Britain Begins by Barry Cunliffe - review by Francis Pryor

Francis Pryor

Where to Start

Britain Begins


Oxford University Press 553pp £30 order from our bookshop

This large book is both rewarding and demanding. It offers information in abundance and, like Sir Barry Cunliffe’s previous publications from OUP, it is beautifully written and illustrated. But what makes Britain Begins so exceptional is its geographical and chronological scope. From the outset, our islands (Ireland is included) are placed fairly and squarely on our own area of the continental shelf. We are then taken on a journey through time, starting at the end of the last ice age, around 10,000 years ago. That journey continues throughout prehistory, but it doesn’t end, as so many other books do, with the coming of the Romans. Instead, it continues right up to the Age of the Northmen (the Vikings and Normans), drawing to a close around AD 1100. In a world where everything seems to be served up in myopic soundbites, such breadth of vision is wonderfully refreshing – and very enlightening.

The story begins with an account of early ideas about British beginnings, starting with classical references, followed by medieval myths, and closing with the early antiquarians and first archaeologists. Many readers will find the second chapter, ‘Britain Emerges’, particularly useful. It provides a succinct overview of modern scientific approaches to

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