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  • Europe between the Oceans: 9000 BC–AD 1000
  • Vicki Ellen Szabo
Europe between the Oceans: 9000 BC–AD 1000. By Barry Cunliffe. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2008. 480 pp. $45.00 (cloth).

Defining Europe has become a popular and constructive pursuit for social scientists. From the trendy to the traditional, the variety of perspectives on Europe's identity, development, and definition encourages us to consider Europe's being and becoming in thought-provoking ways. In Europe between the Oceans, Barry Cunliffe, emeritus professor of archaeology at the University of Oxford, offers his own definition of and insight into Europe, which he calls the "westerly excrescence of the continent of Asia" (p. vii). Cunliffe's geographical perspective, emphasizing Europe's connectivity via seas and waterways, surpasses in scope his last grand survey, Facing the Ocean: The Atlantic and Its Peoples, 8000 bcad 1500 (2001). In the current volume, Cunliffe's consideration is the whole of Europe, and his central question is why "Europe above all other regions managed to achieve such dominance" (p. vii) during the second millennium.

Although Europe stands at its center, this work is not Eurocentric. It is a dramatically shifting story of a mobile and integrated continent, one affected by influences from beyond Europe's borders and people who migrate, provoke change, and import traditions. Russia, Northern and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East are active players in his European tale. The result is a new story of Europe, a ten-thousand-year-long tale of a restless, bristling, and constantly changing continent, actively engaged with other worlds. What makes this definition of Europe so original and compelling is the author's unsurpassed knowledge of the continent's geography, history, archaeology, languages, and art, and the very genes of Europe's people.

For those readers not fully versed in the long prehistory and modern historiography of Europe, Cunliffe provides a welcome primer. His first chapter, "Ways of Seeing: Space, Time and People," summarizes important theoretical debates of European prehistory. From the longue durée to determinism to newer scientific analyses, professionals are reminded and avocational readers are taught the many ways that Europe has been constructed and studied by the likes of Herodotus, Pytheas, Strabo, Braudel, and Childe. Cunliffe also introduces current scientific means of analysis, such as oxygen isotope analysis of the Amesbury archer (p. 206) or the surprising genetic makeup of Icelanders (p. 467).

Cunliffe's Europe unfolds as a dynamic landscape upon which humans made history. He reminds the reader that humans work within, [End Page 731] but are not controlled by, environments: "Environment lays down basic rules of behavior, facilitating human action in some ways but constraining it in others. Within this structure societies develop their distinctive economic, social, political and religious systems. Some societies are conservative and change little; others are innovative, creating a dynamic of directional development" (p. 18). This tale is a human one, admirably told within a variety of geographical and ecological contexts. In chapter 5, "Assimilation in the Maritime Regions," Cunliffe uses several models of development and case studies from across the continent to explore regional variations in the adoption of Neolithic lifestyles. He explains how ecological contexts, resources, travel and trade routes, and means of communication, among other factors, shaped cultural, social, and technological change. He is not afraid to admit, though, that sometimes we cannot know why certain choices, adaptations, and adoptions are made: "All speculation, of course—but then we are dealing not just with settlement plans and pottery distributions but with real people with aspirations and hopes" (p. 139). Cunliffe's Europe is one of "infinite variety," separated by social systems and unique cultural preferences, but bound together within broad mega-regions, in "a consolidation borne of increasing connectivity" (p. 230).

Telling a ten-thousand-year tale requires a delicate touch, and Cunliffe adeptly balances this breadth of perspective with engrossing case studies. Divided into fourteen chapters, Europe between the Oceans is bound by neither traditional periodization nor geographical conventions. Each chapter breaks apart standard chronologies, recognizing variations across Europe's many regions. The result is a simultaneous look at Europe's variable progression across...


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