Well, here I am, washed up on this desert hideaway… at last! A real dream to be away from the stress of the modern world and desperately searching for a penknife and some baler twine from which to construct a new life. Wait then, what is this, perched drying upon the shore? A case of useful medical supplies perhaps? The drinks cabinet from the HMS Phil Harding? Alas no, some tattered old books… of mine…. Not even a bottle of scotch with which to toast the splendour of solitude. So, for what had I sacrificed good duty-free space within my case in these post- cigarette years? Let’s take a look…
1. Hengeworld Mike Pitts
A book by an archaeologist who needs no introduction by me; this book gave me butterflies when I started to read it, and led directly to me becoming heavily involved with archaeological geophysics and survey. The now famous greyscale plot of Stanton Drew, which I first encountered from this book, triggered my year of trudging round fields, carting armfuls of rope & cable, metal frames & laptops in the pursuit of what I call voyeuristic archaeology. That rarest of books that fills your head with knowledge without you ever really realising it, this is a must for all starting to look at late Prehistory in Britain.
2. History of the Countryside Oliver Rackham
Oliver Rackham may not have realised it at the time, but this study was to become one of the most influential cross- disciplinary references of the British landscape. Unlike its natural predecessor by W G Hoskins, this work has stood much firmer the test of time and understanding, and is a must- have text for anyone working with landscapes both urban and rural, when learning their craft. I have routinely used this book to build teaching in subjects from Agriculture, Environmental Conservation, Real Estate Management, and of course Archaeology.
3. Iron Age Settlement in the Upper Thames Valley D. Miles, S. Palmer, A. Smith, & G. Perpetua Jones
This was the first monograph I treated myself to, it cost me an absolute fortune at the time of purchase, and I promptly dropped my first copy- still unopened- in the Grand Union Canal as I climbed onto the deck of my boat with bags full of shopping! A thorough and beautifully put together synthesis of a large programme of excavation and survey in the Cotswolds, this completely changed the way I thought about a landscape within which I was working at the time. The book shows the value of what can be achieved through long term research within a set locale, and using the whole range of approaches available to commercial archaeologists. It’s a beaut, and you get a CD with it, which can’t be bad…
4. West Highland Survey an essay in human ecology F. Frasier Darling
This is not an archaeological text, but to my mind it is every bit as important and valuable as any other work that I’ve read. Frank Frasier Darling was an Ecologist who often studied the bird populations and habitats of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. This, his most thorough work, is a fabulous early example of the environmental assessments that are used today to construct pictures of long term habitat and landscape history. It is an exquisite piece of work, and my copy takes pride of place on my shelf. The early print was something that I searched for, for years, and to the bemusement of my attendant family I danced a jig of delight when I found a copy. Make time to read of Darling’s work, his books are a fascinating narrative of a vanishing landscape and ecology set within some of the most inspiring landscapes of the British Isles. We can all learn from his attention to detail and passion, archaeological or not.
5. An Archaeology of Natural Places Richard Bradley
Professor Richard Bradley has long been a hero of mine, and it was my absolute pleasure to work with, and get to know him some years ago. His works, and this one especially, were the ones to which I had my ‘lightbulb moments’ as an undergraduate, and collectively they still fascinate me now. This marries perfectly the themes of my own research and passion, bridging the world as it existed around our ancestors to our own beliefs and how they have been made manifest through cultural activity.
6. Unravelling the Landscape, an inquisitive approach to archaeology Mark Bowden (ed)
Another hero, and inspiration, Mark Bowden has over the years provided me with some vital skills and not a bit of entertainment to boot. I was given this book by a college lecturer when I was a young man studying to be a countryside Ranger; before I’d made my natural progression to Archaeology at university. Mark’s use of survey as a means to foster a dialogue between archaeologist and monument comes across well here, and the text effectively demystifies the methodologies for recording sites and monuments. More than any other book I’ve read, I blame this for all the years I’ve spent frozen half to death on rain soaked hillside miles from civilisation. I wouldn’t swap it for the world.
7. My Notebook Some Blokeinafield
It’s a little tatty, water stained, and held together by an elastic band, but I can’t leave home without it. I should admit to a bit of a notebook obsession, I can’t go to town without buying one, and if I catch sight of a shelf of likely looking candidates it’s like catnip to me. Making notes and sketches is what keeps me (and my work) coherent. I don’t have a system for recording anything in a particular order or style, and so the often rushed and anarchic scribblings can appear obtuse or cryptic to the uninitiated. It’s unthinkable that I’d pack a case without at least one half filled book of scribble!
8. Burial Practice in Early England A Taylor
A thoroughly interesting narrative of late Prehistoric to Anglo-Saxon Period funerary practices. It’s been a go-to reference for me for about a decade now, and I enjoy dipping into it as a refresher for the sorts of sites I only rarely come across at work. It’s a surprisingly easy read given the specifics of the topic, and is littered with useful contextualising information.
9. Death Warmed Up, The Agency of Bodies and Bones in Early Anglo-Saxon Cremation Rites Howard Williams
Love this paper, I love that bits of it make non-archaeologists squeamish, and I love the level of detail that makes it particularly insightful. A fascinating reproduction of an open pyre cremation, and examination of how bodies are active participants with continuing agency both within the rites, and afterwards. A real eye opener for my students on a regular basis, this is a paper I use to bring about debate in class for attitudes to funerary activity in general, as well as for the specifics of the topic. A great, thought provoking read
10. Wildwood, A Journey through trees Roger Deakin
This in my opinion is one of the finest pieces of prose in modern English. Roger Deakin was a treasure to us while he lived, and we were lucky to have had him and his words. This is my favourite book of all time, and it inspired me to start the research on the archaeologies of woodlands that has kept me busy for a decade now. I wept when Roger died, though I’d never known him personally. This book, as simple and laid back as it is, is an expression of our timeless association with woods, and one which transcends archaeology. It is an ode to places and materials that have shaped us as much as we have them, and an open letter of love from a writer so subsumed with his environment that where he ended and it began was a line blurred to all. Like my notebook, I never leave home without it.
Richard is a freelance commercial archaeologist, conservationist, and teacher. He is currently studying for a DPhil in Heritage Science through UCL and Oxford University’s SEAHA programme. When not looking baffled in a laboratory, he can be routinely found looking baffled in a hole in the ground. If anyone has found his spare time, he would be grateful if you would return it to him. He is on twitter @ritchgrove (not always safe for work) and blogs at heritageinthefield.wordpress.com