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Prehistory: The Making of the Human Mind (Modern Library Chronicles) Paperback – August 11, 2009
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Relying on a global perspective, his account stretches from African beginnings through Asia and Europe and to Mesoamerica. His expansive view allows him to address the question of "how we came to be" with deep insight. "Prehistory", he reminds us, is a term difficult to define. We're accustomed, he says, to view anything prior to written records - even clay ones - as prehistory. That leads to an over-focussed view of areas like Mesopotamia and Egypt. Renfrew opens the book by demonstrating how that approach should be modified. There are other forms of records and other conclusions to be drawn by understanding them. Renfrew stresses that there are few global patterns to rely on and each region must be considered through the available evidence. Among the many ways of doing this, he pays special attention to radiometric dating, a technique he helped foster in the UK. Another significant method, following shortly after the introduction to isotopic analysis is that of reading DNA. Together, these two analytical techniques overturned many previously held misconceptions.
The explanation on what constitutes prehistory and the rise of analytical technology requires less than a third of the book. The remainder is dedicated to a discussion of what makes humanity special in the animal kingdom.Read more ›
Casual unsupported presumptions abound, "the utility of fire" as a "defense against predators" for example. People who have studied the behavior of man-eating lions in Africa and tigers in India find that, not only are they not deterred by fire, they seek it out as a likely source of prey. Hunters who want to destroy the threat build a conspicuous fire and lie in wait nearby.
"Presumptive evidence of boat building by Homo Erectus 500,000 years ago" is, well, not actually physical evidence, but, more like, `they appear to be present where we are pretty sure it was an island so they must have built boats."
Most of the book's arguments are based on conclusions like, `this is the way perception and symbolic language must evolve'. Almost nothing is based on direct conclusions from new evidence.
If you, like me, were seduced by the second title, "The Evolution of the Human Mind" and expected, for example, an analysis of recent developments from the study of DNA and brain anatomy, using our new knowledge about speech centers in the brain to draw inferences about the evolution of speech in early Hominids, you will be very disappointed.
This book is composed of two parts. The first part is Renfrew's history of Prehistory, as a field of academic endeavor. This is in itself interesting tale. From a history of science perspective, there is always much to be learned from examination of successive emancipations from past biases and technological boundaries, and how those two factors feedback on each other. However, there follows an odd disconnect from that story, it seemed to me, with the second part of the book. Renfrew periodically hypes up the worth of paradigmatic technologies of radioisotopes, and, most recently DNA methods. The big anticlimax for me was that in the second half of the book, the curtain was finally drawn, and the DNA evidence was brought out to bear in overwhelmingly in support of the "out-of-Africa" scenario and soundly damning the longstanding alternative, the "multi-regional hypothesis.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Everything that I expected... Great book. Don't regret buying it.Published 3 months ago by MarcyHernandez
This is a comprehensive and authoritative presentation of human prehistory. Well written and highly entertaining. I learned a great deal. Read morePublished 10 months ago by E. J. Potchen
This book is difficult to read. I had to read it for a class or otherwise I wouldn't probably have picked it up. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Shawna Wright
I thoroughly enjoyed Prehistory! Colin Renfrew really knows his stuff.Published 16 months ago by Roland Delao
Not bad for an overview if you never read in a book before in this area. I can hardly keep on reading and I am half way through. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Pat Savu
An excellent read. Very clear explanation of background before presenting his new proposals. Lots of synthesis of information that was very useful to non-specialists. Read morePublished on November 13, 2013 by Oboista
I had to order this book for a class and it was a good read. I usually don't expect class books to be engaging or easy to get through but this one did surpass my expectations. Read morePublished on September 22, 2013 by Jillian
Prehistory, The Making of the Human Mind, is a very difficult book to read and has a lot of speculation written into it. Read morePublished on September 9, 2012 by Alan Dale Daniel
Renfrew's book proved once again that he is an excellent teacher of prehistory. I found his discussion of symbols was clear, something I had had difficulty grasping before as a... Read morePublished on September 10, 2011 by Quanme