The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts [NOOK Book]


A treasure hunt that uncovers the secrets of one of the world’s great civilizations, revealing dramatic proof of the extreme sophistication of the Celts, and their creation of the earliest accurate map of the world.

Fifty generations ago the cultural empire of the Celts stretched from the Black Sea to Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland. In six hundred years, the Celts had produced some of the finest artistic and scientific masterpieces of the ancient world. In 58 BC, Julius Caesar marched over the Alps, ...
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The Discovery of Middle Earth: Mapping the Lost World of the Celts

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A treasure hunt that uncovers the secrets of one of the world’s great civilizations, revealing dramatic proof of the extreme sophistication of the Celts, and their creation of the earliest accurate map of the world.

Fifty generations ago the cultural empire of the Celts stretched from the Black Sea to Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland. In six hundred years, the Celts had produced some of the finest artistic and scientific masterpieces of the ancient world. In 58 BC, Julius Caesar marched over the Alps, bringing slavery and genocide to western Europe. Within eight years the Celts of what is now France were utterly annihilated, and in another hundred years the Romans had overrun Britain. It is astonishing how little remains of this great civilization.

While planning a bicycling trip along the Heraklean Way, the ancient route from Portugal to the Alps, Graham Robb discovered a door to that forgotten world—a beautiful and precise pattern of towns and holy places based on astronomical and geometrical measurements: this was the three-dimensional “Middle Earth” of the Celts. As coordinates and coincidences revealed themselves across the continent, a map of the Celtic world emerged as a miraculously preserved archival document.

Robb—“one of the more unusual and appealing historians currently striding the planet” (New York Times)—here reveals the ancient secrets of the Celts, demonstrates the lasting influence of Druid science, and recharts the exploration of the world and the spread of Christianity. A pioneering history grounded in a real-life historical treasure hunt, The Discovery of Middle Earth offers nothing less than an entirely new understanding of the birth of modern Europe.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 08/26/2013
Presenting one of the most astonishing, significant discoveries in recent memory, Robb, winner of the Duff Cooper Prize and Ondaatje Award for The Discovery of France, upends nearly everything we believe about the history—or, as he calls it, “protohistory”—of early Europe and its barbarous Celtic tribes and semimythical Druids. Popularly dismissed as superstitious, wizarding hermits, Robb demonstrates how the Druids were perhaps the most intellectually advanced thinkers of their age: scientists and mathematicians who, through an intimate knowledge of “solstice lines,” organized their towns and cities to mirror the paths of their Sun god, in turn creating “the earliest accurate map of the world.” In his characteristically approachable yet erudite manner, Robb examines how this network came to be and also how it vanished, trampled over by a belligerent Rome, which has previously received credit for civilizing Europe—though in Robb’s account, Caesar, at the helm, appears dim, unwitting, and frankly lucky, and the (often literally) deeply buried Celtic beliefs and innovations seem more relevant in modern Europe than previously assumed. Like the vast and intricate geographical latticework that Robb has uncovered, the book unfurls its secrets in an eerie, magnificent way—a remarkable, mesmerizing, and bottomless work. 50 illus. Agent: Gill Coleridge, Rogers Coleridge & White (U.K.). (Nov.)
Laura Miller - Salon
“[A] daring theory…. thrilling.”
Ian Morris - New York Times Book Review
“Combines travelogue and historical detective story…. The work of a man to whom the past is vividly present.”
Wendy Smith - Los Angeles Times
“Fascinating…The historical value of Robb's vivid portrait of Celtic culture is unquestionable.”
Rachel Donadio - New York Times
“Raises intriguing questions about the relationship between tribe and empire, local identity and larger superstructure.”
Jane Smiley - Harper’s
“Intriguing and stimulating . . . by an author whose previous works have been, one after the other, precise, self-aware, and enlightening.”
Gabe Habash - Publishers Weekly
“Upends nearly everything we believe about the history… of early Europe.”
Jane Smiley - Harpers
“Intriguing and stimulating . . . by an author whose previous works have been, one after the other, precise, self-aware, and enlightening.”
Library Journal
Robb's (Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris) premise is that the protohistoric Celts of Northern Europe were pioneers in many cultural innovations, not least in their keen grasp of celestial movements. He posits that Druids, the equivalent of academics among the Celts, structured their entire society—towns, temples, tribal relocations, and battle sites—on this knowledge. Robb argues that traces of their civilization still remain, e.g., in the etymology of place names, in modern road locations, and in ancient earthworks. (The middle earth of the title indicates a site equidistant from two sites situated along solar paths.) Ironically, their rational grasp of solar happenings led to the Celts' downfall: in some of their crucial battles—as recorded in Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars—they had numerical superiority, but their solar reckonings led them to stage battles in less than advantageous spots. The Celts as a culture eventually assumed a submissive relationship to the Romans; hence, few primary sources regarding their literary and scientific prowess remain. Archaeological investigations show that many of their great works were built over by the Romans and subsequent cultures. Robb's writing is deft and his accounts of his own explorations lend a certain underpinning and charm to the complex narrative. VERDICT This will appeal to specialists but could be too detailed for the general reader, who may grow frustrated by the somewhat cryptic information regarding solstice lines. [See Prepub Alert, 5/20/13.]—Brian Renvall, Mesalands Community Coll., Tucumcari, NM
Kirkus Reviews
When planning a bicycle route through the Alps of central Europe, Robb (The Discovery of France, 2007, etc.) discovered a sophisticated ancient Celtic landscape that called for nothing short of a revision of ancient history. The author is a refreshing new voice in a canon of outdated, barbaric perceptions of an ingeniously advanced society and endlessly recycled quotes from Tacitus, Caesar or Cicero. "Tribes who used perishable materials where Romans used stone, and who recorded their histories in nothing more durable then brain tissue, are unlikely to be seen as sophisticated precursors of the modern world," writes the author. However, through use of celestial mathematics, etymology, geometry, mapping and a charming measure of common sense, Robb reveals a clear picture of a culture that has been buried by the Roman conquest. He shatters the misconception that Rome built the first roads in Gaul and Britain, describing the well-maintained long-distance routes used by the Celts to move around their territories. They demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of astronomy and celestial movements, and they made mathematically inspired art. They also created one of the most prestigious universities in the ancient world (12 centuries before the Sorbonne) and laid out their cities, towns and sacred places via a series of meticulously ordered geometric and astronomical lines, imposing an intriguingly spiritual map on a very real terrestrial landscape. The dizzying array of tribal and place names--not frequently enough given modern geographical reference--and the occasionally tedious explanations of the mathematical/geometrical calculations may be necessary, but they are the weakest links in this otherwise gripping text. Some readers will also wonder if the title itself is a play to win readership from Tolkien fans, most of whom would find the book too dry for their tastes. Flaws aside, Robb has broken significant new ground in this deep, fastidiously researched exploration into the ingenuity of the ancient Celtic people.
The Barnes & Noble Review

Celts. Ha! said the Romans — or the equivalent in Latin oozing with imperial hauteur — nothing but a swarm of disgusting, ludicrous, semi-human drunkards who took their wine straight: hold the water, hold the honey, and leave the jug, we'll pour it ourselves. Never mind that the Celtic culture had thrived for centuries from what is now Spain to Britain to Turkey. The Romans brought roads, currency, aqueducts — and cultural annihilation. But erasing a culture isn't quite so simple.

That is what the noted biographer and historian Graham Robb found, or at least thinks he has found and serves forth in The Discovery of Middle Earth, an elegant and well-mulled appreciation of the profound Celtic influence on the human geography that came after conquest and colonization. Robb makes a vibrant case study for the wonderfully commonsensical theory known as sequent occupance: successful societies leave their imprint as a contribution to the subsequent cultural landscapes. As Robb sees it, and presents thoroughly for our deliberation, Roman roads are engineering marvels, yes, but when Caesar invaded Gaul there were fine roads and bridges already in place — the Romans found these very handy — the fabric of a system that displayed a shrewd application of math and the movement of heavenly bodies, of solar paths and meridians and lines as rhumb as any you would find on the most exquisite portolans. Who is to say that a love of wine is not a hallmark of sophistication and complexity, traits that characterized what is known of the twenty-year syllabus that comprised a Druid's education?

While doing research on a previous book, Robb was impressed by two features of the legendary trace known as Via Heraklea, the route along which the mythic hero Hercules drove his stolen cattle from the Iberian Peninsula to the Alps (and which Hannibal may have used to drive his elephants through a mountain pass), dating back to the earliest days of Celts in Gaul: the trajectory is in keeping with both summer and winter solstices, and the route connects two sacred places. What is more, the Celts had situated "Mediolanum" — sacred earthly sanctuaries corresponding to sacred places in the upper and lower worlds, a.k.a. Middle Earth — in a network of equidistant points on the route. "Upon examination," Robb writes, a "beautiful pattern of lines emerged, based on solar alignments and elementary Euclidean geometry."

After the chaotic early peopling of Gaul and Britannia and covering a period from roughly 800 BC to AD 600, Robb discerns a grid of solstice lines taking shape, "with precisely measured parallels and meridians determining the locations of temples, towns and battles." As Robb tracks the placement of Iron Age settlements; the transcontinental expedition to Delphi; the great migration through the dark and vast Hercynian Forest (crossed only, according to Caesar, by "vague and secret paths"); the long-distance vocal telegraph enabled by acoustical surveys that placed towns just so in shallow valleys and on low hills; the Pythagorean clarity of road nexi; the weirdly out-of-plumb buildings that describe the sun's ellipse (it would take a thousand years before such a method for constructing an ellipse reemerged) — well, the hair begins to rise on the neck at this seeming evidence of Druidic science. Our fascination with Druids comes from knowing so little about them; they kept their learning in their heads, not in writing, which is one reason we can let our own heads run riot with surmise. But here may be one of those moments that belie the obliteration of a culture, a palimpsest where "patterns of thought sometimes remain visible like crop marks in a field."

From these elements, Robb coaxes the rudiments of a history: why battles took place where they did, how the diaspora found its new home, what lay behind the crazy wanderings of the universe's navel. The Druids retain their mojo as scholar-priests with access to celestial secrets via a Pythagorean faith in the harmony of numbers and "the triadic equation of mathematical divination: take the geodetic data (the spherical shape of the earth, its size and its zones of latitude), factor in the necessary astronomical observations (eclipses, shadow lengths, solstice angles), and the result of the calculation will reveal the will of the gods."

For the most part, Robb keeps his cool as he slides each new clue across the table with the timing and finesse of a blackjack dealer. Admittedly, there are occasions when he runs deep to make a point. "Due west of Traprain Law and the oppidum site of Edinburgh, the Pendinas — Dinas Emrys meridian arrives with the precision of a god-transported dragon at a place on the Antonine Wall called Medionemeton" — that sort of thing. And it helps to have a jones for math, but it isn't necessary to still be awestruck. But Robb also knows how to have fun — Holy cow! The solstice line from Dinas Emrys runs willy-nilly to Camelot, a defunct amusement park — to persevere (he bikes about 15,000 miles to get the lay of the land) and to be circumspect: "The reality of historical research is that, if a coincidence is amazing, it probably is a coincidence." Then again, he knows how to twist circumspection's arm: the probability of so many Celtic tribal centers in Gaul being bisected by solstice lines is approximately 0.4324, a kissing cousin to zero. It is not so much a question of whether a guided hand was at work, but whose, and just how many palimpsests can be peeled away like so much onion skin?

Peter Lewis is the director of the American Geographical Society in New York City. A selection of his work can be found at

Reviewer: Peter Lewis

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393241358
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/29/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 142,853
  • File size: 9 MB

Meet the Author

Graham Robb is the author of three prize-winning biographies, each one selected as New York Times Best Books. His most recent works, The Discovery of France and Parisians, have earned several awards and much acclaim between them. He lives on the Anglo-Scottish border.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2014

    Welcome to Middle Earth!

    This is a Middle Earth Rp were you can be : A dwarf, elf, hobbit, wizard, dragon, goblin, eagle, orc, urak hai, ranger, ring wraith, or a man. / Dwarves: a short bearded man or woman with heavy armor. Their primary weapons are axes big and small. They live mainly in caves which run very deep underground. They are greedy when it comes to their treasure and ready for a battle. Res 4 will be their home. / Elves: a humble man or woman. That wear the finest clothes and have the best manners when it comes to guests. They are a little irritated of dwarves but some are treate kindly. Their primary weapons are arrows and bows, small daggers, and elven blades. Their home is res 5. / Hobbit: short man or woman. They are not into adventures but they do enjoy eating. They drink alot and have festivals. They dont really have weapons but they can find one. They are sneaky little creatures. There home is hobbiton in res 6. / Wizard: only five in middle earth . So first come first serve. They have many powers and spells and are fun to be around when it comes to festivals. They dont have a home so thry can go anywhere. / Dragons: only a few . They are vicious beasts that take whatever whenever. They breath fire and talk. Thet love riddles and the taste of dwarves. Res 7 will b their mountain. / Goblin: ugly creatures that love to steal and kill. They work with Sauron's forces the orcs an urak hai. They use sharp blades and other useful objects that thry can find . Res 8 can be there home. / Eagles: brave creatures with golden feathers. They work with wizards and are summoned by a moth. Their claws and beaks are their primary weapons. Res9 will be their home. / Orc and Urak hai: Servants of sauron. They kill for fun and are dirty creatures. The urak hai are dark elves that seek revenge on their kind of good elves. The Orcs love to eat men and pillage villages. Res 10 will be their tower. Sauron's one person can be sauron. One!!! / Ring Wraiths: dead kings that help sauron collect the one ring. They have no soul and they have posoinus blades. Thry have no home but they are in sauron's tower mainly in res 10. / Ranger: a man or woman that serve and protect men villages from dangerous creatures. They travel long and they live near man villages res 11. Their main weapons are bow and arrows, daggers, swords, and small throwing axes. / Men: normal beings that live in kingdoms and wage wars with sauron's forces. They use arrows and bows, catapults, swords, axes, and rocks. Their kingdoms are res 12. / Their can only be a king for the dwarves, goblins, eagles, dragons, and men. Queen for elves. Sauron for orcs urah kai and ring wraiths. Applications to try for king or queen or sauron in res 13. Have fun!

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2014

    Merry to all

    Merry to alll: if you want there is a LOTR rp at "hobble" res 4 and it would be cool is u joined since its a little inactive. <p> just saying if u want. Sorry if i was nosy or sonething. <p> Meriadoc Brandybuck

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2014


    There already is a lord of the rings rp at hobble res 4 like Merry said

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2014

    Nightengale the wisard

    Walks in

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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