Books : reviews

Roy Loveday.
Inscribed Across the Landscape: the cursus enigma.
Tempus. 2006

Between the anonymity of the Early Neolithic with its collective tombs and the invisibility of the Late Neolithic with its great empty henges, there lies a shadowy Middle Neolithic when individuals emerge from the gloom armed with a variety of prestige artefacts. Once thought to have been an aberrant phase when monuments had lost their significance, it is now clear it was the period when the very largest of them were in use – the enigmatic cursuses.

Cursus are intriguing monuments. Far bigger – and in many cases far better laid out – than anything that had gone before or was to follow in the next 3000 years. Leviathans that swallowed people and land; signalling devices probably to be read from above by the gods rather than on the ground by figures dwarfed by their dimensions. Stubbornly empty, these ‘British Nasca lines’ are nevertheless susceptible to reasoned enquiry that lays bare both their conceptual origins and their role in a society on a trajectory to individual power.