Book Review: Scotland's Hidden History (by Ian Armit) : BH | HistoryNet MENU

Book Review: Scotland’s Hidden History (by Ian Armit) : BH

8/12/2001 • British Heritage Book Reviews, Reviews

Scotland’s Hidden History, by Ian Armit. Published by Tempus Publishing, Inc., an Imprint of Arcadia Publishers, 2 Cumberland Street, Charleston, South Carolina 29401, 888-313-2665 $29.99, hardcover. 160 pages.

When travellers to Britain think of prehistoric monuments, many undoubtedly see mental images of the Stonehenge and Avebury stone circles and mistakenly believe that southern England is the only place to go if you’re interested in exploring Britain’s Iron and Stone Age past. But when it comes to spectacular ancient monuments, no place in Britain can boast of a richer collection than Scotland.

In Scotland’s Hidden History, Ian Armit takes readers on a tour of 100 of these far northern sites. Interspersed with his easy-to-read narrative of Scotland’s prehistory, Armit describes locations nearly, but not quite, as famous as England’s great monuments, including Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, Maes Howe and Callanish, but also many lesser-known tombs, domestic settlements, forts, farms, and towers.

Each of these sites represents a fascinating glimpse into the life of the prehistoric people who inhabited the land now known as Scotland. But in addition, Armit uses them to tell a story. He observes that these people and their descendants have lived in this land for as much as 10,000 years, but that conventional histories must ignore all but the last 1,000 or so of these due to the lack of written records. To fill this void, he uses his 100 selected archaeological sites as clues to the vast unrecorded history of Scotland.

The story that the physical remains tell us speaks of a population initially of hunters scratching out a day-to-day existence dominated by the need to track and kill wildlife for food, or to gather edible plants that grew wild.

By about 4000 BC Neolithic farmers began to cultivate the land, enabling the previously nomadic tribes to settle down. Whereas the hunter-gatherers of the earlier age left few traces, the farmers left behind a variety of structures that give insight into their mode of living. Armit includes the houses at Eilean Domhnuill and the tomb of Barpa Langass, among several other sites, to reconstruct the prevailing values and beliefs of the early farmers.

As populations continued to increase, conflicts between tribes became an ever more commonelement of life, and by the Iron Age, forts like those at The Chesters and Dreva Craig give ample evidence of the growing need for self-defense.

Later still, relics such as the Antonine Wall document Scotland’s transition from prehistoric obscurity into the age of recorded fact, completing a fascinating journey through 9,000 “dark” years.

Bruce Heydt

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