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  • Writer's pictureLilly

Book Review - Caithness Archaeology: Aspects of Prehistory

In honor of Scottish Archaeology Month, I wanted to share a book some of you might find interesting, (and my first official review for Scottish Wanderlust Book Club.)

Caithness Archaeology: Aspects of Prehistory by A. Heald and J. Barber. Whittles Publishing generously gifted me the book in exchange for an honest review, which I have written below. Special thank you to Kerry at Whittles for sending me the book.

My thoughts on Caithness Archaeology:

I would rate this book 3/5 stars. There were some great aspects of the book and I consider it a good addition to a Scottish archaeological library. I love that it brings attention to Caithness which is so under represented and overlooked, yet brimming with archaeology. And it was touching that the authors paid homage to the individual people who have paved the way.

My reason for 3 stars is based on the book’s claim to be “eminently readable” and other quotes on the back cover. I was really looking forward to an archaeology book I could recommend to my readers that was easy to read, and accessible to all levels of interest. But I found it very academic, and at times it was hard to make my way through the language used. It didn’t feel like the authors were trying to speak to the average person.

An example of what I mean: “Pictish culture is a fine example of reification. This is the physiological process of logical infelicity that leads us to equate the symbol for something with the thing itself."

I believe the average reader would find that confusing and quite possibly discouraging. Wording like this interrupts the flow of the book. It makes it hard to immerse oneself in the subject matter when the reader has to consult a dictionary when simpler terms would have sufficed - and created a broader level of accessibility to the book.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with an academic book at all! But it was not quite what I was expecting. The authors clearly have passion for the subject and great respect for the people who paved the way in the archaeological landscape of Caithness. I would love to have seen a less academic approach to match their relatable, down-to-earth passion and respect. We need all the people we can to fall in love with archaeology, heritage and history to ensure it is protected for future generations. I think the way to do this is to build a stronger bridge across that seemingly daunting academic gap.

Another minor issue for me was the print size. It was very small print and if I struggled with it, I know others who would as well.

I am glad to have this book however, (how nicely it photographed with a few of my favorites!) and there were plenty of thought provoking ideas, fascinating information and intriguing images. One quote that particularly resonated with me said, “When we study death we are equally studying life. Burials tell us as much about the attitudes, values and choice of the living as they do about the deceased.” If you let that sit with you the next time you visit an archaeological site, you just might start to feel a connection to the living who walked before you, before they became the dead who lie beneath you.

Thank you again to Whittles Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book. And thank you to the authors for the time they put into writing it - I hope your work will continue to shed light on archaeology in Caithness, and I look forward to future publications. I will happily recommended it to people interested in Caithness/Scottish archaeology.

Thanks for reading!

Lilly x

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