Before Civilization

by Colin Renfrew. Knopf, $8.95. When radiocarbon dating appeared in 1949, it answered many archaeologists’ prayers, but lately it has aroused discontented mutterings offstage. Mr. Renfrew has now dragged the row into view, explaining the problems that have arisen with the carbon dating method, the nature of its inaccuracies, and the means devised to correct them, all matters too technical for summary. The other half of his argument concerns what happens to the dating of prehistoric sites in northern Europe when the carbon-derived dates are corrected, and this can be summarized: things come out centuries earlier than has previously been thought, making Stonehenge, for instance, older than the pyramids, and utterly collapsing the comfortably accepted theory that knowledge spread from the eastern Mediterranean to the northwestern savages. Mr. Renfrew is making a determined attack on the whole Diffusionist school of archaeologists, and these people are not likely to surrender without a protest. Illustrations.