Vanessa Oakden

I have chosen 10 books to accompany me on this desert island some of which are great reads and others which I like to dip in and out of. Many are finds related rather than more general archaeology books due to my love of finds and a few of them I love not just for their content but for their associations also and so I’ve chosen the following 10 to share.

1. My first archaeological love was the Vikings and as I’m from Dublin my first pick had to be Viking Dublin – the Wood Quay Excavations by Patrick F. Wallace. I’ve always been aware of the Wood Quay Excavations and that my Granny marched in protest against the development, so I love that a photograph of the march is included in the book. The wide variety of stunning finds images are great and the distinctive well preserved housing I find fascinating. However I have to admit I’ve not found the time to read it all yet as it’s a fairly new addition to my library, but as I will have plenty of time on the island to do so and am certain it will keep me going, I’m happy to have it with me.


2. Discovered in Time – Treasures from Early Wales edited by Mark Redknap is another of my favourites. 70 objects are beautifully photographed and discussed and it is the perfect book to just dip in and out of when you want to be reminded of the beauty of past objects and the skill of the metalworker.

3. Archaeological Finds: A Guide to Identification by Norena Shopland is another object orientated book and a great introduction to a large variety of different finds types. Before the days of internships with PAS this was the book which I used to study different types of finds in the run up to my interview. So it was with much relief that several of the objects which she discusses appeared in the finds tray on the day and for that I always feel grateful towards this book. It is a well laid out and easy to read book which will always be a friend on my bookshelf.

4. Another Viking book but not so hefty this time is Vikings of the Irish Sea by David Griffiths. This book is easy to read and at the same time packed with information. Instead of viewing the Irish Sea as a border or barrier it is seen as a central focus of the Vikings enabling us to view Ireland, the Isle of Man and North West England and the Vikings who travelled it as a whole.

5. Forgotten Vilcabamba – Final Stronghold of the Incas by Vincent R. Lee is a book I bought while digging in Peru with Projects Abroad. The book charts the explorer’s journey to find the lost ruins of Vilcabamba and is full of both adventure and archaeology. Reading this while camping in the cloud forest and digging in Saccsaywaman certainly brought the story alive for me and made the adventurous side of archaeology feel more of a reality than a Hollywood blockbuster. This book will definitely keep me entertained on the island, perhaps a good one to read between two of the more academic books to remind me of the thrill of archaeology.

6. I’ve never been particularly drawn to the Romans, perhaps because we didn’t learn about them in school and they are often glossed over in Irish history but as recording Roman objects is something I now do on a daily basis I needed a good book to get me started so I could view my finds in a wider context. Roman Britain by Richard Hobbs and Ralph Jackson was the book to do this. Laid out clearly the book discusses the military and conquest as we would expect but also society, language, living styles and faith to name a few providing me with a well-rounded introduction to the Romans.

7. Sticking with the Roman theme my next book is A History of Roman Coinage in Britain by Sam Moorhead. Unlike most numismatic books which are largely reference catalogues this book explains the history of Roman coinage looking at different types of coins and why changes in coinage occurred. The book has clear paragraph headings enabling it to be used both as a reference book and a source of more information, so just in case I find a Roman coin on this island and have no computer to email Sam as usual, I will still have his help in recording my find.

97800075131618. I am a huge fan of historical novels in particular C.J Sansom and Ken Follett but I thought I might choose a less familiar author (at least to me) for my novel and a book I picked up by chance which I couldn’t put down. Sleeper’s Castle by Barbara Erskine is a novel set in Sleeper’s Castle on the Welsh borders. Like many novels of this type is split into two parts jumping between 1400 and the present day. The lead characters are connected through the dreams they have within the house and so their stories intertwine in a gripping tale of past and present.

9. Hoards: Hidden History by Eleanor Ghey is another fascinating object related book which is full of images of piles of stunning objects. I particularly like that this book not only discusses a variety of different types of hoards found in various containers from ceramic vessels to flint nodules but also the stories behind their discovery. I love how most of these hoards were found by chance and could easily have remained a mystery. I think this book will allow me to daydream the days away while on the island dreaming of my own chance discovery.

10. For my final book I’ve retuned to the Vikings but to their written word this time in Viking Poetry of Love and War by Judith Jesch. The book is a collection of Viking Age poetry from c.9000-1300 alongside images of objects and illustrated manuscripts. The poetry of the Vikings brings them to life in often dramatic prose perhaps made all the more dramatic while watching out to sea from this island for a ship on the horizon.

Vanessa Oakden is the Portable Antiquities Scheme’s Finds Liaison Officer for Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside and is based at the Museum of Liverpool. She has 8 years of experience in this post recording objects found by members of the public and during which she has been able to excavate several hoards and has just published ‘50 Finds from Cheshire – Objects from the Portable Antiquities Scheme’. You can find her on Twitter @VOakden_FLO.