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16. Early Medieval Scotland: Individuals, Communities and Ideas b David Clarke, Alice Blackwell and Martin Goldberg

I picked this up at the National Museum of Scotland last year. Early medieval Scotland is an extremely poorly documented period; this is an account of what we currently think the archaeology is telling us. I admit to mainly buying it because it's full of gorgeous colour photos. The text is a bit dry but it brought me up to speed on a subject where there was a gap (I know a lot about most of the rest of northern Europe during this period). Definitely worth it for the photos though.


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61. The Mind in the Cave by David Lewis-Williams

I've been meaning to read this for years. It was, I think, the first popular book setting out the theory that Upper Paleolithic cave art in Western Europe serves a religious, shamanic purpose. The argument is persuasive. Basically, anatomically modern humans all have basically the same response(s) to stimuli which bring on altered states of consciousness and Lewis-Wiliams takes the reader through the various reasons many scholars now believe that cave art is an expression of a shamanic society. I've read a few other books on the subject but this is the only one I've read that focuses on the neurobiology.

This is another book I got a lot out of, it's given me lots to think about and needless to say, now I want to learn more.


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59. The Historical Atlas of the Celtic World by John Haywood

You might be thinking this sounds a bit basic for me. However, the take-away from my two visits to the Celts exhibition was that any knowledge I had was 20 years out of date. This was on sale at the Edinburgh exhibition and it's full of lovely colour illustrations and interesting maps so I grabbed it.

It's made up of lots of short chapters so I've been dipping in and out for a couple of months. It covers origins to the present day. It filled in a lot of new developments in the early centuries and covered a fair amount I'd never got round to finding out about medieval Scotland and Wales. It is pretty basic, in parts to an extent where even I was going "I think you'll find it's more complicated than that". But as a re-introduction it was a visually pleasing start. At least I have an up to date basis to make further investigations, should I choose to do so.


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I've hardly used my British Museum membership this year, mostly down to health reasons, but also because of lack of motivation due to the overcrowding of recent exhibitions and the fact that I don't like the space in the new Sainsbury Wing.

That led me to look for reviews of Sunken Cities before I booked a coach ticket.  The only one I got as far as reading was the Guardian's - they hated it, but it was one of those reviews that was so sneering and mean-spirited that it just made me want to go.  At one point the reviewer admitted that they hate Egyptian and Hellenistic culture.  So why would you even - oh, never mind.

As it happens, this is the first time I've been impressed with what they've done with the exhibition space.  It's quite dark, the walls are all painted dark blue.  (But not so dark that I had trouble seeing everything, and I have fairly extreme difficulty getting enough light to see things properly on a good day, so clearly they know what they're doing).

The exhibition showcases finds from two "lost" cities of the Nile delta, Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, which were founded in the 7th century BC and gradually sank as the channels of the Nile changed, were subject to earthquakes, etc, but are believed to have been inhabited as late as the 7th century AD.

There are lots of large monumental scuptures as well as the largest collection of ritual items ever found.  (In other places the metal would have been melted down for repurposing as they became obsolete).  Many of these are shown alongside videos of the archaeologists uncovering them.  This is something else the Guardian reviewer hated but I personally get excited watching underwater archaeology at work.

Then the exhibition takes a turn into telling the story of the Osiris myth.  I thought it was a bit of a non-sequitur but, like any good geek, I *love* that myth, and there were a number of excellent statues that normally live in Egypt, including several that I've seen in textbooks so it was fantastic to see the real thing.

The reason for telling this story becomes apparent when you turn another corner and the exhibiton takes you through the ritual that was done surrounding the Osiris myth every year.  We know about it from various sources but in Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus they have found physical evidence for the ritual.  So that was pretty exciting too.

There was a bit of a crush at the beginning of the exhibition but as I went on it was still busy but far less crowded, which made for a nice change.

I was going to buy the book as it's very nice indeed but I'm aware that I've been haemorrhaging money lately so I declined.  I can always order it later.

Definitely recommended, but it's only on for another week.
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39. What is Paleolithic Art? Cave paintings and the dawn of human creativity by Jean Clottes

This was reviewed in New Scientist recently and I had to order it right away. Clottes is *the* expert on the cave art in the south of France and leading proponent of the theory that cave art is an expression of a shamanic culture. I recognised his name from Cave Painting and the Human Spirit.

The first one third to one half of the book looks at rock art throughout the world, including cultures in the Americas and Australia that still do it, and how their approaches correspond to theories about how and why neolithic rock art/cave art was made. The last (long) chapter relates this to examples from European cave art.

Fascinating stuff; it's only short and well worth it. Parts of it are not easy (I'm a historian, not a social scientist) but it's accessible to a general reader. It has reminded me to get m sticky paws on a copy of The Mind in the Cave and its sequel ASAP.
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15 The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W Anthony

In which Anthony puts forth his theory that Proto-Indo-European was spoken by nomads on the Pontic-Caspian steppes between roughly 4500 and 2500 BCE, and that they were the first people to domesticate horses (not the ancient Near East city states) and this is reflected in the way Indo-European languages developed. Very long, but he makes compelling archaeological and linguistic points.

The linguistics was a lot easier to follow than I expected. About 2/3 of the way in it gets bogged down in the archaeology & way too much description of pottery with not enough explanation of why it matters. However, still worth while - I think I took more notes from this than any other book I've read in recent years, I found his arguments made sense, and there are a lot of fascinating facts.
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11. The Franks by Edward James

Last year I read The Anglo-Saxon World and, particularly in the early period, it referenced the Franks a lot, which made me realise my knowledge is really rusty.

This is, as far as I can tell, the only single-volume book on the Franks in English, and it's pretty old (1988 - which means I might have even used it as reference in grad school).

The only other book in The Peoples of Europe series I've read is The Norsemen in the Viking Age, and that is technical and really difficult, assuming loads of knowledge in many different areas, so I was braced for difficulty.

This, on the other hand, really is a good basic introduction. I don't think there's much there I didn't know when I was studying the migration age, but it's a good reminder. I find myself looking for something more up to date and in depth, though.
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28. The Statues that Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island by Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo

Everything you think you know about Easter Island is wrong. As shown by basic actual scientific observations.

It was never some tropical paradise trashed by the Polynesians - the soil is poor and there is little water; the fact that it was successfully colonised at all is a testament to how good they were at making a little go a long way. Though the rats that came with them did enormous damage, as elsewhere on Pacific islands. Endemic warfare? No evidence in skeletal remains found thus far. I could go on.

Hunt and Lipo's argument for how the moai were moved is apparently controversial but I find it fairly compelling.

This is a short, up to date book for the general reader. Definitely recommended.
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38. The Cambridge Companion to the Aegean Bronze Age ediged by Cythia W Shelmerdine

As recommended by [livejournal.com profile] eciklb when I asked about good introductions to the subject.

The Dummies Guide this isn't, but I found it relatively smooth sailing and really interesting. Instead of just banging on about the pottery as many archaeology books do, it explains what different developments in pottery meant in terms of how it was being used and therefore developments in society. Cool.

I come away slightly embarrassed that I had no idea of the huge gap in time between the Minoan & Mycenean civilisations and classical Greece.
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70. Ancient Mexico and Central America by Susan Toby Evans

Yes, I'm the kind of nerd who reads archaeology textbooks for fun.

This book is a massive survey of the archaeology of Mesoamerica from the beginning to the Spanish conquest. As these things go it's superior, particularly the illustrations, which are excellent. It's not too full of big technical archaeological/anthorpological terms unlike some other books that also claim to be a basic intro (I'm looking at you, Andean Archaeology). There's an awful lot to cram in, so it only barely touched on a lot of things. The author specifically says that she's not telling you much about the Maya because there's already so much accessible material out there, which is fair enough. I found the bits about the Zapotecs particularly enticing, and not surprisingly the library isn't any help (even the new improved LibrariesWest) so my wish list has grown.

One that's just for people who Like That Sort of Thing, but if you do, this is the Sort of Thing you want.
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12. Andean Archaeology, edited by Helaine Silverman
I've been struggling with this for months - it's heavy on the theory, and I am a historian, not an anthropologist, so I've only been able to read it when relatively headache-free. Interesting, but I could have done with more pictures and maps.

This is the closest thing to an academic book I've read in a while.

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