly re-writes my perspective of early Britain. In three sections, which I believe to have been linked to a television series, which I managed to miss, he takes us from what is known of the earliest settlement to the Roman invasion.

Reading a work like this gives a real insight into our changing views upon early Homo Sapiens and how we dealt with near cousins who were around at the same time. It seems that we were created as a war like beast and may even have consumed some of our rivals for the title of dominant strain.

Well worth a read. ( )
  the.ken.petersen | Sep 30, 2014 |
I'd only add to the existing reviews this observation. Pryor at one point commends a fellow archaeologist for doing a meticulous excavation and documenting it superbly without making any assertions about what it might signify. Pryor on the other hand is essentially using this book to talk about what archaeology in the British Isles signifies. This isn't a contradiction, but it is a distinction. Sometimes, working through this very readable (and admirable) book, the reader is challenged to tease apart the observation from the observations. But for all that, highly recommended. ( )
  nandadevi | Mar 18, 2013 |
This is my kind of non-fiction. Francis Pryor is a very readable author and he presents a chronological history of human life in Britain from the very earliest traces up to the Iron Age, lavishly illustrated with colour plates; illustrations and maps. He provides enough personal experience - digs he has taken part in, archaeologists he has met and experiences of experimental recreations - to enable the reader to connect to the information he provides. There is also plenty of additional information - from sites to visit to books to read that is very interesting.

This is not directed towards an expert reader, though there is enough for anyone who knows something about the subject, but more to the amateur enthusiast. The people who watch programmes like Time Team and would like to know more. This is an example of a very good popular archaeology book and I'll definitely be reading more of his work. ( )
3 vote calm | Apr 15, 2012 |
It has actually taken me two years to read this book. I started it in July 2008, and I remember finding it hard to comprehend. It seemed all over the place and I had difficulties with the way Pryor went into long, confusing descriptions of various archaeological dig sites. I felt extremely stupid as I just could not visualise that which he attempted to illustrate with words in detail. I became frustrated and, instead, found other books to distract.

This year I have made a concerted effort to finish those books I struggled with in the past. I picked up Britain BC again, but instead of returning to the beginning, I continued from where I had left off in order to distance myself from the earlier frustrations. It worked! I was able to read this book somewhat more comfortably and actually absorb most of the information.

The detailed and wordy descriptions of various artefacts and archaeological digs sites still left me reeling, but pictures and illustrations are provided (more frequently in the second half of the book) which help to clearly demonstrate what Pryor is tries to describe in words. In some cases, I still skipped the details in favour of understanding how the site/artefact furthered the understanding of a particular time, people, community or way of working.

Britain BC did provide me with insight in the world of archaeology; its progress over the years; and an idea of how archaeologists work today both in terms of learning about our past and in preserving it for the future. I marvelled at the amount of speculation involved in seeking to put finds into context, giving the impression that the purpose of a site or artefact can never be certain where archaeologists are involved. This was quite a lesson for me. I found it disconcerting that as Pryor dismantled the ideas of others, he sought to replace them with his own imaginings, a few of which I thought less credible than those he had just rejected. Still, what do I know?

It has actually taken me two years to read this book. I started it in July 2008, and I remember finding it hard to comprehend. It seemed all over the place and I had difficulties with the way Pryor went into long, confusing descriptions of various archaeological dig sites. I felt extremely stupid as I just could not visualise that which he attempted to illustrate with words in detail. I became frustrated and, instead, found other books to distract.

This year I have made a concerted effort to finish those books I struggled with in the past. I picked up Britain BC again, but instead of returning to the beginning, I continued from where I had left off in order to distance myself from the earlier frustrations. It worked! I was able to read this book somewhat more comfortably and actually absorb most of the information.

The detailed and wordy descriptions of various artefacts and archaeological digs sites still left me reeling, but pictures and illustrations are provided (more frequently in the second half of the book) which help to clearly demonstrate what Pryor is tries to describe in words. In some cases, I still skipped the details in favour of understanding how the site/artefact furthered the understanding of a particular time, people, community or way of working.

Britain BC did provide me with insight in the world of archaeology; its progress over the years; and an idea of how archaeologists work today both in terms of learning about our past and in preserving it for the future. I marvelled at the amount of speculation involved in seeking to put finds into context, giving the impression that the purpose of a site or artefact can never be certain where archaeologists are involved. This was quite a lesson for me. I found it disconcerting that as Pryor dismantled the ideas of others, he sought to replace them with his own imaginings, a few of which I thought less credible than those he had just rejected. Still, what do I know?

I was taken by the idea that, immediately prior to the arrival of the Romans, British society was not necessarily a cohesive whole but rather made up of small community groups, some of which had banded together to form larger societies. Pryor also speculates that some of these communities did not have a formal structure, but were loosely banded together, and there may not have been an elite class as previously thought or imagined by rich burial sites.

Prior to reading Britain BC, I was unaware the Iron Age extended into the early part of first millennia CE with crannogs and brochs being in use in 600 CE, but only in those areas where the Romans had not tread. And, although I have gained some insight into what is known about the various “ages” of history, I might have assimilated more if the author had refrained from flitting between archaeological dig sites, with a quick tangent into the future of one or another site "... but we will explore that further later in another chapter" (to paraphrase) and back again. As a reader, I felt disconnected from the finds or how they corroborated what was known about the people and/or communites of the age and how they lived in the landscape. I was lost quite a bit of the time; I needed lots of breaks from reading this book in order to take my bearings. I know the author is enthusiastic - I can read it in his text - but I think more careful editing might have made the evidential information more accessible.

Overall, the book did provide me with a basic knowledge of prehistory in Britain and it's all in one place instead of the myriad of bits and bobs floating around in my head from reading news updates from various archaeological websites. I have definitely learned more than I ever did at school about the subject. It's just Britain BC is not a book I would, or even could, use as a reference to with which to check my understanding.

I am not sure what is says about the book when the first thing I can say about it is: "I now know the difference between pre-history, proto-history and history". As a reader, I felt disconnected from the finds or how they corroborated what was known about the people and/or communites of the age and how they lived in the landscape. I was lost quite a bit of the time; I needed lots of breaks from reading this book in order to take my bearings. I know the author is enthusiastic - I can read it in his text - but I think more careful editing might have made the evidential information more accessible.

Overall, the book did provide me with a basic knowledge of prehistory in Britain and it's all in one place instead of the myriad of bits and bobs floating around in my head from reading news updates from various archaeological websites. I have definitely learned more than I ever did at school about the subject. It's just Britain BC is not a book I would, or even could, use as a reference to with which to check my understanding.

I am not sure what is says about the book when the first thing I can say about it is: "I now know the difference between pre-history, proto-history and history". ( )
1 vote Sile | Jul 22, 2010 |
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"Aided in recent years by aerial photography and coastal erosion (which has helped expose such sites as Seahenge), and by advances in scientific techniques such as radiocarbon dating and wood analysis, archaeologists have discovered compelling evidence for a much more sophisticated life among the Ancient Britons than has been previously supposed. Far from being woad-painted barbarians, the earliest inhabitants of the British Isles had developed their own religions, laws, crafts, arts, trade systems, farms and priesthood long before the Romans brief occupation." "Examining sites from the great ceremonial landscapes of Stonehenge, Avebury and the Bend of the Boyne to small domestic settlements, and objects from precious ritual offerings to the tiny fragments of flint discarded by toolmakers, Francis Pryor one of our leading archaeologists, has created a remarkable portrait of the life of our ancestors, in all its variety and complexity. His authoritative and radical re-examination of Britain and Ireland before the coming of the Romans makes us look a fresh at the whole story of our islands."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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