Alexis McBride

If I had to choose 10 archaeology books, I would definitely prioritise books that made me think, that inspired ah ha! moments, and that it what I have reflected in this list. These are all books that have sent my brain spinning, over and over and over again. There is also a heavy focus on sensual archaeology and the Near Eastern Neolithic, as that is my wheelhouse!

Ian Hodder’s The Leopard’s Tale
I think I would be tossed out of the Neolithic scholarship if I didn’t include this book. This book is a really well-written analysis of the Çatalhöyük material. The book is interesting and engaging, while also presenting the results of the more recent excavations. While it is quickly dating itself, the easy style of the writing means that it is where I turn to again and again. Also the structure of the book focussing on daily and community life really lays the focus where I feel it ought to be.

Flannery and Marcus’ The Creation of Inequality is a really wonderful, recent book looking at the emergence of inequality and complexity across the world and through many time periods. It is extensive and engaging, and highlights the wonderful variability in human society. The reader is encouraged to note similarities, but still focussing on differences. An excellent book for anyone interested in some of the wider world-wide connections in human culture.

Skeates’ An Archaeology of the Senses: Prehistoric Malta
A phenomenological masterpiece, this book weaves together detailed archaeological data with imaginative narratives to bring the reader into the past. This is archaeological writing the way it should be done, sacrificing none of the data and analysis we love, while including the view of daily life that the public desires.

Lewis-Williams and Pierce The Mind in the Cave and Inside the Neolithic Mind
These books. These books make me …. I don’t know, they make me laugh. I don’t agree with them. At all. But Lewis-Williams and Pierce had a really interesting original idea and the wrote two really interesting books about it. Who doesn’t want to read about shamanism and Palaeolithic caves? I love these books because they are so original and well argued. This is what scholarship should be about, even if you don’t agree with it! (For the record, I object to their treatment of the Neolithic – as I would – in the second book).

Kuijt’s Life in Neolithic Farming Communities
I think I have referenced every chapter in this edited book more times than I can count. I love this book. I would have it’s babies if I didn’t have some of my own already. I think I almost love the title more than any of the articles found in it – it brings the focus around to the daily experience of living. The chapters are classics in many different aspects of life (subsistence, architecture, ritual), but the daily life aspect is most strongly drawn out in the title. Since I would need one general source for the Neolithic Near East on my desert ‘holiday’, then this is it.

Croucher’s Death and Dying in the Neolithic Near East
Well, obviously I need more than one sourcebook for the Neolithic right? Now, full disclosure, I consider Karina Croucher a friend, but she has written a really excellent book looking at ritual and mortuary practices evidenced in the archaeological data from the Neolithic Near East. What I love about this though, is the fact that she is interested in the lived experience of the practices the data represent, rather than looking to social organisation or cosmology or any of the other things people often try to glean from mortuary data. I find the emphasis on the people and the relationships these people would have had with the dead very refreshing and reminds me that we are dealing with agents of their own lives, with emotions and feelings.

Ingold’s The Perception of the Environment
This book makes me think like no other. No matter what issue I’m currently thinking about, Ingold’s book will give me a new perspective and make me excited about approaching it from a new angle. Refreshing help for those stuck in theory-land.

Gavriel Kay The Sarantine Mosaic
Guy Gavriel Kay writes lush, wonderful, evocative, and lovingly researched historical fiction. He writes what he calls historical fantasy, writing alternate worlds based on real-life historical time periods where beliefs of the people are actually true. Anything by him would be welcome in my steamer trunk (Lions of al-Rassan recommended for those interested in the crusades, Moors, and Jews is medieval Europe). The Sarantine Mosaic duology focusses on a mosaicist from the provinces called to the capital, Sarantium (alternate-Constantinople during the time of Justinian I) to decorate a massive dome for a new church. Kay’s work reminds me that the beliefs of people are true. They had a direct, measurable, and indelible impact on their lives and none of our modern science can, or should, take that away. This is important for me to remember when I’m looking at the fantastic art found in the Neolithic. Maybe Lewis-Williams and Pierce should read some Guy Gavriel Kay!

Auel Clan of the Cave Bear
I’m sure 3/4 of the people similarly stranded with their archaeological trunk will bring Auel with them, and I will not shy away from the stereotype. I came to Clan of the Cave Bear quite late, only discovering the story of the anatomically modern human child orphaned and adopted by a Neanderthal woman a few years ago. I had the chance to discuss this book with Ofer Bar-Yosef, and he told me that a number of academics, including himself, had convinced Jean Auel to host a conference on Palaeolithic art at her house, and this to me really crystallized just how well researched this book was. What most impressed me was how creatively she had interpreted the evidence though. I was particularly struck by how she had addressed the now-outdated, but at-the-time-of-publication-accepted theory that Neanderthals would not have been capable of the same range of sounds as anatomically modern humans. Instead of therefore assuming less communication, she invents a wonderful gesture-based language. I want to be this creative in my archaeology.

Dr. Alexis McBride

Annemieke Milks

1. Flint Knapping: A Guide to Making Your Own Stone Age Tool Kit, by Robert Turner. Because I really want to learn to make some stone tools, and that seems like a fairly good undertaking on a desert island!

2. Some random tall but skinny foldout book on Ancient Egypt that I can’t find on Amazon or anywhere else…it was from ca. 1990 and produced by a museum (the Met if I remember correctly). But it was my first book on anything archaeological and it has stuck in my memory!

3. Archaeology: The Basics by Clive Gamble. In 2008, after a few years of fighting an injury, I decided to give up my career as a professional violinist and become an archaeologist. A few weeks after making this painful and pretty random decision, I was in a bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, home to my undergraduate university, where I majored in violin but took one course in archaeology. I bought this book 8 years after graduating from UMich, and was totally overwhelmed that I barely understood a word of a ‘basics’ book on archaeology. I keep it proudly on my shelf now as a reminder of how far I’ve come in 6 years.

4. Projectile Technology, edited by Heidi Knecht. Getting serious now, this book has some key chapters on projectile stuff from the 1990’s. I bought it recently and refer to it often for my PhD research. It’s a great read (for me) and hey, I might even learn something about hunting or fishing on my desert island! Anyway, it’s very helpful to my PhD thesis.

5. Archaeological Theory: An Introduction by Matthew Johnson. This book is fun, funny, and was an entertaining intro to theory. Honestly, it still makes me laugh.

6. The Prehistory of Music: Human Evolution, Archaeology, and the Origins of Musicality by Iain Morley. I haven’t gotten to read this yet because it’s on backorder at UCL’s library, but it looks so beautiful. I met Iain at Cambridge when I was first thinking about applying to study archaeology. I had a particular interest in the evolution of music given my background. I contacted him because I had found his thesis online and worked my way through it, learning to read the jargon of archaeological writing during a gray summer in Brussels. Iain was so kind to me, at a time that I must have appeared ignorant and naive: he showed me around Cambridge, introduced me to people, and was overall a great guy. His book is a culmination of many years of work and I can’t wait to read it.

7. Lithics, by William Andrefsky Jr. I just like looking at this book and dreaming of all the things I might know one day.

8. Reading German by Waltroud Coles and Bill Dodd. Because if I’m stuck on a desert island I may as well learn something that’s actually useful for my research!

 Annemieke Milks is a first year PhD student at UCL’s Institute of Archaeology. She’s researching the earliest known weapons, and has an interest in the evolutionary origins of music too.

Kate Devlin

I am procrastinating from cleaning and marking and this seemed a lovely way to do it. Actually, I actively want to be stranded on a desert island with a ton of books.

Anyway, I’ve opened the steamer trunk while humming “Can you dig it?”, so here we go…

First out of the trunk is Glyn Daniel’s “The Hungry Archaeologist in France“. I was given a copy of this during my undergraduate degree and I absolutely loved the idea of a “gossiping guide to caves and graves” (as he called it) with personal recommendations for restaurants thrown in too. In 2001 I put Chapter 6 to good use when I went to do some work laser scanning in Rouffingnac. Four days of duck confit and wine. Bliss.

Megaw and Simpson’s “Introduction to British Prehistory” is next. Prof Simpson was a lecturer of mine when I was at QUB. He was the one who told me I’d got my degree on results day, so I have happy memories of that. This was the book that changed my whole perspective on the past when, as a first year undergraduate, I saw that Neolithic people were using stone dressers in Skara Brae that wouldn’t look out of place in a design magazine today.

Mike Parker Pearson’s “The Archaeology of Death and Burial” is in that trunk! Wonderful, fascinating book! Incredibly engaging. Also the book my daughter bought me as a Christmas present the year she was born (she may have had help with that).

Matthew Johnson’s “Archaeological Theory” is also definitely in there. When faced with theory, it’s great to find a text that’s accessible, readable and gentle when it comes to the nuances of hermeneutics and the like. Also, I’m going to love any book about archaeology that begins “Archaeology can be very boring, distressing and physically uncomfortable”.

J. P. Mallory, and T. E. McNeill, “The Archaeology of Ulster“. Another nostalgia choice: two of my former lecturers at QUB. I loved every minute of my undergrad studies, including Mallory’s military-style digs at Navan where laughing was frowned upon and kneeling – not sitting – was the barked order of the day, and McNeills assertions that the Vikings were “the football hooligans of Europe” and thus did not merit an entire module’s worth of teaching.

Murray and Logue (Eds) “Battles, boats and bones“. This is a book about excavations and discoveries in N. Ireland from 1987-2008. I worked on a couple of those sites back in my digging days, and I recognise plenty of people in a lot of the other sites, so that’s another one for the nostalgia pile. It’s getting a bit high, that pile, but desert islands demand nostalgia.

Alan Sorrell’s “Reconstructing the Past“. That’s what I do, except I do it with a computer. This book is a selection of Sorrell’s sketches and paintings along with a description of the sites. My copy has “Happy birthday Shirley, 1983” scribbled on the front. I think I got more out of this book than Shirley did.

Ralph Merrifield’s “The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic“. Picked it up in a charity shop. Loved it. All sorts of things on bellarmine witch-bottles and mummified cats. What’s not to like?

E.H. Gombrich’s “The Story of Art” is going to be in the steamer trunk too. It’s the world’s best selling art book, the cover informs me. It isn’t strictly archaeological but it does open with rock art and spans time from the palaeolithic onwards. It seeks to explain what drives people to create and to leave their mark, which is pretty much what we try to do as well. Also, it has lots of nice pictures to look at when the views of sand and palm trees get too monotonous.

For my tenth book I was tempted to opt for Jean M. Auel’s dynastic and ridiculous (but entertaining) Earth’s Children series, but then I remembered a much better source of archaeological fiction, and so I’m opting for Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series. Amelia, along with husband Radcliffe Emerson and son Ramses, is a wonderful, comic, feisty, feminist adventurer with an amazing and inflated sense of self-confidence. I could quite happily sit on the sand and read my way through all 19 of the books. Elizabeth Peters died last year but her wit and humour lives on in Amelia.

(Can I have some paper in the steamer trunk too? I have my own archaeological book to finish. I should probably have chosen all the texts I’ll need for that instead. Ah well.)

Dr Kate Devlin is a Lecturer in the Department of Computing at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is a qualified computer scientist and archaeologist and is passionate about combining both in her research, focusing on digital cultural heritage.