Allen Lane, £20.00
‘Archaeology is about the past as experienced by ordinary people,’ writes Francis Pryor. Arguing that the past is too often approached from the top down, focusing on monarchs and political events, he makes the case for a greater emphasis on social history, and, above all, on the importance of the family.
It is an account as warm and funny as it is informative, with research news and anecdotes about site visits interwoven with episodes from Francis’s own life. Having worked in archaeology for decades, and written about prehistory for 15 years — as well as serving as president of the Council for British Archaeology, and on the Prehistoric Society’s council — Francis is well placed to discuss how perceptions of the past have changed.
These are changes both in terms of leaps in knowledge — in the time he has been writing books, evidence for Britain’s earliest humans has been pushed back from c.600,000 years ago to over 1 million — and in public understanding. At the start of his career, Francis says, people often assumed excavations only happened in exotic locations, but today — post-Time Team — archaeologists field questions about ‘geofizz’.
Review by Carly Hilts