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Our early human record speaks of a 100,000 year period of gatherer-hunter emergence in which women and men enjoyed a degree of reproductive autonomy and choice regained by our own societies only in part in the last century.

Homo sapiens has spent the vast majority of this time leaving only flaked tools with only minor changes of design, the social aspects of culture, which are not so easily left in artifacts may have become highly attuned to complex and subtle interactions.

Milton presents his material with panache and has researched widely, although not exhaustively (he seems unaware of one survivor's account of 27 Icelandic prisoners of the "barbarians" who returned home in 1637).

Terrified of boring, he can be frustratingly colourful.

Selection among males reinforces not just the traditional hunting prowess and toughness ('he-man') but diverse social skills ('domestic bliss') - "a mosaic of qualities that reflect the necessities of compromise ...

good with the children, relaxed, eloquent, knowledgeable".

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The experience of reading White Gold is rather like visiting this palace (now ruined) in the company of an excitable and well-informed guide.

Although so-called "primitive" cultures are diverse and parallels, between modern gatherer-hunters and our ancestral origins remain speculative, among the few primitive hunter-gatherers still existent, egalitarian societies such as the !

Kung-san 'bushmen' of the Kalahari, the Sandawe and Hadzabe of Tanzania and the Biaka and Mbuti 'pygmies' of the Congo Basin have much to teach us both genetically and culturally.

"It is one of his common diversions, at one motion to mount his horse, draw his scimitar, and cut off the head of the slave who holds his stirrup." Heads continually roll in Milton's narrative.

The sultan would order a man's decapitation by shrinking his head to his shoulder, "and then, with a very quick or sudden motion, extending it".