Prehistory: A Very Short Introduction by Chris Gosden is an exploration of the new landscape of our prehistory and how different geographical locations weave together.
The book examines the period of some 4 million years before the start of written history, when our earliest ancestors, the Australopithecines, existed in Africa.
It also looks at the traditional view of human progress around the invention of agriculture, the development of cities, and (much later) the industrial revolution, and provides a sense of scale, throwing recent ways of life into perspective.
The book covers the evolution of Homo sapiens, from the use of the first stone tools by hominins c. 3.3 million years ago to the beginning of recorded history with the invention of writing systems.
It also looks at the domestication of teosinte into maize, the invention of pottery, the domestication of horses, the invention of wheeled vehicles, the spread of humans into the Mediterranean, the metal-based times (Bronze Age etc), and more.
The book also examines the new narrative of human prehistory, which challenges the traditional view of increasing control of the environment. It looks at the cultural variety that has existed over millions of years, and the impact of Homo sapiens on planetary systems.
Overall, Prehistory: A Very Short Introduction provides an insightful look at the long biological and social process that came about before the first traces of language and culture among humans.
It examines the evolution of Homo sapiens, the domestication of plants and animals, the invention of pottery and wheeled vehicles, the spread of humans into the Mediterranean, and the metal-based times. It also looks at the new narrative of human prehistory, and the impact of Homo sapiens on planetary systems.
What I Liked
I love how this series is able to condense a massive, complicated topic like human prehistory into something readable, approachable and useful. There are lots of news stories, books, ideas, etc everyday in science, psychology, etc that all reference human prehistory – so it’s useful to have some factual background and context…without digging into a huge textbook. Love it.
What I Did Not Like
It’s a Very Short Introduction – there’s nothing to not like! This one gets a little in to the weeds – only because there’s a lot of caveats, nuance, and unanswered questions due to the nature of prehistory.