The Broken Sword by Michael Harrabin is a full-length novel that addresses Bronze Age mysteries which have been challenging Peterborough archaeology: notably, what was the purpose of the Flag Fen causeway, and how did the devastating fire at Must Farm come about?
Artists’ reconstructions. Experimental archaeology. Re-enactment. We are familiar with a variety of techniques to bring the past to life and test assumptions about how our distant ancestors lived. The approach taken by Harrabin is perhaps the oldest technique of all – storytelling.
It’s an easy to read adventure yarn set primarily in 870BC, but which connects with the experiences of a current day archaeology student.
The primary goal is undoubtedly to come up with a narrative which fits what we know about Flag Fen and Must Farm. The story incorporates topical archaeological themes such as the role of outsiders in bringing new technologies and farming methods. It aims for a balanced view on the role of spiritual beliefs. It touches on climate change. What it does less well is to build multi-facetted characters with whom we can closely relate.
The book seems targeted by its publishers on a teenage audience but there’s no real reason why others need to feel excluded.
It’s an enjoyable read and for those interested in pre-history it paints a thoughtful picture of what life may have been like. As for providing answers to those Bronze Age mysteries. Yes, credible answers are provided. But clearly there are plenty of alternative scenarios and our archaeological investigations must continue!