The refinement of radiocarbon dating using the information form tree-ring counts has raised serious doubts about the accepted theoretical framework of European prehistory. Monuments in Central and Western Europe have proved to be considerably older than their supposed Near-Eastern forerunners, and the record must be almost completely rewritten in the light of these new dates. "Before Civilization" is a preliminary attempt to do this with the help of analogies from more recent and well-documented primitive societies. The more glaring inconsistencies in the old theory are re-examined and Professor Renfrew shows convincingly how the baffling monuments of prehistoric Europe, like Stonehenge, could have been built without recourse to help from the 'more civilized' Near East.
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(216mm x 138mm x 22mm)
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
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US Kirkus Review »
An eminent British archaeologist's account of the revolution in his science brought about by the discovery and recent application of radiocarbon dating. It is as lucid as could be wished, and engrossing on two levels: both as a book about the content of the "New Archaeology" - modern theories of human cultural change now being worked out in the field of European prehistory - and as a document on the history of science, a book about the way scientific thinkers respond to a technological advance that shatters their old assumptions. The old view was the "diffusionist" theory - high culture, notably metallurgy and the building of megalithic tombs, came to "barbarian" Western Europe from the civilizations of the Near East. Renfrew tells how revised carbon dating destroyed this theory simply by proving that the tombs, Stonehenge and Balkan metallurgy are considerably older than their supposed Egyptian and Aegean predecessors. He then shows how he and his colleagues are trying to rebuild, on the ruins of the old theory, a modern archaeology more interested in human societies than in potsherds - one that draws on ethnography for suggestions about the possible social and economic structures of prehistoric cultures and that sees local and independent cultural developments as logical responses to population growth and technological innovation, not just to migration and trade. Cautious and comprehensive enough for the scientist, dear and general enough for the layman, this is a valuable study of the advancement of man's knowledge about his ancestors. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Lord Colin Renfrew
Colin Renfrew was born in 1937 and studied natural sciences and archaeology at Cambridge, graduating with first-class honours. While at Cambridge, he was President of the Union. He travelled in Eastern Europe and in Spain and then undertook field-work in the Cycladic Islands of Greece. In collaboration with Professor J. D. Evans, he led an expedition to excavate the first Stone Age settlement to be discovered on the Cyclades. In 1969 and 1970 he was field director of the Anglo-American excavations at the important prehistoric settlement mound at Sitagroi in North Greece, and from 1974 until 1976 he directed the excavations at the Bronze Age town of Phylakopi on the Cycladic island of Melos. He was a research fellow at St John's College, Cambridge, from 1965 to 1968, and has lectured in European prehistory at the University of Sheffield and at the University of California at Los Angeles and was a Professor of Archaeology at the University of Southampton. He was a member of the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England) for ten years until 1987 and is a member if the Ancient Monuments Advisory Committee. Professor Renfrew was made a fellow of the British Academy in 1980. He was Master of Jesus College, Cambridge and is Disney Professor of Archaoelogy at the university. He is currently Director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research and since 1991 has sat in the House of Lords as Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn. As well as contributing scientific papers to Nature, Scientific American and archaeological journals, he has written and edited many publciations on archaeology. His own books include The Emergence of Civlization (1972), Problems on European Prehistory (1979), Approaches to Social Archaeology (1984), The Prehistory of Orkney (1985), The Archaeology of Cult (1985), Archaeology and Language (1987), The Cycladic Spirit ((1991) and, with G. Daniel, The Idea of Prehistory (1988). He also edited The Explanation in Archaeology (1982), The Ancient Mind (1994) and Cognition and Material Culture (1999).