Book review: ‘Ancestral Journeys’ by Jean Manco

The peopling of Europe from the first venturers to the Vikings.

‘Ancestral Journeys’ by Jean Manco

Before I read this book, I had no idea the importance of prehistorical and historical human migration into and within Europe had only recently become the mainstream view once again. At the end of the twentieth century, continuity was very much the in-thing. New styles of artefact and new technologies appearing in the archaeological record were thought to have spread primarily through trade and other cultural exchanges, rather than reflecting the movements of human populations. The importance of migration is now far better appreciated, thanks to recent developments in DNA analysis, supported by linguistics, ancient historical records, and other evidence.

In Ancestral Journeys, the late Jean Manco takes us from the first human migrations out of Africa to the end of the Viking age. The book is meticulously researched, presenting detailed explanations of what we now think we know concerning how Europe came to be populated the way it is. At times, the sheer amount of technical information, especially concerning ancient DNA, gets a little bewildering, but I didn’t let that bother me too much: Manco has a fascinating tale to tell, and she tells it very well.

In the pages of this book, you will encounter famous and not-so-famous cultures, from Neanderthals to Beaker Folk, hunter-gatherers to dairy farmers. The cast of cultures is huge: Celts, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Greeks, Etruscans, Romans, Slavs, Franks, Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Vandals, Huns, Angles, Jutes, Saxons, Danes, Swedes, Norse, Lapps, and many more. The book is generously illustrated, primarily with extremely useful maps. If I have one complaint, it’s that the book ought to have included a general geographical map of Europe labelling key locations in the continent’s story. Where the hell is the Sea of Marmara? I found myself asking, or What is the route of the Danube, roughly speaking?, or Where is Anatolia or the Carpathians? They’re all easy enough to look up, but a map certainly would have helped.

That minor gripe aside, Ancestral Journeys is a fascinating read.

Highly recommended.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.

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