The Adventure of Archaeology, by Brian M. Fagan (National Geographic Society, 1985).
This was one of two coffee table books my parents bought for me that were exclusively archaeology-themed. They knew how much I loved to explore. I would look at atlases and maps for hours. At 13, I spent most of my time with this book just looking at the pictures, blown away by all of the ruins and ancient cities I could visit. The concept of seeing the remains of the past here in the present haunted me. I would later read Fagan’s prose. The idea of merging science and the Romantic notion of exploration has still stuck with me. I cannot separate the two.
Ancient Egypt: Discovering its Splendors, by Karl W. Butzer (National Geographic Society, 1977)
This was the second coffee table book my parents bought for me, and again I took inspiration from the spectacular photographs of pyramids, tombs, and art. What interested me most is that people made and built these monuments, populating them with things of beauty that also had a rich history of mythology and symbolism. I think that we as modern people fail to give credit to the ingenuity and outright genius of our forebears. Once I got over being dazzled by all of the “pretties”, I found myself less interested in the “treasure” aspect of archaeology, and more in how different cultures create their own world-systems and technologies to explain the universe.
From Stonehenge to Las Vegas: Archaeology as Popular Culture, by Cornelius Holtorf (Altamira Press, 2005).
Holtorf’s take on archaeology and pop culture is an essential read, from archaeological tropes in contemporary media, to exploring reproductions of artefacts as kitsch. The past and present have merged to take on new meaning. It gave me the courage to state in public that I find no difference between the study of cultures in video games and those that existed in the real world.
Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications, edited by Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2011).
Huhtamo and Parikka are undisputed giants in the emerging field of media archaeology, using archaeological approaches to understanding media are designed and used. Each of the articles is mind-expanding. If you are ever stuck in a rut or find yourself uninspired, flip to a page and read. Again we see the merging of the past and present in a very real, if unorthodox way.
Punk: An Aesthetic, edited by Johan Kugelberg (Rizzoli, 2012)
A dear friend bought this book for me as a birthday present right around the time Bill Caraher was planning the first Punk Archaeology gathering. The book is gigantic and lavishly illustrated, featuring scans and photos of ‘zines and handbills, as well as fashion and shows. There are lifetimes of study in these pages, and I continue to be inspired by DIY and the limitless energy and creativity that comes from making something new and from being way out on the edge.
The Odyssey, Homer
I can thank my dad for introducing me to Homer, too. The Odyssey remains my favorite adventure story, and Odysseus my favorite hero. This epic introduced me to Greek mythology and turned my attention to the Greek world. I must have been 10 or 11 when I first read it. I didn’t understand some of what was going on at the time, but I keep coming back to it every year, finding more detail and nuance each time. Plus it has monsters, magic, and mythical landscapes, the same things that attracted me to fantasy role-playing games (RPGs).
Ringworld, by Larry Niven (Del ray, 1985) and Ringworld Engineers (1985)
My dad was once again responsible for putting these books in my hands when I was 13. I have always been attracted to “future histories” and to the intersection of culture and technology, and how both affect each other. I had serious flashbacks to Ringworld when playing Halo for the first time just because of the ring motifs and the environments held within.
Foundation series, by Isaac Asimov (Doubleday, 1951–1993)
At the risk of this post becoming a thank-you note to my father, he turned me on to Asimov’s Foundation series, too. In Foundation, the concept of “psychohistorians” left me sleepless. As I grew older, I became interested in the theories of chaos and complexity, and began to think about applications of mathematics to historical subjects. While think it’s impossible to use math to predict the future to any level of certainty in the real world, I do think math can be applied to interpreting virtual spaces created by computers. I want to test this once No Man’s Sky is released, a game which uses algorithms to create billions of worlds to explore. I sometimes think that archaeogaming has much in common with Asimov’s psychohistorians.
Dune, by Frank Herbert (Chilton Books, 1965)
I came to Dune (and the following books in the original series) on my own, and learned that my dad had given up on the book, finding it too dense and nearly incomprehensible. I’ve read it maybe six times now, again thrilled at the creation of alien, fictional cultures and technologies that impact on each other. To me, the universe Herbert created felt quite real. It still does. The fact that Herbert’s mind incubated the story, filtering religions and environmentalism into an complex narrative continues to keep my interest, and helped inform my own thoughts on the archaeology of virtual worlds, which could be interpreted as fiction until they are played, at which point the worlds and their cultures become quite real.
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson (Bantam Books, 1992)
This was not the first book by Stephenson that I read, but it’s the one of his that I’ve re-read the most. His imagining of Second Life via what he called the “Metaverse” was prescient and perhaps even obvious to current readers. What I love about this book is the crossover between the real and virtual worlds. Stephenson would revisit this in Reamde, exploring the economics of MMOs and their impact on real-world people and systems. In archaeogaming, I see this happening, too, and constantly think about what it is that developers and players bring into the games with them, and what the games output into the real-world. The lines continue to blur.
Andrew Reinhard has been described as a “punk archaeologist without borders.” Trained in Classical archaeology, Reinhard’s interests soon trended to the strange and new in the field. He is part of the Punk Archaeology collective (@punkarchaeology, punkarchaeology.com), the Day of Archaeology collective (@dayofarch, dayofarchaeology.com), but is perhaps best known for his work in archaeogaming, studying the archaeology in (and of) video games (@archaeogaming, archaeogaming.com), and for excavating the Atari Burial Ground in Alamogordo, New Mexico. He publishes the work of the American Numismatic Society. As wired as he is, Reinhard prefers the company of printed books, which he still calls “real”.