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The Berbers

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Michael Brett and Elizabeth Fentress. 1996. The Berbers. Blackwell Publishers, Inc, Osford. ISBN 0-631-16852-4 (paper). 282 pages, plus 57 pages of notes, references, and an index.
The Berbers? Don't they make rugs?

This book melds archaeology and history to provide a terrific introduction to the culture history of the Berbers of North Africa. The original inhabitants of North Africa, the Berber-speaking peoples now only makeup about 20 percent of Algeria's population and 40 percent of the peoples of Morocco. But once dialects of the Berber language were spoken throughout all of North Africa, and parts of Spain and Sicily during the Middle Ages.
Fentriss, the archaeologist of the writing team here, dedicates two chapters to the archaeological information we have on the Berbers. Data concerning North Africans begins with the Capsian culture, small hunter-gatherer groups with a wide variety of physical characteristics and a common artifact assemblage. Like elsewhere in the world, the Neolithic period ushered in vast changes, and from the 4th millennium BC onward, evidence for contact and extensive trade with the Mediterranean and Iberian peoples begins to appear in archaeological sites in Tunisia and Algeria, including obsidian, bell beakers, bronze daggers and dolmens. The primary evidence for the influx of Mediterranean peoples into North Africa is found in the rock art. These chapters include information from the inception of the culture sometime during the Neolithic through the warrior Garamantes, to the Numidian cultures with their fantastic tombs, to the impact of contact with Egypt and Rome.
Brett, the historian, takes three chapters to discuss what is known about the various aspects of Berber history. The unification of North Africa by Islam during the 7th and 8th centuries and the revolt of the Berber state in the mid-8th century are described in detail, as are the effects of conquest and trade with the Mediterranean, with Arabia, with the Ottoman state.

The final two chapters are on Berber society today, including settlement patterns, art forms, poetry, religion, the role of agriculture and pastoralism, and how the Berbers fit into the world economy; and, most importantly, their prospects for the future.

The Berbers is one of several books in Blackwell's series called The Peoples of Africa, edited by Parker Shipton. It is an overview of Berber society and it is most interesting for people who don't know Berber outside their carpets.

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