Review – Personifying Prehistory: relational ontologies in Bronze Age Britain and Ireland

3 mins read
Joanna Brück
Oxford University Press, £70
ISBN 978-0198768012
Review Sophia Adams

Professor Joanna Brück has produced a fresh textbook of the Bronze Age that builds a complex picture of the period from the personal up to the broader landscape in Britain and Ireland. Joanna explores the period through the intricacies of the relationships between people, objects, structures, and landscapes. This contrasts with the standard approach, which focuses on overviews and the ‘bigger picture’, often framed by questions of power and control.

Starting with the treatment of the dead and moving onto objects, living space, and social landscapes, each chapter develops the narrative by adding layers of evidence. The book is filled with descriptions of a range of archaeological remains from both older and recent excavations in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and England. The geographical relationship between these sites would have been made clearer by including a map; otherwise, the book is well illustrated with site and feature plans, as well as object drawings, several of which have been amended to highlight appropriate details. The images captioned ‘with slight alterations by Anne Leaver’ may leave the reader wondering what the alterations are; fortunately, these can be checked, and more information gleaned about each site, by making use of the extensive bibliography clearly referenced in the text.

Joanna actively puts the person into her account of the Bronze Age. Without underplaying the significance of the introduction of bronze, Joanna explains how this period is not focused around a single material but a complex series of oscillating relationships between people, different materials, and different processes of production, exchange, manipulation, reuse, separation, and integration.

The concluding chapter explores different approaches to understanding the effects of cultural paradigms on interpretation. This is a refreshing discussion of the period with a critical approach to the application of different models derived from anthropological research. Joanna identifies in the archaeological record the potential causes and effects of change rather than finding evidence to support externally applied theories based on the forces of power. In so doing, Joanna presents a living world of the Bronze Age.

This review appeared in CA 355. To find out more about subscribing to the magazine, click here.

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