Table of Contents 20, BC, the peak of the last ice age—the atmosphere is heavy with dust, deserts, and glaciers span vast regions, and people, if they survive at all, exist in small, mobile groups, facing the threat of extinction. But these people live on the brink of seismic change—10, years of climate shifts culminating in abrupt global warming that will usher in a fundamentally changed human world. After the Ice is the story of this momentous period—one in which a seemingly minor alteration in temperature could presage anything from the spread of lush woodland to the coming of apocalyptic floods—and one in which we find the origins of civilization itself. Drawing on the latest research in archaeology, human genetics, and environmental science, After the Ice takes the reader on a sweeping tour of 15, years of human history. Steven Mithen brings this world to life through the eyes of an imaginary modern traveler—John Lubbock, namesake of the great Victorian polymath and author of Prehistoric Times.

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Dale Berge for a semester. Much of my time was spent boiling down textbooks into study notes for students, like an alchemist trying to extract gold from lead. It was a lot like real work. I pored over thousands of pages, taking notes and distilling the information down into outline form for an upcoming survey class that Dr. Berge was teaching. But I knew more than the students in the classes for whom I was preparing the study outlines, so there was that, I suppose.

That book had a powerful effect on me, thrusting me back into prehistory, while fostering in me an appreciation for the human subjects of all this cool, brain-tickling research. During the winter break following my T. So when I first heard of this book, I thought it might be a good survey for filling in those "gap years" between the years covered by Marshack and Gimbutas.

Thankfully, I was right. This is an excellent survey, with a couple of weaknesses. Let me tell you why. First of all, scope. After a long ice age, the weather warmed for a time, then dipped back into a short, but intense, ice age, then gradually warmed up again, this time with further reaching, more long-lasting effects that we see even to this day. In order to bring us back down to human scale, he employs two characters with the same name: John Lubbock. The first John Lubbock was a Victorian archaeologist who brought some needed scientific rigor to the archaeological field.

The second John Lubbock is a fictional character from our era who travels back in time to observe conditions and, more importantly, to observe the everyday doings of everyday people in the many different societies he visits.

Their views are often contrasted to show the advances that archaeologists have made since the early days of archaeology as a science. Often, he does so step by step, showing the progression that has been made over time with new discoveries. Along the way, as Mithen goes from era to era from 20, to BC and continent to continent covering everything except Antarctica, much to my relief , he shows the "how" of archaeology and much of why certain methods were used, how some earlier Victorian assumptions cast a false light on the past, and who were the key figures in gaining said insights.

Sometimes, the simple jettisoning of preconceived notions of what one thinks they ought to find gives a clearer picture of what actually happened. This is the case with the discoveries at Oleneostrovski Mogilnik Deer Island , where initial data, collected by Soviet archaeologists, was interpreted through the filter of incorrect Marxist ideas of prehistoric social structure.

Later, when the same data was reinterpreted, a completely different picture of the ancient activities at that site emerged. At other times, the old notion of "the simplest explanation must be the best explanation" had to be abandoned, as happened at Creswell Crags, where earlier archaeologists had taken it for granted that remains found at the same stratum must have been collected there at the same time. As later digs revealed, a single layer of sediment does not necessarily contain items of a single provenance.

Mithen excels at exposing the reader to a number of different archaeological methodologies. In 45 pages, he covers the basic science behind, and provides examples of the use of archeo-zoology, historical genetics, and historical linguistics in reconstructing the past. His presentation of these and many other methods of delving into prehistory are thorough, catching the subtleties of each, without dragging the reader down with too much detail.

The big picture never escapes Mithen, and he does well to present several sides of some controversial issues. For instance, on the question of the disappearance of megafauna such as the mastadon from North America, and whether the cause of their extinction was disease or over-hunting, his answer is.

Mithen argues that the climactic change that occured with the warming of the Earth after the last ice age forced such animals into tight niches that could not sustain them, making them easy prey for hunters and particularly susceptible to disease. Yes, there is evidence that the use of the clovis point might have been necessary to take down bigger game though some think that the clovis point was all for show and trade, and not for use as a real weapon and there is evidence for disease and famine signs of starvation in megafaunal bones , but his argument, that the changes in habitat precipitated megafaunal populations, allowing them to be in a position to be pushed "over the edge," seems convincing.

So this is the best book on prehistory ever, right? Not so fast. After all, Mithen makes it obvious that his "newer" John Lubbock sections are fictional, though they derive from suppositions arising out of the archaeological record.

But what if the suppositions are wrong, or at least suspicious? Here Lubbock witnesses the ritualized killing of baby goats by people dressed up in costumes that were partially constructed from vulture and eagle wings. I say "prove it". Perhaps the wings were removed for other reasons, as trophies, like a deer head in a man-cave today. And what of the goats? They found skulls, but no clear evidence that they were strangled. It makes a great story. Sometimes, these sorts of things are even faked.

Such a thing happened not two miles from where I live. If you need evidence of that, just look up a few of the books he references - b-o-r-i-n-g. And his science, for the most part, is sound. Because the further we move into the future, the more we know about the past.


After the Ice : A Global Human History, 20,000 - 5000 BC



Steven Mithen


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