Man's innate curiosity with their past has given birth to sciences that attempt to satisfy such curiosity. Brian Fagan, an archaeologist himself, outlines brilliantly the major developments of humankind in prehistory, from that scientific perspective. Sophisticated theories and tools from disciplines such archaeology, biology, ecology, geology and even genetics and psychology are elaborated for the general reader. Utilising such diversity of disciplines, World Prehistory introduces to the reader, the developments of humankind- the origins, exodus and migration of man, food production and state formation- from the earliest times especially before written records were available.
Even before Fagan gets into details, he outlines the scope of the book and distinguishes the discipline of archaeology insofar as it is scientific, rigorous and it utilises tools and expertise from other disciplines. Throughout the book, there are scientific archaeological explanations in the form of theories, data and methodologies and at the very onset, the author derides the "romantic world of high adventure and exciting discovery" connected to pseudoarcheaology, which to him belongs to the "realms of religious faith and science fiction".
The book is divided into 4 parts in a generally chronological arrangement. The first part introduces to the reader the study of human prehistory with succinct explanations of the concepts of history, culture, space and time. Part 2 outlines scientific approaches to explain the origins of mankind and his relationships with other primates. The author draws evidence from geology, genetics and most importantly, paleoanthropology (the specialized study of human bone remains). Part 2 also presents one of the most controversial questions in anthropology, that is the path of migration of modern man. The author favours the "African exodus Theory"" and describes it in detail. Part 3 is a discussion of the birth of the modern world with special emphasis on the origins of food production, one of the hallmarks of ancient civilisations. The book culminates in Part 4, with very broad discussions on ancient civilisations in Western Asia, Africa, South, Southeast and East Asia and the Americas.
As an introductory book to world prehistory, it lacks detailed study of other aspects of prehistoric mankind's developments especially in the fields of language, religion and a new, exciting and only recently explored field of psychological archaeology, dealing with the minds and thinking of the earliest humans. The latter, the author concedes, must go beyond material remains and develop new ways to explore the minds of the earliest humans and understand why they developed the way they did.
However, as with most introductory books, World Prehistory can only describe its subject matter at surface level. However, after reading the book, I have obtained a general sense of the methods and theories that attempt to explain with the period of human history which was not recorded in writing. With so many theories, methods and even non-scientific explanations of mankind's ancient past, World Prehistory is a good book to introduce a reader to the latest and most widely accepted tools, methodologies and theories.