Sarah May

When I saw the steamer trunk I was hoping for something useful, like tools, or rum, or my favourite music. When I saw it was archaeology books, I became nostalgic. I used to love books more than anything in the world, and having archaeology books mattered a lot to me. These days I mostly read electronic things, and most archaeology I read is journal articles, not books, but I haven’t got rid of my books because they still matter to me. They remind me of earlier selves who relied on the books to remember that they were not alone in their odd interests. Now that I’m on a desert island, they can perform the same function and offer me a space for wider contemplation when I grow weary of the palm trees and white sands. This slightly nostalgic take may explain the fact that so many of them come from the beginning of my career.

1) Hodder and Orton, Spatial Analysis and Archaeology 1976
I have probably read this book in greater detail and more times than any other (with the possible exception of ‘Goodnight Moon’). Some great stuff in here and always reminds me how much more there could be.

2) Reeves-Smith and Hammond, 1983 BAR 116 Landscape Archaeology in Ireland
Does this steamer trunk have my copy? Or a nice new fresh one? Because mine is falling to bits. A real inspiration to me when I was starting out.

3) Holtorf and Piccini, 2009 Contemporary Archaeologies – Excavating Now
A really exciting range of projects and approaches. Still lots more fun to be had with this yet.

4) Bradley, 1984 Social Foundations of Prehistoric Britain
The first synthesis of prehistory I ever read that had people in the middle, instead of stuff.

5) Graves-Brown et al 2014 Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Contemporary World
Now that I’m stranded on a Desert Island I might just get a chance to work through this massive tome that really indicates how well established Archaeology of the contemporary world is.

6) Edmonds, 1999 Ancestral Geographies of the Neolithic
This book always makes me happy because its well written and well argued without most of the trappings of scholarly writing. It also has a great story behind it because Edmonds lost his original manuscript and wrote this instead.

7) Trigger, 1989 A History of Archaeological Thought
Bruce Trigger was my favourite lecturer as an undergraduate and he was writing this at the time I was an undergraduate. So it always feels nostalgic to read this book. Nostalgia’s not all bad, and it shouldn’t preclude thought, I often find ideas I hadn’t understood, or hadn’t seen from this angle when I return to this book.

8) Tolkein, 1966 The Lord of the Rings
I first read this book before I was interested in archaeology but it has inspired me many times as an archaeologist. I’ve written before about how Tolkien demonstrates how material culture lies at the heart story telling. Reading it more recently I’ve been struck by the way in which his WWI experience permeates the book, despite all the references being medieval. This strikes me as important for archaeology. Its always our contemporary experience that drives our work regardless of what material we use to examine it.

9) Eherenberg 1989 Women in Prehistory
I was given this as a gift by someone who thought I must have it already but just in case.. It looks quite dated now, but at the time it was wonderful just to see the subject dealt with in a book meant for broad consumption.

10) Cody 1989 Survey of the Megalithic Tombs of Ireland, Vol. 5, Sligo.
This was the first ‘serious’ archaeology book I was given as a gift, by my father, after I decided to move to Ireland to study archaeology. It made me feel like a grown up. It made me feel like an archaeologist. Its awfully typological, but it still makes me feel like I might go back to Irish archaeology some day.

Dr Sarah May, has over 25 years of experience in archaeology and heritage. She founded ‘Heritage for Transformation‘ to focus on people and look for new ways to use heritage resources in the contemporary world.

David Connolly (aka BAJR)

Boy with the Bronze Axe , Kathleen Fidler (1968)
Read this back in the 70s and wanted to be the boy. It made me see how the evidence of the past could be evolved into a narrative. With facts acting as anchors to interpretation.

Come, Tell Me How You Live, Agatha Christie Mallowan (1946)
Opened my eyes to the new world I was inhabiting , the Near East, which was as rich in characters, spices and modern experience as it was in the deep past. At last got to stay in the Pera Palace in Istanbul in the 90s. Kind of wanted them to walk down the stairs. Learned to see the world differently.

3,000 Decorative Patterns of the Ancient World, Flinders Petrie (1911)
This seminal book, led me to the genius of classification and data sorting in a pre-digital world. It also showed how because one group at one time used a particular pattern, it did not mean correlation of meaning or contact. Very handy for combating pseudo-archaeology.

Picts, Anna Ritchie (1989)
Opening up my own country’s past, which had until then been couched in terms of “mysterious” and “unknown”, and showed that investigation and collection of available data could transform a culture. The information is there – if you look.

Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice, Colin Renfrew & Paul Bahn (1991)
The reason I have this here is because I had it, and although it is the most complete, wide-ranging archaeological textbook in the world to date – I never read it. Recently in 2009 I found it there, still in my bookshelf, I
have still to read it.

Archaeology: An Introduction, Kevin Greene (1983)
Genuine, honest and useful, with loads to learn about the discovery and excavation of sites, the study of human remains and animal bones, radiocarbon dating, museums and ‘heritage’ displays, and reveals the methods used by archaeologists. In effect it is the inspiration of the BAJR Guide. Indeed one guide is largely thanks to Kevin’s generous nature.

Bluffer’s Guide to Archaeology, Paul G. Bahn (1995)
Snappy little book containing facts, jargon, and inside information, but is a one trick pony. Still like it though.

Any Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (1851 – present)
The volumes of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland are a treasure house of everything that is ever happened in Scotland for over 160 years. Now digitised and searchable, it is one of my favourite books and digital resources.

The Ascent of Man, Dr Jacob Bronowksi (1973)
Although not strictly archaeology, this was a book that taught you how to think, to question and evolve thought. It showed how our own species created our society via our inexorable ability to understand and control nature.

The Lands of Ancient Lothian: Interpreting the Archaeology of the A1, Olivia Lelong & Gavin MacGregor (2008)
The upgrading of part of the A1 road in south-east Scotland prompted the excavation of eleven archaeological sites. These spanned a period of 5,000 years from the early fourth millennium BC to the early fifth century AD. This book showed that an academically solid and data filled book need not follow the dry mores of similar publications. Here the approach was to tell a chronological narrative in a richly textured mix of writing and images. If I ever write a book – this is how it should look.

David Connolly is the founder of the British Archaeological Jobs and Resources (BAJR) website and runs, along with archaeologist Maggie Struckmeier, the Past Horizons website, a web portal specialising in the reporting of archaeological news and projects from around the globe. 

Stuart Rathbone

1) Harold Barclay – People Without Government
Game changing book for me, and leading me into loads of interesting places

2) Simon James – The Atlantic Celts
Excellent example of unpicking lots of unsupported evidence and finding something different hiding in the data

3) Stephen Mithens – After the Ice
Comprehensive, well written and enlightening

4) Megalithic Survey of Ireland (Volumes 1-6)
I know that’s kind of cheating but… what a project, what ambition!

5) Peter Metcalf – The Life of the Longhouse
So much to think about in this book, I’ll be dipping into this for years if not decades

6) Colin Renfrew – Archaeology and Language
Again a great example of starting from base principles, ignoring established schools of thought and getting somewhere entirely new

7) Iain Armit et alNeolithic settlement in Ireland and Western Britain
Just a wonderful book, utterly useful, and captures a paradigm shift in action

8) Miles Russell – Digging Holes in Popular Culture: Archaeology & Science Fiction
Taught me that archaeological writing doesn’t always need to take itself too seriously and doesn’t need to be deep and meaningful to be worthwhile. Very entertaining

9) Peter Nabokov and Robert Easton – Native American Architecture
The book that turned me onto anthropology. Brilliantly written and illustrated too

10) W. F. Grimes – Excavations on Defense Sites 1939 – 1945: Mainly Neolithic-Bronze Age
Top class excavations, beautiful illustrations and done under such unconducive conditions. This book proves we never have an excuse to do sloppy work

Stuart Rathbone is Director of Fieldwork at Achill Archaeological Field School, Ireland