Ancestral Journeys: The Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers

Review

by
published on 23 January 2014

Ancestral Journeys: Peopling of Europe from the First Venturers to the Vikings, by Dr. Jean Manco, a historian who has taught at Plymouth and Bristol universities in the UK, offers a new perspectives on the rise and history of Europe’s prehistoric populations. Through the most recent DNA analyses, studies on language, and archaeological research, Manco’s broad examination raises questions about migration, settlement, and cross-cultural exchange, and even what constitutes our conception of “civilization.”

Manco’s work of 312 pages in 18 chapters does much to advance the claim that prehistoric was settled and resettled by multiple waves of migratory peoples from the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. The main argument found in Ancestral Journeys is that successive waves of migratory peoples settled and resettled vast swaths of Europe over tens of thousands of years. These consistent and overlapping mass movements of populations were the norm in prehistoric Europe until the Middle Ages, shaping and creating Europe’s languages, religions, and civilizations in turn. Manco writes against those who would contend that migrations had a nonexistent or minimal affect in prehistoric Europe. Genetic clues -- Manco posits – substantiate her argument that a mixed European gene pool is the result of mobility.

Much of the evidence Manco utilizes is drawn heavily on mtDNA and Y-chromosome studies, and these are not always the most reliable sources of evidence. DNA evidence remains variable and open to wide interpretation. Additionally, we felt as though Manco could have better contextualized some of the DNA data presented with further analysis. These critiques aside, we are excited at the many questions this publication poses about Europe’s long contested prehistoric roots.

Ancestral Journeys contains a preface, research notes, sources of illustrations, and an exhaustive bibliography with titles in English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. Ancestral Journeys is written in a balanced narrative style with very succinct chapters, and filled with all kinds of maps, data boxes, timelines, and photographs. (There are 116 illustrations in total.) We particularly enjoyed the chapters on the Celts and Germanic peoples, and we also appreciated the chapter on the Vikings. As the text was footnoted, it was very easy for us to browse Manco’s notes for the sake of reference and comparison to other research.

The Ancient History Encyclopedia recommends this publication to professional archaeologists, linguists, geneticists, and the general reader alike as it offers many new ways in which one could reinterpret Europe’s past.

This volume has been published in English through Thames & Hudson in the United States and is currently available for $34.95 in hardcover.

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