Lisa-Marie Shillito

Stranded on a desert island, what would be on a geoarchaeologist’s reading list?

1. Interpretation of Micromorphological Features of Soils and Regoliths – Georges Stoops, Vera Marcelino and Floria Mees (eds).
Let’s start with the reference books. I guess the first thing I’d bring would be Stoops et al. 2003. This is my go to reference for all aspects of micromorphology, and is much nicer to look at than many of the older textbooks, with lots of nice colour images. I’d bring this so I could get on with my thin section descriptions. Seriously, the process of thin section description is an incredibly long and time consuming process. If I’m stuck on a desert island I may as well make good use of the free time and get on with all those slides in the ‘to do’ box. Can I bring my microscope too…?

leopards tale2. Çatalhöyük: The Leopard’s Tale – Ian Hodder
When I got bored with micromorphology (no really, it does happen!) I’d probably move on to some nice light reading on my pet topics, Çatalhöyük and Stonehenge. I’ve been working at Çatalhöyük for over 10 years now, and this book came out just as I was finishing my PhD thesis. Which was frustrating at the time cause it meant I had to speed read this book and make sure I referenced it. Turned out it was actually a really good refresher exercise for the viva. This book does a great job of presenting a huge amount of complex information in an accessible format, and makes me feel proud that I have contributed to the story of this amazing site.

3. Stonehenge: Exploring the Greatest Stone Age Mystery – Mike Parker Pearson
I used to mock the British Neolithic, chortling at how my beloved Near Eastern inhabitants were busy inventing writing and developing civilisation during the third millennium, whilst at the same time we were still obsessed with large bits of rock back in Britain. I changed my mind after spending two years working on the Feeding Stonehenge project. This book summarises the latest research on the people of Stonehenge and its landscape, and how the monument fits in to the bigger picture of the archaeology of the British Isles. Turns out we’re more interesting than I gave us credit for.

4. Archaeology of Time – Gavin Lucas
Because a desert island list wouldn’t be complete without some headache inducing theory, and my own personal little headache is reconciling microarchaeology, palimpsests and time. This is also handy and pocket sized so I could take it with me on a wander around my new desert abode.

edward-said5. Orientalism by Edward Said.
This is one of those books that was thrust upon me as a terrified first year undergraduate at Oxford that filled me full of insecurity that I didn’t really belong there as I didn’t have a clue what it was talking about . I wish I could go back and tell my 18 year old self that future me would think it’s great, despite its flaws. I’m not sure I would believe myself. It’s the kind of book that is best appreciated with a wider understanding of the world. After spending several years working in various parts of the Middle East, I have a much greater appreciation of the importance of this book and will now thrust it upon my own students. Said’s ‘Orientalism’ includes the sort of romanticised images that surround popular archaeology of the past. It is also a good example of how the subject matter of archaeology is interlinked with that of geography and anthropology, and highlights the importance of being reflexive with interpreting the past.

6. The Archaeology of the Prussian Crusade: Holy War and Colonisation – Aleks Pluskowski
This is a great introduction to the archaeology of a region and period that have received relatively little attention, and draws on historic documentary sources, archaeological and environmental evidence – basically how research should be done, taking a central question and drawing on all available lines of evidence to answer it rather than relying on a single approach. I also drew some of the figures so it can be in there for vanity reasons.

7. The Great Basin: a Natural Prehistory – Donald Grayon
Going back to my roots a bit and throwing in a combination geoscience and archaeology, this is a great introduction to one of my favourite places in the world. I studied geography as an undergraduate, and always thought I was more interested in the landscapes than the people. I used to grumble that I’d rather take more physical geography classes than all that human stuff on cultural landscapes and gender. But it turns out the people are not so bad after all, especially if they’re people in the past, and all those human geography classes didn’t go to waste as the concepts have a huge amount of overlap with anthropology. This book is a great overview of the environmental and human history of the Great Basin region of the USA, and illustrates the overlap between environmental and archaeological archives, and the many shared goals of archaeology and Quaternary environment reconstruction.

8. Oregon Archaeology – Melvin Aikens, Thomas J. Connolly and Dennis L Jenkins
Kinda related to number 7, this book focuses on the archaeology of Oregon, written as a narrative and drawing on evidence from key archaeological sites. Well written and easy to read, it’s a great introduction to this area and covers everything from early prehistory to the present. All of my books seem to be work related don’t they? It’s true that I have done some work in Oregon, but the reason I became interested in this area is because my husband’s family are from central Oregon. He’s also an archaeologist, and my mother in law was even on the committee for the Archaeological Society of Central Oregon. We’re doing a survey on their property just for fun. Working there was inevitable really.

9. Formation Process of the Archaeological Record – Michael B. Schiffer
What is this, another theory book? This book is the cornerstone of my (evolving) theoretical position in archaeology. I do not consider myself a processualist by any means (in fact I am increasingly convinced that our backgrounds play the most important role in how we interpret data), but I do recognise the importance of understanding the formation of the archaeological record, and the taphonomic processes that have impacted on it. The central thesis of this book highlights how formation processes and the nature of preservation of the archaeological the record impact the research questions that can be addressed. It emphasises that a firm foundation is needed before we can do the inference bit of archaeology, and that no theoretical program can explain all aspects of human behaviour.

10. Adventure Calls – Katharine Woolley
Katharine Woolley is a remarkable figure in the history of archaeology and her story fascinates me. She was invited to join early excavations at Ur due to her illustration skills, and she ended up marrying director Sir Charles Leonard Woolley so that she could remain on the excavations (the funders weren’t thrilled when they found out a young widow was living in the field with 4 men). She was the major driving force behind fundraising for the excavations, and also directed them in their final year. It is rumoured that Agatha Christie based a murder victim in one of her books on her! Katharine wrote her own book, Adventure Calls, about a young woman who disguises herself as a man so that she can go off on archaeological adventures – I haven’t actually read it yet as it is out of print and impossible to get a hold of, though there is a copy in the Scottish National Library, so for the purposes of my desert island trip, let’s say I was allowed to ‘borrow’ it!


Lisa-Marie Shillito is a Research Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, where she investigates human-environment interactions at all scales from micro to landscape. She blogs about geoarchaeology, archaeological science and the odd bit of theory at


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