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


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