Kinkella’s Textbook Picks and Overall Textbook Philosophy in Teaching

I have gotten dozens of emails lately asking which books I use for class, so I thought I would put all of them down in one spot, and include a brief note on why I picked them over all the other contenders. I follow the same general pattern for each of the undergraduate classes that I teach – I assign one “textbook,” and one “free reading” book. I also put a few articles up online, to add a bit of color. My philosophy on textbooks is this: First, the textbook should be brief and to-the-point. I disdain large textbooks because they tend to be full of bloat in the form of too many keywords, too many examples, and too many images. The human brain can only take so much during one semester, and I find that it is most important to stick with focused, straightforward key terms and a few excellent examples to prove the point. Second (and above all), textbooks should be well written and enjoyable to read (this is possible!). Textbooks should function as a piece of the class pie (in tandem with the professor and the students), not attempt to be the whole pie.

I also include a “free reading” book in each class that is meant to be exciting and entertaining, a book based on the class themes but good enough to stand on its own, for readers to sit down with and really enjoy. If you find my “free reading” choices boring, then archaeology is not for you.

I have listed the classes I teach by number according to the Moorpark College catalog, and the books are listed as textbook first, free reading book second (both are required, and ISBN numbers are listed). I have also included “honorable mentions” with certain classes – these are books that are not required, but are still interesting or useful to read on your own time:


Larsen, Clark Spencer
2013 Essentials of Physical Anthropology (2nd edition). W.W. Norton and Company, New York.
Breaks my “big textbooks are bad” rule, but I broke it mainly because it was the same price as the smaller books and the images are very good.

Dawkins, Richard
2009 The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. Free Press, New York.
A bio anthro colleague recommended this to me, and she was right. Well written – if you don’t believe in or understand evolution, read this book and you will. Dawkins has a great ability to intersperse hard scientific facts into a genuinely interesting discussion on evolution.

Honorable Mentions:
Watson, James
1968 The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA.
Reprinted many times.
Personal indeed – not a boring list of amino acids like some may think, but a very human (and controversial!) account of how Watson felt as he and Crick made their discovery, written by the man himself. Short too!

Park, Michael Alan.
2010 Biological Anthropology (6th edition), McGraw-Hill, New York.
A good standby that I have used several times. Well written (superior to Larsen in tone and voice), but priced the same as Larsen (or slightly higher) with many fewer images.


Kottak, Conrad P.
2012 Mirror for Humanity (8th edition). McGraw Hill, New York.
Like coming back to mother. I have left Mirror several times to try other textbooks, but always return. Professionally yet understandably written, one of the few anthro texts that goes into globalization and colonialism in the detail that it needs and deserves.

Nazario, Sonia
2007 Enrique’s Journey. Random House, New York.
After years of trying, I finally found a cultural anthro “free reading” book that grabs the students. “Harrowing” could describe this tale. Exciting, depressing, informative – I dare you to put it down.


Fagan, Brian
2012 Archaeology: A Brief Introduction (11th Edition). Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.
Another “back to mother” textbook. I have left it several times, but always go back (until I write my own). Too many examples, but the writing is strong and the organization is intuitive (Fagan always delivers). Even though I have taught archaeology for years, a good free reading book still eludes me.


Sutton, Mark Q.
2011 A Prehistory of North America. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.
Small, succinct, relatively inexpensive, and well written. Very few images, but the writing style makes up for it.

Thomas, David Hurst
2000 Skull Wars. Basic Books, New York.
Another favorite. Written by an archaeologist, it tells the Native American story and serves as the perfect tool to expose students to the atrocities of the past, and get students to think about the Native American experience today.


Mertz, Barbara.
2007 Temples, Tombs, and Hieroglyphs (2nd ed.). William Morrow, New York.
A bold choice. I could see dedicated Egyptologists guffawing at the use of this book, but I rank it as my favorite “textbook” of all time. It does not have key terms in bold. There are no chapter summaries, workbook questions, and very few color photos. But therein lies its brilliance. It tells the story of Egypt as a story. Evocatively written page-turner (how often can you say that about a textbook?) it is a perfect component to a lecture-based class. I give the key terms in lecture, and Mertz gives them life.

Fagan, Brian
2004 The Rape of the Nile. Westview Press.
Great tale of early Egyptology. Fagan was a professor of mine at UCSB (a fantastic storyteller), and some of his best writing lies in these pages. There is no way not to love Giovanni Belzoni, one of the most prolific looters of all time.


Coe, Michael.
2011 The Maya (8th ed.). Thames and Hudson, New York.
Relatively short and to-the-point, with great images for the price. Although the Maya are my specialty, I still haven’t found a suitable free reading book, so I supplement with additional readings.


I only require one book for the three field classes I teach in archaeology, because we are spending all day Saturday in the field or lab. The book is used as a guide or manual rather than a lecture-based textbook.

1. Field Methods/Excavation (ANTH M05)
Neumann, Thomas W. and Robert M. Stanford
2010 Cultural Resources Archaeology: An Introduction (2nd edition). Altamira Press, Walnut Creek, CA.
I haven’t found an excavation text that is a true favorite yet, but I use this one because it is small, and follows a general CRM pattern to excavating sites that is useful for my class.

2. Survey and Mapping (ANTH M10)
White, Gregory and Thomas King
2007 The Archaeological Survey Manual. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, California.
Great manual! Succinct, good images, well organized and well written. Perfect for an introduction to recording archaeological sites. One of my all-time favorite textbooks.

3. Laboratory Methods (ANTH M12)
Sutton, Mark Q. and Brooke S. Arkush
2009 Archaeological Laboratory Methods: An Introduction (Fifth Edition). Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., Dubuque, Iowa.
Ye olde archaeology laboratory standby. Nice writing style, straightforward, and with a few quotes the students love – how often is a lab manual quotable?

Honorable Mentions:
Hester, Thomas R., Harry J. Shafer, and Kenneth L. Feder
2009 Field Methods in Archaeology (7th edition). Left Coast Press,
The old standby. It’s been through several editions and lifetimes, and is a good, solid reference book to own during the times when you are unsure of just about anything while running an archaeological project.

White, Tim D., Michael T. Black, and Pieter A. Folkens
2011 Human Osteology (3rd edition). Academic Press
“The Bone Book.” Great for life-size images, so when you are unsure about a bone, just hold it up to the book.

Bass, William M.
2005 Human Osteology: A Laboratory and Field Manual (5th edition). Missouri Archaeological Society
“The Bass Book.” Images are not nearly as good as White, but the descriptions and drawings fill in where White is sometimes lacking. Used together with White, you become an osteological force to be reckoned with.


About kinkellasarchaeology

I am a full-time professor of archaeology at Moorpark College in Southern California, with specialties in the ancient Maya, local Chumash cultures, and underwater archaeology. I began this blog in order to answer common questions my students have about the world of archaeology, while also having some fun relating stories from my current and past experiences as an archaeologist in the Mayan jungle.
This entry was posted in Archaeology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s