Alexis's Reviews > Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD 1000

Europe Between the Oceans by Barry W. Cunliffe
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Jan 04, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: non-fiction
Read in December, 2008

I don't understand why this is built like a textbook.
I don't understand why Cunliffe kept referring (three times!) to mountains as the "backbone" of a continent.
In fact I don't understand all the weird humanization of geography especially at the beginning of the book. "where the outlying flanks of the Carpathian Mountains attempt to link to the dying remains of the Alps." Bear in mind this is only a sub-clause in a sentence about the river Danube "negotiating" its way to the sea.
In fact I don't like any of the language in this book, most notably the emphatic adverbs. Something is never abundant; it is always quite abundant. He never says there is enough evidence for something, but he will say there is ample evidence. A settlement is never established, always well established. There is never more emphasis but much greater emphasis. Firmly placed, very much so, highly likely, high prestige, strongly fortified, and those are only the ones I jotted down.
I don't like how he talks about Iberia on the Atlantic and Iberia on the Black Sea without specifying which he means.
I appreciate that he tries to get away from the classical history of focusing solely on the Mediterranean but then I don't understand why he refers to northern europe during that time as the "still mysterious hinterland". Surely it wasn't mysterious to the people living there at the time so I don't get why the flowery language.
I don't understand why Roman occupation of greater Europe is called "settling" while the Muslim empire's occupation is called an "alien force."
I just don't like the man's reasoning. Some of the arguments are great. Like when he explains how you know that some settlements were used by different groups or were seasonal as opposed to being inhabited constantly. "Demonstrating the abandonment of a site is not always easy but one convenient indicator of human absence is the colonization of the shelter by the endemic small eagle owl (Bubo insularis) whose pellets form a distinct layer. Such are the intricacies of archaeological interpretation."
Well, I guess what I want is more intricacies of archaeological interpretation. I'd love to know what exactly the criteria are for determining whether the spread of certain behaviors and artifacts is based on the spread of culture or the spread of a population. In one case Cunliffe decides that the spread of a certain type of pottery is too fast to be driven by migration or integration of one group into others and therefore it must be a cultural spread. But then later a remarkably fast spread of a certain cultural practice is explained by the original group's "pioneer ethic" and thin-air suppositions about rites of passage for young men of trekking three days journey away to set up their own settlement.
I'd love to know why "If grave goods indicate status, then the evidence from Skateholm and elsewhere implies that some level of social inequality was present" but in Ireland and places where there are no grave goods it indicates not that there was not social inequality but that goods were sacrificed to the bog rather than being buried with bodies. Because Cunliffe has basically made up his mind beforehand.
I understand that history is murky and there's not always the evidence to make solid claims, but there just doesn't seem to be a lot of rigor here.
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message 1: by Elentarri (new)

Elentarri Can you recommend something better that covers a similar topic?

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