Desert Island Archaeologies

You’ve been castaway on an uncharted desert isle… but friendly dolphins deposit a steamer trunk full of books on the shore to keep you occupied, the exact ten you’d pick. Thus the premise of Lorna Richardson’s new public archaeology project: Desert Island Archaeologies. Turns out, I was the first castaway. You can read my ten picks alongside those of other castaways, or just keep reading here.

[… the sun beats down…]

Damn steamer trunks. Can’t lift it. All these archaeology books! What those dolphins must be eating, I ask you!

Let’s see. Ah. Here we go. Goodness: the exact ten books I would want to be reading. First up: Ray Laurence, Roman Pompeii: Space and Society, 1994. This was the book that convinced me to go to grad school – we had a whole seminar built on it in my final year, back in ’96. It was unlike anything else I was reading as an undergraduate, and showed me that there were ways of looking at something as well-trod as Pompeii that were completely askew of what I’d come to expect. The geek in me loved the space-syntax, the way of reading street life. Hell, it was fun!

Next,Stephen Shennan, Genes, Memes and Human History – Darwinian Archaeology and Cultural Evolution (2002). By the time I came across this, I was getting very much into complex systems and simulation, and this was something that helped me make sense of what I was doing. And it’s a fun read. Oh look, here’s Amanda Claridge’s Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide‘ (1998). I hear Amanda’s dry wit every time I open this thing. This was my constant companion on my first trip to Rome. I can’t imagine going there without it.

If I ever get off this island.

What else, what else… It’s interesting how nostalgic I am about these items. Each one seems tied to a particular chapter of my life. Matthew Johnson’s ‘Archaeological Theory‘ (1999) still makes me laugh and provides guidance through the thorny thickets of theory. Sybille Haynes’ ‘Etruscan Civilization‘ is a treat for sore eyes, filled with the beauty and magic of that people. I expect it can also be used for self-defence, in case of wild animal attack on this island. I used it for the first class I ever taught, at the school of continuing education at Reading.

Harry Evans, ‘Water Distribution in Ancient Rome‘ (1997) reminds me of adventures through the Roman countryside on a dangerously lunatic vespa, trying to identify the standing ruins, with A. Trevor Hodge’s ‘Roman Aqueducts and Water Supply (1992) in the other hand. Hodge’s book was as a bible for me writing my MA; I had the opportunity to meet Hodge at Carleton University shortly after I started working there. Sadly, a trivial over-long meeting prevented that from happening. Hodge died later that week. I will regret that always.

Back to Ray Laurence. The man has had a profound impact on me as a scholar. His ‘Roads of Roman Italy: Mobility and Cultural Change‘ (1999) and all that space-economy stuff: fantastic! Totally connected with the ORBIS simulation of the Roman world by Meeks and Scheidel, by the way, in terms of how it changes our perspective on the Roman world (ORBIS isn’t a book, but maybe there’s a tablet in this steamer trunk somewhere?) In the intro to Roads of Roman Italy, Laurence mentions my name, which was the first time I’d seen my name in print, in an academic context. A real thrill! No less of a thrill than how I came to be mentioned in the first place: driving the British School at Rome’s death-trap ducato for Ray as we explored the remains of the Roman roads in the outskirts of town. If there is no tablet in this steamer trunk (with wifi provided by an unseen Google blimp, obviously), I think the ‘Baths of Caracalla‘ by Janet DeLaine (1997) might be buried down here somewhere… ah, here it is. When I first pitched my MA idea to Janet, she kept finishing my sentences. I wanted to do a quanity survey of the Roman aqueducts. Turned out, she was waaaaay ahead of me. She let me use the manuscript to this as I puttered away on the Aqua Claudia and the Anio Novus. It’s actually quite a fun read, especially when you start thinking about nuts-and-bolts type questions like, how the hell did they build this damned thing anyway?

Final book? It’s not archaeological, but it’s a good read. Complexity: A Guided Tour‘ by Melanie Mitchell, 2011. I’m quite into simulation and games, and the emergent behaviours of both ai and humans when they conspire together to create (ancient) history (as distinct from the past). That’s a whole lot of interdisciplinariness, so this volume by Mitchell always provides clarity and illumination.

So… that’s what I’ve found in this steamer trunk. The bibliographic biography of a digital archaeologist. Neat!

 

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