Ancient Wonderings: Journeys Into Prehistoric Britain by James Canton

Review published on November 2, 2017.

The UK has a long history of human occupation. Taking a walk in the town or countryside will reveal traces of the past in the lumps and bumps of the fields and the streets of a city that show an earlier layout. You can tread the same paths as people have walked for millennia, across the ridgeways of the chalk downs and through sunken holloways. The ancient world does not give up its secrets easily, it normally involves careful study of a site, whilst considering it within the context of the wider landscape. Sifting the evidence often involves moving large amounts of soil to get an insight to how things were.

Even then, some things will always remain a mystery as Canton discovers when he visits a stone in the very north of Scotland. This stone has writing on that no one has been able to decipher and it is thought that no one ever will. This minor setback aside, it was still a place that oozed character and antiquity and fuelled his obsession with the traces of the past. He is driven to find the answers to various questions that he has wondered about, to go to the places that our ancestors inhabited and to hold the things that they have made. His wanderings will take him out on a small boat to float over Doggerland, a place that lives just below the waves of the North Sea, learns how to knap flint, undertakes an ambitious walk along the Peddars Way and searches for an elusive section of Roman road near where he lives. There is an inevitable trip to Stonehenge and the revelation that ancient Britons also mummified the deceased. Canton is lucky enough to get to hold a couple of nuggets of Irish and Cornish gold that was shipped back and forwards across the Irish Sea and to see the astonishing quality of the fabulous sun discs made by craftsmen thousands of years ago.

The ancient world has always fascinated me and where I live in Dorset I am fortunate to have a proliferation of barrows, hill forts and henges nearby to get my fix of prehistoric history; just like James Canton has to. What comes across in this book is his infectious enthusiasm for the past and a desire to go and experience these activities and places for himself. The prose is full of wry observations as he takes us on his discoveries to meet those engaging with our ancestors and the techniques they used to make objects that were significant or precious in some way. I liked the underlying and subtle humour and the images chosen at the beginning of each chapter fitted well. It was just a pleasure to read and hopefully, it will inspire those that read it to discover the prehistoric landscape in their local area.

Paul Cheney 4/3

Ancient Wonderings: Journeys Into Prehistoric Britain by James Canton
William Collins 9780008175207 hbk Jun 2017

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