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This first part of the first volume of the Cambridge Ancient History series examines the prehistory of the Near East, beginning with an overview of the geological ages and continues through the early human settlements, and then the lithic and chalcolithic periods. The regions examined are: Anatolia, Mesopotamia, the Aegean, Cyprus, and predynastic Egypt. This volume describ This first part of the first volume of the Cambridge Ancient History series examines the prehistory of the Near East, beginning with an overview of the geological ages and continues through the early human settlements, and then the lithic and chalcolithic periods. The regions examined are: Anatolia, Mesopotamia, the Aegean, Cyprus, and predynastic Egypt. This volume describes in detail the basis for the later development of city based societies in this region.


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This first part of the first volume of the Cambridge Ancient History series examines the prehistory of the Near East, beginning with an overview of the geological ages and continues through the early human settlements, and then the lithic and chalcolithic periods. The regions examined are: Anatolia, Mesopotamia, the Aegean, Cyprus, and predynastic Egypt. This volume describ This first part of the first volume of the Cambridge Ancient History series examines the prehistory of the Near East, beginning with an overview of the geological ages and continues through the early human settlements, and then the lithic and chalcolithic periods. The regions examined are: Anatolia, Mesopotamia, the Aegean, Cyprus, and predynastic Egypt. This volume describes in detail the basis for the later development of city based societies in this region.

30 review for The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume 1, Part 1: Prolegomena and Prehistory

  1. 4 out of 5

    Evan Leach

    A good overview of Western prehistory, from the first primitive communities of the Paleolithic Era to roughly 3,000 BC (although the time periods covered vary by geographic region). Particular attention is devoted to Egypt, Anatolia (modern day Turkey), Palestine, Mesopotamia, and the Aegean islands. Because the time period covered in this volume predates the existence of writing, its authors rely on physical evidence to draw their conclusions. This means that there is a lot of fairly technical d A good overview of Western prehistory, from the first primitive communities of the Paleolithic Era to roughly 3,000 BC (although the time periods covered vary by geographic region). Particular attention is devoted to Egypt, Anatolia (modern day Turkey), Palestine, Mesopotamia, and the Aegean islands. Because the time period covered in this volume predates the existence of writing, its authors rely on physical evidence to draw their conclusions. This means that there is a lot of fairly technical discussion about excavations, the remains of ancient cities, and analysis of primitive artifacts that may not appeal to every reader. In addition, this volume is nearly 50 years old as of the time of this writing; I suspect that some of its conclusions have been reevaluated over the years, and doubtless there are many important discoveries that have been unearthed since 1970 that fall outside the scope of this text. Still, the Cambridge Ancient History series consistently produces fine work, and this volume is no exception. For readers interested in a single-volume introduction to prehistory in the West, this is a good place to start. 4.0 stars.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lazette

    A person has to truly love history, esoteric knowledge and pottery to read this book from cover-to-cover. I have actually read it twice. The first time was over 25 years ago, when I was able to get a copy from the library. I read several of the books in the series and swore that I would own them one day. This is the first of the 19 volumes that I've bought. The history of mankind's first steps towards civilization is a fascinating mosaic of tool (and pottery) making, the first attempts at agricul A person has to truly love history, esoteric knowledge and pottery to read this book from cover-to-cover. I have actually read it twice. The first time was over 25 years ago, when I was able to get a copy from the library. I read several of the books in the series and swore that I would own them one day. This is the first of the 19 volumes that I've bought. The history of mankind's first steps towards civilization is a fascinating mosaic of tool (and pottery) making, the first attempts at agriculture and domestication of animals -- and of movement. The amount of movement humanity did before wheeled vehicles or anything to ride is phenomenal. From Mesopotamia to Egypt to the islands of the Aegean and into Greece, the spread of people can be traced through the types of pottery and the patterns (among things) they brought with them, and through the trade in such items as obsidian, turquoise and -- late in the book -- copper. There were isolated communities, but trade routes were plainly already established, and culture spreading along those paths. This is not a story of personality; there are no known people except in the chapter of how various king lists are used to coordinate time with several areas by matching names with those found in other documents. After that, it is a story of humanity as a whole, learning from each other how to better survive in the world. I love learning just for itself. However, I have also always found books like this to be a storehouse of story fodder and background material for world building. I make certain that I mark out one interesting line within every 20 page stretch. These little tidbits often seed their way into stories, along with much else I read in the books. Below are the quotes from this book. Page 1 -- More than four-fifths of history of our earth was over before the fossil record opens. Page 33 -- In the end it overlaps with pre-history, and the most recent events we have described -- for example the separation of the waters of the Mediterranean from those of the Red Sea -- were unwittingly witnessed by tool-using man. Page 60 -- The archaeological evidence supports the suggestion that irrigation farming involved only the breaching of the natural embankments of streams and made use of uncontrolled local flooding. Page 62 -- The land of Egypt consists of three major features: the alluvial lands of the valley and the delta, the low desert bordering these land son both flanks, and, beyond, the desert uplands. Page 93 -- The most obvious and dramatic change in temperate Europe was that forest trees were able to expand from their Late-glacial landscape. Page 111 -- The most impressive burial at Teviec comprised six persons: at the bottom there was a man of between twenty and thirty who had evidently been killed by an arrow mounted with a triangular microlith, and above five more burials, including those of two men, two women and a girl, the whole surmounted by a heap of stone incorporating what appears to have been a ritual hearth. Page 124 -- Although we have described this model in terms of geographical spread, it is equally applicable to dialect differentiation among the various strata of a given society or to the divergence that arise between spoken and written forms of the language which continue to influence one another. Page 145 -- It became extinct as a spoken language, for all practical purposes, soon after the close of the Ur III Dynasty, and the end of the third millennium, but was intensively cultivated by scribes down into the second century, B. C., if not even later. (Sumerian) Page 170 -- It has been suggested that the genesis of the Iron Age accompanied the fall of the Hittite Empire at the beginning of the twelfth century B. C. Page 188 -- Her disappearance from history some time between his 20th and 22nd years agrees with Manetho's slightly garbled statement that after the third king of the dynasty 'his sister Amesssis' ruled for twenty-one years and nine months. (Hatshepsut) Page 206 -- It is towards the end of the reign of Suppliuliumash that the Hittite records mention the death of Tutankhamun. Page 234 -- According to Cameron three rulers held office simultaneously dring that period of Elamite history. When the senior ruler, the sukkalmah, died the next senior, the sukkal of Elam and Simashki, moved up to sukkalmah. The junior ruler, the sukkal of Susa would move up whenever the next highest office was vacated, and a new sukkal of Susa would be appointed. Page 249 -- Hunting was still the main occupation, but at Zawi Chemi there is abundant evidence for domestic sheep, the first animal to be domesticated. Page 270 -- Burqras looks like an attempt by early farmers at settling in the Euphrates valley which failed, just as the early settlements in Palestine seem to have failed ultimately, though after a much more prolonged effort. Page 284 -- In a previous section we have already described the establishment of early village sites on the edge of the alluvial plain in the Deh Luran district and we have seen how, soon after 6000 B. C., plain and painted pottery made its appearance in the 'Muhammad Ja'far phase' at Ali-Kush, together with a decline in agriculture and a concomitant increase in pastoralism that led eventually to the abandonment of the site. Page 306 -- By reason of their seasonal migrations nomads are most efficient agents for the transmission of culture. Page 331 -- It need not surprise us that this now desolate spot was once deemed to be a holy place and that the faithful journeyed there to leave offerings in the sand long after the city had ceased to be. Page 349 -- Considered in retrospect, the most remarkable feature in this long prehistoric process is the inverse measure of progression revealed by an analysis of pottery and the architecture respectively. Whereas the painted wares found at the bottom of Eridu are artistically highly developed and elaborate in design, the first buildings are simplicity itself, and many centuries must have lapsed before they began to assume the basic form of ground plan which we associate with Sumerian civilization. Moreover, as the buildings became more elaborate and standardized in plan, the pottery lost its fullness of design, and tended towards repetition and a more mechanical output of relatively limited shapes. Page 364 -- It is not unlikely that this was a dedication, a burnt sacrifice made when a temple named the 'Cone-mosaic Temple' was dismantled to make way for a ne one, and that a part of the older temple furniture was thus consecrated in perpetuity before being replaced by a new set. Page 383 -- We may be tempted to see in these Gawra buildings the origin of the Megaron which, at a considerably later period, was to become so characteristic a feature of Anatolia -- at Troy and Beycesultan -- and eventually of the Mycenaean world. Page 403 -- These caves are still used intermittently by Kurds for a month or two each yer as shelters during the season when they are collecting wild fruit, and also in autumn when they are hunting game: the nearest running stream is now at Havdiyan. Page 434 -- Already we may discern the beginnings of the terrible population problems that confront us today: the perfect equilibrium between production and consumption is a notion of the golden age which, so far, has existed only within man's imagination, but has never been realized beyond it, however wide the open spaces may have been at the beginnings of prehistory. Page 448 -- A bone holder for a flint knife from Sialk I represents a male figure with hands and arms reverently folder across the front of the body in an attitude of obeisance which is already astonishingly Persian! Page 470 -- Animals and humans were buried in the same cemeteries. The bodies of the animals were wrapped in matting and linen, and their graves did not differ from those of humans except in their lack of tomb furniture. The remains found were those of small carnivores, either dog or jackal, cows and sheep. (El-Badari, predyansitc Egypt.) Page 485 -- Some of the better graves were lined with matting or with wooden planks, which were the ancestors both of wooden coffins and the internal wood paneling of the First Dynasty tombs. Page 519 -- It is no paradox to attribute to nomads the introduction of pottery and certain other developments; before the establishment of trading on a larger scale, nomads played an important part in the transmission of new ideas and the diffusion of influences. Page 530 -- The Ghassul-Beersheba culture, which mad its appearance without any preliminaries, disappeared without any sequel. Page 542 -- From time immemorial industrious Cypriot farmers have built thousands of miles of terrace walls to avert the worst effects of such storms. Page 562 -- When the Thessalian Plain, and most likely other parts of Greece as well, became inundated, possibly between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago, man must have taken to the higher ground of the periphery, perhaps descending again in the several periods of desiccation. Page 583 -- Made in much the same way were the more numerous clay sling bullets, unbaked or poorly fired, which seem to have been the only weapon of the period. Page 606 -- Towards the end of the Late Neolithic period one can sense an increase in the movement of peoples into and about the Aegean, possibly a preliminary phase of maritime commercial enterprise such as characterizes the subsequent Early Bronze Age.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ben Dutton

    My historical knowledge, especially pre-nineteenth century, is a little weak: in fact it’s downright dreadful. Asking a friend what the best history series to read was, to fill in these disgraceful gaps, he suggested the Cambridge History series. Discovering that my local library had a complete set of their Ancient History range, I thought why not begin at the beginning: The first volume of this fourteen volume sets takes us from the geological ages through to the Stone Age in the Aegean. Writte My historical knowledge, especially pre-nineteenth century, is a little weak: in fact it’s downright dreadful. Asking a friend what the best history series to read was, to fill in these disgraceful gaps, he suggested the Cambridge History series. Discovering that my local library had a complete set of their Ancient History range, I thought why not begin at the beginning: The first volume of this fourteen volume sets takes us from the geological ages through to the Stone Age in the Aegean. Written by a series of eminent scholars in each field, the series builds up a complete picture of early life in and around the Mediterranean basin and western Asia. (They have other series that detail the rise of civilisation in other parts of the world). It has been a few years since I last read any true academic works, and it felt such a delight returning to that world. This series taught me much I had no idea on, and made me ask questions I’d never thought of before: how and why does a written language develop within a culture? When and how and why does a culture go from itinerancy to settlement? How do you domestic animals? When did the first multi-storey buildings first appear, and why? What we have in this series is the very building blocks of society being laid out before us: before long (well, actually a long way on from now) we’ll get to the Romans and the Greeks, and it will all seem like natural evolution. The few problems with reading every page of a volume such as this, is that you do get a certain amount of repetition: details of pottery markings in Cyprus, Turkey, Israel, Egypt… all of these details are necessary to complete the picture, but it does become a little tiresome. It is with the appearance of people with names, and the beginnings of monarchy and human conflict that the series really came to life: and I look forward to beginning the second volume to see where this historical journey goes next.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    This is the first volume of the massive Third Edition of the Cambridge Ancient History and, naturally, with a 1970 date affixed, it is going to be equally massively out of date. At least it will be out of date until a Fourth Edition is published (the full Third Edition appears to have been completed as 19 volumes in 2005 so the account of the High Roman Empire may be assumed to be bang up to date) which, given economic conditions, may take a little while. Nevertheless, even over forty years out of This is the first volume of the massive Third Edition of the Cambridge Ancient History and, naturally, with a 1970 date affixed, it is going to be equally massively out of date. At least it will be out of date until a Fourth Edition is published (the full Third Edition appears to have been completed as 19 volumes in 2005 so the account of the High Roman Empire may be assumed to be bang up to date) which, given economic conditions, may take a little while. Nevertheless, even over forty years out of date, it remains a useful and reliable summary of archaeological knowledge about the neolithic as research stood in the late 1960s and it helps to outline the gaps that the next forty to fifty years were supposed to fill.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sammy

    It is perhaps worth noting what this book is, as a 19-volume collection totalling over 16,000 pages of dense material is not a project worth embarking on unless it suits. That is to say, this is a 5-star work for what it sets out to be, but can never be a 5-star work in many other ways. The Cambridge Ancient History is part of a larger series, completed by The Cambridge Medieval History and The Cambridge Modern History that tell the story of Europe (and, in some cases, further afield) from geolog It is perhaps worth noting what this book is, as a 19-volume collection totalling over 16,000 pages of dense material is not a project worth embarking on unless it suits. That is to say, this is a 5-star work for what it sets out to be, but can never be a 5-star work in many other ways. The Cambridge Ancient History is part of a larger series, completed by The Cambridge Medieval History and The Cambridge Modern History that tell the story of Europe (and, in some cases, further afield) from geological prehistory to the middle of the 20th century. There are 19 books in the Ancient, 7 in the Medieval, and 13 dense tomes in the Modern (where the focus really does narrow down to Western Europe). It is, in other ways, madness. Why is it good? Well, it's by Cambridge. No, seriously. The professors and academics involved in each chapter and section have exhaustive knowledge of their subjects, and any given page details the scientific advances and knowledge (at least known to those in the last half of the 20th century, when these were published). For the most part, the approach is no-nonsense. This isn't some namby-pamby listen to the people who claim the Pyramids were built by aliens, or that there's a possibility that this was all faked by a deity who invented the world 2,000 years ago (it wasn't). This is science. The tone is open-minded across the volumes, matter-of-fact although rarely all that enlivening. In many cases, the writers will happily go into immense detail on a subject (such as the colours and markings on Minoan pottery). Much like the best of the David Attenborough documentaries, it's hard to imagine how anyone could come away from this book anything less than completely convinced by the arguments at hand. Also, by taking the anthology approach of allowing experts to write each section (which were originally published as individual fascicles to help eager students), every section has the imprimatur of academia. Combined with this, every volume has a detailed bibliography, maps where relevant, and lots of reassurance that all of the knowledge contained herein is part of a larger, ongoing conversation between academics and historians around the world, piecing together evidence to form hypotheses, then either verifying or discarding these as the decades go on. It's exactly what science should be, and it's a shame that the set is so expensive. At the same time... of course, this is not for everyone, and isn't even necessarily the best way to learn this information. The books are written by academics and designed primarily for students and academics. Most people will find it practical to pick up the volume that suits the area they are interested in, rather than reading the whole work. If you don't have some knowledge of plate tectonics, entire chunks of pages would be better served as a doorstop. On top of this - as with other, similar, iconic works like The Arden Shakespeare - the volume was made for people with access to a university library. The section on Sumerian kings won't actually list any Sumerian kings, as you might expect to find in a source book. Rather, it will discuss the various lists that exist, and their sources, with footnotes directing you to where you can find the list. So, although this book contains much useful information, it is by no means a comprehensive source. Sometimes, you may come away from a section with only information about the information you were looking for! On top of this, the internet has meant that armchair readers of a subject may find it easier to consult Wikipedia, science articles, and synopses of this information. There are good sources online for how the continents came to their present location that are speedier and just as satisfying as reading 60 pages of dense prattle. That's not to say any part of this set is unnecessary, but much of it serves a clear purpose that is not for the armchair historian: it is to provide a primer for academic students, or an overview for academics, that can direct them in expanding knowledge via the 15 or 20 relevant texts from the bibliography. Also, it's not as much of a problem in the Ancient set, but younger people in the 21st century seem to struggle with the notion that an academic (or bunch thereof) has all the information. It's for this reason that the older style of documentary - in which one person (admittedly, usually a white man in those days) narrates their view of the world direct to the camera for 13 episodes - has fallen by the wayside a bit. Although, for me, there is nothing better than listening to the learned (if only we could shake up the gender and colour bias somewhat!). But that's a digression. It's exciting to many of us to find such a large, attractive set, with such a wide scope of information. And these volumes will inevitably not be read by that many due to their size, density, and the fact that such endless streams of factual knowledge eventually withers even the sharpest mind, without much emotional or personal connection to the subject. Some of the volumes are better than others at tackling social and cultural information, while unfortunately there is still a tendency for some to approach history as a series of battles and kings. True, these are often easier to glean from the evidence available, but there is so much more. The differences we see in culture, in vocabulary, in attitudes, just between 1960 and today are exactly what occurred to the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Ancient Chinese, and others. For a long time, these issues were seen as somehow "less than history", as feminine or as entertainment. Now, they are being seen more and more as vital, as they should be. So, all in all, yes. These volumes are magisterial, and we should cherish them - if for no other reason then it is unlikely something similar will come along again.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rob Markley

    I hunted this down at a reasonable price after many years of looking, because I wanted and expected a thorough and comprehensive overview of prehistory. At 618 dense pages it is certainly deep but neither thorough nor comprehensive. In fact I can't see what they were thinking in putting it together - this is chronologically and internally inconsistent, disorganised and bordering on chaotic. Really it is not 'a history' at all - more like a history journal with a random selection of miscellaneous I hunted this down at a reasonable price after many years of looking, because I wanted and expected a thorough and comprehensive overview of prehistory. At 618 dense pages it is certainly deep but neither thorough nor comprehensive. In fact I can't see what they were thinking in putting it together - this is chronologically and internally inconsistent, disorganised and bordering on chaotic. Really it is not 'a history' at all - more like a history journal with a random selection of miscellaneous articles. As such it really can't be rated as a whole, but rather by chapter 1 The Geological Ages (pp1-34) 4 star This is absolutely fascinating (although surely outside the scope?). However the disappointment (5 star down to 4) is that it fails to relate to humanity (history is people!) - when surely it was the golden opportunity to explain the distribution of different sorts of flint, rocks and clays so essential to the prehistory to follow 2 Physical conditions (pp35-69) 4 star Harder to follow and less comprehensive than the first chapter. From memory this is really about climate change and thus very interesting - so relevant for this modern time. 3 Primitive man (pp70-121) 1 star Aimless list of mainly flint implements found everywhere from Egypt to Scandinavia, without virtually any interpretation the significance or meaning 4 Evidence of Language (pp122-155) 3 star Very interesting overview of the theory and structure of language distribution, but fails to apply and interpret chronologically (such dates as are mentioned often jump well after the supposed period of the volume) the picture adequately to the ancient world 5 The earliest populations of man (pp156-172) 1 star Now we jump way back in time to anthropological issues of humanoid type but without any interpretation or application 6 Chronology (pp173 -247) 4 star Really interesting discussions of dynastic records and king lists and working out the fixing points and cross references. Better for Egypt than for Mesopotamia. However surely this belongs to later history not pre history, and I strongly suspect has been very selective in which material has been discussed? 7 The earliest settlements in Western Asia 9th - end 5th Millennium BC (pp248-326) 2 star Fails to explain much at all, now that we do hit the main focus area of the volume. Really all we get is a set to labels to apply to various finds mainly of potsherds and building shapes. 8 Development of cities (Mesopotamia) (pp327-462) 3 star Traces the development of cities pretty well, but mainly through architecture and comparative pottery remains, when it would have been good to have widened the discussion to other factors. Also gets disjointed when it territorially moves outside the actual urbanised zone. A big plus is the inclusion of images which are sorely lacking in the chapters to follow. Remainder all 3 star 9a Predynastic Egypt (pp463-498) 9b Palestine (pp499-538) 9c Cyprus (pp539-556) 10 Greece and Crete (pp557-618) Now the chapter numbering gets bizarre! In a sense these chapters do a similar job to chapter 8, but instead of necessary illustrations (except a few bizarrely chosen exceptions) there are endless difficult descriptions of shapes of pottery vessels and their decorations. Also - whatever happened to Anatolia in this geographical sweep - unless chapter 7 was supposed to do that - but then it would have overlapped 8?? In a real sense these chapters, which are pretty similar to each other are the main topic of the volume. There is a lot of helpful information certainly, but what we have is mainly a survey of key sites and discussion of dating these findings. What then is missing? Failure to address technological development, no extrapolation of culture, absence of a sweep of historical transformation; no sense of rises, falls and influences of peoples and geographical areas. Finally there are a set of maps which seem to be included as an after thought rather than being tied into the text; along with useful references and a good index. Phew. It has been hard work wading through the jargon and I did learn a bit, but overall a most unsatisfactory effort. Just as well I didn't purchase for hardcover for several hundred dollars, even as second hand!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ellana Thornton-Wheybrew

    Fascinating and in depth, this covers the Mediterranean and beyond, from the geological formation of the area right up to the beginning of what is considered civilisation. It is interesting, but there is so much specialised jargon I would not recommend this for a non-expert, unless you are willing to constantly look up unfamiliar terms.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Aalok Ghimire

    The final 6 chapters are quite interesting. The final one is chaotic and has to be written better. Its nice to have so many details that you will never use except perhaps to devise a fine metaphor about incising pottery from within and forming ripples.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Cupitt

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rocco Carlucci

  11. 4 out of 5

    Artur Olczyk

  12. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Johnson

  13. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Chase

  14. 4 out of 5

    Marv

  15. 5 out of 5

    OTIS

  16. 4 out of 5

    Christina

  17. 5 out of 5

    Maryam

  18. 4 out of 5

    Gareth Wilson

  19. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

  20. 4 out of 5

    Omer Dassa

  21. 5 out of 5

    R.E.J. Burke

  22. 5 out of 5

    Samuel

  23. 5 out of 5

    SpookyHegelian

  24. 5 out of 5

    Megan

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gianluca Fiore

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mnemosyne

  27. 5 out of 5

    Matteo

  28. 5 out of 5

    Noorali Habib

  29. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Greer

  30. 5 out of 5

    Subhajit Das

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