Cath Poucher

Having read through the many submissions to Desert Island Archaeologies, I’ve noticed that many of the author’s’ top ten books are usually those that relate to the specialisms and interests, and this list is no different. As I open my steamer trunk on the gloriously sunny beach on the desert island, I would be faced with a sea of buildings archaeology and churches amongst the other books I’ve chosen.

The Archaeology of Churches by Warwick Rodwell.

This would have to be the first book in my steamer trunk. I first read this book in the early days of my undergraduate days. In the dark days of trying to decipher archaeological theory, I picked up this book from the library while choosing my modules and instantly fell in love. I’d always had, ‘a bit of a thing’ for churches, but reading this book and seeing what could be teased out of the fabric of these buildings with a little knowledge grabbed my attention. I immediately went to all the second hand bookshops in York and bought my own copy. It still has pride of place on my bookshelf.

Death in England: An Illustrated History by Peter Jupp and Clare Gittings (Eds.)

Aside from buildings archaeology, my other love is medieval history – particularly their attitude to death and burial, and how this attitude developed and changed through the post medieval period. There are a few chapters in this book, as simple a read as it is, that caught my eye – those on the medieval and post medieval period (chapters 4 through 9). I find the study of how humans in the past viewed and reacted to their surroundings fascinating, and this book fueled this passion for understanding the relationship of peoples attitudes to death.

The Medieval Chantry Chapel: An Archaeology by Simon Roffey

Again, this second book is a remnant from my undergraduate days. As I became more and more fascinated by churches, and their past, it seemd natural that my thesis would focus on this subject. The more I read around the subject, the more I became interested with the use of religious (and secular) space in churches. After reading Simon Roffey’s book, my mind was left in no doubt as to what my thesis would be about, and I’ve kept up this love to this day – I still go gaga at a good old chantry chapel.

Archaeological Theory by Matthew Johnson

Okay, so here is my big confession: I really don’t understand archaeological theory. At all. It is one of my New Year resolutions to re-read this book, which I purchased in my first year at university. I have a suspicion that if I understood theory, it would not only make me a better archaeologist, but I would probably rather like it. If I were to be stranded on a desert island, with enough time to read ten books, then I think this one should be among those in my steamer trunk, as I would have time to read it and understand it.

Channel Island Churches by John McCormack

This is an addition from my postgraduate degree, but that has stemmed from my early childhood. I have been visiting the Channel Islands since I was a baby, and have a particular love of the Bailiwick of Guernsey. The island has a history and culture all to itself, and the influences it has have made it unique. This uniqueness has had an effect on its relationship with religion and the buildings it created, making the churches on Guernsey absolutely fascinating to a young buildings archaeologist enthusiastic about churches, such as myself. This book is the bible for Channel Island churches – it’s probably one of the only books on the subject– and as a result deserves to be on my desert island list. The top spot on my bucket list incidentally is to rewrite the story of the Channel Island churches from a 21st century perspective, as I feel they have so much more to yield about their history.

Matthew Shardlake Series by C. J. Sampson

This is an addition of fiction to my list. I have read and re-read these books so many times I can probably quote from them now. There are six in total (so far), which are set in Tudor England and tell the story of lawyer Matthew Shardlake, who, as well as battling personal daemons and struggling to come to terms with his changing attitude to religion during the Henrician reformation, is thrown into the murky waters of politics. He solves crimes along with his assistant, which always give him powerful enemies in court. They start with Dissolution (2003), and have grown up with me though secondary school, university and now in the early days of working in heritage. As this is a series, and listing six books probably isn’t fair, if I had to choose one it would be Revelation (2008) because of the drama in the story and the way the plot still keeps me gripped, even after the 50th read through.

Gender and Archaeology: Contesting the Past by Roberta Gilchrist

This book is on the list for numerous reasons: Firstly, I love most of Roberta Gilchrist’s work and could happily fill the entire list with her publications, books, articles or otherwise. Most importantly of all, however, this book opened my eyes to the importance of the study of gender in archaeology. It was one of the contributions to my awakening as an openly proud, and vocal feminist, not only in my regular life and in my political opinions, but in my views on history and archaeology. This book showed me a different view to the male dominated perspective I had previously been reading in archaeological and historical texts, and allowed me to interpret things I had studied before in a new way.

Yorkshire: York and the East Riding Pevsners Guide to England

I don’t think you can love buildings without having a love, even if it’s a begrudged love, of Pevsner. His unique opinions of the various iconic buildings in England make not only a fascinating, but also sometimes an utterly hilarious read. At work we have his notes in the archive, and having read through just a small percentage of them, have made me even fonder of the opinionated architectural historian. As for my choice of locality –my family are all from Yorkshire, I studied in York, and personally I think it has some of the most beautiful buildings and scenery in England. Having Pevsners’ opinions of my favorite buildings and places in England would make the time far away from home on a lonely desert island more palatable…

The Archaeology of Britain: An Introduction from Earliest Times to the Twenty-First Century by John Hunter and Ian Ralston

This ‘beginners guide’ to the archaeology of Britain was one of the first few books I read in my undergraduate studies, and it signifies the start of my journey in archaeology. Even though my love of history is firmly seated in the medieval period I am, at heart, an archaeologist. I enjoy learning about all periods of Britain’s long history, and this book is the one that will always stick in my mind, as it showed me my preference of historical archaeology rather than prehistory, a love that has stuck with me ever since. If ever I want to freshen up on any period of history, this is the book I go to first.

Beowulf by Seamus Heaney

I wrote this list and then scrolled through previous submissions and have spotted this book more than once, but I don’t regret bringing it up again. I’ve saved the most enigmatic until last, and Beowulf holds a special place in my heart. My special topic in my undergraduate degree was, ‘Early Medieval towns: 500-1000AD’. When this is coupled with visits to both Sutton Hoo and Orkney around the same time, it’s no surprise that I took a delve into Early Medieval history. I bought my copy of this book, along with a book on Old English, at the Sutton Hoo gift shop, and proceeded to read both of them cover to cover. The stories of dragons, warriors and adventure almost take me back to the Early Medieval period. When I last read it, I was camping in the Peaks, and this barren, beautiful but enigmatic wilderness set my mind into overdrive. I would read this book last, while looking into the horizon hoping for a rescue boat…

Cath Poucher is a lover of buildings archaeology, and currently works as a historical researcher both freelance and at a leading nationwide archive. She is can be followed on twitter at @archgirl88 enthusing about coffee, Downton Abbey, and feminism…

Ffion Reynolds

Here are my choices for Desert Island archaeology books… I’ve picked a variety of books, but most focus around my research interests – prehistoric archaeology (especially the Neolithic) and anthropological analogy. Some books inspired me to get into archaeology in the first place, some life changing books which have influenced my worldview, and others which I pick up time and time again when I’m writing something or need inspiration. I like thinking big, and these books go over some big ideas. What’s not to love when lying on a beach with plenty of time to pour over them?

Andrew Sherratt – Economy and Society in Prehistoric Europe: Changing Perspectives.
I think it was Andrew Sherratt who really got me interested in archaeology, properly. When I went to university to study archaeology at undergraduate level, I was pretty lucky, as I just got the UCAS prospectus, closed my eyes, flicked the book open and decided I would go and do whatever it landed on. It landed on archaeology.
Andrew’s work has really influenced me, but I also just enjoy his writing. One paper is a must-read for any archaeology student – that one he wrote about wool, milk and cheese – the ‘Secondary Products Revolution’ (plus I just love Akkadian cylinder-seals). Even though perhaps a little old fashioned now, much of his work is concerned with the longue durée, but some of the chapters in this book are really forward thinking, and against the establishment. This is especially true of Section V, where he talks about ‘cups that cheered’ – the beaker folk and the introduction of alcohol into Europe, and ‘sacred and profane substances: the ritual use of narcotics in Later Neolithic Europe’ – a key paper, if you know anything about my research, you’ll see where I get it from.

Mary W. Helms – Ulysses’ Sail: An Ethnographic Odyssey of Power, Knowledge, and Geographical Distance.
A classic book for anyone who is interested in the ways archaeologists use anthropology in their work. This book is a great read, and I just love the subject matter. In it, Helms explains how various cultures interpret space and distance in cosmological terms, and why they associate political power with information about strange places, peoples, and things. This is really relevant, let’s say, when you’re trying to ‘get into the mind-set’ of prehistoric people. It also links to the big question in Neolithic debate – was it people or ideas that travelled? The core of Helms’ argument is the association of geographical distance with the value attributed to ideas and goods obtained through travel. This relates to the basic concept that in many societies across the world metaphorical connections exist between geographical distance and time, or horizontal distance, linking great journeys with ancestors, gods or the sphere that acts as the final resting place. Exotic or prestige goods are valued because they have been acquired from great distances and can, metaphorically, be associated with this ‘otherworld’. Think Neolithic jadeite axes from the French Alps, turning up next to the Somerset sweet-track.

indexTim Ingold – The Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill.
When I saw Tim Ingold give a talk at an archaeology conference, I was in awe. He was so articulate, presented big ideas in intriguing, complex, fantastical ways – but by using normal, day-to-day objects and practices. I remember him talking about agency and animacy – and the example he used was flying a kite. He used the analogy as a way of handling the mind/body duality and its interface with materials. The person acts on the kite through the wind in kinaesthetic relation. Flyer, wind, line, kite are ‘reciprocally intertwined’ in the same way that makers and their materials are interdependent. He also uses a fungal mycelium as a metaphor of a ’meshwork’ and a ‘relational constitution of being’, and I’m pretty crazy about mushrooms! I could go on and on. This book, and the papers within it will twist your brain in ways you never thought were possible.

Philippe Descola – La Fabrique des Images.
This book accompanied an exhibition at the Quai Branly museum in Paris, but it brings together Descola’s ideas in a lavishly illustrated, French language book. He looks at the differences between nature and culture, classic Descola – but then goes further and uses images to explore how diverse cultures represent the similarities and differences they see in their surroundings. The images in the book correspond to four greatly contrasted views of the world, from five continents: animism, naturalism, totemism, and analogism. Reading through the pages, you get to discover how images, from the most familiar to the most enigmatic, depict the many ways people can experience the world, and you come out the other end with the realisation that our way of seeing the world is only one tiny way of understanding it. Food for thought when trying to interpret an archaeological site.

41FwbDlfUULPiers Vitebsky – Reindeer People.
Piers Vitebsky is another talented writer, writing complex ideas in a compelling, easy to digest ‘can’t put the book down’ kind of way. This particular book is a gem. I am a bit biased as I am obsessed with deer and the human-deer relationship generally, but if you like Siberia, anthropology, and nomadic lifestyles this is a book for you. It’s written as an anthropological diary, and tracks Vitebsky’s journey to Siberia where he travels and lives with a nomadic family of reindeer herders. A magical, vivid, often heart-wrenching account of the problems, as well as the triumphs of living in vast landscapes of snow.

Julian Thomas – The Birth of Neolithic Britain.
This book was published recently in December 2013, but I’m yet to really read it – so it would be a great addition on a desert island! Julian’s previous book ‘Understanding the Neolithic’ is one of those books I just come back to again and again. A massive bibliography, and lots of detail if you’re into the Neolithic period in Britain. ‘The Birth of Neolithic Britain’ – has a similarly massive bibliography, and I look forward to reading it.

Chris Scarre – The Human Past.
Another one of those books. Packed with information, a well written marvel, and a must-read if you’re an archaeology student, plus it’s a brilliant book if you’re writing a course or trying to find a reference for something specific. A bible. And you learn something new every time you pick it up.

Sian E. Rees – Cadw Guides to Ancient and Historic Wales
I know, I know, it’s technically four books, but Wales is only small, right? The four books focus on the four regions of Wales: Glamorgan-Gwent, Dyfed, Gwynedd and Clwyd-Powys, and are my go to guides for anything in Wales. From getting there, to images, to short descriptions – I go to these first before I hunt down a more detailed book on the specific site I’m interested in. If I were on a desert island, I could swat up on even more Welsh sites, before exploring them on my return! They are out of print, but you can pick up copies on the internet.

Michael Thompson – Ruins Reused.
Since working for Cadw (the historic environment for the Welsh Government), I’ve had to move away from prehistory, and I’ve been stretched back into more recent times. This book has helped me see heritage, or the history of heritage in a different light. It looks at monuments in a way that takes them as composite expressions of time, never standing still. A monument is always changing with changing styles, and this book looks at the changing attitudes of key figures such as Richard Colt Hoare, to the works of Ruskin, Morris, Lubbock and Pitt Rivers. Rather than looking at the people who lived in or used the monument in question, this way of deciphering a historical or archaeological monument looks to the people who actively change it and present it to the public.

Alasdair Whittle, Frances Healy and Alex Bayliss –  Gathering Time.
I had to include this. Not only because Alasdair is a don, was a great PhD supervisor and has been a huge influence on my work – but basically, I come back to this book to check I got things right. I dip in to it, when the time comes round, and I always pick up a new piece of info. Oh, Alasdair, you are obsessed with dates, but I still love you.

Dr. Ffion Reynolds is an Honorary Research Fellow at the School of History, Archaeology and Religion at Cardiff University and is part of the Guerilla Archaeology collective. Her main research interests are in the Neolithic of Britain and in prehistoric worldviews more generally. She works as Cadw’s Heritage and Arts Manager and oversees its public programmes, outdoor arts projects and leads on Open Doors – which encourages visitors to explore the heritage of Wales for free in September each year. You can also find her on Twitter @caws_llyffant