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Tom Moore & X.-L. Armada (ed.). Atlantic Europe in the first millennium BC: crossing the divide.

TOM MOORE & X.-L. ARMADA (ed.). Atlantic Europe in the first millennium BC: crossing the divide. xxviii+690 pages, 141 illustrations, 14 tables. 2011. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 978-0-19-9567959 hardback 105 [pounds sterling].


The first millennium BC was a time of profound change, not only in the societies of Europe, but also with regard to the kinds of information available to us from the archaeological evidence. In many respects, what we know about the Bronze Age of the second millennium BC makes it seem much more foreign to us than does the Iron Age. The economic and social conditions of the Iron Age, at least in parts of Europe--with the emergence of major economic and political centres, mass production of pottery and iron tools at oppida sites, coinage in three metals, and, at its end, communities entering into close commercial and political relations with Rome-can seem much more like the historical world of the Middle Ages and even, in some respects, early modern times. It is during this period that we have the earliest textual sources by Greek and Roman writers that name peoples familiar from later times, such as Celts, Iberians, Scythians, Illyrians and Germans.

The period we know as the Iron Age was the last 'prehistoric' phase of temperate Europe, before the Roman conquests introduced writing and literacy to much of the continent. Objects with Greek and Latin writing on them, most notably coins, were brought west and north into interior parts of the continent during the final centuries of the Iron Age, but the societies of most regions of Continental Europe did not develop their own script until after the Roman conquests, when runes were created. The incomparably rich archaeological material reflecting cultural patterns and practices of the Iron Age thus offers us the opportunity to study in detail the character of communities in this part of the world just before the practice of writing was adopted following the Roman conquests.

In their introduction to this attractive book, Tom Moore and Xose-Lois Armada refer to the possibilities of addressing these major issues through the archaeological data from the first millennium BC. The specific aims of the book are not quite this sweeping, but the editors are aware of the value of tackling big questions about the Late Bronze and Iron Ages, as they explain in their 75-page introduction. The book had its origins in a conference that they organised at Durham in 2007. They note that there is little work on a Europe-wide scale available about this critical millennium. They offer a partial contribution to this effort: not a Europe-wide volume, but one dealing with an important part of the continent, what they call 'Atlantic Europe', which in their definition includes Iberia, France, Germany and the Low Countries west of the Rhine, and the British Isles. Several helpful maps indicate both their idea of Atlantic Europe and other investigators' definitions of that region. The authors state in the Preface that their aim is to bring together in this volume both broad overviews and case studies, and to include among the contributors both established scholars and younger investigators. Among the principal themes that the editors identify in their introduction and that are represented in the case studies are landscape, social structure, cultural change and funerary practice.

The book includes 33 papers; 10 are primarily thematic, 23 are regional case studies of specific themes or sites. Topics in the thematic overviews include landscape and settlement, historical ecology, social organisation, metalworking and ethnicity. Among the regional case studies, ten concern Iberia, five Gaul, and eight the British Isles. A useful map on p. 24 shows the region covered by each of the case studies. The quality of the texts and of the accompanying illustrations is consistently very high throughout the book.

The overview by the editors is an exceptionally good discussion of research into the final millennium BC. They deal systematically with a series of important topics, including different theoretical and methodological approaches in different parts of Europe, chronological schemes for various regions, the issue of 'Celts' in Iron Age studies, and other research themes that are currently particularly well represented in the field. Among the many papers that are especially valuable are those by J.D. Hill on social systems in Iron Age Britain, Rachel Pope and Ian Ralston on gender and status in Britain and western continental Europe, and Richard Hingley on 'Pre-Roman peoples and myths of origin'. The case studies present a great deal of important data about the archaeology of Iberia, Gaul and the British Isles. These well-illustrated papers with their copious bibliographies provide excellent overviews of current understanding of the archaeology of the regions covered.

This book is a valuable contribution to the literature on Late Bronze Age and Iron Age Europe. It will be useful to professionals in the field for providing a thorough update on both theoretical approaches and emerging data in this part of the world. The numerous syntheses of archaeological data, with excellent bibliographies, will be very useful to students. The only addition that I would have suggested would have been two or three papers situating the subject matter of this volume into Europe as a whole. The editors are fully aware of how Atlantic Europe relates to the rest of the continent, as they make clear in their introductory essay. With the growing evidence for interactions, both across Europe and with communities on other continents, it would have been instructive to be able to read what specialists in Central or Eastern Europe, Scandinavia or the Mediterranean basin, would have to say about the presentation of Atlantic Europe here. But this is a minor observation about an excellent new book.


Department of Anthropology, University of Minnesota, USA (Email:
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Author:Wells, Peter S.
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 1, 2013
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