The Idea of Order
Richard Bradley
Oxford University Press, £60.00
ISBN 978-0199608096

Why did circular houses dominate so much of Europe’s prehistoric landscape? And why, once they were eclipsed by the evolution of rectangular domestic buildings, did the circular archetype remain popular for ritual and ceremonial sites? Richard Bradley, Professor of Archaeology at Reading, begins in Britain and Ireland, visiting passage graves, Orcadian chambered tombs, and the famous megalithic monuments of Salisbury Plain. The book then opens out onto the Mediterranean and Baltic worlds to see the rise of rectangular architecture.

Was there some human motivation behind the different architectural forms? The author wonders whether round, post-built structures were easy to throw up and quick to dismantle for nomadic communities; but once more permanent settlements were established, it was easier to expand rectangular buildings. A section using prehistoric art to reconstruct how some of these structures – many of which survive only as postholes – is particularly thought-provoking. With generous references provided for those who wish to pursue particular points further, this is an authoritative and absorbing account.


This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 57. Click here to subscribe