The Tale of the Axe: How the Neolithic Revolution Transformed Britain by David Miles - review by Ronald Hutton

Ronald Hutton

Digging for Britain

The Tale of the Axe: How the Neolithic Revolution Transformed Britain


Thames & Hudson 432pp £19.95 order from our bookshop

David Miles crowned his career by becoming chief archaeologist for English Heritage. His latest book for a popular readership is principally an account of the Stone Age in Europe, from the arrival of human-like beings around 1.7 million years ago to the introduction of metal-based technology in the second millennium BC, with a special focus on the Neolithic period and on Britain. Although Neolithic Britain itself takes up less than half the book, there is nevertheless ample space to tackle it in detail. Miles brings together all the major discoveries in excavation and dating since the start of this century, linking them to older information and ideas. He is the perfect person for the job, having led several important digs while director of the Oxford Archaeological Unit and participated in others as far afield as Israel. Miles’s book invites us to consider two questions: what is the current state of thinking about the Neolithic period, especially in Britain, and what are the characteristics of good popular writing about archaeology?

General readers of this book will be more interested in the broader picture; experts will be drawn towards Miles’s interpretations of particular sites and artefacts, many of which are original. I am well acquainted with the subject, but still found myself taking regular notes. Overall, Miles echoes the current consensus

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