Review_PrehistoricAndRomanEssex

The author of this guide to the prehistoric and Roman sites in the boulder-clay lands of Essex and south Suffolk wants us to go out and look at the landscape and develop a feel for the archaeological dimension, to which too many people are blind. From a train window, do you see grass and trees, or do you see 12,000 years or more of post-glacial shaping in which every element — including those trees and that grass — can be given a date and a history? Getting to the stage where you can read the landscape intelligently takes time and training, and most people start by getting to know one patch very well.

Whether you will want to make Essex your chosen patch, visiting the many archaeological monuments that lie within ten miles of every town or village, probably depends on whether you live in or near Essex, but non-Essexonians can also read this book with profit because of the clarity with which the author sets out the context for the gazetteer that fills the second half of the book. The first 110 pages are, in effect, a potted archaeology of a county that has a good share of the type sites or artefacts for their period; they range from the Swanscombe skull, Hoxne axe and Clactonian tools to Roman Chelmsford and Saxon Mucking — the latter almost beyond the scope of a book that ends with the early 5th century, but that is included because it is a multi-period site, with settlement and industry dating back to the Bronze Age, as well as the settlement established around 400 AD by mercenaries commissioned by the Roman-British authorities to defend the Thames estuary.

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