British Prehistory and Archaeology book reviews

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Nov 23, 2002
I've had a low-key interest in archaeology since I began researching social history back in the 1990's, but this interest has increasingly ramped up over the years to the point where I'm considering whether to take a masters degree in archaeological studies within the next few years. Whether I do or not, I'll still be reading many of the core reading textbooks as well as general interest works on archaeology.

I therefore thought I'd start a thread listing book reviews I've posted, either at my own blog or on GoodReads, with a brief summary for each. I'll extend this list as more books are read, and allow members to discuss or raise questions about specific books or the fields of archaeology itself. :)

Mick's Archaeology by Mick Ashton 4/5
Just a general introduction and exploration of archaeology from the viewpoint of the lovely Mick Ashton, and how it's changed over the decades he's been working in it.

Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction by Paul Bahn 5/5
A really enjoyable and easy read, covering a wide ranging of theories and issues relating to archaeology in an extremely concise way. Bahn has an entertaining voice that encourages me to read the textbook Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice he authored with Colin Renfrew.

Ice Age Britain by Nicholas Barton 3/5
An enjoyable enough book and introduction to the British paleolithic, though I did find find the coverage of different tool-sets a little dry.

Roman Britain: A New History by Guy de Bedoyere 4/5
A general and informative book about the Roman occupation of Britain, that makes for a decent enough read while being conservative about the archaeology.

The Anglo-Saxon Age: A Very Short Introduction by John Blair 4/5
A good general introduction to the Anglo-Saxons: concise, though inevitably lacking some depth and coverage.

The Neolithic of Britain and Ireland by Vicki Cummings 4/5
A decent broad introduction of the Neolithic period that aims to be reasonably comprehensive about key ideas and themes, but without becoming bogged down in simply describing stones and bones.

Britain Begins by Barry Cunliffe 4/5
A general and popular introduction to prehistoric Britain, written by one of the masters himself. Only reason it didn't get 5 stars is due to lack of references and citations.

Prehistoric Britain by Timothy Darvill 3/5
Old-fashioned "stones and bones" archaeology, that spends so much time staring at material artifacts the people who made and used them become forgotten. Useful for reference more than anything.

Picts, Gaels and Scots: Early Historic Scotland by Sally Foster 4/5
A general introduction to the Picts and Late Iron Age Scotland.

Beyond the Edge of the Empire - Caledonians, Picts and Romans by Fraser Hunter 4/5
A short exploration of Pictland and the Picts - good for those into that kind of thing, but probably not for newbies.

Orkney: A Historical Guide by Caroline Wickham-Jones 4/5
Introduces various prehistorical periods, then relates it to the archaeology of Orkney, before providing plans of relevant sites. Surprisingly engaging and easy to read.

A History of Ancient Britain by Neil Oliver3/5
A general introduction to prehistory written in a popular manner, though some sections read a little bizarre as if Oliver was stone while writing it.

Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stone Age Mystery by Mike Parker Pearson 5/5
Basically, this is THE definitive book about Stonehenge. Written by Parker-Pearson of Time Team fame, this covers his extensive excavations and revisiting of previous archaeological studies of the area, yet manages to write in a popular and accessible way.

Britain BC: Life in Britain and Ireland Before the Romans by Francis Pryor 5/5
A great general introduction to all things prehistoric Britain, written in Pryor's warm and engaging style.

Home: A Time Traveller's Tales from Britain's Prehistory by Francis Pryor 5/5
A great book about British prehistory that aims to focus on the people rather than stones and bones of archaeology. A great approach, and a great read.

The Fens by Francis Pryor 2/5
A book that's more about Pryor's life growing up and living in the Fens, rather than archaeology and prehistory. I normally love this author, but would recommend reading Flag Fen instead.

Prehistory: The Making Of The Human Mind by Colin Renfrew 2/5
A somewhat disappointing book in which this famous archaeologist simply ponders aloud about cognitive theory and how it might apply to prehistory. Think: people in the past more dumb than we think. Which is a colonial axiom that has been consistently disproven since the 19th century.

The Vikings: A Very Short Introduction by Julian Richards 3/5
A decent general introduction to the Vikings, with the caveat that it struggles to be as comprehensive as I'd like.

UnRoman Britain: Exposing the Great Myth of Britannia by Miles Russell 2/5
A somewhat disappointing book that bleats consistently about Britain not having been roman, but otherwise doesn't have much to say.

Viking Britain by Thomas Williams 4/5
This is a great book about the Anglo-Saxons during the Viking invasions of Britain. However, it's not really about Vikings at all, and has little to say about them except for some historical and saga references.
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