Martin Newman

Some of the posts on Desert Island Archaeologist have been quite academic, this one wont be as my selection is motivated by books I’d actually enjoy, I’m supposedly stuck on a desert island after all! Those who know me will relieved to hear that there a no books related in any way to information technology on this list. I’ve decided not to include any books already chosen by others, though I may mention them in passing. I have also chosen not to include any contemporary historical sources which meant I didn’t have to try and decide which was my favorite Norse saga.

I’m going to start with Stonehenge to Samarkand: An Anthology of Archaeological Travel Writing (2006) by Brian Fagan. This book combines archaeology with one of my loves travel and travel writing. This book takes you round the world and also across time from the writings of ancient greek scholars to the modern age of mass travel. If I’m going to be stuck in one place at least with this book I can travel in my imagination.

Next comes a thriller, but also a true and shocking story that takes you to the heart of the international trade in illicit antiquities. The Medici Conspiracy (2007 Watson & Todeschini) does just what the very long sub title says as it follows objects the in from the tomb robbers in Italy to some of the worlds largest auction houses and major museums. It has many unexpected twists and turns just like a thriller, if you didn’t know it was a true story you wouldn’t believe it.

After that intensity some humor is called for which is provided by my next two choices. I cant recommend Archaeology is a Brand (Holtorf 2006) strongly enough, serious points about archaeology in popular culture made with humor including wonderful illustrations by Quentin Drew. Illustrations (this time by Bill Tidy) are a also a major feature of Paul Barn’s Disgraceful Archaeology (1999). As a profession we need to be able to laugh at ourselves.

I like biographies so I’ve chosen two for my list. Firstly one of the few books on my university reading list I actually enjoyed reading (apologies to any of my old lecturers reading this). Jacquetta Hawkses’ Mortimer Wheeler: Adventurer in Archaeology (1982) is a very honest appraisal of the man and his legacy. It includes the negative aspects as well as the positive, its well researched and importantly well written, you really get a sense of the man. The same is true of my next choice Kitty Hauser’s Bloody Old Britain: O.G.S. Crawford and the Archaeology of Modern Life (2008). I also have a personal reason for picking choosing book. Some of the archaeology records that I am responsible for originated with him when he was the first archaeological officer of the Ordnance Survey, his original card index of field reporters used to sit in the corner of my office and his photograph looks down on our meeting area. I would also have liked to met him and to have talked with him about archaeology, contemporary society and politics. Crawford was a pioneer of contemporary archaeology and photography both of which are things I’m interested in. If it hadn’t already been chosen by James Dixon (December 2014) I might have included Sefryn Penrose’s Images of Change: An Archaeology of England’s Contemporary Landscape, which has some great urban photographs.

So from the contemporary to prehistory. The Bog People (1965) by P.V. Glob is the shortest and oldest book on my list. I first read this book a long time ago and it has remained a favorite ever since. His other well known work The Mound People has already been selected. My second prehistory book is Britain BC by Francis Pryor I can imagine some readers will be surprised that I’ve chosen a book based on a TV series, but this is best general overview of the period I’ve read. Covering such a long time period in contrast to Glob this is the thickest book in my selection. Its very readable as you would suspect from a populist book, however it is well researched and all of the references are there if you wish to look into any of the areas in more detail.

I’m not going to say much about my next choice as the title says it all Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture (Timothy Taylor 1997). A number of non-archaeologist friends have seen this on my book shelf taken it down and started reading it, this doesn’t happen with any of my other archaeology books.

So to my final choice, on Desert Island Discs everyone gets a copy of The Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare so I tried to think of the essential archaeological reverence. A Munsell colour chart won’t be much use on a desert island, its all yellow sand and First Aid for Finds won’t be much use either. Several other castaways have already chosen Renfrew and Bahn Archaeology: Theories Methods and Practice. So I’m going to choose an older reference book first published in 1982 that helped me when I was a student Atkins and Atkins The Handbook of British Archaeology.

I hope you enjoyed my eclectic selection, you may have noticed the lack of any maritime archaeology, that was because I didn’t want to be reminded that I’ve been shipwrecked.

Martin Newman graduated in Archaeological Sciences from the University of Bradford. He now digs from behind a desk managing information about the historic environment. When not marooned on a desert island his interests include climbing, running, photography and cheering on Bath Rugby. He tweets (too much) about heritage @MartinInfoMan about heritage, IT, information management and climbing. For a fuller biography see

Matt Ritchie

My archaeology is of places and structures. While I appreciate and understand the importance of connecting and empathising with past lives, I unfortunately lack the imagination to do so and must rely on others. So I have tried to choose ten books that have inspired my interest and guided my approach.

250px-Asterixcover-10The adventures of Asterix the Gaul have had a huge influence in my life. With more historical and archaeological accuracy than they are often given credit for (although always ready to bend the truth for a good storyline), Goscinny and Uderzo skewer national stereotypes with a truly unique perspective. My first (and favourite) book was Asterix the Legionary (1967) – but I will always remember explosive Corsican cheese, the joyous cry of “into the lake with weights tied to his feet!” and the Prospectus for the ‘Mansions of the Gods’. Asterix brought the past alive in a way seldom bettered and has been chosen to represent my love of historical fiction – from Wolf Brother to Wolf Hall.

Uderzo loved a bird’s eye view and his depictions of the Gaulish village, Caesar’s desert camp, chaotic Lutitia and of Rome itself were particularly fine. A fellow Gaul, Jean-Claude Golvin, is the genius responsible for my next book: Ancient Cities (2007). My favourite reconstruction drawings always focus on structures and landscapes – and Golvin specialises in creating the urban overview. Like Uderzo, Golvin’s overviews are richly detailed but, rather than chaotic and fun, they are austere and serious. His reconstructions are as close to objective as is possible, using detailed research and archaeological plans and surveys.

I believe that good design, well chosen illustration, a clear framework and engaging writing are essential components of any archaeological communication. Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands: fifty islands I have never visited and never will (2010) exemplifies all of these traits and more, exploring concepts of exploration, aesthetics and accuracy within the context of a beautifully crafted atlas. Inspiring and engaging, it is never clear where the bounds of fact and fiction are drawn. There can be no better description of archaeology itself (although many would deny it).

okladkabig_zamki_newI love finding out how other countries explore and present their archaeology. Taking the philosophy of good design, considered content, innovative illustration and exemplary fieldwork to dizzying new heights is Zamki państwa krzyżackiego w dawnych Prusach (Małgorzata Jackiewicz-Garniec and Mirosław Garniec, 2009). This is a Polish study of the brick-built late medieval castles of the Teutonic knights in Pomerainia. Essentially a guidebook, the authors are professional photographers and artists. Each castle is illustrated by exemplary photography, detailed architectural floor plans and elevations (often incorporating archive material and old maps), reconstructed architectural line drawings and wonderful artistic reconstructions in a medieval manuscript style. It doesn’t matter that I can’t read it – this book is truly innovative and inspiring.

However, I believe that the BBC and British Museum collaboration A History of the World in 100 Objects (Neil MacGregor, 2010) is the absolute pinnacle of the popular presentation of the past. A landmark radio series (and supporting book), each and every description has been carefully crafted and considered. The series is an absolute pleasure to revisit (whether as audio or on the page).

A good history provides a window of understanding, the size and magnification chosen by the author. Although archaeology strives to be objective, we must never loose sight of the importance of subjective opinion. Two books that successfully blend a multi-disciplinary approach of archaeology and history with one overarching theme are Facing the Ocean (Barry Cunliffe, 2001) and Empires and Barbarians (Peter Heather, 2009). Both are fascinating overviews with huge chronological and geographical scale, presenting a range of evidence and ideas with an engaging narrative style.

Choosing one book to represent my archaeological ethos is difficult – but Making Archaeology Happen (Martin Carver, 2011) is a fascinating insight into Carver’s approach: that “doing archaeology demands both art and science… a scientific adventure in pursuit of a story, observation in harness with imagination, precision in record, persuasion in prose” (p. 12). I am not an excavator and would not presume to tell others how to dig. Reading Making Archaeology Happen confirms that with good project design, a framework can be agreed and the process of fieldwork, analysis and communication begun. Anyone can make archaeology happen.

Archaeological measured survey and landscape archaeology is as much about experience as it is about methodology. Visiting every monument one can and thinking about their form and function is really important. Enabling this study requires good historic environment records and regional guides – and, in particular, detailed records and good illustration. Choosing one representative from my bookshelves was difficult – but Colonsay & Oronsay (RCAHMS, 1994), an extract from the Inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Argyll, has definitely seen the most use. It has been carried, over the course of several fantastic family holidays, up hills and down cliffs, over moors and bogs, across beaches and burns, to reach every dun on the island. But to do so I needed one more bit of kit…

Trying to adequately express my admiration for the Ordnance Survey 1:25k Explorer map series is nigh on impossible. As a country we are truly blessed with the quality and precision of our map-making tradition. So my final desert island choice (and probably my most important choice) would be a crisp new folded orange OS Explorer map of the island, ready to be spread out and enjoyed. Essential equipment for body and soul.

Matt Ritchie is the Forestry Commission Scotland Archaeologist and is based in Inverness. He provides advice and guidance in relation to the protection, conservation and presentation of the historic environment on Scotland’s national forest estate. His particular interest is in the methodology and practice of measured archaeological survey – and its use in promoting the conservation of significant prehistoric monuments. He is also interested in the use of creative use of archaeological visualisation. He learned his trade at RCAHMS, Historic Scotland and Cadw. He likes Lego, records, brochs and beer. His only fear is that the sky will fall on his head.

Alice Gorman

I think I’d want a combination of qualities in my ten books, while I’m on the desert island waiting for rescue. There’d be the ones that I could read over and over and just enjoy, to pass the time, and others that would inspire new thoughts, so that when I got off the island I would be bursting with things to research and write.

1. Ancient Man: The Beginnings of Civilizations (1922) by Hendrik Willem van Loon.
When I was in primary school, this was among a batch of books about archaeology given to me by an old family friend. I was absolutely entranced reading about the discovery of Neanderthals and Neolithic Swiss lake villages, and I still love this book today. First of all, the author’s name is actually VAN LOON: how can you not be impressed by that? He did his own illustrations, which are kind of shit but also charming and quirky. Somehow he hit just the right balance of explaining things simply and inspiring you to want to know more. This is what he says in the introduction:

I shall show you mysterious rivers which seem to come from nowhere and which are doomed to reach no ultimate destination.
I shall bring you close to dangerous abysses, hidden carefully beneath a thick overgrowth of pleasant but deceiving romance.

This was what I wanted my life to be, full of mysterious rivers and dangerous abysses that would be revealed by the pure light of reason and a trowel.

2. Diving to Adventure (1939) by Hans Hass
Dr Hans Hass was a pioneer in the development of scuba gear and underwater photography. (Sadly, he died last year, aged 94). For a while, inspired by his marvellous books, I wanted to be a maritime archaeologist. Diving to Adventure was Hass’ first book, a combination of autobiography, stories of his early expeditions, and science. It’s written in a gently humorous style that is a pleasure to read. He relates his adventures with sharks, and provides some useful techniques for scaring them off – that could come in handy on the desert island! It’s just great fun all round.

space3. The Poetics of Space (1958) by Gaston Bachelard
For me, this was one of those iconic books which you know you ought to read but never seem to get around to. Finally, last year, I did. Given the date of its publication, (Sputnik 1 had been launched just the year before) I had hoped there would be far more than terrestrial space in it. And there is, if you read between the lines, but the stronger theme is the relationship between intimate spaces and the infinite:
Daydream transports the dreamer outside the immediate world to a world that bears the mark of infinity.
When I’d finished it, I resolved to write a “New Poetics of [Outer] Space” that would be a phenomenological/archaeological exploration of all the thoughts that one pushes to one side because they’re not strictly archaeological or scientific. The desert island would be a perfect place to read The Poetics of Space again, and think about the New Poetics.

4. The Early Mesoamerican Village (1976) by Kent Flannery
You can’t beat this classic of the New Archeology. As well as great discussions of sampling and scale, there’s the dialogue between the three fictional characters, the Great Synthesizer, the Skeptical Graduate Student, and the Real Mesoamerican Archaeologist, that captures so perfectly the tensions between generations and approaches to archaeology. The Real Mesoamerican Archaeologist was “a beer drinker, hell raiser, pub crawler, satyr, nymphomaniac and great story teller” who thought theory was a waste of time; this stereotype still resonates in Australia, where in some circles theory is a dirty word …..

5. Ancient Evenings (1983) by Norman Mailer
I’m not really a fan of the hypermasculine pretensions of writers like Mailer, Hemingway and Bukowski, but I make an exception for this book. It is an incredible evocation of a period of Egyptian history, the reign of Ramses the Great (1279–1213 BCE) – and a worldview that you become completely immersed in. He makes you work hard for it, especially in the early chapters, but it’s absolutely unputdownable. Plus it’s a really thick book and would last a good while on the desert island if reading material became scarce.

6. A History of Archaeological Thought (1989) by Bruce Trigger.
This book is so fascinating, and I go back to it again and again. Sometimes half a sentence indicates an incredible depth of research which you only realise after you have read dozens of papers on the same topic. It continues to provide new insights even though it’s over 20 years old. It would be great to have the leisure to read and think about it while lying under the shade of a coconut palm. (I do hope some bottles of gin and tonic have made it into the steamer trunk).

7. The Scented Ape: The Biology and Culture of Human Odour (1991) by D. Michael Stoddart
This was a very influential book for me when I was writing my PhD on body modification. I learnt that incense uses pheromones derived from pig urine (ick). I learnt about the vomeronasal organ, that plays a large role in the fertility and sexuality of some animals, but a lesser one in human behaviour. It made me wonder if there might be something to the crackpot theories of Fliess, Freud’s colleague who performed the infamous surgery on Emma Eckstein’s nose. In short, it was a book full of revelations and I should read it again even if I’m not stranded on a desert island.

theatre archaeology8. Theatre/Archaeology (2001) by Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks
Another one of those books that is so dense in ideas you think about it long afterwards. I’d want this in my desert island stash because I could see myself (in a fetching sarong which has miraculously survived) trailing along the beach and contemplating my footprints in the sand as the ephemera of an archaeological performance. It would facilitate reflection on the trace fossils I create, and my conjuring of the island as a cultural object by my presence as a castaway. I feel that reading it again in such a completely different context would bring me new understandings of space, bodies and time.

9. The Complete Sherlock Holmes (1887-1927) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sherlock Holmes could easily have been an archaeologist, with his axe-sharp forensic mind, ruthless logic and boundless imagination. It’s all about making behavioural inferences from material clues: what could be more archaeological than that? Added to the mix you get fine writing and a window into the Victorian world. There’s even a short story featuring an Andaman Islander, which appeals to me as my PhD was based on flaked glass artefacts from the Andaman Islands. By the time you’d finished the sixty odd stories that form the complete works, you’d have forgotten the first one and could start from the beginning again. Perfect desert island reading!

10. A book that doesn’t exist yet
Or at least, I don’t think this book exists, but if it did, it would be my tenth choice. I would like a book that was an edited anthology of the best archaeological writing from the 18th century to the present. My definition of ‘best’ would cover:
• Beautiful clear prose which was also redolent with deep meanings and could be read aloud just for the pleasure of it
• Narratives that used material evidence to tell compelling stories of life in the past
• Accounts of where archaeological evidence turns what we knew on its head
• Integration of archaeology with literature, psychology, biology, physics, history, culinary arts, fairy tales and I don’t know what else. Everything.
• The beauty and wonder of artefacts

Alice Gorman is a space archaeologist from Flinders University in Adelaide, where she teaches in the graduate programme in Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management. Her research focuses on orbital debris, planetary landing sites and the history of space exploration. She publishes the blog Space Age Archaeology and tweets as @drspacejunk