After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC

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Overview

20,000 B.C., the peak of the last ice age--the atmosphere is heavy with dust, deserts, and glaciers span vast regions, and people, if they survive at all, exist in small, mobile groups, facing the threat of extinction.

But these people live on the brink of seismic change--10,000 years of climate shifts culminating in abrupt global warming that will usher in a fundamentally changed human world. After the Ice is the story of this momentous period--one in which a seemingly minor alteration in temperature could presage anything from the spread of lush woodland to the coming of apocalyptic floods--and one in which we find the origins of civilization itself.

Drawing on the latest research in archaeology, human genetics, and environmental science, After the Ice takes the reader on a sweeping tour of 15,000 years of human history. Steven Mithen brings this world to life through the eyes of an imaginary modern traveler--John Lubbock, namesake of the great Victorian polymath and author of Prehistoric Times. With Lubbock, readers visit and observe communities and landscapes, experiencing prehistoric life--from aboriginal hunting parties in Tasmania, to the corralling of wild sheep in the central Sahara, to the efforts of the Guila Naquitz people in Oaxaca to combat drought with agricultural innovations.

Part history, part science, part time travel, After the Ice offers an evocative and uniquely compelling portrayal of diverse cultures, lives, and landscapes that laid the foundations of the modern world.

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Editorial Reviews

Science

Mithen did a huge amount of research to produce this curiously encyclopedic work. The book is empirically authoritative but quirkily postmodern...[A] truly provocative and ambitious work...After the Ice is a book that should be read and then exasperatingly argued about...And it does evoke the real excitement of doing Stone Age archaeology (from the digging to the debating the meaning of the finds): the passion to learn that has driven so many prehistorians and dreamers.
— Lawrence Guy Straus

Booklist

Using an unorthodox narrative device, Mithen explores why, how, and where farming displaced hunting and gathering. Mithen conjures John Lubbock, an English author of a once-popular 1865 history of the Stone Age, and sends him back in time to visit dozens of excavation sites around the world as they appeared when inhabited. Lubbock's transcontinental perambulations permit Mithen (a practicing archaeologist who describes his digs in Scotland) to underscore one causal factor in the agricultural revolution: the fluctuations of climate at the end of the last Ice Age. Weather, sea level, and zones of plant and animal life changed dramatically in the 15,000 years of Lubbock's walkabout, and Mithen explains how environmental volatility is scientifically known as he sketches Lubbock observing the various 'living' human communities that have been uncovered. A successful marriage of fact and imagination.
— Gilbert Taylor

Glasgow Herald

The resulting floods, spread of forests and retreat of the deserts set up the planet we know today. Mithen's exhaustive explanation of how human beings began living in small, mobile groups and then permanent villages and the resultant creation of civilisation is a big tale that's worth staying with.
— Brian Hennigan

Discover
With the help of a fictional guide dubbed John Lubbock, modeled after a Victorian naturalist who wrote a popular book called Prehistoric Times, Mithen embarks on a vivid tour of the warming world as it emerged from the last ice age. In the process, he lends a you-are-there immediacy to an era in which humans invented farming, settled in towns, and created civilization as we know it.
Science News
In an ambitious undertaking, archaeologist Mithen describes 15,000 years of ancient history from 20,000 to 5,000 B.C....Mithen explores how studying the abrupt transition between the ice age and a period of global warming could provide clues to the effects of climate changes going on today.
American Scientist

After the Ice offers a fascinating whirlwind tour of an underappreciated segment of human history...The prose is lively and evocative as Mithen unfolds a compelling story...The cumulative effect of this book should be a profound new appreciation of a largely unknown and crucially important period of our past. If you want to find out what you don't know about the grand sweep of human history, there is not a better place to start.
— Douglas K. Charles

Paleoanthropology

The author successfully achieved his goal of presenting a great deal of information about a pivotal point in our history in a thorough and easily digestible manner...This successful compilation of human history from 20,000-5,000 BC should not be overlooked as a key reference and welcome addition to any library of an interested novice, undergraduate student of prehistory, or seasoned archaeologist looking for a well written synthesis.
— John D. Rissetto

The Historian

This massive and clever book opens modern scholarship about the distant past to nonspecialists. Buyers of this book will get their money's worth. It comes with a generous supply of maps and pictures of artifacts and digs, some of which are in color...Erudite and also quirky, Mithen summarizes the work of contemporary archaeologists, often by recounting his own visits to archaeological sites and drawing on insights from recent research on paleoclimates and human genetics...This impressive book stands out as the new standard work.
— David M. Fahey

Science - Lawrence Guy Straus
Mithen did a huge amount of research to produce this curiously encyclopedic work. The book is empirically authoritative but quirkily postmodern...[A] truly provocative and ambitious work...After the Ice is a book that should be read and then exasperatingly argued about...And it does evoke the real excitement of doing Stone Age archaeology (from the digging to the debating the meaning of the finds): the passion to learn that has driven so many prehistorians and dreamers.
Booklist - Gilbert Taylor
Using an unorthodox narrative device, Mithen explores why, how, and where farming displaced hunting and gathering. Mithen conjures John Lubbock, an English author of a once-popular 1865 history of the Stone Age, and sends him back in time to visit dozens of excavation sites around the world as they appeared when inhabited. Lubbock's transcontinental perambulations permit Mithen (a practicing archaeologist who describes his digs in Scotland) to underscore one causal factor in the agricultural revolution: the fluctuations of climate at the end of the last Ice Age. Weather, sea level, and zones of plant and animal life changed dramatically in the 15,000 years of Lubbock's walkabout, and Mithen explains how environmental volatility is scientifically known as he sketches Lubbock observing the various 'living' human communities that have been uncovered. A successful marriage of fact and imagination.
Glasgow Herald - Brian Hennigan
The resulting floods, spread of forests and retreat of the deserts set up the planet we know today. Mithen's exhaustive explanation of how human beings began living in small, mobile groups and then permanent villages and the resultant creation of civilisation is a big tale that's worth staying with.
Discover - Nina Jablonski
By the end of this rich and multilayered book, I was dazzled and hungry for more. Mithen has succeeded where other archaeologists have failed: He transports the reader back into the past, showing evocatively how humans adapted to 15,000 years worth of environmental change.
American Scientist - Douglas K. Charles
After the Ice offers a fascinating whirlwind tour of an underappreciated segment of human history...The prose is lively and evocative as Mithen unfolds a compelling story...The cumulative effect of this book should be a profound new appreciation of a largely unknown and crucially important period of our past. If you want to find out what you don't know about the grand sweep of human history, there is not a better place to start.
Paleoanthropology - John D. Rissetto
The author successfully achieved his goal of presenting a great deal of information about a pivotal point in our history in a thorough and easily digestible manner...This successful compilation of human history from 20,000-5,000 BC should not be overlooked as a key reference and welcome addition to any library of an interested novice, undergraduate student of prehistory, or seasoned archaeologist looking for a well written synthesis.
The Historian - David M. Fahey
This massive and clever book opens modern scholarship about the distant past to nonspecialists. Buyers of this book will get their money's worth. It comes with a generous supply of maps and pictures of artifacts and digs, some of which are in color...Erudite and also quirky, Mithen summarizes the work of contemporary archaeologists, often by recounting his own visits to archaeological sites and drawing on insights from recent research on paleoclimates and human genetics...This impressive book stands out as the new standard work.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674019997
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2006
  • Pages: 664
  • Sales rank: 219,171
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Steven Mithen is Professor of Early Prehistory and Pro Vice Chancellor at theUniversity of Reading.
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Table of Contents

1 The birth of history 3
2 The world at 20,000 BC 8
3 Fires and flowers 20
4 Village life in the oak woodland 29
5 On the banks of the Euphrates 40
6 One thousand years of drought 46
7 The founding of Jericho 56
8 Pictograms and pillars 62
9 In the valley of ravens 72
10 The town of ghosts 80
11 Heaven and hell at Catalhoyuk 88
12 Three days on Cyprus 97
13 Pioneers in northern lands 110
14 With reindeer hunters 122
15 At Star Carr 134
16 Last of the cave painters 143
17 Coastal catastrophe 150
18 Two villages in Southeast Europe 158
19 Islands of the dead 168
20 At the frontier 178
21 A Mesolithic legacy 187
22 A Scottish envoi 196
23 Searching for the first Americans 210
24 American past in the present 221
25 On the banks of Chinchihaupi 229
26 Explorers in a restless landscape 236
27 Clovis hunters on trial 246
28 Virginity reconsidered 258
29 Herders and the 'Christ-child' 266
30 A double-take in the Oaxaca Valley 274
31 To Koster 286
32 Salmon fishing and the gift of history 296
33 A lost world revealed 304
34 Body scupture at Kow Swamp 312
35 Across the arid zone 319
36 Fighting men and a serpent's birth 327
37 Pigs and gardens in the highlands 337
38 Lonesome in Sundaland 348
39 Down the Yangtze 359
40 With the Jomon 370
41 Summer in the Arctic 381
42 A passage through India 396
43 A long walk across the Hindu Kush 407
44 Vultures of the Zagros 420
45 Approaching civilisation in Mesopotamia 430
46 Baked fish by the Nile 443
47 On Lukenya Hill 453
48 Frogs' legs and ostrich eggs 462
49 A South African tour 469
50 Thunderbolts in the tropics 483
51 Sheep and cattle in the Sahara 490
52 Farmers in the Nile Valley and beyond 499
Epilogue : 'the blessings of civilisation' 504
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2005

    Trip of many lifetimes

    It's been three weeks since I finished 'After the Ice,' and I still miss John Lubbock, my spirit-like guide through the centuries when the glaciers of the ice age receded and civilization as we know it began to germinate. Part serious archeology text, part mystical journey, Steve Mithen's groundbreaking work outlines the archeological body of evidence for each continent. But it is when he sends his fictional observer to peek in on peoples and environments that left the the bones, tools and pollen grains found by researchers that I began to understand how all the shards came together. I have labored through many archeology-related texts and works of fiction, searching for understanding, but none of them painted pictures in my mind as clearly as'After the Ice.' It is a well-documented and extremely approachable work.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    The world's rebound

    I am only halfway through the book, but am finding it highly involving. I like the way Steven Mithen gives his history a personal flavor. Being an arch/anthro follower, I enjoy how he gives details not found in textbooks. He has good maps, but could have done better with illustrations, instead of too many sites. I would have liked more information regarding the areas of interest. I am definitely enjoying the book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted March 19, 2010

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    Posted October 16, 2008

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    Posted March 11, 2009

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    Posted December 16, 2009

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    Posted December 4, 2008

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