The Atlantic Iron Age

Author: Jon Henderson
Publisher: Routldge
Published: 2007
ISBN -13: 9780415436427

Synopsis: It may be surprising to learn that this book is the first ever survey of the Atlantic Iron Age: this tradition is cited in archaeology frequently enough to seem firmly established, yet has never been clearly defined.With this book, Jon Henderson provides an important and much-needed exploration of the archaeology of western areas of Britain, Ireland, France and Spain to consider how far Atlantic Iron Age communities were in contact with each other.

By examining the evidence for settlement and maritime trade, as well as aspects of the material culture of each area, Henderson identifies distinct Atlantic social identities through time. He also pinpoints areas of similarity: the possibility of cultural ‘cross-pollination’ caused by maritime links and to what extent these contacts influenced and altered the distinctive character of local communities. A major theme running through the book is the role of the Atlantic seaboard itself and what impact this unique environment had on the ways Atlantic communities perceived themselves and their place in the world.

As a history of these communities unfolds, a general archaeological Atlantic identity breaks down into a range of regional identities which compare interestingly with each other and with traditional models of Celtic identity.

Bringing together the Iron Age settlement evidence for the Atlantic regions in one place for the first time, this excellent and original book is certain to establish itself as the definitive study of the Atlantic Iron Age.

Review: This book is touted as the sequel to Professor Cunliffe’s amazing book Facing the Ocean. In fact one of the people who wrote a blurb for the book is Professor Cunliffe and it is obvious that he thought highly of it. So I was really eager to read this book.

The author in the book examines aspects of settlement, society, and material cult of the Atlantic facing areas and provides insight into the existence, scale, and significance of maritime communication between them. The author’s aim was to show what parts of the socio-cultural similarities are due to this maritime contact and what parts are due to these communities sharing a common background.

The scope of study for this book is the Late Bronze Age (1200 – 600 BCE) to the end of the first millennium BCE with an emphasis on the seventh century BCE to the end of the first millennium BCE. The areas covered are Armorica, south-west England, Wales, Ireland, and Atlantic Scotland. Also a passing reference to south-western France and western Iberia.

I can see how this book would be thought of as a sequel to Facing the Ocean in that the author obviously thinks that the Atlantic communities developed distinctly, though with a little influence from mainland Europe depending on the ebb and flow of contact with it via the sea. It seems pretty clear that he thinks they were aware of what was happening in mainland Europe but developed their own flavor of it (which jives very well with the archeological records in enigmas like Ireland for instance). The author points out in his book that Cunliffe’s study of the Atlantic fringe in his book Facing the Ocean leaves a serious need to look at the evidence for specific periods in detail and to look beyond the superficial integrity of the region in order to identify local and regional Atlantic identities.

I highly recommend this book if you are interested not only in when cultures came into being but how they interacted with each other and how they borrowed (or not) from each other. It also shows how the environment around a culture can shape it. Very interesting but also very slow to read since almost with every word you read something new, or see a fact that you’ve read before but in a different light.

2 thoughts on “The Atlantic Iron Age

  1. Dafydd says:

    This sounds like a fascinating book. It makes me wonder about the diversity of cultures in Western Europe during the Iron Age. While reading Cunliffe’s Iron Age Communities I was amazed with the cultural and economic differences between different regions of Celtic Britain and Ireland – there seemed to ba about four different cultures for northern Britain for example. From your review I gather that this book expands on this idea.

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