ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2012 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 58, No.2 - Summer 2012
Editor of this issue: Loreta Vaicekauskienė

Book Review

20,000 Archaeologists are now conducting research in Europe

Sarunas Milisauskas, Editor. European Prehistory. A Survey. Second Edition. Springer, New York, 2011. Hard cover, 493 pages. ISBN: 0306467933 / ISBN-13: 9780306467936

As per the Anthropology Review Database, Sarunas Milisauskas is a professor of anthropology at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Born in Lithuania, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1970. He has conducted archaeological research on the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age settlements in Poland. His publications include European Prehistory (1978) and Early Neolithic Settlement and Society at Olszanica (1986).

The back cover of this new edition of European Prehistory presents an overview of what it contains. Accordingly, the book traces humans from their earliest appearance on the continent to the rise of the Roman Empire, drawing on archaeological research from all over Europe. It includes the Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Ages. Major developments are explored using a wide range of archaeological data that emphasizes aspects of agricultural practices, gender, mortuary practices, population genetics, ritual, settlement patterns, technology, trade, and warfare. Using new methods and theories, recent discoveries and arguments are presented. This edition includes chapters on European geography and the chronology of European prehistory. A new chapter has been added on the historical development of European archaeology. The remaining chapters have been contributed by archaeologists specializing in different periods. This edition is enhanced by a glossary, three indexes, and a comprehensive bibliography. It also contains a collection of maps, tables, and various photographs. 

The book is divided into twelve chapters. Five of them are written by the editor and two more by the editor with Janusz Kruk (Krakow, Poland). Three chapters are contributed by Michael Jochim (Santa Barbara, CA), and one chapter each by Anthony F. Harding (Exeter, UK) and Peter S. Wells (Minneapolis, MN). The book aims to introduce English-speaking students and scholars to the archaeological research being done in Europe, to integrate that research into a historical frame of reference, to address cultural change, and to provide an overview of European prehistory from the earliest appearance of humans to the rise of the Roman Empire.

According to the introductory comments by the editor, approximately 20,000 archaeologists are currently conducting research in Europe. Thus, only a small percentage of their work could be included in this survey. A dpecial effort was made to include a number of scholars from “minority countries.” “The European archaeological community is very diverse and it is important that we hear the voices of archaeologists of many nationalities.” (p. 1) After the Introduction, the book picks up on historical observations on European archaeology, followed by a geographic summary. The meat-and-potatoes of the book starts with Chapter 4 – The Lower and Middle Paleolithic, followed by the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods. With Chapter 7, the first farmers of Europe show up in the Early Neolithic. (7000-5500/5000 BC). In Chapter 8, we enter into the Middle Neolithic/Early Copper Age (5500/5000-3500 BC). The Late Neolithic/Late Copper Age takes us to 3500-2300 BC. The Bronze Age (Chapter 10) and The Iron Age (Chapter 11) round out the time periods covered in the book.

I want to digress and focus on one particular subject in the chapter on the Early Neolithic, where the meaning of ornamentation on figurines is reviewed. Does it have a symbolic meaning or message? Since many Neolithic figurines represent women, it has been assumed they represent goddesses. Thirty-five years ago a Lithuanian-born archaeologist, Marija Gimbutas, resurrected and popularized the Great Goddess hypothesis. At that time, she was a major authority on European archaeology and her interpretations became accepted as facts by some. She continues to be a major source of information and, perhaps, inspiration to Milisauskas, as evidenced by the frequency of references he makes to her. She is cited more frequently – on 27 different pages – than any other of the about 1,500 names listed in the Persons Index.

“She conducted numerous excavations and possessed reading proficiency in many European languages, her ideas simply cannot be dismissed as idiosyncratic or exotic.” (p. 203) According to Milisauskas, even after her death, Gimbutas remains one of the best-known and influential archaeologists. “Marija Gimbutas idealized the peacefulness and gender equality of Early and Middle Neolithic societies; she left us with an enduring vision of a Neolithic utopia with its unifying myth of a mother goddess” (p. 155). By the late 1980s, she was proclaiming that Early and Middle Neolithic peoples were worshipping a Great Goddess. “This appealed especially to those women in Western societies who were searching for a feminist alternative to male-centered contemporary religions.” (p. 303) 

In the last chapter – Conclusion – the editor highlights the materials presented in the book. The reader is reminded that starting around 7000-6800 BC the first farmers in the Aegean area initiated economic, ecological, settlement, ritual, and ideological changes that eventually affected the whole continent. By the end of the Neolithic, around 3300-3100 BC in Greece and 2200 BC in Central Europe, the continent was occupied by numerous societies. Relationships between various communities ranged from peaceful to warlike. “We should not romanticize the world of the Paleolithic or Neolithic. It is all too easy to make up stories of golden ages about Paleolithic foragers or Early Neolithic farmers and create myths about prehistoric cultures.” (p. 461)

The reader is also reminded that, with the passage of time, archaeological periods became shorter. The Neolithic lasted 3,400 years in Central Europe, the Bronze Age 1,400 years, and the Iron Age less than 1,000 years. “Europe’s place in human history, considering its small geographical size, is extraordinary. No continent influenced other geographic areas as much as Europe later in historic times, for better or worse.” (p. 403) 84

Could this book also be clairvoyant and anticipate what lies ahead? It’s only my wish, but such a “prediction” appears to be depicted on the political map of present-day Europe. (p. 24) There, the Kaliningrad Region, administered by Russia since the end of World War II, is no longer shown as such. How nice! 

Romualdas Kriaučiūnas