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The Tale of the Axe

How the Neolithic Revolution Transformed Britain

David Miles


An accessible account of Britain’s Neolithic Revolution that examines how the early agricultural settlers shaped their landscape – and thus our own

Also available as an eBook from iTunes, Amazon


We, modern humans, are one of the youngest species on the planet. For our first hundred millennia we survived as hunters and foragers, moving about the land, following seasonal resources. It was only some ten thousand years ago that we domesticated plants and animals, thereby transforming our settlements, social relationships, diet and beliefs.

Focusing on the British Isles, David Miles explores this period of societal change – the Neolithic, or ‘New Stone Age’ – using the most iconic artifact of its time, the polished stone axe, as a guide to the revolution that changed the world. Mixing anecdote, ethnography and archaeological analysis, Miles vividly demonstrates how the archaeology on the ground reveals to us the evolving worldview of a species increasingly altering their own landscape; settling down together, investing in agricultural plots, and collectively erecting massive ceremonial monuments to cement new communal identities.

As a direct result of the invention, and intensification, of agriculture, the planet has entered the Anthropocene, or the ‘age of humanity’: an era in which we are changing the world around us in significant, accelerating and often unpredictable ways. Our ancestors set us on the path to the modern world we live in; now seven billion humans must face the challenges ahead.

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'A beautifully written narrative [and] a powerful testimony to the value of archaeology in today’s world'
Brian Fagan, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara

'Presents his scholarly findings with glints of good-­humoured individuality which make his book pleasantly readable, even by lay persons who may not previously have paid much attention to the difference between Palaeolithic and Neolithic tribal behaviour'
The Spectator

'Illuminating … As layered as the strata of an archaeological dig, this is a moving portrait of a people at a cultural and technological tipping point'

'Colourful and lively writing and an eye to current issues and idioms play their part … This is first-person scholarship at its most humane'
Literary Review

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Further Details


Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 432 pp

Publication date: 4 August 2016

ISBN: 9780500051863

Contents List

Preface • Prologue: A gift from the past • Part One: The Emergence of Humans • Part Two: The First Farmers • Part Three: Crossing the Water to Britain

About the Author

David Miles was the Director of the Oxford Archaeological Unit for many years, and worked on projects in Britain, France, Greece and the West Indies. In 1999 he became Chief Archaeologist at English Heritage, where he developed a maritime archaeology unit and a project to study the impact of slavery in England. He has written many books on archaeology, particularly on the Roman and Migration periods in Britain, and one on the origins of the British, The Tribes of Britain.