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Paperback The Stonehenge People: An Exploration of Life in Neolithic Britain 4700-2000 BC Book

ISBN: 0415040655

ISBN13: 9780415040655

The Stonehenge People: An Exploration of Life in Neolithic Britain 4700-2000 BC

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Book Overview

First published in 1990. Of all the monuments left by the past, Stonehenge is the most evocative, the most memorable and the most mysterious. Whilst the monuments of other cultures have gradually surrendered their mysteries, Stonehenge alone seems to stimulate endless conjecture. Rodney Castleden's vivid presentation of the world of the megaliths answers many of the most baffling questions about Stonehenge. There are, he stresses, few absolute certainties,...

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From the ground up

This work is among the best overviews of Neolithic life available. It's well written and covers a breadth of topics and ideas. Using the best evidence available, he breaks away from traditional approaches to reconstruct prehistoric society. Instead of stripping away modern elements to derive Neolithic life, Castleden builds the picture of that society from its basics. Opening with a portrayal of the Neolithic environment, he envisions how people would react to conditions then.Environmental constraints and overuse of resources forced changes in lifestyle over the centuries. Neolithic peoples originally inhabited the fertile landscape as farmers. Their crops, however, quickly depleted the soil. Castleden cites a study in Denmark of Neolithic einkorn wheat reducing soil nutrients in only three seasons. Loss of fertility drove people to new locations or converted to a pastoral existence. In either case, the ommunities remained small and tightly integrated, with settlements only a few kilometres apart. The conditions also inhibited experimenting in farming or lifestyles. Maintenance of a secure life took precedence over trying the novel. The resulting conservatism led to a commonalty of thinking. We see evidence of that in the multitude of Neolithic religious sites. Stonehenge, Avebury, Woodhenge, are distinct from each other in many ways, but their basic pattern is consistent. Conservative rural life instilled fertility rituals dealing with crops and cattle breeding. Respect for surviving elders led to cults dealing with death. Castleden argues that it wasn't worship of the dead, but death itself that occupied their thoughts and practices. Burial rituals and cemetaries ultimately produced the great henges and stone monuments. Castleden acknowledges that the artefacts associated with the ditches, banks and the stone circles are the chief source of information we have in conceiving Neolithic life. One missing element, and he finds this highly significant, are structures for defence or other evidence of conflict. There are no large collections of arrowheads or spear blades found at the henge sites. From this he derives Neolithic society as essentially peaceful, with communities acting in relative harmony. Such an environment facilitated trade and information exchange. He traces the major likely trade routes across Southern Britain and across to Brittany in France. This view counters the long-held belief that these people were kept brutish and ignorant by being in a constant state of battle. He rightly argues that such a social milieu wouldn't have allowed the construction of such sites as Avebury or Stonehenge. He can't resist comparison with modern societies.Castleden has enhanced a fluent presentation with numerous photographs, diagrams and maps. There is some presentation of contending views on various aspects of the topic. Perhaps the most surprising topic is the enigma of Stonehenge's source of the massive bluestones. Re
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