Island in the Sea of Time: Book 1, S.M. Stirling (Roc, 1998){Tantor Media, 2008; Narrator: Todd McLaren)

Grade: Ε — Solid read, but only buy it if you like the genre. In brief: Though Island in the Sea of Time has some brilliant characterizations, and very good word-smithing, S.M. Stirling‘s 1998 “place-out-of-time” novel conveniently uses history and archaeology in a manner that strains my ability sustain disbelief and is otherwise fairly derivative of Eric Flint‘s 1632 series. What is more, it’s not the archaeological mistakes that bother me, I can put a quarter century of professional life aside for most of that, but leaps of logic, blunt assumptions and plot manipulation that repeatedly pulled out of the story. While the book is well written in many elements, huge plot assumptions and event chains failed me.

Setting: Modern Day (okay… 1998 but close enough) Nantucket, Massachusetts(USA) temporally transported back to 1250 BC.

In Depth: In someways it is unfair for me to review a book like the Island in the Sea of Time. The story is about modern day Nantucket being thrown back in time to the middle to late Bronze Age, and I have spent the entirety of my adult life examining the later European prehistory as a professional. Yet, it is not the numerous factual mistakes that bother me about this book; one expects that. Rather, it is the technical aspects of how those facts are slammed together and the ramifications of the central event of the story: pulling a town from 1998 out of time and dumping it into the Middle to Late Bronze Age. Added to that, there are huge assumptions and interpretations that exist throughout the work that undermine the whole value of writing a “place-out-of-time” novel.

“Place-out-of-Time” novels are a fairly new and really exciting twist on the time travel sub-genre. They examine the concept of taking whole towns, or in this case islands, and hurling them from the modern day into some point in the past, then seeing what happens. They ignore the results of the timeshift to the present world[1], and instead focus on the ramifications to the populations of both the displaced town and the locale they have been thrown into. To that end, it is key that they deal realistically with those ramifications in order to sustain disbelief. To do that, the author really must get the setting correct, and then portray the ramifications of the “event” down pat. Failure to do the first is problematic; failure to do the second, disastrous. Sadly, Island in the Sea of Time fails to do either.

Setting: One really can’t expect an author to get all the details of a historic setting correct enough to satisfy an expert in the time period in question. That element is amplified ten-fold when the setting is prehistoric. Archaeological data can be interpreted in a huge number of ways, and the information changes with every single excavation. Thus, errors in the archaeological facts are acceptable to a degree. The convenient manipulation of real world data for plot purposes, however, is really not acceptable. It is the equivalent of setting a story on the Moon and then saying it has an Earth-like atmosphere (without that being part of the story).

Early on in Island in the Sea of Time, when the protagonists learn that they have ended up in the Middle-to-Late Bronze Age, the town decides that it needs to send a ship (The coast guard training ship USS Eagle, which is a brilliant plot element) over to Europe to get hold of enough grain and domesticated animals to create a viable breeding stock.[2] At this point, Ian Arnstein, a historian who was trapped on the island at the temporal event, tries to describe what Europe is believed to have been like at the period. This is where the story really starts to fall apart.

The crumbling of my suspension of disbelief begins when Arstein says something to the effect of “…unless you believe that non-sense that Renfrew puts out there…” and with that dismisses the last thirty years of archaeological understanding. It’s not the dismissal of Lord Refrew’s theories that I mind. Neither do I mind the fact that Stirling’s Bronze Age world is based on completely out-of-date understandings of the past. It is that he really does use that one line to ignore the past THIRTY YEARS of discoveries and interpretations in archaeology. Every interpretation he uses of the European past is based on understandings that pre-date 1970… and in many cases come from concepts that are even early than that.

Basically, it would seem that Stirling came up with a plot line based upon a somewhat New Age version of the Invasion Hypothesis and then completely manipulated the archaeological record to match his plot. Oh, there were some points that he just couldn’t marry up, so he altered the plot enough to make it fit, but the basic premise was clear. Britain was inhabited by the peace loving, Stonehenge building Moon People, but is in the process of being invaded by the extremely violent and warlike Aryans… oh sorry… Iraiina (say it out loud and see what I mean), or Sun People. The fact that there is no evidence for this kind of invasion and that most professionals now think that cultural exchange was the medium for technological adaptation is beyond the point. So is the fact that even invasion driven models changes in the material culture don’t marry-up with this interpretation… only groovy half-informed New Age interpretations do.[3]

Yet, sadly, even this use of totally out of date and crappy misinterpreted evidence could have been neatly addressed and sustained my disbelief if Stirling had only used a very simple writing trick: his historian should have been wrong. If Ian Arnstein had described the British Bronze Age in terms of a more modern theory, and then had his character discovered this totally different reality, I would have thought it quite clever. My suspension of disbelief would not only have been held, but strengthened because the author had used modern theories as a misdirective tool, rather than simply dismiss them because they didn’t match his plot. It’s like ignoring Einsteinian physics without at least giving a nod to the fact you are doing so.

As for his portrayal of the Ancient Peoples of the world… well… let’s just say that he stereotypes prehistoric peoples as having very simplistic forms of social interaction. The Sun People are warriors with very few cultural subtleties. The Moon People are advanced in their cosmology (a bit too advanced, if you ask me… but hey), but boil down to groovy New Age lovers who would have been perfectly at home in Eugene, Oregon. The Tartasseans have all the social graces of stereotyped Used Car Salesmen (an analogy that Stirling uses repeatedly), and DON’T GET ME STARTED ON THE OLMECS OR INDIGENOUS NORTH AMERICANS!!!!

Somewhere along the lines, people began to associate limited technology with simplistic forms of society… as if individual interactions gained complexity in parallel with the increase in technology and so-called social complexity (that is, more stratified and codified social structure). While this concept is a midge-bit better than assuming such people are stupid, it is still a fairly biggoted idea. If anything, one might think that individual social interactions might be more complex and delicate if there are fewer codified forms of behavior — particularly in a society as overtly violent as the Sun People’s culture is portrayed. This doesn’t begin to mention that the book ignores that a warrior based society might find value in skills other than warfare or… I’m sorry, I begin to rant.

Suffice it to say that some people have criticized this book as being very PC. If so, it is PC in the kind of condescending manner that shows non-Western (or in this case non-modern) peoples as being simple folk and uses token characters to illustrate multiple minorities at the same time.

Oh, yes, and then there was the use of individually focused Japanese martial arts in mass unit combat to overcome warriors who’d spent the majority of their lives fighting with hand-to-hand weapons. I’m sorry, no matter how ‘superior’ your martial art is,[4] and no matter how good you are at your martial arts hobby, you’re just not going to be able to match someone who has spent their whole life using a sword to kill people. Why do you think professional Martial Artists are better than those who do it for fun? And while we’re at it… oh forget it. You get the point.

To this end, Stirling’s convenient use of archaeological and protohistorical information in his setting strains my suspension of disbelief and seriously undermined my ability to enjoy the story. This is, unfortunately, only the beginning.

Ramifications: The central plot of any “place-out-of-time” novel is based on how the displaced townspeople cope with their new environment, with the impact on the local inhabitants forming a key subplot that plays back into the central plot. One element that makes Eric Flint’s 1632 novel work so well is that the mid-17th Century is just about as early in time that one could get and still have a modern American population be capable of technological reproduction. The technology of the thirty-years war is really the very utmost borderline from which you’re average modern population could reverse engineer 20th Century technology so that it could work. Any earlier than that, and I would be very surprised if any population could figure out how to adapt the existing technology into a modern capacity. Think about it: how many car mechanics could figure out how to make a steam engine if the raw material for pressure seals was not already available.[5]

Another element of the 1632 series that was extremely well thought out was the nature of the town that was thrown back in time. It was a small mining town in West Virginia with a strong labor union presence. This means that in addition to having a considerable mechanical skill set existing in the town already, it also had a strongly unified social structure that was used to working together (or at odds) through pr-existing social networks. That is to say, they were used to coming together as a whole for the good of the town/workers. Add to this the fact that an existing coal mine came with them to provide fuel and high end equitpment, you’ve got a winner.

In contrast, Nantucket has none of those things. It has a small population (the event occurred out of tourist season), but not one whose recent history would suggest the ability to come together quickly for the kind of decision making that the Event would have required. Indeed, I cannot imagine any American town undertaking the kind of total social and workforce reorganization that was required at the vastly rapid pace that it did in this story (not even a West Virginia Mining town).

I live in Cottage Grove Oregon, which is about the same population as Nantucket, and I just can’t imagine getting a large enough portion of the population to agree to even the most basic elements needed to pull off such complete economic reorganization in the time frame needed. Despite the Author’s comments to the contrary, I find it even harder to believe of died-in-the-wool New Englanders. I come from a long line of New Englanders, and I just can’t see them lying down and accepting the all-but-totalitarian government necessary to pull off such a total economic and technological refit. At least, not until the failure to do so resulted in significant population loss. Civil liberties run pretty strong in that population, and I couldn’t imagine some significant split in viewpoints occurring. That ignores long-term personal conflicts (Annie May Harpur denied me a bank loan in 1987 and I just can’t agree with someone who’d do that to a friend). Oh, have no doubts they’d get over it, but it would take a couple of months… and by that point people might be dying.

This brings us to our second ramification induced failure in disbelief: I just can’t see a Modern Western town cut off from most modern amenities that didn’t lose at least a third of the population within the first year. Let’s face it, we are so used to modern technology and medicine, we just don’t take care of ourselves. Cuts lead to infections, standing in cold and the rain stresses your body, failure to cook food properly leads to salmonella poisoning. If you want a perfect example of what happens when you set modern day people back into the prehistoric past, see if you can get a look at the BBC’s 2000 reality television series, Surviving the Iron Age. The contestants nearly didn’t survive the first night. You’re telling me a whole town could get by without losing people in the thousands?

Sure, you’d get some people who know how to do things, but I suspect it would take months before anyone would listen to them, particularly a town of modern American’s whose stalwart belief in civil liberties leads towards a rampant form of individualism. While I applaud this in general, I suspect it would lead to a bit of a “do it my own way” mentality that just wouldn’t work well in a society that has to totally recreate their entire social and economic system within a matter of days. How do you herd 9000 cats?

In Island in the Sea of Time the biggest single losses of life come down to either personal actions or conflicts between different portion of the population, not due to lack of knowledge, technology or ability to organize. That, far more than any of my disputes with the archaeology, is what makes this book fail for me. It’s not that I couldn’t see social conflict rising and leading to loss of life, it’s that an even biggest loss of life would come from accidents, illness and lack of understanding.

To that end, I just couldn’t enjoy this book despite the creation of some very strong characters that I liked throughout its telling. While the writing was solid enough, both the setting and the success of the characters within that setting was remarkably contrived.

Notes about the Audio Edition:Todd McLaren does an admirable job of narrating this book, keeping characters clear through use of voices that are the most part subtle and well done. The New England accent used is a bit strained, but acceptable, however, whenever the character from Long Island spoke, it was like fingernails on a chalkboard. It was so bad that at first I thought he was trying for an English accent.

That aside, his narration was solid. On the production side, however, there was a lack of pause between the change of point-of-views that proved to be occasionally confusing. Imagine reading one point of view of one character in one location and then the next paragraph being in the head of a different character in a different location without any notation that this had happened. This production error caused totally unnecessary confusion.


[1] This dodge in temporal mechanics is key to the ability to tell this tale. In the 1632 series, Flint creates a highly amusing explanation of what happened to send the West Virginia town back in time by saying it was the result of the detritus of an alien art project. In the Island in the Sea of Time series, Stirling even more deftly avoids this by simply stating that the Nantucketers have no idea what happened and really have no way of avoiding the impacts of it. Their presence in the past has changed the past already, and how that plays out is beyond their control. In this, he actually addresses both the temporal paradox and the ethical questions in an extremely neat manner. Sadly, this is where the neatness of his plot line ends.
[2] Up to here: Brilliant! Nantucket has remained in its spatial location on the East Coast of the US. This means there are no domesticated animals or crops available in North America. Why they didn’t go after maize from the central Americas, a much less dangerous crossing than the North Atlantic, is not discussed, but since they needed animals as well, we can forgive that.
[3] Side note: I don’t mean to imply that all New Age interpretations are necessarily so badly informed, but there is a certain subset of them (the ones that are generally most popular and one hears the most about), that completely ignore historical and prehistorical knowledge and re-interpret the facts to match their own ends.
[4] Don’t get me started on the superiority of one Martial Art over another… while one can compare and contrast the different forms, a good deal of it comes down to practice and real-life experience. That’s why one learns kata and spars. It is also why no matter how well you train you’re recruits, you usually rely on your experienced combat veterans. As my father used to say, there is no substitute for someone actually trying to kill you, but I digress… again…
[5] Mind you, this would not have been the case for Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Someone from the late 19th Century might have had the knowledge to reverse engineer industrial revolution technology from a medieval baseline (or even a Bronze Age baseline, though that is much more unlikely). There is a certain baseline for pre-existing materials that is required for modern technology, however, and I suspect it would take some time for your average 20th century individual to figure out how to make those items.
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About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
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33 Responses to Island in the Sea of Time: Book 1, S.M. Stirling (Roc, 1998){Tantor Media, 2008; Narrator: Todd McLaren)

  1. Dave Raines says:

    Really good review. I enjoyed the book more than you, probably because I do not share your professional knowledge. Even so, I didn’t pick up its sequels. I also read its parallel set in the present day (Willamette Valley!), where electricity et al. no longer work. Lots of people DO die there. I enjoyed the “what if we do THIS, how could we build THAT” problem-solving. However, I was put off by the casual assumption that inevitably, in each case, a sado-masochistic Hitler figure would immediately rise, more capable than any local strongman. Might have been a necessary assumption for the plot, so the good guys could shine brighter. Still didn’t like it. – Loved the twinned concept of Nantucket’s disappearance, though.

  2. Thomas Evans says:

    I think that may be what bothered me the most about the book: great premise that was ineptly delivered. There were soooo many points in the book that could have turned it into a truly great piece, but Stirling went for the easy out. The Evil Modern Ruler you point out is a great example.

    Did he have to make Walker so dispicible? Couldn’t he have simply had a different view point? He could have made the perfect misguided villain who goes Empire building for what he believed was the good of Nantucket. Instead, he teams up with a BDSM doctor for nothing more than his own glory. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had some black hats and twirling of mustachios.

    Sad, because I really wanted to like this book.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      PS… I’m glad you liked it. I was somewhat torn about doing any comparison’s to Flint, since trans-book comparisons are not the best form of review. Still, it was the only way to illustrate the point I was making without adding another 5-10K words into the already too long review.

  3. “and is otherwise fairly derivative of Eric Flint‘s 1632 series.”

    A simple examination of the publication dates at the front of the book would have revealed that “Island in the Sea of Time” was publsihed before Eric’s book. And Eric was unware of “Island” when he wrote 1632; I asked him. Hence, it would be rather difficult for “Island” to be “derivative” of 1632… unless I employed time travel. The similarties are simple seredipity.

    “Why they didn’t go after maize from the central Americas, a much less dangerous crossing than the North Atlantic, is not discussed, but since they needed animals as well, we can forgive that.”

    — because the varieties of maize available in Central America in 1250 BCE were tropical-adapted and wouldn’t grow in Nantucket. This is why maize agriculture didn’t reach the New England area until about 1000 CE. It took that long for varieties adopted to the northern temperate zone to be developed.

    Futhermore, in terms of large sailing ships the wind and current patterns make it easier and faster to cross the Atlantic than to sail from Nantucket to Mexico and back — as is pointed out in the book. Beating down the East Coast means sailing into the teeth of the prevailing winds and against the main coastal current. From New England to Europe you just run your easting down with the prevailing winds and then drop south and do the reverse to get back. This is also pointed out in the book. I looked it up.

    Continued on next rock:

    • Thomas Evans says:

      First off, thank you for taking the time to respond to my review. I’m very happy you chose to do so.

      Secondly, I stand completely corrected in my comments about it being dirivative of the 1632 series. One of the problems of audiobooks is that it becomes difficult to check some of the facts, though in the case of publication dates, it would have been very easy for me to do so.

      As for the spread of maize agriculture, there is a fairly large debate about the exact dates, meathods and routes of transport. As for the maritime trade routes taken, I remain unconvinced that any long distance route across the North Atlantic is safter than a coastal route where one could shelter in the lee of the land and restock from the shorelines. Even so, I still think the presence of Cattle in Europe is argument enough for me to accept their word for it.

      Didn’t see any continuation, but I’ll be happy to discuss it.

      I am always glad to be proven wrong. And, by the way, I did really like Marian Alston as a character. My comments in the post may indicate otherwise, but she definately stole the show.

      • Thomas Evans says:

        PS, I am particularly interested in why you chose to ignore the more recent interpretations of Prehistory, however.

      • As for the spread of maize agriculture, there is a fairly large debate about the exact dates, meathods and routes of transport.

        — I’m aware of that, but there is absolutely no dispute that Central American varieties of maize in 1250 BCE would simply not grow in New England. The growing season and the daylight patterns are just wrong. Conversely, NW European varieties of wheat and barley -would- grow there; that was proved by experiment in the 17th century. They’re at about the same degree North, so the seasons are similar and the rainfall and temperature regimes roughly similar.

        >As for the maritime trade routes taken, I remain unconvinced that any long distance route across the North Atlantic is safter than a coastal route where one could shelter in the lee of the land and restock from the shorelines.

        — believe me, when you’re sailing a big windjammer, or even a substantial schooner, the last thing on God’s green earth you want to do is hug the shore. Getting caught on a lee shore in a storm is the easiest way to get wrecked. The way to survive a storm is to get out in the deep water and ride it out where you have room to run with minimal rig and not run into anything solid.

        Plus something the size of the Eagle can comfortably stay at sea for months at a time. And sailing time has surprisingly little to do with distance and everything to do with the currents and, even more, the prevailing winds. Which are very consistent.

        The basic discovery which made the post-Renaissance expansion of Europe possible was the discovery of the deep-ocean patterns of wind and current, which are as I described. It wasn’t the size of the ships — ones as small as 50 tons crossed the Atlantic routinely in the sail era, and in the 1890’s two Norwegians -rowed- from New York to Le Havre in an 18-foot dory.

        As I said, I looked this stuff up and consulted experts.

  4. Sorry for the amazing number of spelling mistakes in the previous post; I’m using a small laptop.

    To continue with the archaeological stuff:

    “It is that he really does use that one line to ignore the past THIRTY YEARS of discoveries and interpretations in archaeology”

    — ignore discoveries, no.

    I wasn’t in the least surprised by the Amesbury Archer and other uses of modern techniques using chemical and isotope ratio analysis of remains which show a high degree of mobility in the period. (Among other things, they show that most of the earliest strata of Beaker graves involve males from at least 100 miles from the site of burial, IIRC the article in British Archaeology). People have always moved around a lot. I’ve followed developments in forensic archaeology closely and have several advisors who are professional archaeologists.

    Ignore interpretations, yes.

    I think the anti-migrationist and anti-diffusionist perspective which Renfrew embodies (and which lead to his…. to put it charitably startling… incursions into Indo-European historical linguistics) and which is the received orthodoxy among academic archaeologists in the English-speaking world simply isn’t supported by the evidence.

    It posits that when no literate observers are around, the mechanisms of historical change which operate when we -do- have records suddenly stop functioning and entirely different ones take their place.

    Eg., for first-person accounts of how things worked see Caesar’s description of the attempted mass-migration of the Helvettii, or the Greek accounts of the founding of the Galatian kingdom in Anatolia after a horde of Celts poured south, sacked Delphi, and ended up in what’s now Turkey.

    In other words, this anti-migrationist school projects its methodological imperatives and political preferences onto the helpless past in areas where there are no written records to contradict it.

    If a migration can come out of left field, and completely reformat the cultural “software” of language, social organization, religion and so forth -without- leaving much evidence in the stones-and-bones record (though forensic archaeology is helping with that nowadays), then the stones-and-bones crowd would have to admit that their ability to reconstruct actual culture is severely limited. Without the written record, who’d be able to prove that a bunch of Central European Celts had founded a kingdom in central Anatolia?

    Hence they try to rule out migration. This also has the happy effect of enabling them to downgrade processes such as war, and institutions such as ethnicity, which makes them more ideologically comfortable. I await with baited breath some enthusiastic young archaeologist “proving” that the first human beings in Britain weren’t anything so uncouth and un-politically-correct as immigrants, but were instead purely indigenous reindeer, symbolically transformed by the reception of a cult-package.

    Reconstructive linguistics is actually more helpful, because it can to a limited degree get at what actually went on inside people’s heads. But for the most part, in all honesty we should admitt that where no written records exist, most of the cultural information has vanished into the pit of entropy and there’s no way to know. What the people then were like in detail is unrecoverable, and fiction need only be reasonably plausible. It’s a non-falsifiable hypothesis.

    In other words, I’m fully en courant with the theory, I just don’t think it’s even remotely credible, and I’m not forced by the professional necessity of appearing respectable to pretend that I do.

    “let’s just say that he stereotypes prehistoric peoples as having very simplistic forms of social interaction. The Sun People are warriors with very few cultural subtleties. The Moon People”

    — I find this puzzling. Most of the interaction with the Sun People is military, so you see the warrior aspect of their society. Enough is shown of the rest to indicate that they have a complex culture. Ditto the Moon People, whose material culture is fairly simple but who have an enormously complex system of astrological obsessions backed up by mathematics more advanced than, say, Babylonia. There’s no evidence that anything of the sort existened then-and-there, of course. But then again, there’s no evidence that it didn’t.

    >but is in the process of being invaded by the extremely violent and warlike Aryans… oh sorry… Iraiina (say it out loud and see what I mean), or Sun People.

    cf. “Iran” and “Erin”.

    The evidence in the western part of the Indo-European range isn’t as conculsive as in the eastern, but it’s perfectly credible to use the hypothesis that the original PIE speakers used some variant of this term as a general ethnoynm to mean “our people” or “people who follow our customs and speak our language.” The ones in the eastern half of the language range certainly did, and in 1250 BCE the various IE daughter languages were closer to the original PIE than the Romance languages of today are to Latin. The linguistic evidence strongly indicates that PIE was a single language with only minor dialect differences as recently as 4000-3000 BCE, probably starting to split up around 3500 BCE. In 1250 BCE, it’s very likely that you could have walked from the English Channel to the Punjab without hitting a single clear linguistic boundary, though by the time you’d traveled say 500 miles or so you’d no longer be clearly intelligble to the locals.

    (The Anatolian IE languages partially excepted, but that’s a question too complex to go into here. I recommend Mallory’s “Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture” and Anthony’s “The Horse, the Wheel and Language”.)

    The Iraiina in the book are speakers of a hypothetical bridge-dialect between Pre-Proto-Germanic (this is still 700 years before the first Germanic sound-shifts) and Proto-Celtic.

    And as for them being warlike and violent, nearly everyone in the remote past was extremely violent by the standards of the contemporary West. Forensic archaeology indicates, if you examine the remains, that in pre-State level societies for adults at least 1/3 of males and a smaller but stil significant proportion of females commonly died by violence. That’s almost certainly an underestimate, as soft tissue damage doesn’t show up on the bones — we have only an occasional freak example like the bog people (strangled, drowned, blunt injury trauma), or Otzi the Iceman (shot in the back with an arrow, defense wounds on the arms).

    “The Tartasseans have all the social graces of stereotyped Used Car Salesmen (an analogy that Stirling uses repeatedly)”

    — the Tartessians shown are -merchants-. Add in that we don’t even know where Tartessos -was-, much less what the people were like. That’s a blank slate.

    When you meet people from a strange culture, you don’t see the whole culture; you just see the individuals and aspects presented to you.

    In Kenya, where I spent a lot of my childhood, many of the locals had -very- odd ideas about Westerners… due to the fact that all they’d seen were British colonial officials, missionaries, soldiers and quasi-aristocratic settlers, and then tourists. Which wasn’t an unbiased sample.

    If the only person from Culture X you see is someone trying to sell you stuff, or beat you up and rob you, you’re going to get a certain impression.

  5. On to the Nantucket stuff:

    >Oh, yes, and then there was the use of individually focused Japanese martial arts in mass unit combat

    — ummm… where? Alston, who is a -very- experienced martial artist, uses her skills in -individual- combat (so does Walker). I’m a martial artist myself (20 years, until forced out by injuries) and I’ve fought in life-or-death situations.

    When it comes to massed combat, the Islanders use superior weaponry (car-spring crossbows, steel swords, later firearms), better armor, and mass discipline to overcome the superior individual skills and ferocity of their local opponents. Their weapons and tactics are based on historical examples, mostly Classical and Early Modern. They’re drawing on thousands of years of experience their opponents just don’t have.

    This is repeatedly pointed out. Discipline and unit articulation are massive force multipliers, and the crew and cadets aboard the Eagle give the Islanders an experienced cadre, as do the high proportion of veterans on Nantucket.

    So is good steel body armor and other technological tricks. A pre-firearms battle isn’t a series of duels, at least not above the armed-mob level. The locals mostly -are- at the armed-mob level, half-naked farmers with clubs, and it shows. Their professional warriors are a very small percentage of their total; economies like that can’t support many specialists.

    >Think about it: how many car mechanics could figure out how to make a steam engine if the raw material for pressure seals was not already available.

    — in 1998, -every single machine, animal, seed, building and skill- described in the books were -actually in place on Nantucket-. (Or on the Eagle, which is based nearby and often sails close to the island.)

    Eg., the small machine shop whose operator repaired and made steam engines as a hobby is a direct Tuckerization. So is the machine shop on the Eagle and the range of skills among its cadet-crew.

    So are the farmers, the weavers, the boatbuilders, and so forth.

    I’ve visited Nantucket repeatedly and I interviewed most of the people concerned and directly observed their operations, and questioned them as to what they could and couldn’t do. Yes, you can use the small machine shop to do everything described. Building the steamboat seen towards the end of the book? Piece of cake.

    >In contrast, Nantucket has none of those things. It has a small population (the event occurred out of tourist season), but not one whose recent history would suggest the ability to come together quickly for the kind of decision making that the Event would have required.

    — it has a small, homogenous population which is used to governing itself through the Town Meeting, one in which everyone knows everyone and many people are related. This is, I would say, as suited as anywhere in modern North America for quickly doing the necessary.

    The date was selected to keep most of the ‘coofs’/Summer People off the island. They would have been a problem, and not only their numbers.

    >This brings us to our second ramification induced failure in disbelief: I just can’t see a Modern Western town cut off from most modern amenities that didn’t lose at least a third of the population within the first year.

    — nope. It would be either be total collapse and nearly everyone dying, or they’d mostly pull through, allowing for the death of people dependent on modern medicine and a rash of suicides of various sorts. There’s really no way you can have a box marked “other”, if you think about it. Social cohesion could not stand casualties on that scale, and if cohesion was lost virtually nobody could survive.

    >The contestants nearly didn’t survive the first night. You’re telling me a whole town could get by without losing people in the thousands?

    — the contestants didn’t have a large stock of 18th-century houses and other infrastructure; tools, fireplaces, stored fuel. Or fishing boats, or a broad range of relevant skills, and so forth.

    >I suspect it would lead to a bit of a “do it my own way” mentality that just wouldn’t work well in a society that has to totally recreate their entire social and economic system within a matter of days. How do you herd 9000 cats?

    — transport them in time, cut them off from all they’re familiar with, and threaten them with death?

    Everyone goes to the Town Meeting and hears the report on the food situation, for example. This is not rocket science. They know they’re desperately short of food and must take emergency measures. Intense social pressure keeps everyone in line.

    Admittedly they’re fortunate in their leadership — note that most of the Selectmen are out of the picture for one reason or another, so Cofflin, Alston and a few others end up taking over by default.

    Americans actually have a pretty good record of pulling together spontaneously when emergencies happen, particularly settled communities where most people know each other, which is the case on Nantucket.

    Nine thousand random urbanites or suburbanites might collapse, but that’s not the situation at hand.

  6. Thomas Evans says:

    Don’t ever worry about spelling mistakes here when responding to a post, it is always and totally forgiven. Most of my comments are written on an iPod, so I am no one to complain.

    Sadly, I’m just about to check off line for the weekend, so I don’t have time at the moment to give the kind of considered response that you deserve. Having said that, I will be back online on Monday, and hope that I will have a chance to respond in detail.

    In brief, however, I will note that the “Celtic” migration of the Iron Age does generally appear to be a generalized response to changes in the flow of prestige goods from the Mediterranean (see Cunliffe, The Ancient Celts. Penguin Books 1999 for a good summary. You may also be interested in Patrice Brun’s seminal work Princes et Princesses de la Celtique. Editions Errance, 1987. This does post date your book by about 250 years, but gives a marvelous examination of the development of Late Bronze Age society). Furthermore, while Linguistic evidence is always interesting, the actually datable material culture from Britain of the period does not in anyway suggest a large migration occurring.

  7. “Furthermore, while Linguistic evidence is always interesting, the actually datable material culture from Britain of the period does not in any way suggest a large migration occurring.”

    >It doesn’t rule it out, either, and there are historically attested migrations which did -not- leave much evidence in the archaeological record. The Galatian one I mentioned is an example, or the migration of the Maa-speakers into the Rift Valley area, or any number of others. Hence the record material culture says pretty well -nothing- to the issue.

    This is an instance where ‘absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’.

    And historically there are -no- attested instances of pre-literate and pre-State cultures undergoing linguistic transitions without moving substantial numbers of people. The only way to transport the language is inside the head of someone who speaks it.

    Changing an established language among a numerous peasant population is -extremely hard-. Small minorities of immigrant conquerors or other high-status groups are almost invariably linguistically assimilated by the linguistic environment into which they intrude.

    Renfrew’s proposed solutions like “elite dominance” don’t work the way he seems to think it does, in other words.

    Note that we do not speak Norman French, despite an extremely radical change in elites in post-1066 England, accompanied by the massive cultural prestige of French in the ensuing centuries. We speak English, and this took only a few centuries after the Conquest. The French do not speak Frankish.

    More generally, since migrations are common in the historical record (I can give you dozens of examples from Africa in the last few centuries, for instance) on the general scientific principle of uniform causality we should assume that they were frequent in periods in which we have no written records. Hence if there’s a phenomenon usually associated with a migration (like the spread of a language) we should assume, absent very strong proof to the contrary, that there -was- a migration.

    Ruling them out for lack of stones-and-bones evidence is pure prejudice; it’s like the classic story of the drunk who was found looking for his car keys under the street-light. That wasn’t where he’d dropped them, but he needed the light to look…

  8. Thomas Evans says:

    Good morning, I’m about to start responding to the above comments, but before I do, I thought I’d suggest it might suit you if I were to post the entirety of this debate as a fresh post come this thursday.

    The review itself is a few weeks old, and so many of my readers are not likely to have seen your comments. That being the case, I thought it was the least I could do to offer you fair air time. I would combine the discussions up to that point onto a single post, noting who is speaking, and only edit to remove spelling mistakes (unless you had a desire to edit anything present thus far).

    Regardless, I will keep posting on the comments section here until the section is replaced.

    All the best,
    Tom

  9. Thomas Evans says:

    First: To any readers that have just joined this discussion, I want to point out that I have just paused the discussion for a whole weekend while I was otherwise engaged. To that end, I have had two days to think about my responses (albeit not continuously) while Mr. Stirling was forced to write more or less off the cuff up to this point. This is, of course, the nature of a home field advantage in blog posting. Aaanyways…

    In order to address Mr. Stirling’s comments appropriately, and to avoid any confusion of points by latecomers to this conversation, I’m going to break my responses into two separate discussions:

    1: Discussion of my review of your novel.
    2: Discussion of different interpretations of European Prehistory.

    To that end:

    My review of Island in the Sea of Time

    The central issue I had with your novel revolves around its inability to allow me to sustain disbelief. Once a reader is pulled out of a story, it becomes more and more difficult for them to return back into it. What is more, it engaged the hypercritical mind, and as such causes the reader to over analyze and doubt other assumptions. To that end, once my suspension of disbelief was broken once, it became easier and easier to suspend it again.

    For me, while my ability to suspend disbelief was strained by the ease with which the Nantucket society was totally re-engineered (which I will address later), the breaking point came during Ian Arnstein’s description of the British Bronze Age.

    It was not that you chose to use the Invasionist model of the Bronze Age for your novel (it’s a novel, do what you want). It was the way the professional historian in your novel totally ignored thirty years worth of archaeological interpretations when describing it, and then just so happened to be right.

    Look at it like this: I can believe that the entire Island of Nantucket can be transported back to the Bronze Age, I can believe that the changes in sea-level wouldn’t have had cataclysmic effects on the island (and/or neighboring shoreline). What I can’t believe is that a Professional historian who knows enough about the period to speak with the authority he does throughout the book would lump the varying theories that have developed over the past thirty years as a single thing and them dismiss them out hand. That is too incredible to believe.

    After all, these are interpretations that have dominated British prehistory for a long time, and formed the bulk of professional discussions. You may see Renfrew and all the ideas that followed him over thirty years as simply anti-invasionist theories (a term which is, ironically, very reminiscent of Collin’s keynote speech at the 1987 Theoretical Archaeology Group meeting where he referred to all the numerous theories that post-dated his own as Anti-processualist), but professionals see them as Processualist, post-processualist, neo-processualist, Marxist, Deconstructionist, symbolic archaeologist, post-feminist, etc. etc. etc. To that end, to have a professional student of the past discuss these ideas as one and then dismiss it out of hand is simply unbelievable to me.

    Now, I understand that as an author you just don’t have the time to have your character posit every major theory that is out there (or you could, but that would be really boring), but the way you handled it suggested to the reader that you just didn’t know what you were talking about. You accepted a theory that was forty-years out of date (which by itself is fine), through up a theory that is thirty years out of date as a straw man, and then ignored every other interpretation that followed.

    The fact that in this blog, you’ve shown a more substantial understanding of the material is great, but when I review a book, all I have to go on is what is in the text. In this case, what you presented just didn’t cut it for me. It broke my ability to sustain disbelief.

    What then synched this break of trust was that Arnstein’s character went on to be proven right. Again, I have no problem with the fact that you chose to use an invasionist hypothesis as your model for representing the Bronze Age. What bothers me is the somewhat clunky way you went about presenting it. Had you put up someone like Richard Bradley (whose work I really like), up as the straw man, I would have been on-board. Better yet, had you reversed Arnstein’s argument, having him say something like: “Well, the old model suggests that a series of invasions are occurring now, but most people really think that there is an elaborate exchange system in place…” then had them shown up and found the invasion in process (as occurs in the book), I would have thought you a genius.

    Unfortunately, the way you presented it just pushed my ability to sustain disbelief beyond its limits.

    “I find this puzzling. Most of the interaction with the Sun People is military, so you see the warrior aspect of their society. Enough is shown of the rest to indicate that they have a complex culture. Ditto the Moon People, whose material culture is fairly simple but who have an enormously complex system of astrological obsessions backed up by mathematics more advanced than, say, Babylonia. There’s no evidence that anything of the sort existed then-and-there, of course. But then again, there’s no evidence that it didn’t.”

    AND

    ““The Tartasseans have all the social graces of stereotyped Used Car Salesmen (an analogy that Stirling uses repeatedly)”
    – the Tartessians shown are -merchants-. Add in that we don’t even know where Tartessos -was-, much less what the people were like. That’s a blank slate.
    When you meet people from a strange culture, you don’t see the whole culture; you just see the individuals and aspects presented to you.
    In Kenya, where I spent a lot of my childhood, many of the locals had -very- odd ideas about Westerners… due to the fact that all they’d seen were British colonial officials, missionaries, soldiers and quasi-aristocratic settlers, and then tourists. Which wasn’t an unbiased sample.”

    In fact, you answer my issue in the first, with your comments in the second. If it is true that one often forms one’s opinion about whole cultures based on the limited sample of those that one meets (a position I whole heartedly agree with), then that is even more the case when said culture is presented in a novel. The only evidence one has to formulate what a made up culture is like is what is presented in the text.

    In your book, we primarily see the Sun People through Walker’s eyes. Since he is living among them, he has a fairly substantial interaction with them, but all we see are his interactions with the warrior class. These are very stereotypical of a modern view of a warrior society, and there is nothing in the text (that springs to mind), that suggests any complexities beyond that. The very fact that he rises to power so quickly and is rapidly adopted by the high Chief supports this conclusion.

    I fully understand that you might have a much more detailed and complex model for society in your head, but that is not what was on the page, or at least, that was not what stood out for me in the audio book.

    The same can be said of my “reading” of the Moon People and the Tartesseans. All we have as readers to base our imagined cultures upon is what you give us. I would have liked it had you given us a hint of complexity beyond that.

    Now to be fair, you do suggest some element of this when you showed the Tartesseans speaking among themselves. Additionally, it is possible that my opinion of the Moon people was jaded by the way in which the narrator read the parts. Hard to tell. You did give both of these cultures a very advanced cosmology, but unfortunately, this resulted only is further straining my disbelief: we meet three Bronze Age cultures and two of them have the understanding that the world is round. This suggests that the knowledge of a round earth was common in the Ancient world, or that the crew of the Eagle was phenomenally lucky in the peoples they found. It also results in further illustrating the primitive nature of the Sun People by contrast.

    As for the military conflicts and use of mass troops etc. Yes, indeed, you did note in the text that it was discipline and technology that won the day, and you do state that the troops were using mass unit combat methods. Unfortunately, the only training scene that stood out for me in the text was when Alcroft was leading a training exercise on the beach one morning. This lead me to belief what you were saying was that the Nantucketers were being trained using the martial arts techniques possessed by Captain Alcroft, and then applying them to mass unit combat. To me, this didn’t add up. In this discussion you have shown you clearly know the difference between the two styles of combat, but that is not stood out to me in the text of the novel. It does, however, raise the question, where did they learn to use hand to hand weapons in a mass unit formation?

    Additionally, you note that it was the discipline and technology that gave the Nantucketers their advantage. I can see that argument, but the time the Nantuckers had to train was relatively short (a few months) during which they were also spending a good deal of time doing other things (farming, retrofitting technology, etc. etc.). In contrast the warriors that they met (both Olmec and Sun People), had warriors who had trained in combat from an early age. Indeed, you specifially note that the Olmecs did have a specialized warrior class set to guard their Priest-King. To that end, I’m not arguing that the Olmecs or Sun People would have won, but rather they would have had a harder time of it.

    On to Nantucket, which will have to be briefer than it deserves since I must dash off to a meeting.

    Suffice it to say that while all of the resources and knowledge may have existed on the Island in 1998, I still find it stretches my ability to sustain my disbelief that everyone would have thought of the problems, not to mention the solutions as quickly as you presented it in the novel and with as little loss of life.

    I agree, Americans do have a great ability to group together when facing imminent threats, and perhaps the first few days, or even weeks after the Change they would have done so, but I can’t believe they would have held it together. What is more, I don’t think they would have come up with a list of problems and solutions that actually met the needs and reality so quickly. I’ve dealt with too many government and town halls to think that is the case. Once the threat was perceived as real, I can buy it (thus in Flint’s 1632 series, they are threatened right off the bat by a real outside threat that needs immediate attention, this forms the impetus), but I think you overestimate how quickly people would react and accept the cold hard facts once presented in the scenario you put forth.

    I suppose this just boils down to my having less faith in my fellow human beings than you do.

  10. Thomas Evans says:

    My responces to the interpretations of the past will have to wait, I’m afriad… business calls, but I will post them I promse.

  11. “but professionals see them as Processualist, post-processualist, neo-processualist, Marxist, Deconstructionist, symbolic archaeologist, post-feminist, etc. etc. etc. To that end, to have a professional student of the past discuss these ideas as one and then dismiss it out of hand is simply unbelievable to me.”

    — Arnstein is a -classicist-. With regard to the study of the European Bronze Age, he’s in the same position as me; that is, he reads a lot of this stuff, but has no professional investment in it. In fact, (although he’s a Tuckerization of Harry Turtledove for the most part) he’s more or less standing in for me.

    And my position is that this stuff is not only for the most part laughable, but so laughable that it’s not worth critiquing in any detail. It’s historical Lysenkoism.

    (For Harry’s position, try his story: “Deconstruction Gang”.)

    • Thomas Evans says:

      I am indeed saddened to hear that is your opinion as that belittles a generation of work conducted by hundreds of academics and thousands of field researchers. This is not because they all necessarily agree with any one theory, but rather because they are part of a process of discovery which has resulted in a predominant set theory and discourse that you dismiss out of hand.

      Perhaps when I get a chance to discuss some of the more modern approaches to the Bronze Age you will gain a touch of respect for the more modern theories. After all they didn’t just evolve out of nothing, nor did they develop to explain a lack of material. Rather they have grown to explain the seriation in the material culture that has been discovered.

      • “I am indeed saddened to hear that is your opinion as that belittles a generation of work conducted by hundreds of academics and thousands of field researchers”

        — if that makes you sad, don’t get me started on developments in literary criticism, although thankfully the situation there has been improving lately. In fact, that disasterous bout of fashonista nonsense negatively affected a good many fields in the humanities.

        “Perhaps when I get a chance to discuss some of the more modern approaches to the Bronze Age you will gain a touch of respect for the more modern theories.”

        — you’re assuming that I’m not familiar with this material. I am quite familiar with it, and I follow the literature about as closely as anyone who doesn’t do it for a living; I just don’t -agree- with the stuff you’re talking about.

        To put it very mildly.

      • Thomas Evans says:

        Well I suspect that we would agree with much of the literary criticism, and might well have some common ground on what’s happening in the publishing industry.

        As for your familiarity, I really couldn’t judge. It just seems to me that your comments here regarding lack of data suggest you may not be familiar with certain areas of it. Of course, I do follow it for a living, so I would be a bit suprised if you were aware of the material as I am.

        Still, I shall therefore assume that you are aware of the research that shows the seriation in ceramic and metal styles and how that changed over time. The material coming from the UK is of course fairly convincing, but it is really the research out of France and Austria that clearly demonstrates the indigenous origens of the artefact types most commonly associated with the hypothetical Bronze Age Migrations, and how their subsequent spread across Europe is indicative of cultural exchange networks.

        Of course, your own examples of the Iron Age migration of the Keltoi shows a very different pattern, while the evidence from Anatolia is limited, the data from the Po Valley is quite convincing. What is more, there is also strong evidence to corroborate the “Celtic Migration” coming from the Upper Seine Basin. There, the massive decrease in cemetary populations that occurs in the La Tene Ancienne II is highly suggestive of a large scale migration originating from that zone. Since that correlates almost precisely to the dates that the histories give to the Celtic Migrations, it does seem likely that the two are related. That does not, however, prove the fact, merely lend credence to the hypothesis.

  12. “In contrast the warriors that they met (both Olmec and Sun People), had warriors who had trained in combat from an early age. Indeed, you specifially note that the Olmecs did have a specialized warrior class set to guard their Priest-King.”

    — first, their specialists are very few in number. The bulk of their forces are farmers. Second, their specialists are specialists in a particular -type- of combat, one which does not involve articulated units. Unit articulation probably postdates the Bronze Age, and certainly does so outside the Middle East and (more peripherally) Shang China.

    If you read the battle scenes, the enemies the Nantucketers face do quite well on the occasions when things end up as a one-on-one fight. They do very badly when engaged in mass combat, because the advantage of the methods the islanders are using is that it means every enemy -individual- is facing several opponents at once. And as the ancient Greek saying went, “even Hercules can’t fight two”. Two opponents are not twice as strong as one; the gap is more like four or five to one.

  13. “Suffice it to say that while all of the resources and knowledge may have existed on the Island in 1998, I still find it stretches my ability to sustain my disbelief that everyone would have thought of the problems, not to mention the solutions as quickly as you presented it in the novel and with as little loss of life.”

    — I’m baffled. The problems are hard, but -simple-. Likewise, the solutions are hard, but -straightforward-. The situation isn’t complex at all. It requires no special intelligence or vast fund of information to see. Everyone knows they have to eat every day. Everyone knows that food comes from farms or the ocean.

    Later on things become more complex and there’s more dissension, but what is anyone going to say to the “we don’t have enough food, here’s the only way to get it” argument? Anyone anyone else will listen to, that is.

    Furthermore, “everyone” doesn’t think of the solutions and problems; a few people do, and they convince (or, to a certain degree, coerce) the others. Plus of course Alston has the crew and cadets behind her, forming a substantial part of the adult population and used to acting with military discipline.

    ” agree, Americans do have a great ability to group together when facing imminent threats, and perhaps the first few days, or even weeks after the Change they would have done so, but I can’t believe they would have held it together.”

    — why not? Everyone knows the problem isn’t going away. It’s right there in front of everyone’s eyes; there isn’t enough food. Until the first harvest is in and they have the fishing and fish-salting operations going, there isn’t -going- to be enough food.

    This is a direct threat of a visceral type anyone can recognize. Some people refuse to see it or go insane, of course. After the first few weeks, things are organized — for example, food is rationed and if you don’t work, you don’t eat.

    What’s anyone going to say? “We have plenty of food?” or “There’s no necessity to work so hard”?

    –Someone- will find that convincing, but not, I would posit, very many.

    “but I think you overestimate how quickly people would react and accept the cold hard facts once presented in the scenario you put forth.”

    — “you don’t get to eat tomorrow” is not something you can disregard.

  14. “we meet three Bronze Age cultures and two of them have the understanding that the world is round.”

    — no, -small groups- within two of the cultures know the world is round. Amounting to a few hundred people in all. This is made clear in the text.

    “It also results in further illustrating the primitive nature of the Sun People by contrast.”

    — by contrast to the Tartessians, whose center is proto-urban and who are at least peripherally part of the literate world of their time, the Sun People -are- intellectually primitive. Some cultures at any given time just are more primitive than others, you know. It’s ludicrous antinomianism to pretend otherwise.

    The Moon People have a priest-scholar caste who have preciously advanced astronomical and mathematical knowledge because their religion is focused on it (which is why the Babylonians did too, by the way).

  15. “In your book, we primarily see the Sun People through Walker’s eyes. Since he is living among them, he has a fairly substantial interaction with them, but all we see are his interactions with the warrior class.”

    — that’s because they’re a) what he’s interested in, and b) he’s interested in them because they’re the politically dominant element in their society, and he’s there strictly for political power. The rest of the population are, as far as he’s concerned, more or less raw materials.

    (He ends up fighting at least one duel because of religiously-based hostility to his outsider status and innovations, you will note.)

    The Sun People don’t have much “government” in our sense of the term, but what they do have exists mainly to manage the ‘violence function’; the rest of it’s mainly about religion.

    This is a society in which social status is mainly based on a raiding-and-feasting ethos, in which chiefs redistribute stuff to followers so the followers will suport them and fight for them, and by that they loot and/or tribute to redistribute to their followers, and around and around it goes. Which is, as the Monty Python crowd put it in “Eric the Viking”, “a bit of a circular argument”.

    There are many such cultures in the historical record.

    >These are very stereotypical of a modern view of a warrior society

    — most stereotypes, thought they may contain a lot of exaggeration, hostile spin and selective reporting, also have a substantial core of truth. That’s why they get to be stereotypes.

    “the very fact that he rises to power so quickly and is rapidly adopted by the high Chief supports this conclusion.”

    — war is everywhere a powerful mechanism of social mobiliity, even in much more caste-ridden societies than the Sun People as shown in the books.

    The Iraiina are refugees when Walker meets them, after suffering military defeat on the Continent just across the Channel. They’re desperate to hack out a new place for themselves, and also desperately in need of help — they’re not doing this out of high spirits, but out of raw need for survival.

    The high Chief supports Walker because Walker is obviously a powerful magician (he has a boom-stick which kills at a distance, after all) and then because Walker and his followers have tools, weapons, wealth and organizational ideas which bolster the Chief’s position beyond anything he could expect without them. He just lost a war and needs all the help he can get.

    Why -shouldn’t- he support Walker? He’s ignorant of the context Walker comes from, but he’s not stupid and he can see what’s in front of him. This is a heaven-sent opportunity for him and he seizes it with commendable speed and determination. Plus his culture has no prejudices against assimilating outsiders — it’s traditional for individual warriors to attach themselves to a chief in hope of reward. Their legends have plenty of examples of demigods and magicians involving themselves in the quarrels of ordinary mortals, too.

    There are dozens of historical examples of outside adventurers making a place for themselves in alien cultures in roughly this way — the Brooke dynasty of Sarawak, to give just one instance, where a man and a half-dozen friends with a small leaky yacht founded a state and became overlords.

    Likewise, Isketerol the Tartessian supports Walker because he sees, quite correctly, that Walker is his key to maximizing his advantage. He’s intelligent enough to mentally adjust to what’s happened and use it to further his ambitions, for himself and then later for his people.

    • Thomas Evans says:

      Yes I am somewhat familiar with the concept of social reproduction through the feasting/warfare cycle.

    • Couldn’t find a “reply” button below the following, so I’m putting it here.

      “where I studied gender, identity and regionality as reflected in the Burial rites.”

      — let’s take a hypothetical here, a thought-experiment.

      Let’s assume that we had no written records from Classical Athens and Attica, and that we didn’t know what language they spoke. What interpretations could you make strictly from the material remains?

      Well, you could make a good case that it was an Amazonian matriarchy that worshipped owls. After all, there’s an enormous number of depictions of this armed woman with an owl…

      This illustrates the tendency to overinterpret the data I mentioned. In point of fact the -material- culture would give very little indication of what gender relations were like; even the pottery depictions of symposia would be open to multiple interpretations. Eg., that this culture was unconcerned with sexual jealousy.

      You could make a good case from it that Attica was a single political unit (from the coinage, if nothing else)… but you certainly couldn’t prove it. You could prove that there were extensive trade relations with the Mediterranean basin, but you couldn’t prove a damned thing about how they were organized — tribute, gift-exchange, ordinary trade, what? You could demonstrate that the religion was polytheistic, but you couldn’t get at the myths or much of the rituals — and you would certainly assume that the Athena figure was head of the pantheon, which wasn’t the case. Nothing about the details of social structure would be recoverable, except that there were differences in living standards. Nothing about the political system would be recoverable. And so forth and so on.

      Archaeology can recover a good deal of what people -did-, but very little of what they -meant- by it. I’d argue that a lot of the interpretation is simply guessing or projection.

      For example, you can tell the Amesbury Archer came from the Alps and moved to Britain as an adult, and that he was a high-status individual from the richness of the grave goods.

      But absence of rich grave goods does -not- prove that an individual -wasn’t- high status. Eg., Shaka Senzagakhona, the first ruler of the Zulu kingdom, was an absolute monarch over hundreds of thousands of people living in tens of thousands of square miles. He was buried wrapped in one bullhide, with a pot and a single spear.

      “while the Caribbean route is more difficult, the North Atlantic route is more deadly. ”

      — the important factor in the context of the story is -speed-. Going to the Caribbean means tacking into the winds; going across the North Atlantic means running before them, as does running west along Columbus’ route. The dangers about balance out; the Caribbean has hurricanes, and is full of small islands and reefs, and modern charts would be very unreliable on the details of 1250 BCE. Getting thrown into warm water when the reef rips the bottom out of your ship is not much of a consolation. Sailors have long been familiar with the means of dealing with the dangers of the North Atlantic weather, and it’s straightforward deep-water sailing in which you can make runs of several hunded miles a day.

      “Well, of course as you are no doubt aware, much of both Caesar and Strabo’s accounts were cribbed directly from Poseidonus”

      — certainly there were a set of standard tropes, but Caesar was actually -there-, and fought the Helvetii, as did tens of thousands of Roman citizens, including many of the literate ruling class. There’s no reason to doubt the account is essentially accurate, though of course systematically slanted to favor Caesar.

      A complete ‘whopper’ wouldn’t have done him any good politically; in that intensely competitive setting it would be too easy for his political enemies, who were legion, to expose him as a braggart.

      And the reason the Roman populace was apprehensive about barbarian migratory hordes was that they were a real and present danger, as everyone knew. The Cimbri and Teutones had slaughtered three consular armies and invaded Italy within living memory — plenty of Caesar’s contemporaries remembered how desperate the situation was before Marius’ military reorganization and defeat of them.

      The main additional bit I’d put in was that the Helvetii were probably thinking about moving not simply because of overpopulation but because they were under increasing pressure from the Germanic-speakers to their north, who were pressing on the Celts throughout Central Europe at this point. Without the Roman intervention they might well have supplanted them completely; even now the Romance-Germanic linguistic frontier is surprisingly similar to the old Roman -limes- in many places.

      “Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that the migration of the Helevetti would have made much of an impact archaeologically”

      — this is a more generally applicable point. Migrants -usually- adopt elements of the material culture of the place they end up.

      For example, in terms of material culture the 17th-century English migrants along the eastern coast of North America had a highly mixed set of baggage. They relied on Amerindian crops and farming methods as much as European ones (maize and beans, bush-fallow systems, hoe rather than plow cultivation), they often reoccupied Indian village sites and used Indian fields and trails, the place-names are as much Indian as anything, and there were further influences on things like dress — breechclout and leggings and moccasins became more common than trousers and shoes in many areas for a good long while.

      If all you had was the -material- record from, say, 1700, you could make an excellent case that it indicated a mixed culture, possibly with Indians being predominant and assimilating elements from a few high-status migrants and traders.

      In fact what happened was a combination of plague, merciless ethnic cleansing and genocidal slaughter which resulted in one of the most complete turnovers of population in recorded history, usually within a single generation in any given area.

      “but it is also highly unlikely that such a circumstance would leave no evidence in the material record.”

      — see above. It wouldn’t leave -no- evidence, but it might well leave very -little- evidence, and nothing conclusive.

      Migrants usually pick up things along the way. Nobody’s completely sure who the hell he Cimbrii were, for example; not least because by the time they came in contact with literate observers the original core (probably from Denmark) were thickly overlaid with people and stuff picked up along the way, all calling themselves “Cimbrii” and probably planning on telling their kids they’d come from Jutland. And at that time the southern Germanics were heavily under the influence of Celtic material culture anyway.

      If they’d beaten Marius and overrun Italy, the resulting material culture would probably have shown very little indication of their origins.

      Again, without written records who would believe that the Vandals started out north of the Danube and ended up in Tunisia 33 years later?

      Next rock…

      • Thomas Evans says:

        Its just below the text on the main page, not easy to find, actually…. I’ve cut and pasted the above comment over to there….

        Will respond when you’re done so you get your whole say.

      • “Yet it is not just the lack of evidence to support a Bronze Age invasion of Britain that created doubt as to the validity of the Invasion Hypothesis, but also the presence of evidence that suggests indigenous adaptation. ”

        — see above.

        The most important evidence here is linguistic.

        When literate observers first came in contact with the Celtic languages, they were extremely uniform over a very, very large area — from Ireland to Anatolian Galatia.

        Frex, the language written in Ogham in Ireland represents a very early stage of development; grammatically it’s more similar to Latin or classical Greek than to modern Gaelic or even Old Irish, which underwent an extreme restructuring in the early medieval period.

        As late as the 4th century CE travelers in Anatolia noted that the local Celtic language was mutually comprehensible with that spoken in the Rhone valley in Gaul. There are also very close similarities throughout that range in things like tribal names, names of deities, place names, and other linguistic features.

        In linguistic terms all this indicates rapid and relatively recent spread from a restricted common area, an urheimat.

        Languages change, and if they’re spoken over a large area the innovations don’t spread over the whole zone; isogloss boundaries arise, you get dialects, and over time the dialects develop into daughter languages no longer mutually comprehensible with each other. The speed of this varies (compare Icelandic and English, whose ancestors were mutually comprehensible dialects less than 1200 years ago) but it’s inexorable — even with a standardized written “language of State”, as happened with Latin. In a preliterate setting the people involved usually aren’t even conscious that it’s happening.

        (Modern conditions, with universal literacy, compulsory schooling and recorded sound, are -sui generis- and don’t apply to the remote past. We don’t know how they’ll affect long-term linguistic evolution because they haven’t been around long enough.)

        “Previously, every time there was a new number of dots that appeared on an urn, it was described as an invasion.”

        — Martin Luther once described the human race as resembling a drunken peasant trying to ride a horse. Gets up, falls off on one side, gets back on, falls off on the other side… 8-).

        “As a result, they began to explore other explanations as to why changes in the material culture happen. ”

        — see “overinterpretation” above. Also, I think the process had a lot more to do with fashion and academic politics than that. A change in interpretion allows a -lot- of new papers to be published. Not to mention the ideological reaction againt essentialist nationalism.

        Internal evidence indicates that Proto-Celtic was spoken sometime between about 2000 BCE and 1000 BCE, probaby more towards the latter. (Eg., there’s a stratum of loan-words from proto-Celtic in Proto-Germanic which took place -before- Grimm’s Law began to operate.)

        And again, in a preliterate setting the only way to move languages is to move people.

        It isn’t necessary to have a complete turnover of populations to produce language shift — that’s probably fairly rare — but it is necessary to move a substantial number of complete family units, since normal language acquisition is a largely unconscious process which takes place in childhood, from parents (particularly mothers) and from other household members and siblings.

        Numbers are crucial here, on a “mirco” level. If most of the people you socially interact with as a child speak a language, you’ll learn it. Conversely adults rarely learn a new language unless they have to, and when they do they -very- rarely become completely fluent without total immersion for a long time.

        So since it’s extremely unlikely that Proto-Celtic developed in Britain (my bet would be somewhere between the Moselle and the upper Danube) -at some point- people speaking it had to move to the British Isles.

        Which, when literate observers arrived, was (some parts of Scotland -possibly- excepted) uniformly speaking various Celtic languages/dialects.

        This could have occurred in the mid-to-late Bronze Age, but not earlier (the uniformity of historically observed Celtic forbids); or it could have happened in the earlier Iron Age.

        But it had to have happened -sometime-.

        The Sun People in ISLAND aren’t Proto-Celtic speakers; they speak a sort of generalized Late West Indo-European not directly ancestral to any modern language — for example, note that they haven’t lost initial “p” (father is “pithair”, rather than “athair”). It’s a bridge dialect originating between the core areas of pre-Proto-Germanic and Proto-Celtic.

        The postulate is a long series of migrations of varying size, ranging from a trickle of individuals to whole tribal units, starting in the 3rd millenium BCE and continuing on into historic times. This first Indo-Europeanizes, and then specifically Celticizes, the British Isles.

  16. Thomas Evans says:

    FOR CONTINUATION OF THIS DEBATE: GO TO http://wp.me/pWa2h-en

  17. “But while we do speak English, but we don’t speak Old English.”

    — we wouldn’t speak Old English even if there hadn’t been a Norman invasion. Virtually nobody speaks what their ancestors did 1000 years ago.

    Modern standard English descends from an East Midland dialect heavily influenced by Old Norse (to the point of almost being a contact creole, which probably drove a lot of the shift to an analytical grammar), combined with a massive overlay of French and other Romance lexical borrowings.

    The core vocabulary is Germanic, and the grammar is mostly the result of internal developments already underway towards the end of the Old English period.

    Written Old English, the chancery language of the Wessex kings, was based on southwestern speech patterns from the 9th century; and that’s a very conservative area. As late as the 17th century, they were using terms like “geboren”. The standard written tongue, which was learned only by specialists, had probably already drifted fairly far from the common spoken form (expecially the London and Midland dialects) by 1066. The Norman Conquest destroyed the standarized administrative language and put all English dialects on the same (low) social plane. When English reemerged as a written language several centuries later the form adoped was that of London, which had received a lot of Midland migrants by then.

    But the overhwelming bulk of the population always spoke English, and the French-speaking immigrants had been linguistically assimilated within a few generations, except for a narrow slice around the royal Court and the very highest levels of the aristocracy.

    >Same is true of what happened in Nantucket. There were no major fires caused by using chimneys that hadn’t been swept in five or a hundred years.

    — actually, they use (and sweep) the chimneys all the time; most downtown houses have functioning fireplaces.

    As is mentioned in the book there’s a large-scale movement into vacant Summer People houses with better facilities — including those fireplaces. On Nantucket “old” means “central”. People move because it’s easy and drastically increases the comfort level, since these houses were built before central heating and are closer to work.

    And the central portion of town, where people relocate, was rebuilt specifically with fire prevention in mind after a devastating fire in the 1830’s. That’s why the downtown architecture is so uniform and why so few pre-Federal style buildings survive.

    There -is- a major fire in the book, due to arson by followers of a deranged religious sect, btw.

    > No steam engines blew up because the joins weren’t quite right or the operators didn’t make a simple mistake.

    — none that are mentioned; I assumed the normal component of industrial accidents. They just weren’t common enough to affect the plot, and so weren’t mentioned. It’s a -long- book, and received a lot of criticism for excessive technical detail.

    You can’t please everyone… 8-).

    >None of the grain was infected with ergot or any other malady that could have wiped out the crop. The ancient cattle stock that was introduced to the island didn’t all die off because they came in contact with diseases that the modern cows had long ago developed immunity to.

    — I actually flipped coins for a lot of that stuff. They have competent farmers, veterinarians and others to deal with this stuff, too, of course. Ergotism is a recognized hazard and not all that difficult to detect. Modern cattle don’t -have- many diseases, btw; the danger would be the other way ’round.

    I didn’t go into the details of that because the book was already too friggin’ -long-. (It’s over 200,000 words and the publisher was very unhappy with that; there was talk of splitting it, though eventually I talked them out of that.)

  18. Thomas Evans says:

    Hey there, it should be easier to post on the other site now. I included one responce, but thought it would be rude for me to keep contradicting, so let you have the last say. I figure you probably have better things to do. Still, I’ve had a blast here and if you’re interested in some free publicity for you’re next book, I’d be happy to do an author interview.

    Regardless, if you want me to keep going on, just let me know and I’ll be happy to argue on.

    Thanks again.
    Tom

  19. An interview would be fun.

  20. Thomas Evans says:

    As an interesting development to anyone still interested in this discussion, there was a recent Paper released in Science that has spread some light on the spread early Neolithic farmers.

    http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2016/07/13/science.aaf7943

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