After The Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5,000 BC by Steven Mithen - review by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

Crops and Cavemen

After The Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5,000 BC

By

Weidenfeld & Nicolson 622pp £25 order from our bookshop
 

JOHN LUBBOCK WAS the Richard Dawkins of his day. He was one of Darwin's earliest and closest adherents, and set himself up as an 'expositor of science' and 'mentor to the general public'. Of all the great range of hs polymathic works whch crowded the shelves of booksellers, none was more influential than Prehistoric Times (1865). In it he propounded a cultural counterpart of the theory of evolution: Tasmanians and Fuegians were 'to the antiquary what the opossum and the sloth' were to biologists - throwbacks to an earlier phase, living evidence (albeit doomed to extinction) of the antiquity of humankind and of the savagery of archaic humans. Despite his revulsion fiom 'rude' humanity, Lubbock remained a liberal and a philanthropist: he took the title of Lord Avebury fiom the site of the famous megaliths, which he saved for the nation by purchasing them when they were due for demolition.

Steven Mithen had the brilliant idea of invoking Lubbock's ghost and sending him as an imaginary time-traveller on a tour of the Mesolithc world, to see how far his Victorian view of prehstoric times might change in the light of modern archaeological and palaeoanthropological knowledge. It was an attractive wheeze

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