Review Quotes - the Best and the Worst

Cartoon by Anton Kazlauciunas,
published with Graeme Barker's review in THES (see below);
reproduced here by courtesy of the artist.

Lord Professor Colin Renfrew (Disney Professor of Archaeology Cambridge):

"This disquieting book draws attention, in a penetrating and original way, to a crucial period in world history, and to the very shaky nature of the dating... upon which our current interpretations rest. I feel that their critical analysis is right and that a chronological revolution is on its way." (From the Foreword of CoD).

Kenneth Kitchen (Professor of Oriental Studies, Liverpool):

"... this work is a manifest failure and should be consigned to the same oblivion as Velikovsky." (Times Literary Supplement, 17 May 1991)

Anthony Snodgrass (Professor of Classical Archaeology, Cambridge):

"It all sounds rather attractive. What will be its reception and its long-term impact? There will certainly be the instinctive conservatives who, in every discipline, mobilise against radical change. The reaction of some of the Egyptologists can be expected to be especially dismissive... By their familiarity with the whole, vast field, and by the sober and reasoned way in which they put their case, they have earned the right to be listened to, and no doubt to be quite widely believed." (London Review of Books, July 25 1991)

Graeme Barker (Professor of Archaeology, Leicester University):

"... a timely reminder that we cannot take the time-tables for granted... It is, essentially, a straightforward argument and an important one. Most regional specialists acknowledge that their local chronology is pretty shaky but assume that Egyptian chronology must be cast in stone, and it is salutary to find that things are not quite what they seem there either." (Times Higher Education Supplement, 19 July 1991)

W. H. C. Frend (Emeritus Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Glasgow University):

"Used sensibly the books of the Old Testament are shown to be reliable guides to the events they describe... much may be said for bringing the end of the Mycenaean and Hittite eras some two centuries later than the traditional dating of 1150 BC.... the authors have written an important book that will necessitate the revision of many traditional theories. One must conclude that their scholarly and critical analysis of existing chronologies is correct, and the service rendered to scholarship correspondingly great." (Church Times, 19 July 1991)

James K. Hoffmeier (Professor of Archaeology & Old Testament, Wheaton College, Illinois):

"The authors have drawn attention to serious problems that cannot be ignored. Even if this study does not provide satisfying solutions to every case, the issues underscored should prompt the reassessment of all areas of Near Eastern chronology... this book forces us to think, and thus is an important contribution to reconstructing the past." (Biblical Archaeology Review 19:6, Nov./Dec. 1993)

William Dever (Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology, University of Arizona):

"James et al. are thinly disguised fundamentalists... It cannot be emphasised too strongly that what we confront here... is bogus scholarship: unstated and unexamined presuppositions... In the end... simply a clever shell-game: 'now you see it; now you don't.... Unfortunately James et al. must be dismissed as a poor man's Velikowski [sic]." (Colloquenda Mediterranea A/2.4, 1993)

Fekri Hassan (Professor of Egyptology, Washington State University):

"James and his collaborators work their way from one culture to another with a sledge hammer, attacking any chronological scheme that does not fit their grand thesis. The chronometry of Egypt must be given a high priority as a centrepiece of the puzzle. It is essential to obtain further reliable determinations for the eighteenth to twenty-sixth dynasties, as well as for the twelfth dynasty... Centuries of Darkness is a worthwhile contribution because it highlights the sticky chronological problems that must be resolved by future excavations and determinations of chronometric age. If it succeeds in stimulating a systematic and vigorous investigation of existing chronologies with a long-due consideration for the pitfalls of historical and stylistic crossdating, it may well prove to be more than a flash in the pan." (Nature 353, 24 Oct. 1991)

Anthony J. Frendo (Professor of Near Eastern Archaeology, University of Malta):

"In offering a very good diagnosis of the chronological maladies of the ancient world, Centuries of Darkness has in fact thrown a good deal of light on that world and therefore on our own cultural origins. No scholar of Central Europe, the Mediterranean, or the Near East can afford not to have a good look at this absorbing book. (Orientalia 62:3, 1993)

William A. Ward (Professor of Egyptology, Brown University):

"There is little to commend their solution to the 'dark age pattern' they see throughout the ancient world. This is regrettable since this work offers a splendid survey of the 'dark age' problem. It is well written and certain essays... are lucid and highly informative. The compilation of the evidence itself, therefore, would have been a significant accomplishment. Some of the dark ages are slowly beginning to be illuminated... so that the universal solution proposed by James and his colleagues is not necessary." (American Journal of Archaeology 98, 1994)

Philip Kohl (Professor of Anthropology, Wellesley College):

"Centuries of Darkness remains a valuable study that specialists and laymen can consult with great profit. It forces scholars to reconsider the ambiguous, archaeologically derived chronological sequences worked out for different regions, many of which need critical reexamination, if not revision. The book highlights the limitations of our knowledge for reconstructing early antiquity and, if approached dispassionately, can help us distinguish more clearly what is firmly established from what is controversial." (Journal of Interdisciplinary History 26:2, 1995)

Gerald Cadogan (Research Professor of Classical Archaeology, University of Cincinnati):

"This engagingly written book is an archaeological shocker... Mistakes in Egyptian chronology, it is argued, have created a time lie. Remove that, and it is easier to explain how civilization progressed from Bronze Age to Iron Age and the classical world that still affects us. Is this scholarly nitpicking? No. Without chronology there can be no universal history... It is always important to get the dates right. Does James' theory do that? 'Not proven' is the fairest verdict... we need many more radiocarbon dates to be certain." (Financial Times Weekend, 29/30 June 1991)

R. P. Harper (Director of the British School of Archaeology at Amman):

"Wild romp through heirloom chronologies and treasured synchronisms of the "Dark age", perhaps woolliest in the Levant area... where the authors found themselves Without an Expert. Should not be simply laughed off though. This book would not have been possible if the affronted authorities were keeping the wider public fully informed with justified explanation." (Levant 25, 1993)

Barry Kemp (Reader in Egyptology, Oriental Institute, Cambridge):

"New Kingdom chronology is based on a complex web of arguments, including, it has to be admitted, reconstruction of the chronology of the Third Intermediate Period. During the latter, the internal political situation was indeed sufficiently complex to make it seem not out of the question that alternative reconstructions are historically feasible. It is easy to imagine that, on the documentary evidence, the arguments will run indefinitely. (Cambridge Archaeological Journal 1:2, 1991)

John Ray (Herbert Thompson Reader in Egyptology, Cambridge University):

"The period is an embarrassment. It would not be missed if it ceased to exist... The authors of Centuries of Darkness have seen that there is a problem with the Dark Ages, and have tried rationally to account for it. The answer they give is probably unworkable, but it would be wrong not to pay tribute to their courage in tackling the problem, and the range of learning they bring to it." History Today, Nov. 1991)

James Mellaart (Lecturer in Anatolian Archaeology, Institute of Archaeology London):

"Archaeology without dates somewhat resembles the proverbial house of cards: it produces sequences floating in time, not improved art-historical subjective arguments, nationalistic interpretations and the like. The great value of this book, in my humble opinion, is that it focusses our attention on all these deficiencies, and should engender further debate, and better dating methods." (Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society 11, 1991/92)

John R. Bartlett (Lecturer in Divinity, Trinity College Dublin):

"This book is a tour de force, and the tour proceeds via Italy, Sicily, Malta, southern Spain, Carthage, the Balkans, Troy, Greece, and Phoenicia... stimulating stuff. It is tempting to readjust the Iron age schema… This book will doubtless meet with much criticism, but its cumulative case that throughout the eastern Mediterranean and the Levant the centuries of darkness have been consistently exaggerated is a strong one. At least it may force us all to reconsider the evidence. Our reconstruction of the ancient Near East will make no progress if we cease to examine our assumptions." (The Expository Times, 103, Oct. 1991 - Sept. 1992)

Ian Morris (Lecturer in Classical Archaeology, University of Chicago):

"The sheer audacity of Centuries of Darkness commands respect. James et al.'s cross-cultural approach definitely exposes the serious limitations of the compartmentalized viewpoints adopted by the various regional specialists." (Colloquenda Mediterranea A/2, 1993)

Hyam Maccoby (Lecturer in Jewish History, Leo Baeck College):

"It is inevitable that this book will arouse strong opposition from those wedded to the conventional chronology. The authors do not claim to have provided the last word on the subject, but they have made an excellent case for scrapping the old chronology and substituting a new one on the lines here described." (Midstream, Oct. 1993)

Andrew & Susan Sherratt (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford):

"Its merit... is to draw attention to the architecture of the problem: in this case, the interlocking and often circular chains of reasoning which link sequences in different areas - constructions which are often houses of cards rather than solid frameworks... There is much that is wrong with conventional archaeologies for this period." (Cambridge Archaeological Journal 1:2, 1991)

Susan Sherratt (Prehistoric Archaeologist, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford):

"There can be no doubt that the authors have done us a considerable service in persuading us to look at what are usually seen as a series of linked but individual, specialised chronologies in a more explicitly interrelated way.... their expos‚ of the continuing uncertainties which dog many of the regional timetables are for the most part salutary and cannot lightly be brushed aside." (Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 58, 1992)

Henrik Gerding (Department of Classical Studies, Lund University):

"The comfortable language and the intriguing story make the reading a rare pleasure. I also find it most enjoyable to see the kind of collaboration between different disciplines that is exemplified by this work. The fact that the co-authors of Centuries of Darkness represent Ancient History, Anthropology, Archaeology and Classical Archaeology has certainly been of vital importance in the making of this impressive synthesis." (Opuscula Atheniensia 22/23, 1997/98)

Peter Clayton (Classical Archaeologist):

"When this book was first published in hardback in 1991 it caused a great furore in the archaeological world - 'camps', heavily armed with academic weaponry, sprang up swiftly 'for' and 'against'. Peter James and his four collaborators, experts in various archaeological fields, have trod where few before them have dared.... one of the most contentious archaeological books of the last twenty years. (Minerva 38, March/April 1993)

Aidan Dodson (Egyptologist):

"When a radical proposal is put forward, the frequent scholarly reaction is to retrench, and robustly defend the received wisdom. Such a point of view is, in the reviewer's belief, an error. It is his hope that Centuries of Darkness will encourage scholars to reconsider their chronologies from first principles, since it is only from this basis that any sound chronology can ever be maintained." (Palestine Exploration Quarterly 124 (Jan./June 1992)

Michael Roaf (Near Eastern Archaeologist):

"The conclusions presented in this book are wrong." [one line review] (British Association for Near Eastern Archaeology Newsletter 4, 1991)

David Brown (Archaeologist/Publisher):

"This revolutionary book argues that we all have our dates wrong!... A brilliant book: convincing and compellingly readable." (Oxbow Book News, Summer 1991)

Sir Crispin Tickell (Vice-President, Royal Geographical Society):

It is fun to see conventional wisdom held up to scrutiny, turned inside out, and shown to be threadbare... Peter James and his colleagues have rushed in where the bravest of angels scarcely dare to tread. Moreover, they have done so in an easy and engaging style, with pretty pictures to match, and a power of learning exercised over the vast field of human history... (Country Life, 22 Aug. 1991)

G. W. van Oosterhout:

"Everyone with some knowledge of chronology knows that there are difficulties, but the accumulation of problems put forward in this discussion is truly disquieting... Evidently something is wrong with Egyptian chronology." (Bibliotheca Orientalis 59:5/6, Sept./Oct. 1992)


"Their attempt to remove K. A. Kitchen's 'Third Intermediate Period' and maul the Second Intermediate Period so as to remove about 250 years of Egyptian chronology might have been hypothetically possible in Childe's time, but is today rendered simply untenable by the European dates alone." (Antiquity 65/248, Sept. 1991)


"I have read many books over the past 25 years that set out to push chronology backwards: this is the first book I have read that sets out to pull chronology forwards... I am just a little worried because there appears to be an underlying assumption that 'We don't like Dark Ages, and we are therefore going to shorten the chronology to eliminate them'. It is always stimulating to be challenged: but I am not convinced." (Current Archaeology 11:9, May/June 1992)

Laura Colby:

"Their conclusions, if adopted - and that seems highly possible - could shift the sands of time." (International Herald Tribune, 16 Oct. 1991)

Steve Moore:

"This brief synopsis hardly does justice to this admirable and well-argued book. The depth of research is enormous and its range astonishing... If you have any interest in prehistory, this excellent book belongs on your shelf." (The Fortean Times 60, Dec. 1991/Jan. 1992)

Gordon Forster:

"It is a book at once disquieting, penetrating, significant... the labours of Mr James and his colleagues, neatly set out in this rewarding, stimulating and imposing book, will need to be taken seriously, and an important segment of early history will have to be rewritten." (Yorkshire Post, 4 July 1991)

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