Review – Making One’s Way in the World: the footprints and trackways of prehistoric people

1 min read

Martin Bell
Oxbow Books, £50
ISBN 978-1789254020
Review Mike Allen

Pathways and trackways can be plotted, mapped, and walked, but because they cannot often be reliably dated, and are placed in time by inference alone, many archaeologists, especially those with a more scientific and empirical approach, have steered well clear of them. Martin Bell demonstrates how wrong we have been not to tackle this subject.

The book leads us through understanding routeways in reality, in theory, and in life (Chapter 1), setting out why archaeologists have not really engaged with the subject. By leading us through walks in temperate rainforest (Chapter 2), Martin demonstrates the significance of routeways to prehistoric communities, using historical and ethnographic parallels. Importantly, he usefully and clearly outlines the differences between routes/routeways, lanes, trackways, roads, holloways, and droveways.

The first two chapters are, for me, the most important: setting down the case that paths, routeways, and trackways can be studied and mapped, and should be a part of any more holistic archaeological (prehistoric) landscape study. These concepts are then explored from theoretical and practical perspectives on Mesolithic hunter-gatherer routes in north-west Europe (Chapter 3). The first three chapters open our eyes to trackways, not just as ephemeral lines in the landscape, but as tangible, mappable, and – more importantly – datable critical aspects of the lifeways ofprehistoric communities.

The following chapters then explain the concept practically and by examples, taking us chronologically though paths from the Mesolithic to the Iron Age, from the dry chalklands to intertidal wetlands, from tracks and paths in grassland to muddy footprints of adults, children, and animals ‘fossilised’ and sealed in the sediments of former muddy estuaries.

The narrative is a good read in both senses: it is well written and imparts a new and nuanced approach in archaeology. The multifactorial, multidisciplinary, and multiscalar approaches show us we all should be looking at routes, communication, and migrationsin a more routine way, and this applies beyond prehistory to historical periods. This book is very well written, beautifully produced, classic, and should be read as widely as a basic text.

This review appeared in CA 365. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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