Summer Reading, Archaeology Edition

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

Earlier in May, members of the Eugene Winter/Northeast Chapter of the Massachusetts Archaeological Society asked me for some summer reading suggestions. I checked online for reading lists of archaeology books that might appeal to the interested public and was surprised to find that most did not include many actual books on archaeology! I quickly typed up the following list. Check out digital copies of almost all of these books after creating a free account in InternetArchive.

1) Books by David Hurst Thomas, including his textbook Archaeology. You might be surprised that a textbook would be at the top of my reading list, but this is a terrific book. In earlier editions, at least, each chapter includes all of these great quotes. This book demonstrated to me as a college senior that archaeology was for smart people. Also, Thomas’s book Skull Wars, on the Kennewick Man (the Ancient One), is a superb look into the complex relationship between Native Americans and archaeologists. Copies of Archaeology on InternetArchive:

Skull Wars:

2) Loren Eiseley’s The Night Country. Eiseley was an archaeologist and paleoanthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania and this is his semi-autobiographical memoir. It is so beautifully written, and funny, and gives some great insights into twentieth century archaeology by a master of the profession. You can borrow the book electronically from InternetArchive:

Ryan Wheeler reading his copy of Loren Eiseley's The Night Country.

3) Encounter with an Angry God by Carobeth Laird. About her life with archaeologist and ethnographer John Peabody Harrington, who was brilliant and maybe more than a little crazy. I found this in the stacks as a grad student and couldn’t put it down. Again, available to borrow on InternetArchive:

4) In Small Things Forgotten by James Deetz. In many ways, this book defined the field of historical archaeology. This is especially relevant for those of us in New England, but everyone will enjoy learning about pipe stems, gravestones, and other quotidian aspects of daily life that only archaeology can illuminate. Also available to borrow on InternetArchive:

5) What This Awl Means by Janet Spector. This is one of the first—and remains one of the most creative and engaging—books in the field of feminist archaeology. Spector uses feminist perspectives to interpret a nineteenth century Native American site near Minneapolis. Storytelling techniques that are rare in archaeological writing figure prominently, making this book fascinating and accessible.

6) The Early Mesoamerican Village by Kent Flannery. The major selling points of this book is that it is well written and highly readable AND that between the chapters there are these fictional interludes featuring The Great Synthesizer, The Skeptical Graduate Student, and The Real Mesoamerican Archaeologist. Archaeological writing at its best! Check it out on InternetArchive:

7)  The Science of Archaeology? This is Richard “Scotty” MacNeish’s autobiographical musing on the future of archaeology. Scotty was the fifth director of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology (then called the Robert S. Peabody Foundation for Archaeology). At our institution he conducted major projects in Mexico and Peru questing for the origins of agriculture and civilization. Happily, you can check it out on InternetArchive:

8) Frauds, Myths, and Mysteries by Kenneth Feder. All the kooky ideas, from Atlantis to Giants, about North American archaeology and why people believe them. Ken gave our big lecture last fall about his newest book, Archaeological Oddities: A Field Guide to Claims of Lost Civilizations, Ancient Visitors, and other Strange Sites in North America, a site guide to many of the places mentioned in Frauds. Lots of fun, well written, and you can’t help learning along the way. Frauds is available on InternetArchive too:

9) Gods, Graves, and Scholars by C.W. Ceram. This was published in 1949, but tells the stories of many of the great archaeological discoveries up to the mid twentieth century. Heinrich Schliemann at Troy, Howard Carter and King Tut, etc. You have to read this if you are an archaeologist. Again, see InternetArchive for e-copies:

10) The Bog People by Peter Glob. Iron Age mummies from European bogs. Some crazy preservation that you only get in wetsites (anaerobic conditions). If you read this, you will want more on wetsite archaeology! Copies to borrow on InternetArchive: If you do get hooked, follow this up with Bryony Coles’s Sweet Track to Glastonbury: The Somerset Levels in Prehistory. The Sweet Track is a Neolithic timber walkway. More great wetsite archaeology!

11) Lucy: the Beginnings of Humankind by Donald Johanson. I carried this book around with me for a year in high school, reading and re-reading it. This sometimes got me in hot water, as I attended a very conservative religious school. Dated now (first published in 1981), with so many new discoveries, but really well written and it gives a sense of the scholarly battles that still rage over human origins. Pair with Lee Berger’s more recent book Almost Human and you get a pretty good sense of the complexities of paleoanthropology. Click here for digital copies on InternetArchive:

12) Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage by Bill Rathje. This is a fun book and recounts the work that Rathje and his University of Arizona students did on modern refuse disposal habits and how this could be applied to archaeological sites. Rathje was a big proponent of Behavioral Archaeology, so you get some of that theory as well. Checkout the copy on InternetArchive:

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