It’s summertime, which means: summer reading. Specifically, summer reading that sends me to far off places, and lets me daydream of being out on a dig.
Below, five incredible books for anyone interested in archaeology. The first paints a vivid picture of why archaeologists do what we do, and the rest pushed me to reexamine my preconceived notions about specific periods of time in antiquity. All are fun to read, and open doors into our fascinating, shared human history.
Lives in Ruins: Archaeologists and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble by Marilyn Johnson
Marilyn Johnson is a delightful writer. She follows the story of archaeologists working in different parts of the world, and asks: Why do people do this? What guides people to travel to godforsaken places all over the world and spend all this time preparing to go into the field when the risk is so great and the payoff is often so low? The answer: all of us are driven by our passion. She does a beautiful job of explaining why we do the hard work of archaeology.
SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard
This lively book tells the story of what made the Roman Empire tick, using stories of everyday life. Mary Beard shares stories Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Hannibal and other boldfaced names, but also writes about those usually forgotten in the narrative of Rome—the slaves, the women, all the people who were conquered along the way. Beard writes with humor and wit. Be careful. You’ll be pulled in, and may wake up wearing a toga.
1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric H. Cline
In 1177 B.C., many different ancient cultures thrived in the cradle of civilization. It was the Bronze Age, and all was well—art and architecture were at a peak, knowledge was highly valued, and economies boomed. But then, a group called the “Sea Peoples” invaded Egypt, and everything turned around. The Egyptians fought them off, but their society was weakened. With that vacuum of power and a major earthquake, civilizations started to fall—and quickly. Cline weaves a masterful tale of a time period of major climate change and collapse that has many lessons for us today.
Think Like an Egyptian: 100 Hieroglyphs by Barry Kemp
Written by the greatest living Egyptologist, this wonderful, fun, and short book will take you inside the heads of the ancient Egyptians. As in: it’ll show you how they actually thought. You’ll see the hieroglyphs for concepts like “sun,” “to love,” and “body,” and learn the history of their meanings and how they evolved over time. Plus their pronunciations, in case you’d like to pepper them into conversations. Because why not?
Scanning the Pharaohs: CT Imaging of the New Kingdom Royal Mummies by Zahi Hawass and Sahar Saleem
Mummies. Kings. Technology. What’s not to love? Written by one of the most flamboyant characters in modern Egyptology, you will be taken inside the bodies of ancient kings and queens from the Eighteenth to Twentieth Dynasties, which are now housed at the Cairo Museum. The best part? The detailed projections of the mummy’s facial features.
Happy reading. And please share your favorite archaeology reads in the comments.
Archaeologist Sarah Parcak is the winner of the 2016 TED Prize. She’s using the $1 million prize to build Global Xplorer, a citizen science platform to allow people all over the world to join the search for ancient sites. The platform will launch late in 2016 and, as she builds it, she’s bringing Explorers Journal readers along for the journey. Sign up for updates on this project.