Brian Wilkinson

I’ve always thought that archaeologists would be well suited to making the most of a survival situation. Surely we’d be able to turn our understandings of past environments, societies, economies and food production strategies to some good use? So I’ll trust in my hard earned knowledge of medieval or later rural settlement to muddle through making shelter and finding food and water. I’ll spend my free time reading, and enjoying, the following and thinking about the significance and interpretation of the things we find.

Freeman Tilden: Interpreting our Heritage
Tilden should be better known by archaeologists, particularly those of us interested in engaging with the public. A journalist who went to work for the American National Parks service he, literally, wrote the book on heritage interpretation, setting down its theories and principles which, nearly 60 years later, still sound fresh, inspiring and relevant.

aftertheiceSteven Mithen: After the Ice
Exploring 15,000 years of global prehistory in 640 pages of accessible, imaginative prose? Yes please. A masterpiece of archaeopoetics that uses interpretive description to illustrate the fieldwork findings of dozens of sites, and makes me wonder about the how and why of it all (see also A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil McGregor which appears to have been left in my cabin).

P V Glob: The Bog People
The chief aim of interpretation is not instruction, but provocation, so said Tilden anyway. He also places importance on encountering ‘the thing itself’. This book does both, presenting us with Danish bog bodies so that we come face to face with the past, provoking us to consider these people’s lives, and deaths, and confront our essential similarities. Also famously inspired Seamus Heaney to verse in his Bog Poems. Archaeopoetics at work again.

RCAHMS: North-East Perth: an Archaeological Landscape.
A fully illustrated overview of a historic landscape this is detailed observation, survey and recording and description of the highest standard. Unlikely my desert island will feature any Pictish period Pitcarmick-type houses but I should learn more than a thing or two about landscape archaeology.

Gwyn Jones: A History of the Vikings.
Not only one of the most comprehensive accounts of the Viking world but also beautifully written and incredibly readable. Why can’t more scholarly books explain things this easily and with such enthusiasm? Took this to Iceland one summer and it helped me understand the place so much better. A classic and a favourite. I grew up not far from where Prof Jones was born too! He didn’t do bad for a boy from The South Wales Valleys.

Usborne Children’s World History.
My favourite set of books as a lad. This is the combined, hardcover volume of the Usborne Children’s Picture World History series that I read, voraciously, as a speccy, geeky, shy kid. I loved the illustrations and thumbnail sketches of life across the world during prehistory and history. The picture of the Assyrians counting the heads of the slain sticks in my memory particularly. Might have played a small part in my eventual career choice, and my interest in interpreting the past to kids.

Shanks and Tilley: Re-constructing Archaeology
A theory book? Well, yes. And a challenging one at that. I never managed this at university, but have got round to getting my own copy recently. A heady mix of social theory, philosophy and archaeology, worth reading for its relevance to community archaeology. And it’ll stop my brain from ossifying.

Kevin Walsh: The Representation of the Past: Museums and Heritage in the Post-Modern World
Another quite dense theoretical book, but one that I have found useful for understanding the relationships between ‘experts’ and the public, and how we represent the past to them, for them and with them. It’s critical of how (post)modern society , including the heritage ‘industry’, alienates people from authentic experiences and suggests how we might want to overcome this and why. I find myself recommending this one quite a lot.

contructed pastPeter G. Stone and Philippe G. Planel (eds): The Constructed Past.
This was a reading list book on a Heritage Education module I took for my MSc. and inspired me to specialise in Historic Environment Education. A One World Archaeology volume looking at experimental archaeology, education and the public – the fun stuff! Wrestles with how we try to communicate our discoveries and interpretations meaningfully while trying to present authentic, honest, and enjoyable experiences and avoid turning the past into a theme park. Lots of case studies giving great advice for what worked well, and not so well in sharing the past.

Scotland’s Rural Past: A Practical Guide to Recording Archaeological Sites
I’ll declare an interest here. I was involved in the Scotland’s Rural Past project, and this is one of our legacies. With this I’ll be well prepared to survey and record the field archaeology of this island, and write up accurate descriptions of whatever I might find. Luckily this trunk also contains a plane table, alidade, tripod, tapes and an ample supply of drawing film and pencils. Let’s get to work!


Brian Wilkinson is an archaeologist, freelance educator and interpreter. He’s recently set up Heritage Journeys, to work with agencies, communities and organisations across Scotland to help them investigate, learn about and communicate the significance of the historic environment. He’s been a director of Archaeology Scotland for six years and still helps out with their Learning team. He’s now a director of the Shieling Project a new venture offering place-based learning to teachers and pupils in the Scottish Highlands ( He has a thing for turf buildings. You can often find him on Twitter @BrianRhys

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