Tale of the Axe

The Tale of the Axe

How the Neolithic Revolution Transformed Britain

  1. David Miles
  • ISBN 9780500051863
  • 23.40 x 15.30 cm
  • Hardback
  • 432pp
  • With 76 illustrations
  • First published 2016

An ambitious yet accessible account of Britain’s Neolithic Revolution that examines how the early agricultural settlers on our island shaped their landscape – and thus our own

‘Illuminating … As layered as the strata of an archaeological dig, this is a moving portrait of a people at a cultural and technological tipping point’ – Nature
‘A wide-ranging, eye-opening analysis of the evolution of early human societies that any historian will find informative’– History Today
‘This is first-person scholarship at its most humane’– Literary Review
‘David Miles’s wide-ranging story of how agriculture reached Britain and what happened afterwards is based on his lifetime of archaeological inquiry and what he rightly calls a “tsunami” of new research. 'The Tale of the Axe' is a beautifully written narrative [and] a powerful testimony to the value of archaeology in today’s world’– Brian Fagan, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara
‘… presents his scholarly findings with glints of good-­humoured individuality which make his book pleasantly readable, even by lay persons who may not previously have paid much attention to the difference between Palaeolithic and Neolithic tribal behaviour’– Spectator
'This is a beautifully written, engrossing book that will captivate you, as well as being an important contribution to the debate over early farming’– Current World Archaeology


We, modern humans, are one of the youngest species on the planet. For our first hundred millennia we survived as hunters and foragers, moving about the land, following seasonal resources. It was only some ten thousand years ago that we domesticated plants and animals, thereby transforming our settlements, social relationships, diet and beliefs.

Focusing on the British Isles, David Miles explores this period of societal change – the Neolithic, or ‘New Stone Age’ – using the most iconic artifact of its time, the polished stone axe, as a guide to the revolution that changed the world. Mixing anecdote, ethnography and archaeological analysis, Miles vividly demonstrates how the archaeology on the ground reveals to us the evolving worldview of a species increasingly altering their own landscape; settling down together, investing in agricultural plots, and collectively erecting massive ceremonial monuments to cement new communal identities.

As a direct result of the invention, and intensification, of agriculture, the planet has entered the Anthropocene, or the ‘age of humanity’: an era in which we are changing the world around us in significant, accelerating and often unpredictable ways. Our ancestors set us on the path to the modern world we live in; now seven billion humans must face the challenges that presents.

David Miles is former Director of Oxford Archaeology and Chief Archaeologist at English Heritage.


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