August Reading for Archaeologists-Adventurous Fiction for People with Heads Full of Facts

Posted by Edward V. Curtin on July 25, 2011 in Archaeology, Book Reviews |

It’s July.  You’re on an archaeological survey in the uplands west of the Hudson River, south of the Mohawk.  It’s hot and humid.  You peer through the haze.  You have your doubts that you will find anything because the soil is poorly drained clay, and you don’t completely buy the argument that something important might be here.  But, looking down, you just can’t concentrate on the methodological fine points because you’re focused on the tick you just found, and you’re wondering if there’s another one.

Need a vacation?

Your mind could use a break, even if just for the weekend.  Or you may be planning an August trip to the beach or mountains, even though it’s your “busy season.”  But on your last vacation, you bought a contemporary mystery that turned out to be boring, and you predicted the end halfway through.  If you are taking a little time off, here are some suggestions for adventure reading that will help transport you away, Plague Talesbut still feed your appetite for archaeology and history.  In no particular order:

The Plague Tales by Ann Benson.  Set partly in the 21st century and partly in the 14th, this is a thriller about a forensic archaeologist in London fighting to prevent mass destruction after a deadly microbe is dug up.  A parallel story tells the tale of a Spanish physician who is sent on a mission to England at the outbreak of the Black Plague.  Archaeology, history, intrigue, and microbes.  What more could you ask for?

The InterpreterThe Interpreter by Robert Moss.  This historical novel takes place in the colony of New York during the early 18th century.  Focused on the young Conrad Weiser, it is a fantasy adventure tale mixed with real history.  Rooted in the actual stories of the coming of the Palatine Germans to the Hudson and Schoharie valleys, and the development of Weiser’s role as an interpreter and culture broker, it branches out into fictional accounts involving many of the major European and American Indian figures of the era.  Most often, you will easily be able to tell the difference between fact and fantasy, like when Captain Kidd improbably enters the story.

The BetrayalThe Betrayal by Kathleen O’Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear.  For those familiar with the Gears’ North America’s Forgotten Past Series, this is a departure but a very good read.  For those who enjoyed alternative theories of the New Testament, such as The Da Vinci Code and Holy Blood, Holy Grail, this is an exciting addition to your library.  This novel also is set in two periods, including the early 1st century time of Jesus, and the early 4th century reign of Constantine.  This version of the Jesus story is adequately mysterious and alternative.  The 4th century story is an exhilarating chase through Egypt and the Holy Land as Constantine’s brutal agents seek to squelch unapproved gospels and wipe out the scholars who have studied them.

ThunderheadThunderhead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.  All right, I said no particular order, but the fact is, I saved my favorite for last.  Thunderhead is the story of Nora Kelly, a professional archaeologist and Anasazi specialist, and William Smithback, a journalist assigned to cover her expedition into some very bad lands in search of a legendary ancient city–  and the gold that may be hidden there.  Although this sounds at first like a treasure hunting expedition, it isn’t.  In the tradition of excellent adventure stories based in science, you can imagine being there as a professional, and you will be impressed at the authors’ grasp of archaeological research, considering that they are not archaeologists themselves.  They have, however, done a lot of background investigation.  Nora– skating on thin ice a bit at work– proceeds with clues from her long-lost father, a pot-hunter who seems to have found the mysterious site before disappearing.  To get there and back, Nora needs to work through challenges such as the quirky and sometimes mutinous academics on her team, Smithback’s personality, Utah’s deadliest terrain, deadly microbes (in this book too), and the storm the book is named after.  And oh yeah, the skinwalkers…

Have you read any of these books?  What did you think?  What other books would you add to the list?

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