Focusing on the British Isles, the author explores a period of huge societal change - the Neolithic, or `New Stone Age' - through the most iconic artifact of its time: the polished stone axe, using his own ancient stone axe-head, given to him by a local quarry worker, as a guide to the revolution that changed the world. These formidable creations were not only crucial tools that enabled the first farmers to clear the forests, but also objects of great symbolic importance, signifying status and power, wrapped up in expressions of religion and politics. Mixing anecdote, ethnography and archaeological analysis, the author vividly demonstrates how the archaeology on the ground reveals to us the evolving worldview of a species increasingly altering their own landscape; settling down together, investing in agricultural plots, and collectively erecting massive ceremonial monuments to cement new communal identities.
As a direct result of the invention, and intensification, of agriculture, the planet entered the Anthropocene, or the current `age of humanity': an era in which we are changing the world around us in significant, accelerating and often unpredictable ways. As the author poignantly concludes, our ancestors set us on the path to the modern world we live in; now seven billion humans must face the challenges that presents.
David Miles was the Director of the Oxford Archaeological Unit for many years, and worked on projects in Britain, France, Greece and the West Indies. In 1999 he became Chief Archaeologist at English Heritage, where he developed a maritime archaeology unit and a project to study the impact of slavery in England. He has written many books on archaeology, particularly on the Roman and Migration periods in Britain, and one on the origins of the British, The Tribes of Britain.
Preface * Prologue: A gift from the past * Part One: The Emergence of Humans * Part Two: The First Farmers * Part Three: Crossing the Water to Britain