Book Review: The Stonehenge People (Rodney Castleden) : BH

8/12/2001 • British Heritage Book Reviews, Reviews

The Stonehenge People, by Rodney Castleden. Published by Routledge, Chapman & Hall, P.O. Box 6904, Florence, Kentucky 41022. 800-634-7604. $16.95 paperback..

Readers hoping to come to an understanding of the entirety of prehistoric culture can do no better than Rodney Castleden’s THE STONEHENGE PEOPLE. Contrary to what the title might lead you to expect, Castleden accepts the challenge not just of interpreting the famous stones on Salisbury Plain, and the people who erected them; rather he uses the discoveries of the past 100 years of archaeological exploration to attempt a pervasive reconstruction of prehistoric society throughout Stone-Age Britain. His somewhat speculative analysis nevertheless avoids the often radical suppositions about ley lines and long-lost mystical knowledge and instead proposes a very satisfying, if less dramatic, interpretation that integrates our current knowledge of Stone-Age lifestyles, architecture, technology, and beliefs.

In the first half of his study, Castleden examines in detail many of the famous sites that provide the essential clues to reconstructing Neolithic society. In addition, he outlines the impact that the arrival of man in the British Isles had on the land, including the development of trade routes and the beginnings of deforestation and subsistence farming. This is followed in the second half of the book by an attempt to divine the less tangible aspects of prehistoric Britain–the spiritual life of the people who created the monumental remains that so fascinate us today.

In a field of study in which tremendous effort is routinely expanded on decyphering the mysteries of individual sites, Castleden does an admirable job of painting the big picture and giving readers at least a plausible answer to that pervasive question, ‘But why?’

Bruce Heydt

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