In an ever-absorbing survey, archaeologist Scarre, deputy director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at...

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EXPLORING PREHISTORIC EUROPE

In an ever-absorbing survey, archaeologist Scarre, deputy director of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge University, offers a fascinating glimpse of the vanished worlds of early humankind. From 40,000 B.C., when biologically modern humans first colonized Europe from Africa, through the classical epoch, Europe was traversed by groups of hunters, gatherers, and farmers whose only legacies are the campsites, forts, and graves they left behind. From hundreds of prehistoric sites, Scarre has selected 15 of the most spectacular, ranging from Terra Amata, a 380,000-year-old camp of early hominid hunters and gatherers near what is now Nice, in France, to Maiden Castle, a fortification near Dorchester in southern England that fell to the Romans in 50 A.D. A few will be familiar to nonspecialists--the evocative cave paintings of Lascaux, France, for instance, and the intriguing stone circles at Stonehenge--but most are less well known, if no less interesting. Scarre tells of Biskupin, a preserved timber town in northern Poland from 730 B.C. that was discovered in 1933 and has been called the ""Polish Pompeii"" (though much has had to be reconstructed as a result of WWII damage to the site); of Hochdorf, the richly decorated grave of a Celtic chief in Germany from around 550 B.C; of Borremose, a Danish settlement from 300-100 B.C. preserved in peat, that contains perfectly intact bodies of what appear to have been murder or execution victims; and of rock art in Portugal and Italy that vividly recreates Ice Age fauna. Scarre describes each site, summarizes what little is known of the lives and customs of the inhabitants of each (for the later sites, he can sometimes rely on classical sources, such as Tacitus and Strabo), and draws speculative inferences about each culture from the site's artistic representations, layout, or physical characteristics. With careful analysis of the sometimes sparse archaeological evidence, Scarre is able to provide vivid snapshots from the distant past. Well researched and well narrated, Scarre's survey of prehistoric Europe is also informative and haunting.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998