Bookish Archaeologists’ Christmas gift Guide

Famous archaeologist Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler is credited to have once said that: ‘archaeology is a science that must be lived, must be “seasoned with humanity“‘. In order to fully embrace this motto, we have asked fellow postdocs around the Institute to make suggestions for a Bookish Christmas gift guide. From thrilling fictional stories, to wondrous accounts of scientific facts, we hope that the titles on this list will bring some joy to many archaeology/anthropology enthusiasts!

Books to read when you need a laugh

51p6ravs01l-_sx302_bo1204203200_Giulio Lucarini (Deep history & Mediterranean Africa): Evolution Man, Or, How I Ate My Father by Roy Lewis  (1994, Vintage Books).

Here is a typical Stone Age family, reimagined by Roy Lewis in this hilarious novel as characters in some glittering drawing-room comedy. Father, who has a scientific turn of mind, has just discovered fire. Mother makes sure the children finish supper, even when the plat du jour is toad. Uncle Vanya thinks that the species has been flirting with disaster ever since it began to chip flint into tools. (via Penguin Random House)


9781906011505Isabelle Vella Gregory (Mediterranean Prehistory)– and many others: The Innocent Anthropologist by Nigel Barley (2011, Eland Publishing Ltd)

The wittiest introduction to the life of a social anthropologist ever written. Studying in the Cameroons for his first experience of fieldwork, Barley discovers that the society of the Dowayo people refuses to conform to the rules of his new discipline. [..] Barley manages to turn the western science of anthropology on its head, so that for once the laugh is on the professional practitioners not the observed. (via Waterstones)


Books on explorers & thrilling discoveries 

Fieldwork is an important part of an archaeologist’s life, and sometimes it turns into the adventure of a lifetime

come-tell-me-how-you-liveToby Wilkinson (Near Eastern and central Eurasian late prehistory & GIS analysis): Come, Tell Me How You Live: An Archaeological Memoir by Agatha Christie Mallowan (Harper Collins)

A witty nonfiction account of Agatha’s days on an archaeological dig in Syria with her husband, renowned archeologist Max Mallowan (via Harper Collins)



cover-jpg-rendition-460-707 Alexandra Ion (Archaeological theory & Osteoarchaeology): The Dig by John Preston  (2008, Penguin)

A fictional account based on the discovery of the Sutton-Hoo ship burial: In the long hot summer of 1939 Britain is preparing for war. But on a riverside farm in Suffolk there is excitement of another kind: Mrs Petty, the widowed farmer, has had her hunch proved correct that the strange mounds on her land hold buried treasure. As the dig proceeds against a background of mounting national anxiety, it becomes clear though that this is no ordinary find … And pretty soon the discovery leads to all kinds of jealousies and tensions.  (via Penguin)


51kcc7wezxl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Marianne Hem Eriksen ( Archaeology of late prehistoric Scandinavia): Euphoria by Lily King (2015, Picador)

…or when Margaret Mead met two of her husbands

‘the colourful love life of Margaret Mead’ reimagined as a novel. The human behind the ethnographer, followed during a short period of field work along New Guinea’s Sepik river in 1933 (via The Guardian)



Sarah Inskip (Osteoarchaeologist): Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble by Marilyn Johnson (2014, Harper).

Johnson digs and drinks alongside archaeologists, chases them through the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and even Machu Picchu, and excavates their lives. Her subjects share stories we rarely read in history books, about slaves and Ice Age hunters, ordinary soldiers of the American Revolution, children of the first century, Chinese woman warriors, sunken fleets, mummies. (via Amazon)


Alexandra Ion: The Great Archaeologists by Brian Fagan (2014, Thames and Hudson Ltd).

  • with a special mention of Dorothy Annie Elizabeth Garrod, CBE, FBA, a British archaeologist who specialised in the Palaeolithic period- first woman to hold an Oxbridge chair, and former Disney Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge (1938-1952).

“The last  week in France was great fun. It was really almost too moving to  be true. You crawl on your stomach for hours … climbing up  yawning abysses (lighted only by an acetylene lamp …) and  get knocked on the head by stalactites and on the legs by  [stalag]mites, and in the end arrive at all sorts of wonders;  bison modelled in clay, and portraits of sorcerers, and  footprints of Magdalenian man.” 


Books for animal lovers  

if we are to reconstruct past human-animal interactions, how can we better understand them?

51qrc6vj2bvl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Lucy Farr (Pleistocene and Early Holocene people-environment interactions): Dinosaurs without bones by Anthony J. Martin (2014, Pegasus)

What if we woke up one morning all of the dinosaur bones in the world were gone? What clues would be left to discern not only their presence, but also to learn about their sex lives, raising of young, social lives, combat, and who ate who? Welcome to the world of ichnology, the study of traces and trace fossils—such as tracks, trails, burrows, nests, toothmarks, and other vestiges of behavior—and how through these remarkable clues, we can explore and intuit the rich and complicated lives of dinosaurs. (via Goodreads)

1-39Laerke Recht (Human-animal relations in the ancient Near East): The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young (2017,  Faber & Faber)

This is a wonderful little book. Page after page, Rosamund Young relays funny, sad and joyful tales of the life and actions of many generations of cows and bulls at her family’s farm. […] Stories like this show that cows can be intelligent and caring, and the different levels that this occurs at are astounding. Araminta felt her own pain and knew that her child was in pain. She also knew where and how to get help for both of them, even if it took a while for the humans to get her point. This is a prime example of what I mean by the agency of animals. (via Laerke’s review on The Spirited horse blog)

and a special suggestion from Laure M. Bonner, our Outreach and Communications Coordinator, and one of the admins of this page:


Pig/Pork:Archaeology, Zoology and Edibility by Pia Spry-Marques (former PhD student in the Department) (2017, Bloomsbury Sigma)

Pig/Pork explores the love-hate relationship between humans and pigs through the lenses of archaeology, biology, history and gastronomy, providing a close and affectionate look at the myriad causes underlying this multi-millennial bond. What is it that people in all four corners of the world find so fascinating about the pig? (via



Thought provoking books 

Archaeologists deal with ‘stuff’ of all kinds, but should they go about it?


Beatriz Marin-Aguilera (Archaeology of colonialism & Household archaeology): Waiting for the barbarians by John Maxwell Coetzee (1980, Harvill Secker)

‘a wonderfully written novel, with a mixture of otherness discourses from an anthropological/historial perspective and material culture (how archaeology constructs its subjects/objects).’




In small things forgotten by James Deetz (1996, Anchor; Revised edition)

‘on the archaeology of the mundane and everyday in the early Americas, but easily readable.’





And last but not least a tribute to Marie Skłodowska Curie, a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity, first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the first person  to win twice.  Currently we are more then 10 Marie Skłodowska Curie Postdoc Fellows at the McDonald Institute, so we warmly embraced Vanessa Forte’s recommendation: Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie by Barbara Goldsmith (W. W. Norton; 2005)

obsessivegenius-210HINDSIGHT is the bane of biography. Feminism is one of the most distorting of lenses. To see Marie Curie forced to sit among the audience in Stockholm while her husband, Pierre, gave the lecture following their joint receipt of the Nobel Prize in 1903 is infuriating. What a way to treat a woman! One of the strengths of ”Obsessive Genius,” Barbara Goldsmith’s excellent short biography of Marie Curie, is its suppression of anger. Goldsmith, whose books include ”Little Gloria . . . Happy at Last” and ”Johnson v. Johnson,” tells the remarkable story of the first woman to win a Nobel Prize without anachronistic editorializing. The facts of a working woman’s life in the late 19th century speak for themselves. After the birth of her first child in 1897, Curie would come home from the laboratory to breast-feed. When that took too much time, she hired a wet nurse, then passed much of the child-care duty to her widowed father, who joined her household. What mattered was to get back to the lab. (via

_ _ _

Christmas is a time for stories, and now you can enjoy some featuring the ultimate heroes- archaeologists-, ‘cave men’ or even grumpy cows. With so many to choose from, we hope that you will enjoy these titles as much as we do, and wish you all the best for the festive season!



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