Miles Russell. the Early Neolithic Architecture of the South Downs

By Malone, Caroline | Antiquity, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Miles Russell. the Early Neolithic Architecture of the South Downs


Malone, Caroline, Antiquity


MILES RUSSELL. The early Neolithic architecture of the South Downs (British Archaeological Reports British Ser. 321). iii+176 pages, 63 figures, 3 tables. 2001. Oxford: Archaeopress; 1-84171-234-5 paperback 30 [pounds sterling].

MILES RUSSELL. Monuments of the British Neolithic: the roots of architecture. 192 pages, 100 figures, 26 colour plates. 2002. Stroud & Charleston (SC): Tempus; 0-7524-1953-6 paperback 17.99 [pounds sterling] & $29.99.

Miles Russell presents his PhD thesis (The early Neolithic) and the worked up version for a 'popular' audience (Monuments). The first suffers, as do most student theses, from much definition and explanation of the theoretical model to be presented. It does, nevertheless, offer a new look at a rather neglected area of southern Britain, even if the standard terms of archaeology are replaced by a self-conscious new vocabulary. In essence, the volume examines the rich resource of causewayed enclosures (horizontal cuts) and flint mines and shafts (vertical cuts) as the prime material of Neolithic architecture, together with flint scatters and mounds. These are lengthily described, drawing on useful and little known sources from journals, museums and collections. There is rather little critique of much of the data, which is historical description for the most part, and little seems to have been derived from new fieldwork. Later chapters 'deconstruct' the various 'landcuts' and 'shafts' but the discussion is curiously simplistic and draws little upon archaeological evidence from beyond the immediate zone of study, from actual experience, or from ethnography. However, this does not deter the author from plunging into interpreting long mounds as analogies for houses, and horizontal land cuts as metaphors for settlement. Suddenly, the thesis concludes that modern classification and categorisation of monuments by functional attributes has been misplaced and, splendidly and prophetically, that 'unlike the monuments we study, our attempts at structuration are ephemeral and may be remodelled, reshaped, deconstructed and rebuilt many times over, with only minimal effort' (p. 116)!

Monuments unashamedly and uncritically picks up from the original work and, in eight chapters, develops the earlier ideas with grander aims. The Parthenon and the Arch of Constantine are brought in as images upon which to ponder the Neolithic, alongside references to city development, traffic congestion, tax and much else that concerns the author about modern times. This preoccupation is used to draw a distinction between now and the Neolithic! More follows, lectures compressed into paragraphs about how it all began--farming, settlement, social division, Native Americans and plenty of Pop Sociology to satisfy even the most naive of readers. But the author ploughs on and explains that he is skimming over data, case studies etc. in favour of an 'attempt to explain the Neolithic, and its impact on the land, through the inception and establishment of the first pieces of architecture: namely the mound, the enclosure, the shaft and the uprights of timber and stone' (p. 17). Why then must we have the sociology? That is not the only new approach that Russell introduces us to; he turns to modern art to assist him. 'My general take on the Neolithic is permeated by the philosophy of Rene Magritte' (p. …

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