Prehistoric England A Gazetteer of Prehistoric Sites. By James Dyer
Thanks to the popularity of television programmes such as The Time Team and Meet the Ancestors, public interest in archaeology is high. This is reflected in the flurry of tie-in books and general archaeology manuals, guides and gazetteers that have appeared over the last five years. This is the second edition of a guide originally published by Shire books in 1993. It is a useful size for putting in a rucksack and has a fairly robust, paperback cover. A description of different types of monument by period is included in the second chapter. There then follows the main body of the gazetteer, with counties listed alphabetically containing sites listed by name. Each site is dated and the Ordnance Survey six figure co-ordinates are given. A description of the monument and the results of any excavations are also given and supplemented by sketch maps and photographs. At the end of the book are a number of maps showing where each site is within the county. A very general bibliography is followed by an index of sites at the end of the book.
Herein lies one of the books main weaknesses. Having encouraged people to visit these sites no serious attempt is made explain how a nascent interest can be taken further. This book would benefit greatly from a further study/reading/what to do next section at the end of the book, such as the type found in the excellent series of English Heritage/Batsford books. Bibliographical references within the body of the text on each site could serve this purpose or reference to the Royal Commission volumes for each County. Despite their age they usually include most of the major prehistoric monuments in a County together with bibliographical references. They are available and easily accessible in most County Libraries and Museums. This section could also include details of the County Sites and Monuments Records S.M.R.). They are the bedrock of local archaeological research and maintain up to date information on each site. Anybody wishing to take their interest in the archaeology of their local area should always be encouraged to visit their local S.M.R. The same is true of local museums, which often exhibit finds from excavations of the sites listed in this book and are usually associated with local societies who are always looking for enthusiastic volunteers and members. Every opportunity to flag these local and often under-funded and over-worked resources to the general public should be taken.
In this day and age some reference to the resources available on the Internet would also provide useful references. For example the Monument Class Descriptions available on the English Heritage Monument Protection Programme website provide detailed descriptions of type-sites and have useful bibliographies. The Council for British Archaeology (C.B.A) website in a fund of information about archaeology and how to get involved at all levels.
As to the nuts and bolts of the book, the gazetteer and descriptions themselves, I can only claim detailed knowledge of the Sites and Monuments Records and field archaeology of two areas, Dorset and Wiltshire. It is accepted that these counties contain a large amount of Prehistoric monuments. However the absence of major monuments such as Spetisbury Rings, Chilcombe and Bulbury Camp, as well as the bank barrow at Broadmayne (all in Dorset and there are others), in a guide that claims to be "..a comprehensive guide to almost seven hundred of the best preserved, most interesting and accessible prehistoric monuments considered worth visiting in England", seems rather perplexing.
Despite the statement that for this second edition "In many
cases the original entries have been extensively updated.", the
writer does not seem to acknowledge work done in these counties as a
result of developer funded archaeology over the last ten or fifteen
years. Just one example will serve to illustrate a number I am personally
acquainted with. The notes on the Old and New King Barrows in Wiltshire
(page 194) make no mention of the excavations done by Wessex Archaeology
in 1990 to record tree holes created in the wake of the 1989 hurricane.
These excavations produced important information on the structure of
the barrow mounds and ditches, as well as environmental information
for the area around Stonehenge. These excavations have been published
and are on the County Sites and Monuments Record (S.M.R.). If the (unpublished)
excavations at Avebury in the summer of 2000 by Southampton, Newport
and Leicester Universities (page 182) can be included then why not these
published results? Or is this simply a manifestation of the "research
archaeology -good, developer funded archaeology-bad" attitude still
rearing its ugly head?
Review Submitted: November 2002
The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.
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