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Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind (Modern Library Chronicles #30)

3.73 of 5 stars 3.73  ·  rating details  ·  150 ratings  ·  26 reviews
In Prehistory, the award-winning archaeologist and renowned scholar Colin Renfrew covers human existence before the advent of written records–which is to say, the overwhelming majority of our time here on earth. But Renfrew also opens up to discussion, and even debate, the term “prehistory” itself, giving an incisive, concise, and lively survey of the past, and how scholar ...more
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Published August 19th 2008 by Modern Library (first published November 8th 2007)
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Richard Thomas
This is a densely written thought provoking book which repays the effort it takes to read it. It provides an overview of human origins which is convincing and well argued. I consider that the book is an indispensable key to an understanding of prehistory for the non-archaeologist.
Renfrew, Colin. PREHISTORY: The Making of the Human Mind. (2007). ****. Renfrew was a professor of archaeology at Cambridge from 1981 to 2004, and really knows his stuff. Unfortunately, he was forced to cram all of it into an edition of less than 200 pages. This is a volume in the Modern Library Chronicles series, and a fine edition to that series. The author spends the first quarter of the book reviewing the state of archeology and anthropology prior to the 1940s, and ends up with the discovery ...more
Matt Tomaso
Highly recommended for students of the human condition - both professional and avocational.

As an archaeologist working in the United States, I have followed Sir Colin Renfrew's writings over the last 26 years or so. I also had the pleasure of meeting him in Liverpool, England, after a presentation I gave there in 1996. He is one of the greatest minds our field has produced and this is his most succinct work yet.

Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind is intended for a an educated but non-speci
This is an engaging (occasionally labored) broad survey of the history of archaeology and the concept of "prehistory" as well as current knowledge about human development. Renfrew follows this development through its speciation phase (biological evolution) and the later "tectonic phase" (meaning the non-genetic development of homo sapiens where tectonic refers to "the constructive arts" per the OED.) The book makes a case for a cultural analysis of human affairs that not only goes all the way do ...more
This isn't a bad book. It isn't a titillating narrative, but a dry overview. One criticism that I have, and it's not so much a criticism of the book but of the field and the material, is that in discussing prehistory the author talks a lot about history. I find it interesting, and a little bit disconcerting or misleading, that people described as experts in the field of prehistory and Paleoarchaeology have such a hard time talking about the subject without invoking history itself.

i'll admit that
The author gives a very dry text book like presentation of the topic. The book is really mostly about the archeology of the mind. A topic I find exciting. The book is not for everyone except for those with an interest in early man out of Africa and his mental development. If your not bothered by statements like understanding symbols make us human and 'X signifies Y in the context of C', you'll probably find the book interesting too.

I didn't like the narration and would suggest to speed it up to
A. Roy King
Colin Renfrew's "Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind" is a discussion of findings from what's referred to as "cognitive archaeology," a theoretical model that tries to describe the thinking of ancient peoples by studying archaeological finds. Renfrew is a respected British archaeologist and paleolinguist.

The book reads well and is useful and interesting for me, as my current fiction project focuses on the remote past. I particularly appreciated Renfrew's discussions of economics and trade i
This is a terrific book if you're interested in the very early history of mankind and the disciplines of archeology and anthropology
Yes, cognitive archaeology exists - and it's a fascinating field. Homo sapiens is a couple hundred thousand years old, but for much of that time there was little change. Then, about 12 thousand years ago, things began changing more rapidly, and often in ways we take completely for granted. When is the last time you thought about the origin of the notion of weighing things? Or the conceptual basis for coinage? Or the incredibly varied trajectories different human cultures have taken? This book di ...more
Lise Quinn
This book wasn't exactly about what I thought it was going to be about, but that's OK because it wad really good. I know Renfrew is most esteemed in his field of of archeology but I had only read bits and piece of his works as references. He is a powerful writer. This book is very dense in information, but he lays it out clearly and simply. The first few chapters are a background and status of archeological thought. This gives a base that the rest of the book can be understood from.
This making
Publishers Weekly Review:
In this complex, closely argued text, best suited to archaeology professionals, field giant Renfrew sets forth quite a task, to sum up the progress of prehistoric archaeology thus far and then explore current challenges. In Part I, Renfrew surveys the history of the concept-prehistory refers to the long period of "human existence before... written records"-and how it developed into a rich field of study, developing excavation and chronological techniques and coming to ma
David Withun
This book was more a book on the history of prehistory (that is, a look at how modern scholars' research into prehistory has developed since the discipline began in the 19th century) than a book focused specially on prehistory itself. Although that was not what I expected when I picked the book up and initially began reading, it was exactly what I needed and I'm very grateful for that now. I'm very widely read in history, especially in intellectual history (that is, the history of the human mind ...more
The impact of the coming singularity will be as ubiquitous as computers are becoming. My goal is to understand and anticipate the changes in humanity attendant with the coming events.

I choose this work to give me an understanding of the evolution of mind as it is believed to date.

The promise of the book to start with a survey of the study of prehistory and then carry through to the current state of understanding of the field.
I found the survey to be comprehensive and enlightening to a neophyte.
At 70 this is a distillation of Colin Renfrew's thought. It is a brilliant exposition of the current state of affairs in cognitive archaeology giving credence to his belief that the real human revolution took place 10,000 years ago with the adaptation of the sedentary life before agriculture was developed rather than the dispersal from Africa 60,000 years ago. His one shaky point is his assumption that the humans in Africa were mentally similar in capability to those of the present day when rece ...more
Stefaan Van ryssen
Accessible birds eye view of recent developments in archeology and paleontology, including the results of genetic research. At some times a bit unbalanced: speculation, conjecture and interpretation of facts vie for precendence. ...more
Not too academic but hardly a quick romp through the topic either. The first part gives a review of prehistory and sets the subject in a kind of time frame from Darwin onwards. Before that time there was no such word as prehistory and people largely assumed the biblical 6000 years of human development. So we are told about the origins of various hominids in Africa through fossils and the onset of carbon dating etc which really helped in putting times on the various stages of human evolution. The ...more
Not quite what I expected. This is more of an overview of the study of prehistory than an overview of prehistory itself. And perhaps I'm just not clever enough to follow Renfrew's argument, but I didn't see much of an attempt to explain how or why the human mind developed. Renfrew absolutely noted that changes seemed to occur at particular points in particular societies trajectories, but I did not get any sense of why, for example, Renfrew thinks egalitarian hunter-gatherer groups transitioned i ...more
Truthfully it took me some time to finish this work by Colin Renfrew. The book covers two subjects quite thoroughly: the first being an exposition on the academic discipline of prehistory, and the second being substantive knowledge of human prehistory.

Renfrew finished with the metaphorical observation that our understanding of prehistory is currently on par with that of Linnaeus developing his taxonomy, and that it took work, time, Darwin, Watson and Crick to arrive at a more sophisticated unde
Ryan Mishap
Renfrew desires to lay out the course the various disciplines related to and under the name archaeology will take in the future. First, he relates the history of archaeology itself with a brief (yet repetitive) overview of the science and the various changes it has gone through. While he is doing this, the reader actually gets to learn a great deal, specifically how the scientists have come to view pre-history: not as a savage past leading up to modern civilization, but as a place where humans ...more
Dec 29, 2014 Ashlee rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone with an interest in anthropology, archeology or sociology.
Shelves: non-fiction
I found his analysis of social evolution very thought-provoking and insightful with well referenced and researched points.
Red Dog
Not for the general reader I think, but a hugely fascinating tour of how we should begin to see the development of what makes us human
Tina Cipolla
This is a very densely packed 200 pages, but despite that, it is fully intligible to the non-archeologist. That said, you would need a reason to read this book; it is not aimed at the general reader. I was in search of specific information about homo-erectus migration patterns, which I found, but I ened up reading from cover to cover; it was that good. Highly recommend to anyone interested in ancient prehistory, the development of the human species as well as the beginnings of early civilization ...more
Martin Petchey
Renfrew is one of our leading prehistorians, and much of what he has to say is challenging. His world wide perspective is also illuminating to those like me whose horizons are very much restricted to Britain and western Europe. However, I felt, as I always feel when prehistory is discussed, that it is not a sepatate discipline from history - merely history that exclusively uses techniques such as archaeology as its source.
In turns fascinating and bewilderingly obtuse, this was a difficult read for me and I doubt that I have retained much from it, but it has given me some appreciation of the subject even if that includes precious little factual knowledge! I am sure that those able to follow complex and convoluted phrasing would gain more than I have.
Colleen Clark
A first rate review of prehistory by an eminent archaeologist of prehistory. Well written, well documented. I enjoyed it and learned from it. It was by no means my first introduction to the topic; it expanded on knowledge I began to acquire in an introductory anthropology course in 1961.
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