A brief and original prehistory of the world
Prehistory covers human existence before written records, i.e. most of human existence. But it also refers to the discipline through which we scrutinize prehistoric times. PREHISTORY begins by looking at the discovery of a remote human past and the subsequent dramatic growth of the study of prehistory: early archaeology; geology; Darwin's ideas of evolution; cave paintings; fossil discoveries of human ancestors; museums and collections; radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis.
Renfrew challenges the conventional assumption of an all-important 'human revolution' 40,000 years ago - when Homo Sapiens first appeared in Europe - and suggests that the key developments were much later. The author's case-studies range widely, from Orkney to the Balkans, from the Indus Valley to Peru, from Ireland to China, and provide fresh insights on landmark monuments such as the Egyptian pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, Stonehenge and the sacrificial burial pyramids at Teotihuacan in Mexico. The book closes with a fascinating chapter on the transition from Prehistory to History, on early writing systems.
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 major, sometimes startling conclusions (like the parallel evolution of distant cultures throughout the world). Part II considers the prehistory of the human mind-that is, how concepts such as relative value and social rank came into being. In a compelling but debatable argument, he finds that sedentarism-permanent residence in one place-was a pre-requisite for the emergence of material culture. Ultimately, however, "good local narratives" can be compiled for societies such as ancient China, Mesopotamia, Egypt and Mesoamerica, but a unifying model that encompasses their individual trajectories has yet to be developed; Renfrew regards its development as a major task for 21st century prehistorians. The value of Renfrew's book is that it lays out these arguments, with the intent to spur thought, debate, analysis and, especially, theoretical modeling of social evolution.