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After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC Paperback – March 27, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0674019997 ISBN-10: 0674019997 Edition: 1st Pbk. Ed

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 664 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1st Pbk. Ed edition (March 27, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674019997
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674019997
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.1 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #146,281 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Using an unorthodox narrative device, Mithen explores why, how, and where farming displaced hunting and gathering. Mithen conjures John Lubbock, an English author of a once-popular 1865 history of the Stone Age, and sends him back in time to visit dozens of excavation sites around the world as they appeared when inhabited. Lubbock's transcontinental perambulations permit Mithen (a practicing archaeologist who describes his digs in Scotland) to underscore one causal factor in the agricultural revolution: the fluctuations of climate at the end of the last Ice Age. Weather, sea level, and zones of plant and animal life changed dramatically in the 15,000 years of Lubbock's walkabout, and Mithen explains how environmental volatility is scientifically known as he sketches Lubbock observing the various "living" human communities that have been uncovered. A successful marriage of fact and imagination, Mithen's tome establishes a solid knowledge base with full academic references that will be of primary interest to those considering a career in archaeology. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Mithen did a huge amount of research to produce this curiously encyclopedic work. The book is empirically authoritative but quirkily postmodern...[A] truly provocative and ambitious work...After the Ice is a book that should be read and then exasperatingly argued about...And it does evoke the real excitement of doing Stone Age archaeology (from the digging to the debating the meaning of the finds): the passion to learn that has driven so many prehistorians and dreamers. (Lawrence Guy Straus Science 2004-02-27)

Using an unorthodox narrative device, Mithen explores why, how, and where farming displaced hunting and gathering. Mithen conjures John Lubbock, an English author of a once-popular 1865 history of the Stone Age, and sends him back in time to visit dozens of excavation sites around the world as they appeared when inhabited. Lubbock's transcontinental perambulations permit Mithen (a practicing archaeologist who describes his digs in Scotland) to underscore one causal factor in the agricultural revolution: the fluctuations of climate at the end of the last Ice Age. Weather, sea level, and zones of plant and animal life changed dramatically in the 15,000 years of Lubbock's walkabout, and Mithen explains how environmental volatility is scientifically known as he sketches Lubbock observing the various 'living' human communities that have been uncovered. A successful marriage of fact and imagination. (Gilbert Taylor Booklist 2004-09-10)

The resulting floods, spread of forests and retreat of the deserts set up the planet we know today. Mithen's exhaustive explanation of how human beings began living in small, mobile groups and then permanent villages and the resultant creation of civilisation is a big tale that's worth staying with. (Brian Hennigan Glasgow Herald 2004-06-05)

With the help of a fictional guide dubbed John Lubbock, modeled after a Victorian naturalist who wrote a popular book called Prehistoric Times, Mithen embarks on a vivid tour of the warming world as it emerged from the last ice age. In the process, he lends a you-are-there immediacy to an era in which humans invented farming, settled in towns, and created civilization as we know it. (Discover 2005-01-01)

By the end of this rich and multilayered book, I was dazzled and hungry for more. Mithen has succeeded where other archaeologists have failed: He transports the reader back into the past, showing evocatively how humans adapted to 15,000 years worth of environmental change. (Nina Jablonski Discover 2005-03-01)

In an ambitious undertaking, archaeologist Mithen describes 15,000 years of ancient history from 20,000 to 5,000 B.C....Mithen explores how studying the abrupt transition between the ice age and a period of global warming could provide clues to the effects of climate changes going on today. (Science News 2005-03-05)

After the Ice offers a fascinating whirlwind tour of an underappreciated segment of human history...The prose is lively and evocative as Mithen unfolds a compelling story...The cumulative effect of this book should be a profound new appreciation of a largely unknown and crucially important period of our past. If you want to find out what you don't know about the grand sweep of human history, there is not a better place to start. (Douglas K. Charles American Scientist 2005-05-01)

The author successfully achieved his goal of presenting a great deal of information about a pivotal point in our history in a thorough and easily digestible manner...This successful compilation of human history from 20,000-5,000 BC should not be overlooked as a key reference and welcome addition to any library of an interested novice, undergraduate student of prehistory, or seasoned archaeologist looking for a well written synthesis. (John D. Rissetto Paleoanthropology)

This massive and clever book opens modern scholarship about the distant past to nonspecialists. Buyers of this book will get their money's worth. It comes with a generous supply of maps and pictures of artifacts and digs, some of which are in color...Erudite and also quirky, Mithen summarizes the work of contemporary archaeologists, often by recounting his own visits to archaeological sites and drawing on insights from recent research on paleoclimates and human genetics...This impressive book stands out as the new standard work. (David M. Fahey The Historian)

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Customer Reviews

He presents it as proven fact, when it is not.
Jerry Saperstein
This is one of those books that once read will remain close at hand for use as a reference.
Amazon Customer
Mithen writes well, this book flows well and is very readable.
VinceRN

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

135 of 139 people found the following review helpful By Atheen M. Wilson on November 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Steven Mithen's book After the Ice, is really one of the most readable books on the topic of Mesolithic and Neolithic life I've ever read. Generally speaking I don't care much for the narrative approach to an historic or prehistoric topic. Putting words into characters' mouths, let alone inventing the characters themselves, smacks too much of historical romance fiction for my taste. Here, however, the author has based his narratives on archaeology, limiting his visions of the time to what can be confirmed by archaeology, paleobotany, zoo-archaeology, earth history, sedimentology and paleoclimatology. He carefully links the physical evidence to what his imaginary modern day time-traveler John Lubbock, can see.

Mithren's fictional character is based upon an historical gentleman scientist, John Lubbock, Lord Avebury, a Victorian author interested in the stone age. At that time the existance of the prehistoric period had only just been discovered. Prior to that time--and Darwin--the possibility of such a past was inconceivable. Lubbock--the real man--wrote a very intelligent summary, entitled Prehistoric Times, of what had been discovered by the adventurers and archaeologists of his day. It is to this compendium of what was known of post-glacial lifeways that the imaginary John Lubbock referred during his journey through time. By this means, Professor Mithren adds an historical component to the overall story by comparing what was know by the Victorians to what is known today about many of the stone age sites throughout the world. He not only highlights the gain in information over the recent 150 years, but the methods through which it was gained.
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64 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on June 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Various methods are being applied to popularise what science has discovered about Nature, particularly our nature. Paleontologist Steven Mithen utilises a favourite technique of SciFi - time travel - to explain how our ancestors once lived. Although this might be a risky method in the hands of someone less talented, Mithen carries it well as he takes us on a global journey. From Western, Southern and Eastern Asia, through Africa, Europe and the Americas and Australia, he introduces us to the daily activities of those people who moved across the planet as the glaciers retreated. While that sounds highly speculative, Mithen's method is a way of introducing us to the numerous dig sites prehistoric scholars have found and analysed. The evidence for his depictions is laid out and the interpretations arising from the data is carefully presented.

Mithen isn't our guide in this tour. He assigns that task to a figure named for a contemporary of Charles Darwin. "Victorian John Lubbock", as Mithen dubs him, wrote one of the earliest paleoanthropological works, "Prehistoric Times" - an attempt to describe what our ancestors were like. Lubbock coined the terms "Palaeolithic" and "Neolithic" to give order to a chaotic scene. In this account, the Time Traveller refers to his namesake's publication for comparison of what has been revealed today by Mithen's digging colleagues. What did your ancestors do during the day? What challenges did they face and how did they overcome them? Time Traveller Lubbock tries to impart these questions and their answers with distant observation and active participation alike. The method, when the releaved evidence is explained, proves an excellent balance.
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87 of 97 people found the following review helpful By Heather A. Spares on November 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I found this book in the University of Glasgow library for a paper I was writing on the complexity of early ceramic cultures (Jomon and Eastern Sahara). At first glance, it looked intriguing. At a closer look, it was simply stunning. Simple, yet elegant narrative pulls you into archaeological reference. All his facts are backed up in a smart, organized way - and better yet, are not suggested to be the ONLY thing to think.

If any book could so artfully show middle-range theory and analogy in an almost novel-like read, it is this one. Mithen has blown me away.
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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Chris Crawford on April 2, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Steven Mithen started off with a good idea: write a book summarizing everything we know about human prehistory in the period from 20,000 BCE to 5,000 BCE. He's certainly the guy to write this book; his previous works have been lucid and highly readable. But he seems to have lost his way.

Dr. Mithen's plan is easily divined after reading just a few chapters. He gathered together all the field reports of all the major digs and selected the most important ones -- perhaps a hundred or so. For each dig, he listed exactly what was discovered. He also prepared a few paragraphs describing the scholars who made the discoveries. But this material lacked human presence. It was cold and technical; he needed something to bring it to life, something that would animate the bones and stones with real people living real lives. So he invented a fictional device in the form of John Lubbock, a modern-day avatar of a Victorian archaeologist. And that's where Dr. Mithen goes off the rails.

The avatar-Lubbock wanders all over the earth during the period under discussion. He encounters each of the sites while it was actually being used. Through Lubbock's eyes, we see the people working, eating, dancing, building their homes, and burying their dead. The concept is sound and, properly executed, it could have achieved its goal of bringing to life our ancient forbears.

Unfortunately, Dr. Mithen muffs the execution of his concept. He can't decide whether the avatar John Lubbock is an unseen ghost witnessing events or an active participant in those events. Most of the time he opts for the former, but occasionally he has John Lubbock pitch in to help the ancients in their daily tasks. He dances and sings with them, eats their food, and even steals their canoe on one occasion.
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