I thought I would have real trouble finding 10 books about archaeology to write positively about, until I actually thought about the job in hand and realised I had many. Although I have West Country origins my career has been largely taken up with digging in London, so my books are pretty London-centric, for which I make no apologies. It’s good to know something about where you work after all.
Ivor Noel-Hume A Passion for the Past
So we can start with an autobiography of one the Granddads of London’s archaeology: Ivor Noel Hume, who worked on City building sites after WWII, rescuing artefacts and managing to make pretty damn good records of archaeology as it was machined away. His paper: ‘Into the Jaws of Death Walked One’ is crucial reading for anyone working in development control archaeology and rather depressingly, still has resonance. Anyone who has traipsed along London streets carrying a bag of muddy tools is walking in his footsteps. His life is both traumatic and fascinating, both before during and after, his time in London. He eventually left London distressed at the destruction of the archaeology and became the leading light of archaeology in the US, directing archaeology at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, writing prolifically on post-medieval pottery and generally being an all-round great geezer. Hume was an actor in his early adult years and his way with words and turn of phrase is truly wonderful.
W F Grimes The Excavation of Roman and Medieval London
Hume was working in London during the 1950s and 60s, and his relationship with Professor W F Grimes, the other Granddad of our profession was confrontational at times. Grimes led the Roman and Medieval London Excavation Committee after WWII, excavating on bomb sites across the City, discovering several medieval churches, the Cripplegate Roman fort and the Temple of Mithras in the process. The head of Mithras adorns the front cover of the book, there are many more evocative photos within. He also worked on Sutton Hoo in the 1930s, directed the Institute of Archaeology and the London museum. It is not the descriptions of the monuments within this book which inspire however, but the chapter detailing the conditions in which Grimes and his assistant Audrey Williams worked under. As with the Hume book above – the similarities with today can be entertaining and horrifying in equal measure.
Cornelius Holtorf Archaeology is a Brand
This is a book that doesn’t take us too seriously, but ultimately makes the point that we SHOULD be taken extremely seriously as archaeology has so much to offer the world. The struggle between conducting high-level academic research and appealing to the public at large continues, with the commercial world still generally failing to do either successfully, although I would argue that this is not (always) our own fault. Also covers the Indiana Jones Complex, about which I know absolutely nothing, obviously.
John Preston The Dig
I don’t always like fictional accounts of historical events, but this is a success as the author is happy to omit details rather than invent them. It is a thin book, recounting the excavation of Sutton Hoo from the perspective of various people involved. More navel-gazing possibly, but this excavation deserves it more than most of the others.
John Schofield (Ed.) Great Excavations: Shaping the Archaeological Profession
If you are a field archaeologist and proud to be so, this book will confirm why you work outdoors in all weathers for a pittance. Tales of past glories, intimate details of infamous excavations over decades and respect afforded to our predecessors are all here, along with the inevitable stories of carousing in fields, campsites and pubs across Britain. Ultimately it reminds you why being in the archaeological gang is special: supportive colleagues, amazing discoveries and the knowledge that you are contributing to something positive (if you’re lucky anyway – there are horror stories in here too).
Andy Worthington Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion
Because some archaeological monuments are more than ancient stones and have resonance to more than just archaeologists. This is slightly out of date now, as it doesn’t cover the recent visitor centre and road closure, but it does cover the mythologising of Stonehenge that has occurred since the 18th century, and that we as archaeologists may have succumbed to on occasion. If you have ever been at the Solstice and moaned about the drumming Brazilian tourists clambering on the stones this book is for you. The section on the Battle of the Beanfield is seriously disturbing, and is a reminder that despite what we might think, this land is not a common treasury for all. Should it be? Discuss (at length, in the pub).
Bill Puttnam Roman Dorset
As a student Bill taught me field techniques and Roman Britain, and my first student dig was working with him on the aqueduct at Dorchester. He was a generous character, both on site and in the pub. There is a lovely Obituary here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/lives-remembered-bill-putnam-1033823.html. As a Dorset local I love this book, (I have the older version which has the Hinton St Mary mosaic on the front cover) with pictures of places I know and have raved about over the years. Dorset definitely has the best hill forts.
Gavin Lucas Critical Approaches to Fieldwork: Contemporary and Historical Archaeological Practice
Navel-gazing is an archaeologists’ specialist subject and this book challenges how and why we do things a certain way. The concluding chapters suggest new ways of looking at sites and artefacts, but if these ideas seem too vague or anti-science for most field archaeologists, the rest of the book is a great narrative of our profession, warts and all.
Paul Bahn Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction
My go-to guide for cheating about how much I know and stealing refs from the bibliography. See also Roman Britain: A Very Short Introduction by Peter Salway
Roman Civilization (Volume II) The Empire: Napthali Lewis and Meyer Reinhold (eds)
Because being an alumnus of the comprehensive school system I have no Classical or Latin knowledge whatsoever, and acknowledge that it is now a gap that I need to fill. In the absence of enough time to read the entire works of Virgil/Tacitus/Pliny etc this is a brilliant collection of primary sources, dealing with the Roman Empire from AD14 – 410 AD (Volume I contains sources pertinent to the Republic).
Sadie Watson is a Project Officer for MOLA in London, responsible for major sites with large field teams. She has extensive experience excavating and supervising complex urban sites and was recently responsible for leading excavations at Bloomberg London.