In a single century archæology has pushed the beginning of human history back some half-million years, and given it a perspective which was altogether lacking when knowledge was restricted to the comparatively short span of time covered by written records. Then, too, the material with which the prehistorian works is far more intimate than the documents of the historian. It is true that he lacks the romantic appeal of famous names, he cannot marshal an array of kings, heroes and law-givers, but instead he handles the actual things which helped men to pass their lives: the pots from which they ate and drank, the weapons with which they hunted or killed one another, their houses, their hearthstones and their graves. He is concerned with the lives and achievements of countless ordinary, anonymous people.
Archaeology has enabled us to understand how, from the moment when primitive human creatures shaped the first tools, chapter after chapter has been added to the tale of man's accomplishments. He masters fire, he discovers a mechanical principle, he becomes an artist, he learns to farm, to weave, to shape pots, to sail boats, to make wheels, to cast bronze, to work iron, until imperceptibly we have reached the unfinished chapter of today. There is no break in this procession of events. For myself, I always see them as it were threaded on a taut line which stretches from the present near my eyes back and back into the distance of the past -- a line which is in fact the historical time-sequence, the long line of the passing years. Because we are so conscious of this thread of time running through history, we have in this book held to it as a guide, following beside it for the tens of thousands of years that lead from eoliths to the Romans. A pedestrian method certainly, but one which keeps the vast complex story in good order and helps to convey the sense of continuity between the past, present and future of humanity, which is the underlying theme.
This book wishes to be no more than the briefest chronicle of the course of human history in the small but never unimportant corner of the world that we have come to know as the British Isles.
A word as to the manner of our collaboration. I have written . . .