Book Review: Archaeology Theories Methods and Practice by Colin Renfrew and Paul G. Bahn

Archaeology Theories, Methods and Practice (5th edition) by Colin Renfrew and Paul G. Bahn is the basic and indispensable text book for undergraduate archaeology students. In this new 5th Edition, many new theoretical advances, such as agency and materiality theories, have been added, while older approaches have been re-looked. Field procedures have been updated. Renfrew and Bahn had emphasized global climate change and its effect on human behavior patterns. This latest edition also includes new information on subjects as diverse as Otzi the Iceman and llama domestication. New topics are introduced as modern archaeology advances through the use of advanced technology such as satellite survey techniques, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the use of Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). The 5th edition also has a companion web site and study guide for the text.

The text book covers the required practical skills of the field archaeologist. It also has a large section on the history of archaeology and includes a number of somewhat detailed case studies. However, as it covers such a wide range of topics in such a vast and varied field as archaeology, it can be nothing more than a rather brief and very general reference book. The serious student of archaeology will need to seek out other, more in-depth, reference books as they “dig into” the field more deeply and especially as they begin to specialize further.

However, unlike a number of other introductory text or reference books, Archaeology Theories, Methods and Practice is very readable for the new student to the field. This is likely the reason that it is usually recommended for the undergraduate archaeology student. The text is nicely arranged; it is well indexed, which makes it easy to find specific references. Which is not to say that the book is jargon-free, because it is most certainly has plenty in it. In fact, the prose is liberal in its use of the archaeologists’ lingo, but at least Renfrew and Bahn have tried to explain the unfamiliar terms and concepts. Unlike other writers of text books, the two authors have not just assumed that the reader is already aware of the language.

To sum up, Archaeology Theories, Methods and Practice (5th edition) is an immense and insightful text book about the field of archaeology. While there is some jargon, the jargon is explained. And for the serious student of archaeology the text book is not only a must-read, but also a must-keep. The book will certainly be used as a continuing and very useful reference to the field.

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