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Seahenge: A Quest for Life and Death in…

Seahenge: A Quest for Life and Death in Bronze Age Britain

by Francis Pryor

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Archaeology is not some exact science, with answers to give to every question if we only look hard enough. It's partly our own fault: we're overpopulating the Earth, and in the meantime we're destroying great swathes of the archaeological record. We only have fragments of the past, some larger than others -- Seahenge being one of the latter, far ahead of potsherds but perhaps more mysterious -- and while archaeology has some light to shed, I find it best to accept up front that no one can offer a complete answer, and that if anyone claims to be certain, they're speaking beyond the evidence in almost every case.

Francis Pryor's book handles this pretty well, in my books, though I have no doubt there's people out there who wish he'd stop equivocating. Much of this book involves setting this in context, linking modern and ancient lives and landscapes, and then using what evidence that offers to spin theories -- theories that could be upset by the next find out of the ground, in some obscure peaty corner or air-tight chamber stumbled upon by chance.

Bearing all that in mind, I found this book fascinating. I have no personal expertise to say yay or nay to any of this -- my own research interests lie in a later period, with the dawning of literature, which is in conversation with archaeology more than you'd think -- so I took Pryor's words more or less at face value. Some of his ideas seemed too sketchy, too much based on a gut reaction, but even so his description of the excavations, his impressions of them, the way they came together to synthesise an understanding of the anicent landscape... it's all fascinating, and I would happily read more.

If you're looking to learn specifically and solely about the place we've dubbed Seahenge (which was not actually built on the beach, and wasn't in such close proximity to the sea) then only a couple of chapters of this book are of direct interest. But why you would want to look at something like this in isolation when it's clearly part of a larger story and can only be understood in those terms, I don't know.

One thing you may feel is that Francis Pryor has too much to say about himself and his team, particularly his wife. I enjoyed it, given that his thought processes were influenced by everything around him. A bare-bones description of the sites and the endless work of extraction and preservation would seem terribly boring to me. ( )
  shanaqui | Nov 23, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0007101929, Paperback)

One of the most haunting and enigmatic archaeological discoveries of recent times was the uncovering in 1998 at low tide of the so-called Seahenge on the north coast of Norfolk. This circle of wooden planks set vertically in the sand, with a large inverted tree-trunk in the middle, likened to a ghostly "hand reaching up from the underworld", has now been dated to around 2020 BC. It focused national attention on archaeology to an extent not seen for many years, and the issues raised by its removal and preservation made it a "cause celebre". Francis Pryor has been at the centre of British archaeological fieldwork for nearly 30 years, piecing together the way of life of Bronze Age people, their settlement of the landscape, their religion and rituals.  "Seahenge" demonstrates how much Western civilization owes to the prehistoric societies that existed in Europe in the last four millennia BC.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:34 -0400)

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In the spring of 1998 a circle of prehistoric timbers, exposed by the receding tide, was found projecting from the sands of a Norfolk beach. This site, soon to become known as "Seahenge", would prove to be the most remarkable, controversial and highly publicized archaeological find in Britain for many years. The beach was known to eroding fast, and the timbers were threatened with imminent destruction. Something had to be done. This book is the story of the operation to save the Seahenge timbers; but more than that, it is the story of the archaeologist Francis Pryor's personal quest in search of prehistoric Britain.--Book jacket.… (more)

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