Sunday, 22 February 2015

Archaeological congestion

Ever hating when realizing that the only date something can happen is also the date something else is happening. The coming week I will make a fleeting visit to Rome for a meeting that for timetabling reasons can only be on the exactly same day as the really interesting The Fabric of Life: Approaches to Textile Resources, Economy and Production in Ancient Italy workshop in the British School at Rome and Villa Giulia next Thursday. After getting the only date that suited all sorted, I half-casually checked if something elde was happening in Rome. I knew this workshop was taking place in Rome at some point but I did not expect to be there. But now I was going to. So near but so having to do my own work. The lovely part is that I will be able to hear the opening talks by the organisers, but the drawback is that I am creating unfortunate dilemmas for a couple of colleagues. Especially, since I am making one of them giving a presentation - which I really, really want to hear myself. We will also have to hurry with our private meeting later in the afternoon so we can attend a research seminar in the Institute in Swedish afterwards.

I am pretty sure the people sitting around me in the different air planes will be slightly cross, since I am either likely to be tapping onto my laptop working on one of the countless things I should be doing or I will be coughing my lungs off having contracting something that has been around either in Sweden or in England that has seriously affected my 'performance' during the latter part of the half-term. The ironic detail in the current situation is that one of the task I should try to find a slot to do is a lecture on the Punic wars. The fact that the AKS in Sweden combines both classical archaeology and ancient history bring my past as a historian coming back to haunt me.

Anyway, potentially reporting about Rome next week unless other things take my time...

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Have an archaeological Valentine!


Pagodas in Britain (photo: wikimedia)

I had totally forgotten that my trip to home for the February half-term actually coincides with both Valentine’s day and Lupercalia. The latter I only noticed properly after wondering Ida’s tweets in Twitter and seeingng in the New Walk museum Leicester museums advertising a children’s half-term event in the Jewry Wall Museum today. I hang my head in shame, as a kind of Romanist, but this comes to a lady who hardly can remember her son’s birthday when asked in the official papers. At least once I had to phone home to check the correct date from my husband. And I definitely was present there in the delivery room! Unlike in Regal Rome in a cave...

When visiting Twitter, I noticed that more and more archaeological organisations are recognising Valentine’s day with all kinds of themed tweets. There was yesterday even a hashtag called #ArchaeologyValentines that was used for example by ADS. I must say the card ‘I dig you, in a controlled and scientific manner’ is just pure genious. I have to remember to use it in the coming years.


Cofre Castle (photo: wikimedia)

In addition, romantic settings could be found in The Guardian’s ‘10 best ruins in Britain’ that included the atmospheric Corfe Castle, the recent, modern ruin St. Peter’s seminary near Glasgow and the trusted Avebury. Greek colleagues had dusted finds from the previous years and circulated a news item about a couple of skeletons found in a grave hugging each other. These skeletons had now been DNA studied and it turned out that they were appropriately a man and a woman. The pair was buried during the Neolithic, so they had been hugging for 6000 years – found on the Valentine’s Day in Diros cave on Peloponnesos in 2013.


The hugging Greek couple (photo: EPA)

This news reminded me about the related skeleton news in the newspapers lately. This time it was a proper Grim Reaper news from Siberia: a mother who had died in childbirth with twins. 7,700 years may separate us, but this kind of family tragedy can touch anybody’s feelings. I personally feel empathy – especially since it reminds me of a time I myself was digging a skeleton, which turned out to be a woman with a not-full-term fetus under her had along her side. These are human stories - not just cases of the oldest cases of the twins or death at birth, but real past small tragedies.

The ‘death’ has been one of the themes of this week, since I finally had time to do the corrections to the article on attitudes to death that now actually has hope to come out in 2016. Or so Howard Williams, one of the editors of the volume Archaeologists and the Death is saying optimistically. The process of writing this article has been educational. First of all, it has shown me slowly how to do arguments as the British do and how sometimes when I do something in 2003, I will be able to have the references I need in 2007 or 2014 in order to make an argument properly without just having my own word for it. I dearly wish I was slightly ahead of my time instead of just having a poor idea and execution (the former not my own but inspired by other people’s contemporary research).

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Meeting Prince Eugen

Why, oh why, I manage to have my mobile phone battery flat almost every time I visit something marvellous at a whim?! This time around I noticed from Metro that the Prince Eugen’s Waldemarsudde had a free entry just today to celebrate the 150 years from Prince’s birth. [Luckily the museum provides lovely images on their web site] This bachelor prince was actually a painter as well – and not at any time in the history of art! He managed to be in Paris in the late 19th century when everything new was happening in the art world. His friends in Sweden included many of the artists of the time, who had studied in Paris, sometimes paid by the Prince, and mostly representing the new wave of French painting following cubism and fauvism.


A genuine Eugen

He was not a bad painter, not one of those amateurs who are your bosses or friends of your bosses and you cannot really say anything about the quality of their art work, but a real thing, worthy of Järnefelt or any Finnish national romantic painter with his landscapes. Not that I am a huge specialist, but in traditional painting you can actually say if the landscape pleases the eye or not. He also designed small furniture and silver and glass, so he was a true artisan of his time.

The new exhibition, Prince Eugen 150 years – Facets of a life to give its English name, tells about him and his friends, some of the most important ones female, and reconstructs some of the rooms of the socializing floor to their previous looks at different points of time. You get interiorscapes that intriguely have only fake reproduced photos and knickknacks instead of real family photos – but maybe people really try to nick them. One thing about the Eugen was apparently his love of flowers and you could smell the large bouquets when passing by different rooms.


Isaac Grünewald's work: he was one of the 'baddies'

Prince was an art collector and ultimately built an art gallery to be part of his estate opposite what is now the Viking Line terminal on the other side of the water on the shores of Södermalm. He donated everything – his villa, art gallery, his paintings and collections – to the state so we can enjoy the beautiful gardens and the museum at the spot. This time it was the last week of a very interesting and inspiring Inspiration Matisse exhibition that told the story of the artists who attended Matisse’s art school in Paris at the turn of the century. Not that the story was always pretty: the ‘Young artists’ only allowed men and some of the comments printed on the information boards from the male artists were so misogynist that the value of their art diminished in my eyes immediately. They suggested women only made art for kitchen and their female colleagues in the Swedish and French art schools and academies were good for lovely company and coffee. Then some of the pieces when women could do more than just portraits were truly original. There was one more progressive male teacher in Gothenburg, but the general picture of the 'Young' was not uplifting. Luckily, the result was the foundation of the Swedish society for female artist and their long struggle for their own female only exhibition in the 1920s. Similarly, nowadays we have our own networks!


One of my favorites: a cubist Carlsson Percy

Many of the art works were extremely lovely, but I also learnt that the roots of the paintings of the landscapes and buildings from the 1950s with blue sketch lines I so hate do have their origins in Matisse’s work. The followers of geniuses...

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Andrew and Ingrid at Stockholm


Andrew giving an open lecture

Almost as soon as I was back from Rome and managed to submit a grant application the proposal of which I was manically editing at the Fiumicino airport and cutting down on my laptop in the air plane to the irritation of the lady sitting next to me, it was time to prepare for the big event with Andrew Wallace-Hadrill and Ingrid Edlund-Berry in the Section of Classical Archaeology and Ancient History. Not that I had anything to do with the details, since they had been planned and organised by Professor Arja Karivieri, but I was one of the people who helped with the book sales, moved the tables and chairs away from the lecture room to make way to the reception and cleared afterwards.


Ingrid starting the event

The long waited volume of the 2009 conference to celebrate the Centenary of Classical studies in Sweden and the memory of the first Viktor Rydberg professor Gösta Säflund at Stockholm got a worthy release at Stockholm on Friday at 3pm. The volume, The Attitudes towards the Past in Antiquity, was presented by Professor emerita Ingrid Edlund-Berry from Austin, Texas, who effortlessly first went down the memory lane describing the old premises on Drottninggatan in central Stockholm and her first lectures in Classical studies in Swedish. She continued by telling about the characteristics of the professor and described his scholarly rigorousness to the audience before switching to English to discuss the different themes in the volume.


Notes from the past

It turned out that Ingrid – and apparently some of the other contributors – had first doubted the wideness of the topic, but little they knew how in vogue they were going to be. The volume covered a long chronological range from early Greece to the Late Antiquity, but apparently was unexpectedly thin on the Etruscans, the traditional mainstay of the Swedish classical archaeologists. Nevertheless, the perceptions of the Etruscans by the others and historic themes on the cinerary urns from Volterra were among the topics. Otherwise, Ingrid regrouped the papers after presenting the sectioning created by the sessions and the editors, Brita Alroth and Charlotte Scheffer. She discussed the textual presentations, memory and visual representations of the past, and suggested that all participants expanded their knowledge of the past and new research during the conference.


Andrew discusses citizen numbers

As a further celebration of the volume, Arja had invited Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, the former director of the British School at Rome and the current Director of Research at the Faculty of Classics at the University of Cambridge to give a talk on Immigrants in Imperial Rome in which he discussed the relationship between the Roman citizenship and identity. Andrew had already given an open lecture on Herculaneum and its conservation project, funded by the Packard Humanities Fund and backed by David W. Packard. Andrew told us enthusiastically about the conservation work and the latrine excavations at Herculaneum, but our end at the table in the restaurant after the book release agreed that the Immigration talk was just brilliant and the best we had heard from Andrew. We will see how all new details and research in a paper that hopefully will come out in the next number of Opuscula. It will feature some of my old and current favourites, namely population figures and inscriptions.

I doubt that Andrew’s more contemporary comments swiping the Conservative government in UK trying to make it difficult for non-European students and researchers to enter the country – and basically ruining the University system - will make it to the final article. Considering the past, Andrew pointed out to the growing unease among many scholars towards the traditional population estimates when it comes to the estimated numbers of women, children and slaves – not to mention foreigners – in Rome based on the census numbers of free male Roman citizens. Alessandro Launaro has already shown in his sublime book how archaeological surveys show independently from the historical data that the high population estimates and huge population growth during the Late Republican period in Italy are most likely to be true. Andrew reminded us that the fact-like statement that Rome had one million inhabitants could be totally wrong, since its source is Hopkins and Brunt (Italian Manpower 225 B.C. - A.D. 14) and the eyebrow-raisingly low estimates for the numbers of women, children and slaves in the households of male Roman citizens. As Andrew suggested, Rome would have had ground to halt without a considerably higher ratio between free and slaves.


Free born or not?

At the core of Andrew’s paper was his new analysis of the Album of Herculaneum and its roll of Roman male citizens. Only a minority was genuinely Roman citizens by birth and high proportion were children of liberated slaves. Many names did not reveal the status of the named, but when following different law suites and the destinies of different citizens-to-be he could show that many may have been Latins promoted to citizenships and their three-part names not of those of the Romans, but those of the Latins. He also reminded us that the citizenship status was defined on the basis of the status of the mother and existing official marriage between citizens, which was a source of frowning and towing about the statuses in courts when the women with non-citizen spouses were not required to register the citizen children. The sources shows that those with a crew of neighbours testifying that they had been born free, could keep or have their shady citizenships.


PhD students from Uppsala and Stockholm attend reception

The Romans were surprisingly ignorant to know who wandered to Rome and stayed there. Expulsions of foreigners were unusual and rare, and even if the identity as a liberated or a citizen was apparently important, at core not all slaves were chained, but were magistrates and other respectable individuals. There were a wide range of statuses and a sliding scale of identities. While citizenship was important for voting and free grain, the traditions changed and lived to fit the changing times. Maybe the tolerance the Romans showed towards the newcomers is something modern politicians should not forget to take into their stride.


Ingrid and friends deep in discussion

The last two days were interesting, fun and inspiring – not the least by the surprise turn of Antero Tammisto, the director of the Finnish Pompeii project. The two evenings were full of lovely discussions in English, Swedish and Finnish that revealed a surprise connection with Andrew and Jo in Leicester and Anstey and with Ingrid in Lidingö where I live in UK and Sweden respectively. When I am writing this, I have parted with the professors and let them to see the Pompeii exhibition in Stockholm in the fog and falling snow on a grey Saturday. I am gathering strength after busy three weeks in order to have a dinner with my Finnish friend and a key member of the Finnish Pompeii team who is in town to see figure skating. Another evening and another restaurant ahead with lively discussions on Italy, Pompeii and archaeology. My normally quiet life in Stockholm has momentarily been exciting and required a lot of sitting at nice tables with good food.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

From ChrisFest to Nepi


An evening view from Villa Lante

My work trips to Rome seem to be every time huge whirlwinds of activity and experiences. This time it is even more so, since I have managed to pack into a week serious pottery work, meetings with Swedish and Italian colleagues, library work, two half days in Chris Wickham's Fest-do and finally a trip to Nepi to see the new communal museum. Every single part of the week has been interesting and eye-opening - even the one involving moving builders ladders and being covered in dust while passing the honourable bishops and representatives of religious orders in the Finnish Institute after a busy morning in the 'Archaeological Lab'.

An impromptu meeting with a Swedish colleague separated me from the wine reception in the BSR during the ChrisFest, but one has to grasp an opportunity when it knocks. This meeting saved us from Skyping or taking trains at a later stage, so running away before the prosecco was for the common good - or this I tell myself gritting my teeth. However, the two visits to the conference underlined the difference historians and archaeologists have. While archaeologists rarely part from their visuals and PowerPoints, the pure historians stick to reading their prepared texts. Not necessarily reflecting the general feeling, since after all, I missed two whole days of langobards and even Medieval Iceland, my highlights were the topographic memory at Cosa and Alatri as presented by Lisa Fentress and the talk on early Medieval gardens in Rome by Caroline Goodson. Both by archaeologists with nice images and maps together with PowerPoint slides on ancient text excerpts and, crucially, new ideas and information about appropriation and food security. Elsewhere in the conference there were also interesting details to be learned about the shortages of olive oil in the early Medieval world.


Medieval art in Civita Castellana

The short stays in the ChrisFest gave food for thought for Volterra and the trip to Nepi gave food for thought for the history of the wider region. Museum Director Stefano Francocci had already earlier asked me to visit the communal museum of Nepi, since I was not in Italy when the big opening took place a few years ago. Now he kindly changed his working hours and came to guide me and my Finnish historian colleague who specialises in Roman religion. Thus, after seeing the museum the exhibition, which is of unusual quality for a local, communal museum with both Italian and English texts and reconstructions and multiple displays stretching from the Orientalising cemeteries to Lucrezia Borgia, I asked about the possibility to visit the local catacombs of Santa Sevinilla. Stefano did come to guide us personally, which just shows his generosity.


Stefano Francocci guides us in the catacombs

The catacombs are small but well presented and since my earlier visit at the turn of the Millennium the church had been renovated and the area of the whole inside floor had been excavated. This had allowed to expose the original entrance to the inferior corridor and some graves on the rock surface. The catacomb dates to the fourth century AD and has also some Medieval paintings, so it has not really been totally forgotten. The stories about early martyrdom and other features are examples of the topographic social memory Lisa was talking about. The similar catacombs in Sutri, Bolsena and along Via Amerina (not open or available currently for visit) show the strength of the late Roman settlement in the small towns of the Viterbo region. My colleague Marja-Leena Hänninen was really pleased - especially, since afterwards we visited the cosmatic cathedral in Civita Castellana and saw reused sacrofagus as an altar, Roman inscribed tomb stones, Medieval sculpture, the crypts and the beautiful cosmatic floor and portico outside. After a busy week, a work trip was not really a work trip, but a pleasure with a friend.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Archaeologist? A charted archaeologist?

In the wind-whirl that seems to be my normal work week - 200 georeffed surfaces on top of planning applications, preparing a work trip to Rome and checking references - I noticed that the Institute for Archaeologists (IfA) I am a Member of has changed its name officially to the Charted Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA). The Institute has officially got its charter from the Queen, so I am now REALLY an archaeologist - apparently. There have been a series of e-mails on how beneficial this is, but I assume I am not the only one who has to have prioritised keeping all the plates in the air and skipping the messages to be read at a later stage - the job newsletter, though, has seldom got more thorough 'find-and-search'. However, now archaeologists in Britain has an official entity that can say who has the level of professionalism to be employed as a professional archaeologist. And it is not necessarily the degree that counts, what what is your 'craft', your experience in it and your of 'craftmanship'.

I have recently written about the situations where a Finnish research student has suddenly found herself in between the categories and different practices in different countries. However, the issue of who is an archaeologist is a wider one. The postprocessual archaeology at least in its one form promoted relativism, so anybody who can considered a stakeholder could be an archaeologist. The discussions of the politics of archaeology and the access to archaeology has been an issue for a longer period now. And now we can give our comments, since before Christmas Cornelius Holtorf announced a theme for a coming Special issue of International Journal of Heritage Studies.

Now I have to quote direct Cornelius for his own words: "In recent years several archaeologists have stated, or implied, that “we are all archaeologists now”. On the one hand, this statement can be seen as democratizing the discipline and opening up the field of archaeology to contemporary society at large, in particular to all those who, like professional archaeologists, are interested in engaging with the material remains of the past. On the other hand, we have to wonder where exactly archaeological professionalism and their specific expertise lies if “we are all archaeologists now”. Are some people perhaps not archaeologists after all?"

I assume this blog does not open the invitation to the whole world, so I point out that his forum "invites archaeologists and others to submit responses to the short provocation contained in the first paragraph. Commentaries are welcomed in the form of short academic texts (1,000 – 3,000 words) or in any other genre suitable for representation in print, including drawings and images. We welcome especially original thoughts and specific examples from around the world. The best commentaries in terms of originality, diversity and depth will be published in a forthcoming Forum in Journal of Contemporary Archaeology. Deadline for submissions is 4 April 2015." If interested, find Cornelius via Academia.edu or google.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Treasure from near Aylesbury

I have recently observed and commented on the metal detecting hobby in Finland, so it is fitting that I make a few short comments on the Aylesbury treasure that made news at the New Year. This treasure consisting of Anglo-Saxon coins is one of the largest found and the Telegraph headline suggested that it is worth about 1 million pounds and consisted of 5,421 coins, the easily dated apparently from the reigns of Ethelred the Unready and Canute from the turn and the beginning of the second millennium AD. The treasure was found during an annual metal detector event organised by the Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club on December 21, 2014. The Daily Telegraph called it a 'dig', but a visit to a field where the group had been earlier could only called a dig after the find was made. The Daily Mail correctly writes in the text that initially it was a rally for the group - and the finder almost missed it, because the difficulty of affording the petrol. The group involved an archaeologist in the eventual unearthening of the hoard, but over 100 people attended the even, so the photographs in the Daily Mail show a somewhat chaotic image of the event, when the hoard was bagged.


The coin bags in a Sainsbury bag (photo: Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club/SWNS)

The Daily Mail article has a video link to an earlier coin hoard, this time Roman, that had an ad hoc grid created across the mass of the coins. The coins were there bagged by a grid square. The coins in Aylesbury were found in a lead container and the article has a still of the lead sheets with some coins visible. This photo had a scale and other photos (see above) were in separate bags in certain quantities, so similar gridding may have happened here as well. The archaeologist, a finds liason officer from the Buckinghamshire county museum, Ros Tyrrell, was interviewed, so there was a professional to oversee the recording.

It is clear that a large find has to be excavated soon, but it is a pity if in the hurry and in excitement nobody pays attention to the context. In the wider publicity it was not mentioned clearly, if this was a truly isolated find - or part of cemetery or a ritual site. A revisit to a same field suggests that there have been other finds, too. However, the organised Club guarantees that at least these finds are reported properly. The local newspaper told that Ros speant four or five hours on his tummy in the cold.

The manner this find was made has raised criticism among some professional archaeologists, and it is worrying, if the fields are emptied and nothing else is picked out. Especially, when short googling results with the information from the Looting Matters blog that the find was actually made from the area of a deserted medieval village (DMV) and a Medieval manor house. These kinds of metal detecting events would not be possible according to the Finnish law, for example, since you are not allowed to touch known archaeological sites in the Nordic countries. It is lamentable that limited attention is given to the context in metal detecting. Especially, when the find at Aylesbury was made c. 60 centrimetres deep... Could have been inside any ancient building!