31 JANUARY 1941, Page 20

Our Primitive Ancestors

Prehistoric England. By Grahame Clark.' (Batsford. Ss. 6d.) Tnakrxs to modern- archaeology, our doubt and ignorance con- cerning prehistoric man are rapidly becoming more extensive. The age of glib assertion is over, and what once appeared so incontrovertible to zeal is now looked upon with mistrust by knowledge. Even the enticing eolith is out of favour, while pliocene man is on the same footing as the fairies. This is all to the good: it has demolished those reputations once erected so easily on a pile of chips or the battered pebbles of a foreshore. We have shaken our rubbish, a little rudely perhaps, through a sieve. It is a pity that our archaeological vocabulary cannot be 'educed by a similar process. What remains when false material and indefensible jargon have been eliminated is a small residue of precise data which may be digested in a few hours by any schoolboy.

That is why Mr. Clark's book is timely and attractive. Mr. Clark is a lucid though tinp:etentious writer. He knows how to state a fact without appendages, and how to produce a theory without evoking a myth. He limits, himself to the task of presenting the material which may be confidently associated with man's life in early Britain. And even with .such a limitation in view, he is perhaps unnecessarily exclusive. For -example, he skips away from the Lower Palaeolithic with- hardly a glance behind him. Piltdown Man is ignored and there is no reference to the Swanscombe skull, one of the most interesting of recent discoveries on, account of its definite association with deposits of the Acheul period. Mr. Clark is also extraordinarily reticent with regard to the flint implements of Chelles, Adieu! and Le Moustier types which are found among our ancient river gravels and elsewhere. The extension of this reticence to flint imple- ments in general,' both in the text and the illustrations, is to be regretted, for they provide the overwhelming bulk of cur evidence concerning the lives of the earliest prehistoric races of Britain. In speaking of the cave-population of this country. Mr. Clark would have done well to remind us that only a very small and assertive proportion of our prehistoric people were able to live in caves or natural shelters: a fact which is frequently -overlooked by those who are fond of generalisation Another unwise leaning towards generalisation is found in the use of such amazing labels as "the duck people" and "the carp's tongue sword people "- the last is a particularly bad example- of those clumsy and exasperating devices which are now in vogue. But this book is, on the whole, reasonable and- informative. Mr. Clark is com- mendably discreet in dealing with earthworks, burials and mega- lithic remains. He avoids all the disreputable nonsense which is too often found in archaeology, and even dares to put forward the sensible idea that a stone may have been an object of worship as a stone, and only as a stone, without any redundant symbolism. The illustrations, which include many aerial views, are excellent, though in several cases we regret the absence of a scale. Even if the ordinary reader is dismayed by the appearance of such 2 word as " skeuomorphism " (for which there is really no excuse at all) he will find Mr. Clark a reliable guide to -a very fascinating