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.


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