Among the New Books

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Food and farming

Whence archaeologists' concern with the development of agriculture? Dr RUDEBECK (details below) argues that it springs from the Modern Western tradition of thought about progress from states of nature to civilization. After reviewing thinkers from Aquinas to Hobbes and Locke, Rousseau, Smith and Malthus, Tylor and Morgan, Lubbock, Engels, Frazer, on to L.A. White -- but not Levi-Strauss -- she turns to Pumpelly, Childe, Peake & Fleure, C.O. Sauer, Braidwood and R.S. MacNeish, Cambridge economic archaeology, Binford and Flannery and others. Recent thinkers, she points out, have approached some of the same themes through the conceptual idioms of feminism, interpreting the development of agriculture as not `the roots of misery' but an alternative way to `harmony with nature' (p. 254). Reassessment of the relation between gathering and farming she associates with Western self-appraisal in general. Apt reference is made to H.V. White's analysis of `metahistory'. This is a most absorbing read. However, Dr Rudebeck fails to consider archaeologists' technical predisposition to concentrate on technology narrowly construed -- tools and bones are easy to recognize. Nor is there much on the patronage of research and conceptual development -- the articulation of ideas with institutions and political interests remains unclear. See too the first two titles in `Allied disciplines', below.

ELISABETH RUDEBECK. Tilling Nature, harvesting culture: exploring images of the human being in the transition to agriculture (Acta Archaeologica Lundensia Series in 8 [degrees] 32). vii+299 pages, 31 figures, tables. 2000. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International; 91-22-01872-7 paperback SEK246+VAT.

SVEN ISAKSSON. Food and rank in early Medieval time (Theses & Papers in Scientific Archaeology 3). viii+302 pages, 68 figures, 26 tables. 2000. Stockholm: Stockholm University Archaeological Research Laboratory; 91-89338-02-2 (ISSN1400-7835)paperback.

PATRICIA C. ANDERSON (ed.). Prehistory of agriculture: new experimental and ethnographic approaches (University of California, Los Angeles, Institute of Archaeology Monograph 40). xii+308 pages, 204 figures, 54 tables. 1999. Los Angeles (CA): University of California, Los Angeles, Institute of Archaeology; 0-917956-93-1 paperback.

JACK R. HARLAN. The living fields: our agricultural heritage, xi+271 pages, 52 illustrations. 1998. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 0-521-64992-7 paperback 11.95 [pounds sterling] & $19.95.

Assessing older food myths, Dr ISAKSSON has assembled eight papers, all in English, on methods and techniques of analysis of residues on archaeological materials and in soils: four previously published, two others, by him and colleagues, awaiting publication elsewhere, and two others, including an introduction to the collection. Although not consistently present in all of these papers, the book's chief message is the importance of a sociological perspective. It transpires that, in Medieval Sweden, although funerary and ceremonial deposits may conform better to the ancient textual descriptions of diet, favoured foods were by no means common in daily life beyond court circles.

Dr ANDERSON has revised a fine collection of papers by leading figures, published originally in France: five on ethnographic and experimental studies of plant use and the development of cultivation, 16 on archaeological and experimental evidence for the origin of cultivation and domestication in southwest Asia and southern Europe, and a dozen others on methodology and on archaeological, palynological and ethnographic approaches to various technical aspects of ancient farming in the Old World. The studies include field trials, analysis of archaeological floral samples, studies of wear on ancient and experimental tools, ethnoarchaeology, and a paper on experiments based on Sumerian and Akkadian texts about `grain-grinding households' (J. …