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Beyond Stonehenge: Essays on the Bronze Age in Honour of Colin Burgess, ed. C. Burgess, P. Topping, & F. Lynch
Oxford, Oxbow Books, 2007, 427pp, c 215 illus (inc B+w line dwgs, photograpsh and colour photographs), hb ISBN 1-84217-215-8 (£90)

This handsome volume was intended to mark Colin Burgess’s 65th birthday and celebrate his 40 years of Bronze Age studies. Unfortunately the book missed the mark by four years (more of which later).

No-one who has met Colin at any time during this 40 year career could fail to have been impressed by his knowledge of his subject, his enthusiasm and his perception. The large number of contributors to this book, both from at home and abroad, clearly indicate Colin’s esteem and standing in the field of Bronze Age studies. It is not surprising that the contributors are largely drawn from the membership of the Bronze Age Studies Group - a loose-knit association of friends with shared interests that Colin was responsible for both inaugurating and convening. Frances Lynch, a long time friend and colleague opens with a short but succinct introduction to Colin’s career and describes the affection for Colin that many of his students and colleagues shared. There then follows Colin’s impressive bibliography.

It is no insult to the individual authors to describe the articles that follow as a mixed bag: such (often) is the nature of festschriften and this makes critical constructive review difficult. The essays range geographically from Sardinia and Iberia to northern Scotland and temporally from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. They cover metal and ceramic artefacts, issues of settlement, monuments and ritual. Some are incredibly brief (Russu, Blood, A. Harding) whilst others may be a little long for a festschrift (Gerloff). Indeed Manby’s abstract is longer than Russu’s entire article.

The mixed bag effect is not helped by poor editing. The editors have made no attempt to order the book. Thus the first chapter, Dennis Harding’s review of Culture Contact in prehistoric Europe, is chronologically one of the latest whilst one of the earliest, MacSween’s review of Scottish Impressed Ware and Grooved Ware is towards the end of the volume. The two papers on Rock Art (Waddington and Frodsham) are separated by a review of Bronze Age settlement and mining in Ireland (O’Brien). The papers on upland settlement (Halliday & Blood) are separated by a whole range of papers from Iberia (Harrison, Gibson, Correia etc) to burial monuments in Brittany (Le Goffic) as well as two major papers dealing with chronology (Gerloff and Sheridan). It seems strange that O’Brien’s description of Bronze Age mining in Ireland is not followed directly by Brigg’s hoary old chestnut dealing with the possibility that peat burning and an impoverished economy at historic copper mines may be responsible for the Bronze Age radiocarbon dates. Instead these two opposed yet complimentary papers are separated by 5 chapters dealing with Rock Art (Frodsham), the middle Bronze Age of the Médoc (Roussot-Larroque), Scottish round houses (Halliday) and the Bronze Age burials of Brittany (Le Goffic) and Portugal (Harrison). This may have been the intention of the authors but for me it does not work. I think that the volume could have been divided chronologically, thematically and/or geographically in order to give it more structure. As it is, it almost seems that the papers have been arranged in the order in which they were received.

This is another problem with the book. As Christopher Burgess relates in his introduction, the book was started in 2002 with a view to 2003 publication to mark Colin’s 65th Birthday. To be published in 2007 suggests that something has gone disastrously wrong. (Indeed it was the original tight schedule that prevented this reviewer from contributing as we had just embarked on the Derek Simpson Festschrift). But as a result, Case’s Europe-wide review of Beakers includes ‘in press’ references that were actually published in 2004. Yet Sheridan’s paper on Dating the Scottish Bronze Age includes fully referenced 2006 papers and the paper by Needham, Varndell and Worrell on the Berwick Hoard discusses a find that was not made until 2005! Thus one feels that the pithy end-note comment made by Marcigny, Ghesquiere and Kinnes to the effect that they were not given the opportunity to up-date an article that they submitted in 2003 should, perhaps have been more widely applied.

The abstracts at the beginning of each chapter also vary considerably. As already stated, Manby’s stretches to over a page. O’Brien’s stretches to 4 lines, Correia’s to 3 and Frodsham’s to 2. Many are also not truly abstracts. They often state the author’s intention but few summarise their results. A greater uniformity here would also have enhanced the volume. Similarly illustrations. In a wide-ranging volume such as this, I would not expect Sardinian colleagues or indeed Iberian colleagues to know where Loughbown (Eogan) was nor would I expect British colleagues to necessarily know the whereabouts of Monte Sant’ Antonio (Vešligaj & Burgess) in Sardinia. Some more location maps would have been useful. Distribution maps of sites mentioned in the text would have improved such articles as those of Sheridan (Scotland) and Ambruster & Perea (Iberia). Now I do not want to be labelled a Francophobe, especially as some long-standing colleagues are involved, but surely it would have been better for the homogeneity of the volume if all the papers had been in English. The Spanish (Correia, Ambruster & Perea), Italian (Russu, Schiavo) and German (Brandherm) contributors seem to have managed to have their articles translated. But not the French (with the exception of Marcigny & Ghesquiere…clearly with the aid of Monsieur Kinnes). Once again I feel it detracts from the volume and adds to the lack of organisation. Given the time that it has taken to produce the book, one assumes that there would have been plenty of time for translation.

I have been fortunate over the last few months to receive a number of .pdf offprints of various chapters from this volume to the degree that the book had a certain deja vue quality when it arrived. Assuming that other colleagues had been equally well-remembered, I wonder who out there is left to buy the volume. At £90, it is unlikely to be on the Christmas best-sellers list. There are certainly some excellent articles in the volume. Waddington’s thought provoking article on rock art, Roussot-Larroque on the MBA Médoc, Sheridan’s synthesis of the Scottish Bronze Age dates, Shepherd’s account of the Sculptor’s Cave, Case’s European Beaker review, Marcigny et al’s resume of the transmanche Bronze Age ceramic record, Brandherm’s treatise on swords and Manby’s comparison of henges and ring-forts are amongst those that will receive frequent citation. A different reviewer may have chosen different papers but that is to be expected. In short there is much to interest many but few will be interested in it all. Except Colin, of course. And surely that is the whole point.

Colin, as you once said to the V-C of Rennes University ‘Viva la Bronzeage’

Alex Gibson
University of Bradford.

Review Submitted: December 2007

The views expressed in this review are not necessarily those of the Society or the Reviews Editor.

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