Winter 2016-2017 Reading List

Here’s another installment of the seasonal book guide. These are intended to round out essential non-fiction reads and some useful and entertaining fiction novels that form a good baseline for archaeologists. As always, give your local independent book store your business, but if you have to order from Amazon, order through the Amazon Smile program to support the nonprofit of your choice. I suggest supporting American Foreign Academic Research or the Society for American Archaeology.


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Skull Wars: Kennewick Man, Archaeology, and the Battle for Native American Identity
by David H. Thomas and Vine Deloria, Jr.

The Ancient One (Kennewick Man) was reburied by hundreds of tribal elders on the morning of December 24, 2016, concluding an epic battle between Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest, archaeologists, and the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). This book explores how one ancient skeleton both dramatically shaped our understanding of the peopling of North America, as well as exposed serious issues with the way tribal relations are conducted. In the end, the question, “who owns Native culture?”, remains unresolved. This is a timely read that echoes some of the conflicts that also unfolded this year over the Dakota Access Pipeline. This book is an absolute must-read for North American archaeologists at any level.

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Maori: A Novel
by Alan Dean Foster

This gripping historical fiction weaves a story around the intersection of conflicts over colonialism, class, and cultural tradition in the lead up to New Zealand’s Maori Wars of the nineteenth century. Mix in love, betrayal, and revenge and you’ve got an easy, entertaining read that’ll have you thinking about the steamy islands in the South Pacific while you’re burning through the pages on a cold winter day.

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People of the River (North America’s Forgotten Past, Book 4)
by W. Michael and Kathleen O’Neal Gear

I normally shy away from serial fiction, but the husband-and-wife writing duo’s Twitter presence, and later a review of this book on Kim Biddulph’s Prehi/stories podcast, motivated me to give this book a chance. It’s an accessible and engaging story (I’m normally a really slow reader, so I like quick reads) about the Mississippian mound building culture in the American Bottom after the Late Archaic period. It’s a well researched and thoughtfully detailed story that’s informed by extensive archaeological investigations at Cahokia and surrounding sites. Many mysteries about the decline of this culture persist in popular culture, so this is a welcome addition that manages to get it right. I’m excited to dip into the other books in the North America’s Forgotten Past series.

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The Ghost Map
by Steven Johnson

This historical account is written in fast, engaging prose that moves along like a murder mystery – except the murderer is an invisible killer that’s wiping out the people of London seemingly without preference or reason. As the story unfolds, the reader learns how a doctor used mapping to understand population health, and set the beginnings of medical anthropology. Bonus points for listening to it on Audible, since you get to hear the narrator say things like, “great heaping piles of turds”, in a charming British accent.

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Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships Between Humans and Things
by Ian Hodder

What is a thing? What is the difference between a thing and an object? This heady exploration of material culture and material agency is an excellent (if at times more than just a little navel-gazing) read on archaeological theory from one of the heaviest hitters of our lifetime. This book is full of real-world examples that demonstrate how humans depend on things, and things depend on humans. Read it aloud in your best Dr. Steve Brule voice and you won’t have a dull moment.

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