Rosemary-Margaret Luff was a well respected member of the great pioneering generation of British zooarchaeologists in the 1970's and 1980's. Writing aRosemary-Margaret Luff was a well respected member of the great pioneering generation of British zooarchaeologists in the 1970's and 1980's. Writing a Shire guide, equally well respected for their accessibility and scholarship, this should have been a winner. Sadly, I was left disappointed.
Luff notes in her foreword that she hopes the book will be of use to 'students, laymen and archaeologists'. Presumably, it's with the latter in mind that she begins the first chapter (mammals) by writing several pages on how bones could be used for direct dating at the time (and several on how the various methods work). These are necessarily brief but not immediately clear. In fact, this use of bone material in archaeology is rather separate to the subject of the book and serves only to impede understanding of what's to follow - even if it is a reflection of the general tone and structure of the volume.
In concentrating on scientific detail, the author leaves her book vulnerable to anachronism by scientific development and that's precisely what's happened in many cases. Other inaccuracies merely show a misunderstanding (the repeated use of 'MIN' instead of 'MNI', for example) whilst still others leave me confused as to whether our understanding has changed or the author's was hazy even then (insect remains can reveal a lot about human activities and are not best sampled from those contexts without discernible anthropogenic signatures - whatever that might mean on an archaeological site).
Many Shire guides are reprinted multiple times but I can see why this one has fallen by the wayside....more
Paul rocked back in his chair and fixed me with a level stare.
‘That gives you a big advantage over many zooarchaeologists,’ he said.
We’d been talkingPaul rocked back in his chair and fixed me with a level stare.
‘That gives you a big advantage over many zooarchaeologists,’ he said.
We’d been talking about how I grew up on a farm; later he was to encourage me to undertake ethnoarchaeological fieldwork in Ethiopia. At that time, a book presenting Paul Halstead’s own ethnoarchaeological research had taken on mythic status – some of us thought it only a little more likely to be seen than a dragon. Several years later, however, here it is – each section beginning with a little scene-setting anecdote. After a gestation of more than thirty years though, the question ‘was it worth the wait?’ has to be asked.
Halstead has written a book which is filled with characters and stories as much as with perspicacity and knowledge. It’s rare to find a book that can both be enjoyable to read and satisfy academic enquiry. This is one and it’s an important book for archaeobotanists, for zooarchaeologists, for environmental archaeologists and for Mediterraneanists. Arguably an archaeologist with none of those specific interests could still find something useful here and it should be acquired by all university libraries. Was it worth the wait? It’s certainly valuable now it’s here and could be a valuable resource for as many years as its primary research was undertaken.
*Please note that the full copy of this review is to be published in the journal Environmental Archaeology, so most of the text has been removed from here. For a full copy, please see the journal or else contact me....more
Colin Renfrew kicks off this book with a highly amusing (and largely fair) attack on post-processualists before admitting that its purpose is in no smColin Renfrew kicks off this book with a highly amusing (and largely fair) attack on post-processualists before admitting that its purpose is in no small part to incorporate post-processual theory into processual method.
Nathan Schlanger outlines the history of chaîne opératoire approaches to lithic analysis and its cognitive underpinnings. In chapter fifteen, Karlin and Julien describe the insights that can be made into collective enterprise and apprenticeships through the adoption of a approach to lithic analysis. ...more
Interesting book examining the way in which we study material culture, advocating an approach which privileges Martin Heidegger's 'Things' over objectInteresting book examining the way in which we study material culture, advocating an approach which privileges Martin Heidegger's 'Things' over objects. Tim Ingold writes a useful introduction which highlights this and explains how each succeeding paper relates to the theme, looking at actions and pathways as revelatory subjects worthy of a shift in our research focus, emphasising how Henri Lefebvre's 'meshwork' model that he has advocated in the past may be useful for this.
Carl Knappett emphasises the tension between 'objects' and 'things' as well as between 'networks' and 'meshworks' but stresses that this tension is productive if explored. Employing case studies of architecture and ceramics in Mycenaean Crete he successfully argues for the use of chaîne opératoire models in a non-prescriptive manner....more
This is an excellent and well written discussion of the exploitation of wild birds written from a conservation point of view. By that I mean not whatThis is an excellent and well written discussion of the exploitation of wild birds written from a conservation point of view. By that I mean not what we need to do to protect species but how human exploitation has effected wild bird populations in the past. The focus is principally on British birds, where sources are better, and builds on work such as The History of British Birds and Man and Wildfowl. It is not, however, a book on British birds and Continental European and North American examples are given where they are pertinent.
Six of the twelve chapters focus on roughly taxonomic groups of palaearctic birds, charting their particular histories of decline and fall. The other six are more general, offering overviews of such things as fowling methods, bird products, hunting restrictions and bird & egg collectors.
This is a book which is potentially of great value and interest to archaeologists and conservationists but it should also be an enjoyable read for anyone with a more than slight interest in natural history....more
Some interesting papers celebrating a brilliant career. C.K. Brain, bizarrely but informatively, reviews his own career whilst, predictably, several pSome interesting papers celebrating a brilliant career. C.K. Brain, bizarrely but informatively, reviews his own career whilst, predictably, several papers focus on hyena den taphonomy and other bone gnawers. Anna K. Behrensmeyer, meanwhile, updates her classic Amboseli basin carcass exposure paper. Henry T. Bunn criticizes blind adoption of OFT models and the Schlepp effect by effectively using a Hadza case-study to show the importance of cultural preferences and technology in carcass division choices. Other papers offer specific case-studies showing how 'African Cave Taphonomy', as Brain describes his research and the other studies it has inspired, have impacted on interpretations of palaeolithic archaeology....more
Interesting collection of papers on the subject of identifying ritual activity in the archaeological record:
Evangelos Kyriakidis makes a good point abInteresting collection of papers on the subject of identifying ritual activity in the archaeological record:
Evangelos Kyriakidis makes a good point about the primacy of ritual activity in the archaeological record whilst highlighting the interpretational problems that such material presents. In a second paper he attempts to finally provide a workable definition of 'ritual' for archaeologists but falls a little short of his aims.
This is a remarkable book that is perhaps most surprising in terms of its authorship. Kristina Jennbert uses principally zooarchaeological data here tThis is a remarkable book that is perhaps most surprising in terms of its authorship. Kristina Jennbert uses principally zooarchaeological data here to reformulate our knowledge of Norse beliefs, and particularly human-animal relations within those beliefs. This approach is in clear contrast to most research on the subject which instead uses archaeological research merely as illustrative material where interpretations may support textual sources. Jennbert's non-zooarchaeological roots are occasionally revealed, for example in her misuse of the term 'breeds', but that does nothing to detract from the general persuasiveness of her arguments.
This is a dense text, far from being a light and easy read, a problem that can no doubt be partly attributed to its having been translated. Archaeologists, and probably others with a less profane interest in the subject, will find much here to provoke thought and question prior assumptions though....more
The B.T. Batsford/English Heritage series of books are lamented by many British archaeologists, often offering easy-to-read introductory texts on theiThe B.T. Batsford/English Heritage series of books are lamented by many British archaeologists, often offering easy-to-read introductory texts on their subjects, be they archaeological periods or, as here, EH managed sites. This one's a little different though.
Charles Thomas is the authority on Tintagel, having had an active research interest in it for half a century. This book though, is a rather personal one - in writing a 'popular' book Thomas seems to have felt liberated to make some snarky comments and interpretations (conjecture) that he would probably feel a little more reluctant to suggest (or at least get away with) in peer-reviewed articles. More sad even that though is something that was probably out of his control and is, instead, more probably the fault of commissioning editors at EH: this book was published two years into the most extensive period of fieldwork yet undertaken on the site.
The book was then almost necessarily out of date as soon as it was published but perhaps some sympathy is due for those editors - afterall, at least the book was commissioned. All of which isn't to say that the book's bad - it isn't - it offers an accessible and sometimes charming insight into one of Atlantic Britain's most enigmatic archaeological sites and the history of research as well legend that has accompanied it. It just could have been so much more....more
This slight publication is important in that it represents the flourishing of a movement within the academy to take the idea of seasonal settlement inThis slight publication is important in that it represents the flourishing of a movement within the academy to take the idea of seasonal settlement in the British Mediaeval period seriously. Six papers, culled from a conference on the same topic take in transhumant pastoralism in Gloucestershire, Cornwall, Man and Northern England whilst one focuses on the origins of Devon fishing villages as seasonal settlements.
The papers are principally written from what's best described as a landscape history perspective, with place name elements the overt focus of one paper although Peter Herring's contribution on the seasonal habitation of Bodmin Moor and Christopher Dyer's on the Cotswolds makes good use of the evidence collected in their careers as landscape archaeologists. The line between the two disciplines has always been thin though and the strength of a book such as this is in its engagement with every line of evidence.
The two stand-out papers for me are that by Herring and the introduction written by Fox, which happens to be the longest paper in the book. These move beyond the descriptive and begin to explore what seasonality of habitation may have meant for people - from social organisation at the higher (political) level to the impact on families....more
I'm not a fan of R. Lee Lyman's writing, which is dry to the point of being obscure. Additionally, this book is one of those oddities that crop up timI'm not a fan of R. Lee Lyman's writing, which is dry to the point of being obscure. Additionally, this book is one of those oddities that crop up time and again in the field of specialist scientific textbooks - it's at once the most up to date review of it's subject but, now twenty years old, badly in need of updating....more
This is an important book, persuasively and coherently written: Fox achieves his aim of stating the case for re-establishing pastoralism as a legitimaThis is an important book, persuasively and coherently written: Fox achieves his aim of stating the case for re-establishing pastoralism as a legitimate area of research in British Mediaeval studies. The book deserves to be read not just by those interested in the regional history of Devon and Cornwall but by the wider scholarly community engaged in researching the society and economy of the period, describing one economic activity which moved from a subsistence to a capitalist enterprise without diminishing in importance. For archaeologists, in particular, the book provides many possibilities for further research and it is to be hoped that the importance of pastoralism as a legitimate economic and subsistence activity is recognised by the wider community – no longer is it enough to see Mediaeval agriculture as either arable or wool focussed. By highlighting that pastoralism is a legitimate agricultural strategy even within a settled, complex, society Fox has, moreover, exposed the unthinking artificiality of a long-standing paradigm.
*Please note that the full copy of this review is to be published in the online journal Assemblage, so most of the text has been removed from here. For a full copy, please see the journal or else contact me....more
This is one of the earliest environmental archaeology textbooks and, more than thirty years ago, this short book would have represented a very good unThis is one of the earliest environmental archaeology textbooks and, more than thirty years ago, this short book would have represented a very good undergraduate lecture on the subject. Sadly, at departments which lack a specialist, I suspect that it may still do just that. Science changes rapidly, however, and the text here falls foul of more recent developments.
The sections sketching the various lines of palaeoenvironmental evidence are adequate and their brevity probably saves them from being too outdated (although some exception can be made to that rule, even here - weed seeds, for example, are now just as important in interpreting palaeoeconomy as palaeoecology). The section containing case-studies to illustrate how this evidence can be applied and interpreted, however, has not faired so well: the cause of the elm-decline, to take one example, remains an area of debate in British environmental archaeology to this day and, rather than being a neat example of how one piece of environmental evidence could change our understanding of past-climates and human influence, should now be the example of how several complementary and conflicting pieces of evidence continue to challenge our beliefs and provide fresh interpretations.
One nice feature, not (to my knowledge) featured in more recent textbooks on the subject, is an appendix featuring suggestions of environmental archaeology experiments which could be performed by students. This kind of 'hands-on' approach to learning is now being encouraged and teachers may find some value in this part of the book....more
This synthesis of zooarchaeological assemblages from several sites in Lincoln cover such a diverse range of periods as to end up being a little lightThis synthesis of zooarchaeological assemblages from several sites in Lincoln cover such a diverse range of periods as to end up being a little light on each of them. The Mediaeval periods, in particular, receive scant attention due to problems of residuality. A discussion of residuality actually forms the most original and (together with lengthy appendices containing all of the data discussed) important contribution of the volume. Overall it's a thorough, if uninspired, report that is likely to be of little interest to anyone other than (British) urban zooarchaeologists. ...more