Books : reviews

Bryony Coles, John Coles.
Sweet Track to Glastonbury: the Somerset Levels in prehistory.
Thames and Hudson. 1986

The Somerset Levels are one of Britain’s best-known areas of wetland, where the extraordinary preservative qualities of the peat have embalmed ancient trackways and lost villages for thousands of years. Excavating in the Levels for the past two decades, Bryony and John Coles have unearthed the world’s ‘oldest road’, the Neolithic Sweet Track. Their researches in the famous Iron Age settlements of Glastonbury and Meare have given us the clearest picture so far available of late prehistoric British life, its house-building, crafts and industries. Here is a full account of their work, perhaps the most detailed study ever attempted of ancient man’s impact upon the landscape.

Bryony Coles, John Coles.
People of the Wetlands: bogs, bodies and lake-dwellers.
Thames and Hudson. 1989

The world’s wetlands are unique environments: from inland bogs and lakes to coastal marshes they are rich not just in wildlife, but human life and history as well. For thousands of years the wetlands, through their extraordinary preservative qualities, have kept intact ancient remains that would have perished on dry land, such as the bodies of unwary travellers trapped in the bog, or prehistoric trackways and whole villages. But now these landscapes are under serious threat from drainage and peat-cutting. This timely book is the first to describe for the general reader the extraordinary archaeological wealth of the wetlands worldwide – and just how much we stand to lose if this heritage is destroyed.

People of the Wetlands tells the story from the discovery of the first bog bodies and lake-dwellings more than a century ago to today’s scientific excavations, chiefly in Europe and North America, but increasingly all round the world. The mystery of the bog bodies is fully explored: some individuals met an accidental death, but how many – like Lindow Man, recently unearthed in England – were murdered or sacrificed? Fully discussed too are the revolutionary results of the new tree-ring chronology, which allows prehistoric wetland villages to be dated with a precision once reserved for ancient Egypt or Rome. But wetland archaeology excels above all in revealing details about ancient life: how early farmers wore straw sandals and enjoyed birch-bark chewing gum, how they adorned their houses with patterned textiles, and how they erected wooden god-dollies beside their roadways to ward off evil spirits.

John Coles, Stephen Minnitt.
Industrious and Fairly Civilized: the Glastonbury Lake Village.
Somerset Levels Project. 1995

John Coles, David Hall.
Changing Landscapes: The Ancient Fenland.
Cambridgeshire County Council. 1998