As a very pasty northern-European with a history of being sunburnt on Orkney in 2015 (the worst summer there for decades) I worry I might not make it through a whole ten books on the island before carbonising. Before that occurred, this is what I’d like to see nestled in the steamer trunk.
1. The History of Ancient Wiltshire – Sir Richard Colt Hoare Volumes 1 and 2
I crave the first edition of these. Without the £2000 to buy them I’d like a wealthier passenger than I to have taken them on the failed voyage. Reading excavation accounts is something I adore; I suppose to some people it can appear boring but I just love it. I don’t get tired of accounts of discovery.
2. British Barrows – William Greenwell and George Rolleston
I do have a copy of this, previously owned by Henry Cunnington (Maud Cunnington’s father-in-law, the grandson of William Cunnington who worked for Colt Hoare). I nearly tore it out of the book sellers’ hands! Reading the handwritten notes of previous scholars is another dimension of research. I like to think Maud used it. However I only currently dip in and would need some free time to read it cover to cover.
3. Report of the excavations at Grime’s Graves 1914, WG Clarke
Again a copy I own, previously owned by Eliot Curwen and then C.J. Becker. Both men found incised chalk art in flint mines – Curwen in Sussex (a decade after it had been discovered and published in this volume of excavations at Grime’s Graves) and Becker at the Danish Neolithic flint mines of Hov in the 1950s. I like to think Curwen gave this book to Becker in 1959 due to their mutual interest in mines and the art, and by pure luck it fell into my hands via an online second handbook agency. Again, I’ve never worked through all the pencil marks and determined which author may have made them. A good task for an island I think.
4. The Tombs Of Atuan, Ursula Le Guin
Part of the Earthsea trilogy, I read this as a young girl and was hooked. In retrospect, the map (or plan) of the underground cult chambers at the beginning of the book probably primed me for studying Neolithic flint mines! It is the story of a girl, identified at birth as the reincarnated spirit of a priestess and taken from her home to adopt this role at the temple. In hindsight it was a powerful introduction to anthropological thought for a ten year old me.
5. Darwin’s Radio, Greg Bear
Reading science and fantasy fiction has always filled my free time. This story, of human biological evolution taking place quickly and spreading like a virus, is so different to the slow Darwinian evolution we imagine, it’s almost quite shocking. The sequel isn’t as good. As an archaeologist obsessed with temporality, I find the notion of visible biological change incredible because even if it didn’t happen this way, it might have been tangible at times.
6. The Player of Games, Iain M Banks
This is a brilliant book by an author who I’d only recently begun to enjoy before his untimely death. I’ve read it many times and I’m still not sure I get all the angles. I don’t want to give any spoilers! At its heart I see a story of love and identity – how we see ourselves internally and express ourselves externally.
7. A Story as Sharp as a Knife: The Classical Haida Mythtellers and Their World, Robert Bringhurst
Back to ‘proper’ books. This book is both a translation into English of the Haida oral narrative poems/stories and an account of John Swanton’s 1900-1901 dictation of them. In that respect it’s a book within a book. The actual myths however are really evocative and help weave together the notions we divide so easily as archaeologists into economics, performance, material culture, art, cosmology and ritual.
8. Gilgamesh (translation by Stephen Mitchell)
I’ve always been a voracious reader and since starting to study archaeology as a single parent of two under-fives, a largely unrepentant speed reader. However on a fairly regular cycle, speed reading fills me with guilt and despair – I feel it’s disrespectful to the authors who have spent hours and hours writing and editing to craft their work to have me chomp through it. At these times I turn to poetry, because you can’t speed-read it. Gilgamesh is a wonderful tale and a contrast in a both a temporal and ecological way to the Haida myths. It’s familiar and foreign in different ways.
9. Time, Culture and Identity, Julian Thomas.
This is a challenging book I read many years ago and always intended to return to properly. Complex ideas are discussed thoroughly and, in parts, this is beautifully written. I don’t think we can escape phenomenology (that is a pun of sorts), and returning to this with time to think and warm sunshine seems a good opportunity.
10. The Foraging Spectrum, Robert L. Kelly
Again it’s the anthropological focus of this book, covering aspects of hunter-gatherer lives in many different ecological zones, I find wonderful. How humans thrive under such diverse environments, is eternally fascinating to me.
Dr Anne Teather is an Independent Researcher specialising in the European Neolithic. Her PhD was concerned with British Neolithic flint mines and chalk artefacts and in her post-doctoral work has expanded this work, collaborating with colleagues in Denmark, Belgium and Italy. In between long seasons at the Ness of Brodgar excavations on Orkney, she continues to work with British Women Archaeologists who she co-founded in 2008, to both support women in the profession and promote equality.