Review – The Prehistory of Britain and Ireland

3 mins read
Richard Bradley
Cambridge University Press, £29.99
ISBN 978-1108412476
Review Rob Ixer

This is a thoroughly revised, weighty second edition, and can be regarded as a companion piece to Richard Bradley’s recently co-authored and more broadly focused The Later Prehistory of North-west Europe (2015). This book concentrates on those few islands on the western fringes, blinking in and out of Europe, and proceeds to examine their history closely. Like the earlier excellent book, the thinking is measured, the writing is paced and densely informative, and the whole book immensely satisfying. There is constant questioning of both data and theories, and refreshingly little arch(aeo)-speculating, although alternative perspectives are given clear voice. As elsewhere, he shows a comprehensive knowledge of the recent literature (21st-century references outnumber the rest) and all is weighed and digested.

The paperback has many black-and-white site plans, maps, and some photographs, plus a splendid colour view of the Ring of Brodgar on the cover. It is clearly focused on its academic audience, hence the captions of the many plans/figures – taken directly from original sources – are often sparse and assume a prior knowledge of that figure’s iconography. For non-professional field archaeologists, this makes them difficult to integrate with the text and so fully comprehend, but this is a minor distraction.

In 380 pages and six chapters, Bradley describes and discusses trends and themes from the start of the Neolithic to ‘The ending of prehistory’ with the visits of Caesar. He divides them into the early/middle Neolithic, late Neolithic, early Bronze Age, late Bronze Age, and finally Iron Age. Among his (many) intriguing themes is the permeating influence that acquiring and controlling raw materials, notably metal ores, had on ‘society’, especially at the beginning but also at the end of the Bronze Age. Was iron manufacture (its ores are common and widely available) less of a technological ‘advance’ and more the response to a scarcity of obtainable bronze, or even the breaking of a tin/ copper monopoly?

This is a wholesome intellectual meal, with a series of balanced courses. Were his lectures like his writings, then his students must have been satiated and heaven-blessed.

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

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