The idea of prehistory dates from the nineteenth century and sometimes seems to be a relic of the colonial era, but Richard Bradley contends that it is still a vital area for research. His claim is based on the argument that it is only through a combination of oral tradition and the experience of encountering ancient material culture that people were able to formulate a sense of their own pasts without written records. In effect, they were forced to become archaeologists themselves. The Past in Prehistoric Societies applies this argument to the archaeology of Europe, presenting a series of case studies which extend from the Palaeolithic period to the early Middle Ages and from the Alps to Scandinavia. It first examines how archaeologists might study the origin of myths and develops into an account of the different ways in whihc prehistoric people would have inherited artefacts, settlements and even whole landscapes from the past. It discusses the claim that monuments were built to contrive the memories of later generations and also investigates the ways in which ancient remains might have been invested with new meanings long after their original significance had been forgotten.
Finally, the author compares the procedures of excavation and field survey in the light of these examples. It has only been in recent years that archaeologists have studied what has become known as 'the past in the past' and this work explores the potential for new research in this area both in the field and in the museum. In order to convey that message to a wide professional and amateur audience, the work includes a large number of detailed case studies, is fully illustrated and has been written in an extremely accessible style.