Anne Teather

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 WiltshireSir 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.

Robert (Bob) Muckle

I’m feeling kind of like Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away, except instead of being an employee of a courier company and having a ball named Wilson as a companion on an uninhabited island, I am an archaeologist with a trunk load of books.

I’m not sure of the backstory Tom Hanks got from the director for his movie, but the one I got for this Top 10 is that I’m my way home from an international archaeology conference, travelling by ship. The ship goes down but I’m saved by a pod of dolphins, which takes me to a desert island. The pod leaves but then returns with a steamer trunk of ten archaeology-related books, the same ten I would have chosen to keep me company until the end of time, or rescue. I am free to define “archaeology-related” any way I like, and include fiction. Here are the books, and why they are in the trunk.

1. I, Claudius, by Robert Graves (1937). This novel of ancient Rome was instrumental in shaping my interest in archaeology. I was about 18 when I first read this and it spurred a fascination with ancient times. It would be a few years later before I decided to take a course in archaeology and some more years again before I thought of making a career at it but this book was key. Besides the personal significance to career development, it would be enjoyable to read again, and for that reason it is in the trunk.

williangolding_theinheritors2. The Inheritors, by William Golding (1955). This novel, set among Neandertals and modern Homo sapiens was required reading in an English literature course I was taking at college during the same term I took my first archaeology course. I had no specific educational or career aspirations going into that term, choosing each course for its schedule rather than content. I think it was the combination of this novel (for an English course) and the archaeology course (and for which the only memorable thing about the text for that course is that it was horribly boring) that put me on track for a career in archaeology.

3. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859). I have always been inspired by the writings of Darwin, who seems to me to have been an ordinary (albeit privileged) person who did some extraordinary things. Besides his thoughts and research, I like his writing. I know many find it boring, but I find it wonderful. Beyond being a good scientist, he was a good science communicator. I’ve written elsewhere that “Darwin was important, but I’d rather have a beer with Wallace,” which remains true. But since it is books, rather than people, I will have as companions on this desert island, I choose this one. My preference would be a copy of the first edition, but any of the several subsequent editions would do as well.

4. The Tomb of Tut-Ankh-Man by Howard Carter and A.C Mace (1923). I don’t consider myself a book collector, but I have this one, written by the archaeologist who discovered the tomb in 1922. Nor I am particularly fascinated with Ancient Egypt (although I did spend several weeks excavating there one year). I’m not sure what it is about this book, but I like having it around. I like the feel of it, the look of it, just having it on my bookshelf. I bought it at a used bookstore in Seattle while attending an archaeology conference there in 1999. The price was about the same as a pint of beer.

5. Guide to Archaeological Field Procedures, by Knut Fladmark (1978) This book has both sentimental and practical value. It was written by one of my professors, and has been with me on dozens of field projects. I still find it useful and it is always close at hand on my field projects, especially when I direct archaeology field schools. Not only does this book cover the basics of archaeological field methods, it also covers such things as using four-wheel drives, changing propellers on outboard motors, and living in field camps. The cover includes scales and a north arrow. In case I ever wanted to do some fieldwork on the desert island, this book would be handy to have, especially if there were no electricity, batteries, or fancy equipment.

1977536. Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto by Vine Deloria Jr. (1969).
Much of my career has been in the service of Indigenous Peoples of North America. They have influenced me in recognizing how archaeology could reasonably be seen as an agent of colonialism. Mostly my views have been shaped by working with and for Indigenous peoples but books have been important as well. This book is key, especially chapter 5 (“Anthropologists and Other Friends”) in which the introductory paragraph includes two of my favorites lines written anywhere – “Indians have been cursed above all other people in history. Indians have anthropologists.”

7. Shell Bed to Shell Midden, by Betty Meehan (1982)
As a graduate student back in the 1980s with primary interests in shell middens, Indigenous Peoples, and middle-range research, this book was important. It is mostly an ethnoarchaeological research study associated with an Indigenous group in Australia, with a specific focus on shellfishing in the economy. Not only did the book enhance my understanding of how shell middens are formed, and show the value of middle-range research, it normalized a focus on women and children in archaeology for me. I recall ordering a copy through interlibrary loans, and since this was the 80s, it took about six months to make its way from Australia to Canada. It was worth the wait.
8. Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble, by Marilyn Johnson (2015). Johnson is a writer, not an archaeologist, but she does an incredible job of conveying the world of archaeology in this book. She immerses herself in archaeology – in the field, in both the academic and commercial realms, and at conferences –describing archaeology like no other. This is my favorite overview of the practice of archaeology, and I think quite accurate. The book was written for a general readership. If I was ever left questioning myself on why I entered the profession, this is the first book I would pick up.

9. The Prehistory of the ‘Far Side’, by Gary Larson (1989). Larson is the creator of the Far Side comic strip, publishing more than 1,000 comics in syndication between 1980 and 1995. Many of his comics follow a clearly archaeological theme, especially life in the Palaeolithic. I have used his comics extensively in my teaching and continue to find them funny. There are several different books featuring his comics, but this one delves into the thought processes of Larson. It is kind of like a funny illustrated narrative, which might be uplifting on a rainy day on the island.

10. Sointula, by Bill Gaston (2004). Gaston is a well-known Canadian writer of fiction and poetry. I had already read a few of his novels and collections of short stories when I learned he had used some of my own writing in this novel. Gaston uses lengthy quotes from my published work as epigraphs to begin multiple chapters. Although the novel is set mostly in the present, the epigraphs are used to evoke images of the past. In a personal note Gaston describes the use as – “some learned and honest facts to bolster the chaos and whimsy of the story.” I have authored, co-authored, or edited five books in eight editions, and published a decent amount of scholarly, semi-scholarly, and popular pieces. I have had no greater satisfaction in my writing though, than having selections from one of my books used as epigraphs in a novel written by an established member of the literary community, who also happens to be one of my favorite authors. It may be stretch to consider this an archaeological book, but I make the claim that the evocations of the past from my own book put it over the threshold.

Post script: It was an interesting exercise, choosing the 10 archaeology-related books that matter most to me. I don’t regret that most are written by non-archaeologists. I do wish though that more were written by women and Indigenous people, and in languages other then English. If I could do the formative part of my career over, I’d try to fix that.

Bob Muckle has been practicing, teaching, and writing about archaeology since the 1980s. He is based at Capilano University in Canada and his research interests include the Indigenous Peoples of North America, the archaeology of early 20th century Japanese camps in Canada, and the archaeology of a skateboard park. He has authored several books on archaeology and anthropology, writes a monthly on-line column called ‘Archaeology in North America,’ and can be found on twitter @bobmuckle

Jim Brightman

This is not going to be academic. I’m sure I could usefully use the time on a desert island to finally read the stack of monographs I keep putting off, but I think I’d want comfort, enjoyment and things evocative of home, friends and family. Honourable mentions for books I’d be overjoyed to see in the trunk go to Orientalism by Edward Said, Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen, anything by William Dalrymple (but particularly To the Holy Mountain or Return of a King), or indeed pretty much anything by Ellis Peters, Bill Bryson, Neil Gaiman, H.P. Lovecraft or Terry Pratchett, all of whom have had a hand in shaping my approach to and appreciation of archaeology and history. Keeping it to ten has been a struggle.

asterixThe Mansions of the Gods by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo (1973)
I can’t conceive of being on a desert island without an Asterix book, and I could’ve picked any one of quite a few favourites: Asterix the Legionary, Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield, Asterix and the Cauldron, Asterix and the Golden Sickle. After a few pints, a friend and I once agreed that Obelix and Co. is the most complete and cutting satire of capitalism ever written. That same conversation also concluded that as Obelix and Co. is to capitalism, so the Mansions of the Gods is to gentrification. In both cases, this was at least partially Rene Goscinny’s intention, but even without the beautifully crafted satire, Mansions of the Gods is just wonderful.

Woodlands by Oliver Rackham (2010)
It could very easily have been The History of the Countryside, which is a must-read for anyone who professes to work in landscape archaeology and has been picked by at least one previous castaway. For me, it’s Woodlands. I took it with me on holiday a few years ago and experienced the bizarre dissonance of feeling the visceral tingle of being transported to a dappled beech grove while sitting in the baking Cretan sun. It transcends archaeology, history or natural history and is one of the best examples of how appreciation of landscape must be multi-disciplinary, must draw on all available sources and should not be afraid of engaging through emotive and subjective narratives.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954)
One of my earliest memories is of my mother reading me The Hobbit, and Professor Tolkien’s back catalogue has been a constant presence in my life ever since. This choice could very easily have been the Silmarillion, which is the work of Tolkien’s that I go back to most regularly and is one of the most satisfying and beautifully wrought pieces of mythology ever committed to paper. With a more archaeological bent to this list, however, it would have to be The Fellowship of the Ring. From a landscape archaeology perspective, the episodic nature of the first half, subverting the bucolic idyll of the Shire with the creeping horror of the Black Riders, alongside the decidedly dreamlike Bombadil interlude, is an object lesson in reassessing the inherent eeriness of the English countryside; see also the Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

The Story of Captain Cook By Lawrence du Garde Peach (1972)
As with Asterix books, I can’t imagine not having a Ladybird history book with me. Hardly lengthy reads and very much ‘products of their time’, I only have to look at the cover of certain Ladybird books to be instantly whisked back to a feeling of inquisitive childhood wonder. The ones that remain most vivid in my memory are the stories of William the Conqueror (boo!), Florence Nightingale (yay!), Warwick the Kingmaker (a pretty different take to the Warwick familiar to readers of Philippa Gregory!), Stone Age Man in Britain (pretty unreconstructed – just look at the title), and Captain Cook. When I was little, the Captain Cook book was my favourite for a few reasons: like me, he was from Yorkshire and called James – a surprisingly enduring reason for my love; it was actually a bit more detailed than the others and so stood up to re-reads very well; the illustrations were fabulous and the story of his life actually had a moving and exciting narrative thread all of its own.

Explorer Map OL30 Yorkshire Dales – Northern & Central Areas Ordnance Survey
I love maps. I can look at them for hours and often do when I should be doing something more productive. This one is the most dog-eared in my collection given it covers where I grew up, where I still live and where I’m lucky enough to do a lot of my work. I’d like to take the entire OS Explorer series in truth, but rules are rules. In the same vein, it’s a real wrench to have neither Rachel Hewitt’s fantastic Map of a Nation – a definitive yet eminently enjoyable history of the Ordnance Survey – or any of Alfred Wainwright’s Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells.

In Search of the Dark Ages by Michael Wood (1981)
The works of Michael Wood, both literary and televisual, were a household fixture in my early years. In particular, I have fond memories of his In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great series which came out around a similar time to John Romer’s fabulous Great Excavations series about the history of archaeology. When I was quite a bit younger, however, it was the In Search of the Dark Ages book on the shelf which fascinated me. Before I really knew anything about first millennium Britain, the phrase ‘Dark Ages’ and the picture of the Sutton Hoo helmet evoked feelings of wonder and images of a romantic yet brutal past that I lacked the words to describe.

The Fire of the Kings by Julian Atterton (1984)
I’m a sucker for historical fiction, and I love a good C.J. Sansom/Ellis Peters/Ariana Franklin page-turner on holiday. This one means more to me personally though. The author, Julian Atterton, lived near me in North Yorkshire and came to my primary school to do a workshop on storytelling. After that, my parents bought me a couple of his books, including this wonderful imagining of the birth of Northumbria under the evil (in the book) Athelfrith, the exile of Edwin and his eventual rise and fall. It’s a book for children and is therefore pretty slim, but – importantly for my ten-year-old self – it was partially set around Catterick (where I grew up), and it seared into my young mind the stories of 7th-century Northumbria.

Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology 1960 Edition with Introduction by Robert Graves
I’m going to need something big to plough through while waiting for the rescue ship, and I can think of nothing better than this absolute doorstop of a tome. I have a copy of it which used to belong to my granny; it is bound in yellow cloth, stamped with the bull of Knossos and is a real thing of beauty. When I was very young I would take myself off into a corner with this book like it was a treasure chest. I would only read little snippets, but I was captivated by the pictures as I flipped past terrifying images of Vodyanoi water spirits, a beautifully rendered depiction of the death of Baldur and photographs of artefacts from the far and near East which baffled and intrigued.

A History of Scotland by Neil Oliver (2011)
A pretty recent book, but one which has become a fixture on my shelf and to which I have returned several times. My granny was a fiercely patriotic Scot and instilled in me a love of Scotland, but when Neil Oliver presented his History of Scotland series I realised there were considerable gaps in my knowledge. Prior to this, I had never read anything by Neil Oliver, and I instantly fell in love with his prose style. At a conference a few years ago, I was expounding about how much I love this book. My comments were met with some quite severe intellectual snobbery, which has only made me more ardent in my promotion of it.

51xedd8etsl-_sx326_bo1204203200_Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts (2012)
Finally, I’m going for something I haven’t even finished reading yet. I got this as a Christmas present this year, having been meaning to pick up a copy for some time. It’s exploration of liminality in the landscape, and the importance of those places where borders are constantly renegotiated between nature and culture, I find to be particularly arresting themes. I can’t imagine being marooned on a desert island and not being able to finish it, so it must go in the trunk.

Jim is a heritage professional who can’t settle on a suitable job title. Based in North Yorkshire, he loves studying landscapes and working with volunteer groups. He is currently acting Chair of the CIfA Equality and Diversity Group and splits the remainder of his time between a series of community and research projects, monumental levels of procrastination and staring wistfully out of a window imagining rambling across the hills.

Jim is on Twitter at @angelus1981

Richard Grove

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.

97818421244062. 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.

41dtti8dxkl-_sx331_bo1204203200_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

Richard Alexander

So… A selection of books, some chosen because of memories and associations attached to them, some chosen more for their content…

51pq4c8deql-_sy344_bo1204203200_1. Saunders, Nicholas Killing Time: Archaeology And The First World War (2010 – The History Press)

In some ways I became a conflict archaeologist by accident rather than intent. I picked up a copy of this book, and read it – it was the first conflict archaeology book I had read, and shortly after Nick Saunders was doing a talk nearby, I went to see him talk, and introduced myself to him – a week or so later I was contacting him to see if I could join the masters degree at Bristol Uni. So, this book is an important one to me as it played an important role in my decision to study at Bristol.

2. Williams-Freeman J. P An Introduction to Field Archaeology as Illustrated by Hampshire (1915 – MacMillan & Co)

This was published just over a hundred years ago, and is one of the first (possibly is the first) field archaeology book published in the UK – and I have a 1st edition of it 🙂 I live in Hampshire, and know sites which were covered in this book a century ago. Many of the archaeological features I have surveyed in the last couple of years were being created in the same landscape as this book at the same time it was being written.

3. McOmish, D & Field, D & Brown, G The field archaeology of the Salisbury Plain Training Area (2002 English Heritage)

I live near the Aldershot military training area, and have spent many days exploring, surveying, and studying it. I like this book as there are some broad similarities between the training areas – so it reminds me of good times spent there with friends, and also of solitary moments there on my own. Just as is the case with my local training area, military occupation of Salisbury Plain has protected a landscape from being obliterated by housing development or modern farming techniques, it has also alongside this laid down a landscape of 20th century military features.

4. Bender, Barbara & Winer, Margot Contested Landscapes: Movement, Exile and Place (2001 – Berg)

Series of papers looking at how people and landscapes interact, and how different approaches to the landscape bring about conflict and create identity. It’s divided into two sections, one on contested landscapes, and one on movement and exile (I have to confess – I spend more time in the section on contested landscapes). It covers all manner of landscapes from prehistoric, up to the twentieth century in the new forest.

5.  Schofield, J After Modernity: Archaeological Approaches to the Contemporary Past (2010 – Oxford University Press)

This book looks at contemporary subjects with an archaeological methodology with a view to demonstrating that new things can be learnt from our contemporary archaeology in the same way that archaeology helps us understand the distant past. It uses a diverse range of topics, including transit vans, Ikea, the Cold War, the Star Wars film set, and many other subjects. It’s engagingly and accessibly written.

k69226. Caplan, Jane Written on the Body: the Tattoo in European and American History (2000 – Reaktion Books)

I have quite a few tattoo books in my bookshelf. This one is probably the one I pick up most often – a collection of essays on different aspects of the history of tattoos. It’s easy to dip in and out of – often something to suit my mood when I want to read something but can’t decide what to read.

7. Ryde, Robin. Sofianos, Lisa. Waterhouse, Charlie. The Truth of Revolution, Brother, An Exploration of Punk Philosophy (2014 – Situation Press)

Published as a philosophy book, rather than an archaeology book; nonetheless it gives an interesting insight into the punk movement. Partly picked as 2016 has seen the mass heritageisation of punk based on it’s (subjective) 40th anniversary, and also as punk’s attitudes and philosophy are an important part of late 20th century culture. The book stays off the beaten track of the commercially successful bands, no Clash, Pistols, Ramones or Damned here. It is made up mostly of a series of interviews (with the likes of TV Smith, Charlie Harper, Jello Biafra, Penny Rimbaud) about views and opinions, and less about the music.

8. Dawes, Christopher. Rat Scabies and The Holy Grail (2005 – Sceptre)

Yep, if I’m stranded on a desert island on my own I’m going to need to keep my spirits up… so, some light hearted pseudo-archaeology, and it even features a punk drummer! This is an account of journalist Christopher Dawes, and his friend and neighbour Rat Scabies and their explorations into Grail lore. It does give some insight into the world of pseudo-archaeology. It’s also nonsense, but entertaining nonsense!

9. Carr, Gillian & Mytum, Harold. Prisoners of War: Archaeology, Memory and Heritage of 19th and 20th Century Mass Internment (2013 – Springer)

On account of having done a dissertation on Prisoners of War I have quite a few books on internment and captivity. Mainly on the list because of the piece on Norman Cross camp, and because of the piece about negotiating space in civilian camps in WW2 Germany.

10. R. Alexander Captivity and Cultivation (unpublished)

My masters dissertation – about German prisoners working in agriculture in Britain during WW1. I wrote it, bound it, submitted it, and put a copy on my bookshelf. Since then I have looked at it once (I’m sure this is far from uncommon). I was never really happy with it (again, I’m sure this isn’t uncommon) . So given time on my hands it would be good to read it, maybe realise it wasn’t as bad as I picture it as being. It would also be good to read and see what I have learned since I did it and how I might do it better now.


Richard currently works in public libraries. In his spare time he likes to survey military archaeology features on the nearby military training area, and take part in community archaeology projects. He studied a master’s degree in 20th Century Conflict Archaeology at Bristol University, and hopes to return for a PhD in due course.

He can be on Twitter at @RickJAlexander

Serena Cant

As a maritime specialist the idea of being marooned on a desert island has perhaps occurred to me more frequently than most. It is astonishing how many of the world’s narratives involve shipwreck from Noah’s Ark to the Life of Pi. It’s probably my worst nightmare (and yes, I have literally had nightmares about being marooned on an island where the only available food is bananas, which I absolutely loathe with a passion!). As a child I was always drawn to shipwreck tales, and I suppose I could plunder those for practical tips on how to survive, but let’s jettison Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, and The Black Stallion for now and see how archaeology could help me make sense of my new environment.

It might, after all, be an unparalleled opportunity: I might get lucky and find evidence of some abandoned and unrecorded civilisation in my search for shelter. Languages rather than archaeology were my first love, although I’ve always been drawn to the historical aspects of the study of language, So here goes, with what strikes me as also a personal archaeology, peeling back the layers of my self:

1. So if there were evidence of some material civilisation, I’d have to search for and try to decode any outlying textual fragments. Andrew Robinson’s Lost Languages: The Enigma of the World’s Undeciphered Scripts (2009) would be a fantastic ‘how to’ guide. It showcases successful decipherments – Egyptian hieroglyphs, Linear B – and presents the state of knowledge on partially deciphered or completely undeciphered scripts around the world, including the rongorongo script of Easter Island. It would still keep my brain active trying to solve existing problems even if I found no new codes to crack on the island.


2. As an Eng Lit student at university I was drawn to archaeology through studying Old English and I recall being blown away by the idea that literature can flesh out the past, and vice versa. I can still recall the moment I was introduced to Beowulf and its Analogues (Garmonsway and Simpson, with Archaeology and Beowulf, Hilda Ellis Davidson, 1971). I suppose that might have been the germ of my eventual specialism as a documentary researcher fleshing out shipwreck archaeology from contemporary accounts.

3. On that note I have to include Daniel Defoe’s The Storm of 1704 in which he had the genius idea of making a public appeal for accounts of the ‘Great Storm’ of 1703 and interweaving them together in a narrative – an early form of crowdsourced material. It is one of our key sources for a number of protected wrecks, while it preserves accounts of shipwrecks found nowhere else in any surviving form of documentation, which we might one day locate – an excellent predictor of potential archaeology. How it must have lodged in the mind of the man who eventually wrote Robinson Crusoe . . .

4. I could pick quite a number of maritime archaeology volumes but I think I’d have to go for the wonderfully named and equally fabulously illustrated L’histoire engloutie ou l’archéologie sous-marine by Jean-Yves Blot (1995) which is also available in English translation as part of the New Horizons series (second-hand only). It was my first introduction to the world of maritime archaeology in 1996, and a good representative of my library – I’m a huge fan of the French-language Gallimard Découvertes series, of which this forms part – generally beautifully written texts that treat the reader with just the right balance of accessibility and intelligence.

5. To give myself hope that I’d get off the island again, (despite the dangers which might discourage me with what I know about wrecks!), I’d have to read Barry Cunliffe’s astonishing Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek (2001) which brings a little-known tale of a 4th century BC Greek citizen in Marseille to life, integrating literary and archaeological evidence to create a real-life tale to stand alongside the Iliad, Odyssey or Aeneid.. If he could do it, so can I!

6. Archaeology can be defined in many ways as making visible that which is invisible or forgotten, and I love the growing trend to mine art history to capture states of the past (such as the sea levels in Venice or England’s coastal landscape in a recent Historic England-funded project) or transient phenomena such as the optical effects produced by volcanic eruptions in the works of Turner. Though much of Delft is as it was in Vermeer’s time, Anthony Bailey’s A View of Delft (2002) shows how Vermeer preserves through his art records of structures destroyed in his own lifetime and works no longer extant but known to have existed and hanging on the walls of his ladies playing music. He was truly the master of the moment suspended in time between one note of the music and the next.

7. I have a major interest in the archaeology of the intangible: surprisingly, shipwrecks are very good markers of things that exist otherwise only on paper or in thin air (e.g. the cessation of routes during wartime). In a similar vein I’ve championed under-represented heritages throughout my career – they speak to me as a woman and a disabled person. Most hearing people will never have thought of this, but until the advent of film it was impossible for sign language to leave much trace in material culture, which is why Nora Ellen Groce’s Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language (1985) is so fascinating. Ironically it was kick-started by some oral history testimony, excavating memories of Martha’s Vineyard, where, because of the high incidence of hereditary deafness in the island population, sign language and English co-existed until the early 20th century. Had it not been recorded virtually at the last minute, this unique heritage would have been utterly lost and would have left no archaeological trace whatsoever.

8. I’m also excited by ‘above-ground’ archaeologies, such as those of the Second World War, which are tangible in stone, either as blast damage or in the odd 1950s or 60s buildings inserted between two older houses, particularly in London. I was delighted to uncover a copy of When Hitler Passed this Way published by the Evening Post in 1946, with ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs of buildings damaged and destroyed. It, too, is a reminder of the start of my career with what was then the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England and its National Buildings Record, set up in anticipation of just such devastation. I think the general reader often thinks of archaeology as something ‘hidden’ and ‘ancient’ and ‘apart’, and it is often all of those things, but archaeology can be visible, recent, and familiar, too: hidden in plain sight.


9. In that early part of my career I was fortunate enough to catalogue the collections of ‘church archaeologist’ F E Howard, who recorded and illustrated medieval church furnishings in great detail. I have a battered but much-treasured personal second edition 1927 copy of his English Church Woodwork which remains a standard work on the subject with beautiful sepia photographs and line drawings with a fabulous frontispiece.

10. I’ll close with something I haven’t yet got round to reading but which sums up everything for me. Alone on my desert island I’ll have time to savour and appreciate everything from the well-chosen artworks to the historical details of Durham Cathedral: History, Fabric and Culture (2015). Art, architecture, archaeology – all on England’s favourite building! On a personal note, it also happens to be mine – I got married there . . . it might make me somewhat homesick, but it would yield hours of pleasure until I got picked up by that passing steamer.


Serena Cant studied English Literature at the University of Durham before an M Phil in Anglo-Saxon literature, art and archaeology. She writes and lectures widely on maritime archaeology, art history, and access issues in museums, and is never happier than when talking about shipwrecks in art in sign language! As well as a full-time career in the historic environment sector, latterly with Historic England as a specialist documentary researcher in the field of maritime archaeology, she specialises in lecturing in museums and galleries in the medium of BSL to deaf audiences. She is the author of Vermeer and His World (2009) and England’s Shipwreck Heritage: from logboats to U-boats (2014), and blogs for Historic England at

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.