New Book Chronicle

Article excerpt

'Half hidden among the pile of papers is a bulky parcel containing five volumes which his editor has sent with a note suggesting that they 'ought to go well together.' They arrived four days ago, but for forty-eight hours the reviewer was prevented by moral paralysis from opening the parcel. Yesterday in a resolute moment he ripped the string off it and found the five volumes to be Palestine at the Cross Roads, Scientific Dairy Farming, A Short History of European Democracy (this one is 680 pages and weighs four pounds), Tribal Customs in Portuguese East Africa, and a novel, It's Nicer Lying Down, probably included by mistake. His review--800 words, say--has got to be 'in' by midday tomorrow.'

George Orwell. Confessions of a book reviewer. Tribune 3 May 1946.

George Orwell's brilliant essay captures the business of book reviewing perfectly. And Orwell's more serious points--that selection is random, that most reviewers have no real opinions on most books, that books 'that matter' should be reviewed at length and most of the rest not at all--areas valid today as they were in 1946. And yet, here as elsewhere, we will keep plugging away, trying to capture the mood of archaeology from the arbitrary assortment of books that publishers graciously send us. So how shall we package this quarter's selection? A handful of books dealing with histories of archaeology--very much the flavour of the moment--, a few stemming from the practice of archaeology, and a trio considering aspects of prehistoric art. Some of these 'go well together', others less so.

Prehistoric art

PAUL BAHN & PAUL PETTITT. Britain's oldest art: the Ice Age cave art of Creswell Crags. viii+118 pages, 70 colour & b&w illustrations, 6 tables. 2009. Swindon: English Heritage; 978-1-84802-025-2 paperback 14.99 [pounds sterling].

DAVID S. WHITLEY. Cave paintings and the human spirit: the origin of creativity and belief. 322 pages, 24 b&w & colour illustrations. 2009. Amherst (NY): Prometheus Books; 978-1-59102-636-5 hardback $25.98.

RICHARD BRADLEY. Image and audience: rethinking prehistoric art. xv+260 pages, 84 illustrations. 2009. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 978-0-19-953385-5 hardback 50 [pounds sterling].

After the discovery of the first definite example of engraved parietal art dating to the Upper Palaeolithic period in Britain at Church Hole in the Creswell Crags caves in Derbyshire in 2003 and 2004, many claims have been made as to the exact number and nature of the engravings. So the publication of the definite account of the exposed motifs and their context by PAUL BAHN & PAUL PETTITT is especially welcome, and hailed in the preface by Michel Lorblanchet as an exemplary study. It is indeed, with a full colour photographic atlas and line drawings of the motifs in the central parr of the report (pp. 42-86), giving a clear understanding of images which were difficult to make out, illuminate and record. The authors are also showing exemplary restraint in not going beyond what was demonstrably engraved in the Palaeolithic, and refraining from any interpretation of the motifs; the text, however, hints at disagreements between the original discoverers, which included Spanish archaeologists Sergio Ripoll and Francisco Munoz, and the authors of the final report (p. 42); even the latter two agree to disagree on the interpretation of the bird/female figures (p. 50). The official inventory contains 23 motifs at Church Hole, which include the birds (CH1-4), probably a horse (CH13), an ibis (CH17), a stag (CH19) and a bison (CH23) and two more motifs in nearby caves. The report also sets the scene, reviews the occupation of caves in the Creswell Crags area, with particular emphasis on the Magdalenian period, when 'groups would return at certain times of the year in order to exploit seasonally abundant resources' (p. 33). Church Hole, with less occupation debris, is seen as 'perhaps a place of mystery or spirits rather than a place of the living' (p. …