Rivers in prehistory

The edited volume is now in press and will be published in the Archaeopress Archaeology series. It consists of an extended introduction in 3 chapters, and 10 case studies. It looks at rivers from an environment-humans perspective, and tries to answer key questions about this relationship. It is not a reference volume on rivers, rather it is intended as an introductory perspective on the relationship between humans and their environment. The volume is organised in a series of independent chapters, each with its own bibliography, but it is meant to be read as an unitary whole, with some case studies eventually read more quickly.

The topic has proven very dispersive and therefore for the resulting work I tried to focus on a few ideas and select just a few case studies. I discuss the outcome in a blog post.

Rivers in Prehistory edited by Andrea Vianello. 2015. ISBN 9781784911782. £38.00. vi + 166pp; illustrated throughout in colour and black & white. Published by Archaeopress.

​The book was launched at the 2015 EAA Annual Meeting in Glasgow, in a special party. My presentation can be seen online.


Rivers in prehistory coverThe Cover

Cover by Cornelia Stancu. It represents king fishes (marine fish) calmly forming a circle on the Mtentu River, in Africa, a behaviour yet to be explained for this large and normally aggressive fish. It captures a number of concepts and ideas featured throughout the book including the fascination for rivers, the concept of exploring the unknown, the variety of behaviours and cultures associated with rivers - some not easily understandable, and the metaphysical/symbolic dimension (the fish perform a bonding dance that we would describe as ritual for humans, in a different environment from where its natural predators are - the sea).

The cover recalled to me in its final version Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1899), because of the African subject and black colour (representing the darkness), an unintended citation to a book that centres on a journey up and down the river in a colonial setting. Whilst in my opinion the last words by the dying character Kurtz "The horror! The horror!", summarise the intended description by Conrad of the colonial enterprise in Africa, different sensibilities and audiences from those intended can make it appear a further negative act towards African peoples and cultures. I think however that it expresses very well the slow pace of advance in colonising a territory, which would be nearly impossible on foot. The dependability of the whole enterprise on the presence of the river (in the novel, a steamboat has to be repaired for months before it is possible to reach a station) and the clash of cultures (particularly evident among the main character, Marlow, who represents an external Europeanised perspective, Kurtz the colonist and the indigenous people hiding in the forest, observing the boat, attacking it, stopping and at times apparently obeying Kurtz) are also important elements to the appreciation of the book. Ortiz Díaz in Rivers in prehistory brings to the focal point exactly this different perception of the world and lack of understanding between cultures, which are separated and yet brought together by the same river.

Many rivers in the world are also under threat by pollution and destruction, in addition to a rampaging disconnection between humans and their environment. Some rivers, like the Colorado River, cited in the volume, have been subjected to extensive change, to the point that its waters do not make it to the sea, challenging even the definition of river. The dark and burning colours of the cover therefore are meant to recall, intentionally this time, the process of evaporation and disappearance of waters witnessed during day in many rivers as much as the golden colours of a dream during a dark night's sleep. The ambiguity is a reference to the diversity of cultures and contexts, and also perception.

As it is possible to see from the cover, this is a book that might produce very different reactions, and that has been thought out more carefully that it might appear at first, or too much, as others may think.


Table of Contents



Rivers, Where Humankind Meets Nature

Rivers of civilisation

Case Studies

Dugouts from North Patagonia (center-south of Chile): Sailing on Trees

Nicolás Lira S

Exploitation of the Aquatic Resources of Lake Lubāns and Its Hydrological Regime during the Stone Age

Ilze B Loze

A River Runs Through It: the Semiotics of Göbekli Tepe’s Map (an Exercise of Archaeological Imagination)

Dragoş Gheorghiu

Rivers, Human Occupation and Exchanges Around the Late Bronze Age Settlement of Frattesina (ne Italy)

Paolo Bellintani and Massimo Saracino

People of the Waters in Northern Italy

Andrea Vianello

The Perennial Rivers and the Changing Settlement Patterns on the Two Sides of the Tiber in Central Italy – the

Case Studies of Nepi and Gabii

Ulla Rajala

Bronze Age Barrow Complexes on the Lincolnshire Fen Margin

Peter Chowne

Roads, Routes and Ceremonies: the Fenland Superhighway

Tim Malim

Continuity of Seasonal Access and Occupation on the Turloughs of Ireland

Amy Bunce

An Approach to the Fluvial Networks of the Papaloapan Basin: the Use of the Lower Papaloapan, México, from the Pre-hispanic Period to Early XX Century

Edith Ortiz Díaz

List of Authors and Contacts

Rivers in prehistory - files

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Contents of Rivers in prehistory

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Cover of Rivers in prehistory

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