Is there a classicist in the house?

Review by Anthony Sattin for The Observer of The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe by Graham Robb

…obsessions don’t always make the best books. This one started with a map and an intention to cycle along one of Europe’s most ancient routes, the Via Heraklea, the mythical path that the hero Hercules was said to have walked with the cattle he had stolen from the monster Geryon. Tracing lines on the map, Robb realised that the route might have been more than myth, for it runs from south-west Portugal to the Alps in a straight line that mirrors the angle of the rising and setting sun on summer and winter solstice. What’s more, along it stands a cluster of Celtic sanctuaries, which suggests an intentional design. “The implications were too extraordinary to be ignored.” And so begins the obsession…

Uh-oh. I am no classicist or iron age archaeologist, but on the basis of this review and other, more fulsome, reviews on Amazon, this sounds horribly like the familiar marriage of the utterly uncontroversial (e.g. Caesar made shit up, Greek legends might preserve snippets of oral history collected by travellers, Roman administrators made use of existing Gaulish institutions and relationships) and the totally made-up (pretty much anything about the druids, ascribing significance to orientations which can be explained more parsimoniously). It’s all there in the reviews on the Amazon page in particular, lost civilizations, hitherto unsuspected scientific advancement. Etc etc.

The Guardian reviewer has sounded the appropriate cautions. Maybe the reviews quoted on the Amazon page are just using these tropes of alt-archaeology unwittingly. But it would be good to hear someone actually trained in this stuff comment.

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