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Top 5 books about archaeology

The writer and archaeologist digs up the best of books that dive down into the earth

Mike Pitts

The Fens: Discovering England’s Ancient Depths by Francis Pryor

An autobiographical account by a leading fieldworker in the decades when archaeologists and developers were learning to work together. Pryor’s fondness for the landscape underlies accounts of extraordinary discoveries.

Time Song: Searching for Doggerland by Julia Blackburn

Another personal journey, beautifully told by a novelist and memoir writer. The North Sea hides Doggerland, an ancient landscape of hunter-gatherers flooded by rising waters, and connects Blackburn with memories of her late Dutch husband.

The Emergence of the English by Susan Oosthuizen

Oosthuizen challenges the assumption that English origins lie exclusively in Anglo-Saxon settlement. Focusing on landscape, especially what she identifies as common land, she argues from history and archaeology for continuity from prehistoric times. Intense and stimulating.

Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie

As in her poetry, Jamie here combines perceptive observations of modern life and antiquity, reflecting on museums and excavations – in Alaska, in Orkney, in her own archive from living in Tibet – and the personal passage of time in crisp, lyrical prose.

Urne-Buriall by Sir Thomas Browne 

Inspired by discoveries of pots holding cremated human remains – he thought they were Roman, most were probably Bronze Age or Anglo-Saxon – Browne wrote this mesmerising essay in 1658, on responses to death in different cultures, the difficulty of knowing ancient thoughts and the levelling force of time.

Mike Pitts’ Digging up Britain is out now (Thames & Hudson, £24.95)

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