Time’s Anvil: England, archaeology and the imagination
The press release for this remarkable book announces that it ‘defies categorisation’. It is not wrong. Longlisted for the Samuel Johnson prize, Time’s Anvil contemplates what is now England over a span of 750,000 years. Morris, a former director of the Council for British Archaeology, calls on art, poetry, autobiography, archaeology, and much more to weave a narrative that bounds through times and places. He contends that period categorisation blinds us to long-term patterns by arbitrarily severing monuments such as henges and churches just because they were founded thousands of years apart.
Sometimes we are left with snapshots, including the varying view from Paviland Cave over the last 29,000 years; elsewhere the text lingers, as with the felling of the Old Wood. Along the way we meet eminent practitioners of many disciplines, as archaeology itself emerges and the stories it tells evolve. ‘Archaeology’, we are told, ‘might be seen as but a late ripple in the cult of ancestors’. An acquired taste, perhaps, but presenting archaeology in this way has created an especially thought-provoking read.
Review by Matthew Symonds