Hostname: page-component-797576ffbb-xmkxb Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-12-09T23:32:30.381Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Archaeology and fiction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 January 2015

Margaret Elphinstone
Drumcreel, Kirk Road, New Galloway, Castle Douglas DG7 3RS, UK (Email:
Caroline Wickham-Jones
Department of Archaeology, University of Aberdeen, St Mary's Building, Elphinstone Road, Aberdeen AB24 3UF, UK (Email:


In the summer of 2006 author Margaret Elphinstone, embarking on a novel set in the prehistoric period (Elphinstone 2009), sought out archaeologist Caroline Wickham-Jones to discover more about Mesolithic Scotland. The resulting process proved to be more than a simple question and answer session: over three years, the two of us, novelist and archaeologist, each renegotiated the boundaries of our perceptual frameworks. This paper is intended to examine the learning process that most students of archaeology unconsciously experience, and it goes on to champion a respected role for fiction. As the status of history is reduced in the school syllabus, the number of people learning about their past from fiction will increase. Very few people learn much about the Mesolithic through formal education; indeed we are both astonished at how many well-educated people have no idea when or what the Mesolithic was. As representatives of our professions, we here demonstrate the special and timely benefits of what we term the informed novel.

Research article
Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd. 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Albrethsen, S. E. & Petersen, E. Brinch. 1977. Excavation of a Mesolithic cemetery at Vedbaek, Denmark. Acta Archaeologica 47: 128.Google Scholar
Clark, J.G.D. 1954. Excavations at Star Carr: an early Mesolithic site at Seamer near Scarborough, Yorkshire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Elphinstone, M. 2004. Voyageurs. Edinburgh: Canongate.Google Scholar
Elphinstone, M. 2009. The Gathering Night. Edinburgh: Canongate.Google Scholar
Hummler, M. 2009. New Book Chronicle. Antiquity 83: 562–63.Google Scholar
Mellars, P. A. 1987. Excavations on Oronsay: prehistoric human ecology on a small island. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
Mithen, S. (ed.) 2001. Hunter-gatherer landscape archaeology, the Southern Hebrides Mesolithic Project 1988-1995. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research Google Scholar
Richards, C. (ed.) 2005. Dwelling among the monuments. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.Google Scholar
Wickham-Jones, C.R. & Downes, J.. 2007. Long Howe, Orkney: excavation. Discovery and Excavation in Scotland 8: 147.Google Scholar