Ancestors: A prehistory of Britain in seven burials


An exceptional journey into Britain’s ancestry through seven key burial sites. Leveraging recent advances in genetics and archaeological discoveries, Professor Alice Roberts enhances our understanding of contemporary life.

“This is a terrific, timely, and transporting book—taking us heart, body, and mind beyond history, to the fascinating truth of the prehistoric past and present.” —Bettany Hughes

We often perceive Britain as emerging abruptly with the arrival of the Romans. However, in “Ancestors,” anthropologist, broadcaster, and academic Professor Alice Roberts reveals insights about the earliest Britons from burial sites and through cutting-edge DNA analysis technology.

Narrated through seven intriguing burial sites, this pioneering prehistory of Britain illuminates our own identity and history: tracing the ebb and flow of populations and how we settled this island. It uncovers ancient migrations and memories written into our genes, preserved in the soil for millennia.

This book is about the sense of belonging: walking in ancient places, following in the footsteps of our ancestors. It delves into our global, interconnected ancestry and the shared human experience that unites us. It’s about reaching back through time to discover ourselves and our place in the world.

Editorial Review

In “Ancestors: A Prehistory of Britain in Seven Burials,” Alice Roberts crafts a compelling narrative that bridges the gaps between archaeology, history, and human emotion, offering readers a unique insight into Britain’s deep past. By examining the intimate details of seven pivotal burials—from the enigmatic “Red Lady” of Paviland to the Iron Age chariot burials in Yorkshire—Roberts constructs a vivid tableau of prehistoric life that is both scientifically accurate and richly human. Her exploration goes beyond the mere facts of archaeology to ponder the lives, cultures, and movements of people who lived thousands of years ago.

Through isotopic and genomic studies, Roberts brings into focus the dynamic migrations that have shaped the genetic makeup of modern Britons, revealing a tapestry of human movement that is much more complex than previously understood. Her discussion of the Amesbury Archer is particularly poignant, as she uses this single burial to illustrate broader themes of change and continuity in ancient Britain. The grave goods, meticulously described, not only signify the Archer’s high status but also suggest a broader narrative of cultural and material exchange during the Bronze Age.

Roberts’ book is replete with such narratives, each chapter adding layers to our understanding of prehistoric Britain. The scientific rigor of her approach is balanced by her evocative prose, which paints a picture of past lives lived with the same richness and complexity as those today. Her ability to humanize and connect contemporary readers to these ancient individuals is particularly effective, making “Ancestors” a deeply engaging read. This is complemented by her reflections on the ongoing Thousand Ancient Genomes project, which, despite pandemic-related setbacks, promises to further revolutionize our understanding of these ancient peoples through cutting-edge genetic research.

Overall, “Ancestors” is a profound testament to the shared human journey, an exploration of how our ancestors have not only shaped the landscape but also our current understanding of identity and belonging in a continuously shifting world. Roberts champions the idea that while the archaeological remnants might be rooted in specific coordinates of time and space, the stories they tell are universal, echoing through the ages and reminding us of our shared heritage with those who walked the land before us.

Ancestors: A prehistory of Britain in seven burials by Alice Roberts
Genre: Non-Fiction
Age Range: Adult
Start Rating: 4.4 stars
Publication Date: May 27, 2021

Author: Alice Roberts

Professor Alice Roberts

Professor Alice Roberts

Alice May Roberts, born on May 19, 1973, in Bristol, England, is an esteemed English academic, television presenter, and author, recognized for her work in biological anthropology and evolutionary biology. Since 2012, she has held the position of Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham. She is notably recognized for her numerous television appearances, particularly on BBC, where she has presented and produced several documentaries on science, history, and archaeology, such as “The Incredible Human Journey,” “Origins of Us,” and “Coast.”

Roberts’ academic journey includes an education from the University of Wales, where she earned her BSc and MB BCh degrees, and the University of Bristol, where she completed her PhD with a thesis focusing on palaeopathological and evolutionary perspectives on shoulder pathology. Beyond her television and academic roles, Alice Roberts has been involved in significant public engagement efforts, promoting science education, and was also president of Humanists UK from January 2019 to May 2022.

Her contributions to the field and public understanding of science have been recognized with several honorary doctorates from institutions such as Bournemouth University, Royal Holloway, University of London, and the University of Leeds. She continues to influence both the academic and public spheres with her extensive outreach work and popular science books.


  • Wikipedia Contributors. (2024, March 29). Alice Roberts. Wikipedia; Wikimedia Foundation.

  • Roberts, A. (2021). Ancestors: A prehistory of Britain in seven burials. Simon & Schuster UK.

  • Smith, P. (2021, June 26). Ancestors by Alice Roberts review – a story of movement and migration. The Guardian; The Guardian.

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