Andy Ffrench asks a former Oxford don about his book with a timeline of 10,000 years

Barry Cunliffe, one of the country’s greatest living archaeologists, has written a big book on a massive subject – how mankind first started to build the globalised world we know today.

By Steppe, Desert and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia is an ambitious study, covering over 10,000 years from the origins of farming in 9000 BC to the maritime routes used by Portuguese explorers at the end of the 15th century.

This 530-page book charts the development of European, Near Eastern and Chinese civilisations and the growing links between them through the Indian Ocean, the silk roads, and the great steppe corridor.

Cunliffe, Professor of European Archaeology at Oxford University from 1972 to 2008, packs his detailed commentary with colour illustrations and each chapter is helpfully divided with sub-headings.

A chapter on The Age of Perpetual War, AD 250-650, reflects on the drawn-out decline of the Western Roman Empire, and there are fascinating photos of the ruins of Ancient Palmyra, a Roman city on the edge of the Syrian desert.

Throughout the book there are colourful images of finds and artefacts to catch the eye, and break up Cunliffe’s careful analysis, and there are plenty of informative maps throughout.

In his preface, Cunliffe writes: “I have always been interested in landscape, but writing this book has made me even more aware of the crucial impact of geography on human perception and behaviour. This is why so many maps are included to help us visualise the environments and spaces with which people had to engage. The maps and photographs are an aid but nothing can replace the experience of being there.”

Cunliffe concludes his introduction by saying “to be there is to understand”, and this magnificent study should inspire many more journeys of discovery.

By Steppe, Desert, And Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia by Barry Cunliffe is published by Oxford University Press, price £30.