Fresh paths to ancient places

8th March 1996 at 00:00
The Ancient World. By Hazel Mary Martell. Kingfisher Pounds 14.99. The Young Oxford Book of Archaeology. By Norah Moloney. Oxford University Press Pounds 12.99.

Both these books are to be recommended as up-to-date and lavishly illustrated introductions to their subjects. The Ancient World is the more conventional of the two, more obviously designed as a work of reference for teacher or pupil. Each topic is presented in one or more double-page spreads with a large format and fairly simple text accompanied by maps and pictures, mostly reconstructions of aspects of the society in question.

The book's strength lies in its clear, simple format and in its world-wide coverage. Early histories of all the continents are included, with good maps to show where the places are, and a glossary, chronologies and index. There is inevitable over-simplification through compression and also perhaps over-correction for European bias: "Ancient Europe" gets one map which includes Altamira, Stonehenge and the Anglo-Saxon invasions, and the history of America ends with the Maya - no hint of Columbus. But it is interesting to see so much, even in such brief outline, about the Far East. This is a useful survey of the ancient world, probably most valuable for primary school children.

Norah Moloney's introduction to archaeology is in a different class. This is a readable, interesting and imaginative work which really does explain the subject. Recent excavations and interpretations are incorporated into a text written by someone with a real enthusiasm for, and knowledge of, her subject.

It could be read with profit by sixth-formers thinking of taking a degree in archaeology, or by any interested adult. It would also be accessible to top juniors, although they may find the language difficult.

The photographs give the work more immediacy - and more authenticity - than the reconstructions which predominate in Mary Martell's book. Complete coverage of the ancient world has here been sacrificed to the selection of ways in which it illuminates not only the ancient world but also more recent periods and even our own society.

The Ancient World is a familiar style of book, efficiently and attractively produced, whereas Archaeology could be a source of inspiration, as well as information. This book tells us how we know what we know and why it's interesting, which is a more challenging approach than the presentation of information, however well packaged.

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