Sunday, 16 April 2017

The second best

I woke up to act just during the last few weeks of the touring exhibition of the replicas of the grave goods of the tomb of Tutankhamun, named Tutankhamun – Graven och skatterna (tomb and treasures). First I had considered not going due to the high cost of tickets and the fact that the artefacts there are not real, but replicas. But then in the end the curiosity was too much after I got quite good feedback from my colleagues.

The price was high – and higher on Sundays. You can guess which weekday I was visiting the exhibition. The location was unusual. The exhibition had moved to the Magasin 9 in the Frihamn area. I had to consult my map and Google Maps before going. Luckily, nowadays it is easy to check which buses go where online or on a mobile phone app. The SL provided the potential routes to the place.

The exhibition itself is a commercial venture, I believe, even if the Egyptian archaeological authorities are involved somehow and the former chief inspector and minister Zahi Hawass visited Stockholm during the exhibition. A similar exhibition is currently advertised for Dorchester, Dorset, on the Internet, but according to Wikipedia this exhibition is permanent. The web page was almost identical, so the organization behind it is the same. According Wikipedia, the touring exhibition has been in Zürich, Brno, Munich, and Barcelona among other places.

The entrance to the exhibition was slightly chaotic with the obligatory information panels of the Egyptian chronology, the station to deliver the audioguides and the area to queue to the film and through it to the main exhibits occupying more or less the same space. The whole exhibition is based on audioguides and I must say that the texts were at the same time thorough and targeted to the general audience. The number of stops had also been carefully considered and the exhibition lasted about two hours when one listened all the 22 texts and saw the movie.

The exhibits in the area before the movie concentrated on the finding Tutankhamun, how archaeologists found about him and how long it took from Howard Carter to find the tomb. Many have not considered that he was on the trail of the boy pharaoh for about 15 years. Naturally, this section covered the death of Lord Carnarvon and the curse of the pharaoh. The film afterwards also concentrated on Howard Carter and the finding of the tomb. After the film we were presented with the tomb itself so everything proceeded in a chronological order.

The tomb section was a disappointment of the exhibition: one could not walk among the stacked items but only see reproductions at a distance. The spaces presented also omitted the Annex, so not all rooms were reproduced. However, for a non-egyptologist what followed was engaging and spectacular. I am usually a purist and frown somewhat the exhibitions where there are few or no original objects, but here my childhood love of all things Tut won, and I enjoyed the exhibition fully.

I did not find the mask of the Tutankhamun very exciting but I thought the displays got better towards the end where the chariot and the famous throne were presented. These are fantastic objects and the copies will do when presented in a professional matter. I also learned new or forgotten things. I found the fact that an aborted fetus and a stillborn baby had been buried with the boy king very touching and it was revealing to see the copies of the actual small sarcophagi that were very small in comparison with the huge copies of the real Tut things.

Inadvertedly, the exhibits showed how the selection of objects only gives us a glimpse what the real treasures of the pharaohs were. The throne may have been Ekhnaten’s, the baby’s mask was too big and could not be fitted on the little mummy to make it fit the sarcophagus, and there were also other recycled items. This tomb had also been robbed soon after the funeral and all objects in precious metals that were not inside the sarcophagi had vanished. The wooden items covered in leaf gold were left to reflect the splendours of the past.

Was the exhibition value for money (195 Swedish krona)? Well, it was until I check the price of the adult tickets in the Dorchester exhibition. It is £8.99 that would be a price one would have a casual walk through the galleries. With the Swedish price one does spend more time and effort in marveling the exhibits.

Saturday, 8 April 2017


Yesterday was a peaceful day until I checked my phone at 4 pm in the afternoon. I was working in the Royal Library (Kungliga Biblioteket or KB to the familiar crowd) in Stockholm and finished making notes on a book. It was almost the time to leave, but I decided to check if nothing new had come to my phone or happened in the world. To my surprise I had both some Messanger messages and a text message. My husband wanted to know how I was and this made me a little surprised. I answered something along the line explaining that I was working in the library. Then I read a message from my boss explaining that a lorry had driven to the crowds and checking if I was in the library. I said yes and started to scan the news.

Donald Trump got the days wrong. He was expecting a terror attack or criminality in Stockholm when there was none. However, suddenly there was an attack against shoppers on Drottningsgatan and a lorry had hit the wall of the Åhlens department store and caught fire. The driver had escaped and people were asked to leave the centre. When I looked out of the window in the library, people were walking peacefully in the park in Humlegården. I could not even hear a helicopter. I was checking the news for a while but then I decided to go.

I had got news that trains were not running and at least one of the underground lines was down. I left the building and found out that it had closed. Men stood to at the side door to see that those who wanted to leave could but that nobody came inside. I was walking like many others in the park and everything was like normally. Except there were guards outside the nearby hotel. And there were hardly any cars. Suddenly a people carrier drove by and I realized it was filled with police in full combat gear. The nearby square was closed and there were armed police and police cars guarding it. A police van had a loudspeaker telling people to go home. Nevertheless, the underground was closed and there was no way to get to the suburbs.

All the bars were closed but an Expresso House was open and I bought a cappuccino and sit down to recharge my mobile phone. I was asked how to get to Sundbyberg, but I could not help. There were very few indications from where the public transport was running. It was clear that the centre was closed. There was only a police van driving on Birger Jarlsgatan. It took a while to get a confirmation which lines where closed and where one could go. Slowly I found out where I could have gone if I had needed to get to the north or to the south. But I was heading west, so I stayed a put. The waiters in the cafeteria were staying since they could not go themselves either.

When almost everybody else had left and my mobile had a decent recharge, I texted a friend and asked if I could pass by. I could so I started a hike through the closed down city centre to the other side. I was not the only one. Many people where making walks through the town with their smart phone on hand to reach home or some refuge. When I passed the police lines I noticed that many were phoning lifts. But I had nobody to drive me.

Suddenly quite amazingly I heard familiar voice behind. Two of my work mates came from a side road and we exchanged pleasantries and continued our different ways. I could stay in my friend’s place so I did not have to face the deserted roads or test how the trains were running after they got a go ahead. My day in the city got a peaceful ending with a shared meal and watching the news coming from the city centre. It was terror, but my terror was quiet and peaceful.

It is horrible to think that four people lost their lives. And many others have lost theirs in the similar attacks in Nice, Berlin and London. The terror was so near, but I did only see the police and the walking crowds. I was sending messages that I was OK, but I had not even been in danger. But other people had and they were not as lucky as I was. I can only feel for their families.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Punk archaeology

John Schofield examines the graffiti left by Sex Pistols
(linked from the University of York page)

This blog should have been written last year, around the 40th anniversary of publishing the God Save the Queen by Sex Pistols. However, at that point I had not heard John Schofield giving his talk about Sex Pistols and the archaeology related to them. Thus, I am behind my times. Actually, I am quite an archaeologist since I am talking literarily about the past, even it is contemporary past in so many levels.

Sex Pistols and archaeology did make the news – in November 2011. That was the year when Paul Graves-Brown and John Schofield published their article ‘The filth and the fury: 6 Denmark Street (London) and the Sex Pistols’ in the journal Antiquity. This article made newspapers to write all kinds of articles on their pages. First the mood was stunned but then some papers like The Guardian got the idea and did not find it infuriating. To be honest, at the beginning they were puzzled and horrified how the archaeologists could compare the drawings of John Lydon, Johnny Rotten, to the Paleolithic cave paintings but after Paul Graves-Brown wrote a piece on their pages. However, the Daily Mail could not quite forget the upset the band caused in their hayday and kept their negative tone.

In the whole saga, Historic England came out as a progressive body. The archaeology Paul Graves-Brown and John Schofield had discussed were the drawings on the wall made by John Lydon while the band was living on 6 Denmark Street, the so-called Tin Pan Alley of the music business. The drawings had been found under the wallpaper undamaged and the archaeologists got a change to record them in the nowadays backroom of a guitar shop. They managed to photograph them all in their time there. This archaeology then made one part of the reasons why the building became II* graded listed building – on the 40th anniversary of publishing the God Save the Queen. That I call being progressive. Although one has to point out that the houses in question are unusually lovely examples of the 17th century traders’ houses that have not survived elsewhere.

These events had totally passed me by until John Schofield came to Stockholm and gave a talk to them. So here you have it: old news with a contemporary twist. John Schofield wants to promote so-called ‘punk archaeology’ that similarly to punk allows all to have a say in heritage. 6 Denmark Road he and his co-author have named anti-heritage because it was anti-establishment. If I understood correctly, their intension is more to let normal people to have say what they see as their heritage than clash with the government. This sound quite a lot of the community projects different bodies have been engaged lately. We could now see crowd-sourcing and crowdfunding as punk. But how bottom-to-top is that in the current heritage climate?

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Best in 2016

The hafted axe from Must Farm
(Cambridge Archaeological Unit, linked from the BBC site)

This is the time of the year when different organisations and media outlets have been naming the most important archaeological sites or finds. When looking at Britain there is no match to Must Farm, the water-logged Bronze Age sites named a northern Pompeii. The site was destroyed in a fire and the remains that collapsed into water have revealed unexpected insights to the daily life and technology, including all the wooden details of then everyday. This site was Heritage Daily’s number 1. The number 2 went for a Swedish find, albeit in Greece. The archaeologists from the University of Gothenburg have found an unknown Greek town from Thessaly.

Must Farm was also BBC’s number 1. They also acknowledged the start of the Anthropocene from AD 1950. However, they also pointed out how human activities have influenced environment long before modern times. It is suggested that the beginning of agriculture meant that the World was warming up already then thousands of years ago, perhaps leading to an avoidance of a new Ice Age.

On the Live Science web site the list of the finds of 2016 is naturally deprived of Must Farm, being a company with a major presence in the States. They do have offices in Europe, In the UK, Germany, France and Italy, but their list if filled with the more main stream, ‘exotic’ archaeological sites, including the reopening and the study of Jesus’s tomb and new piece of the Dead Sea Scroll. They also list the youngest individual mummified in ancient Egypt, a perhaps 20 weeks old foetus in the collections of Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. They also notify El Castillo pyramid at Chichén Itzá including three pyramids one above each other on the same spot ranging from c. AD 600–800 to the date just before year AD 1000.

The reality is that it is very difficult to surpass Must Farm and its hafted bronze tools and other magnificient finds. However, Must Farm is only one of the nominees for the Current Archaeology Awards 2017. You can go and vote for the innovation of the last 50 years and the book of the year among different categories, voted by the general public. In that way, you can participate in archaeology right at the beginning of 2017.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Tweeting and advocating (a TAG story)

A tribute to David Peacock

The week before Christmas is the time for the annual Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) meeting. This year we left it to the week before to actually decide which one of us will go to Southampton. In the end, I headed there, since I did not have any holidays left to cover the childcare and I thought that the conference and the DigiTAG 2 session there would be a good vehicle for the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) live tweeting session. After all, the DigiTAG sessions are organised in collaboration between the CAA and TAG and the first session took place in Oslo in April. This time the session was all about storytelling, ran this time as previously by James Taylor and Cara Jones, but also of the more serious business of knowledge creation.

Due to the need to be the whole day in the same session in the middle day of the conference and my interest in the Archaeology is a political matter session, I ended up hearing practically none of the random papers about the less known archaeological areas or regions that are the main feature in my usual TAG experience. There would have been a very interesting session on Following things in motion with everything from the sarsen stones from Stonehenge to how to be an Egyptian mummy in Victorian Britain as well as copper and colonialism together with druids, if all the papers took place as intended. There were the usual cancellations and overlapping papers, which meant that I could not hear the Tintagel Castle paper that was moved to a time I had to take my train.

Even if I could not hear everything, it was a TAG that gave a lot to think about. It was also an event to celebrate the 50 years of the Southampton department. This celebration took the format of a Personal Histories debate with all the big names in the panel, including Lord Colin Renfrew, Tim Champion, Mike Parker Pearson and Simon Keay. Since the admired pottery specialist David Peacock had recently died, the discussion was very polite and sober. The most colourful piece of information was Tim Champion’s acknowledgement that the Class of 1979 with Mike Parker Pearson and Tim Darvill, both in the panel, was the most competitive of all. The discussion was also guided by a PowerPoint presentation, prepared by Joshua Pollard and Andrew Jones, the organisers of the debate.

Before the debate there was Rosemary Joyce’s keynote Antiquity lecture that was given on a subject not expected by the organisers. Much of the conference was about art and visualisations – there was a Sightations art exhibition with the sessions attached as well – they had hoped to get a lecture on figurines. Instead, we all heard about nuclear landscapes. This sounded very familiar, since Cornelius Holtorf has a project on nuclear waste deposition, but Joyce’s paper gave a unique insight to the concepts behind the suggested deposition sites in America. It was all about how to make universally conveyed a message that these sites are beyond touching. It was interesting to know that archaeological sites had been used as examples of long-term preservations and the winning concept included a rectangular ‘Stonehenge’. After this double event, I and our friend Mark headed to get our complimentary glass of wine in the reception, sponsored by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA).

Tara in a remote mode

My live tweeting could have gone better, since I lost the signal in the middle of the session (I should not have left it to the guest Cloud service to host my tweeting), but at the beginning I was on the money. Luckily, there were others in the session who were copiously tweeting, so I could retweet the most essential content in between. The highlight of the session was Tara Copplestone’s remotely delivered paper on the Playful Past, Storytelling through Videogame Design and Development. It discussed the matter of the position of the creator in forming archaeological stories and described how the process of creating multiple videogames engaged the PhD author with the problems of coding, storytelling and archaeological process in consecutive steps during the development. The paper took form of ‘live’ doodling so it was well-executed on all levels. Naturally, it was impossible to be positive about Matthew Fitzjohn and Peta Bulmer’s LEGO creations for primary schools or be mesmerised by digital funerals by Audrey Samson. Similarly, Paul Backhouse’s presentation showed how much creativity there is in Historic England.

The next day I just marginally missed hearing a paper about Brexit. Nevertheless, the first paper I heard by Marjolijn Kok discussed openly the matter of hidden political acts in commercial contract archaeology. She was talking about Holland, but similar issues are faced anywhere where the commercial market has been embraced. The developers do not exactly want the archaeological service but take the lowest bidder and the existing theoretical environment means that the theoretical in archaeological is seen only to happen in the interpretation phase, not in the formulation of the methods and data collection. These issues and other stuff led her to leave her job – but not archaeology. Now she has been involved in contemporary archaeology in recording an Occupy camp in Rotterdam. The presentation can be looked for in

From Richardson and Lennox's presentation

Other highlights of the session included the discussion on public value in archaeology by Rob Lennox and the description of the experience of running the Local Heritage Engagement Network by Lorna Richardson and Rob Lennox. I know, they were the organisers of the session, but they had a lot to say. So much so that Rob’s carefully thought graphs had to be photographed in order to be appreciated later. The LHEN showed that while some campaigns did fine work, even if too late in the process, many volunteers are reluctant to act. This is partly to do with the fact that that is not why they are doing archaeology and do not see themselves as campaigners. However, local planning can be influenced only at the local level unless the policies change…

So, next year, it will be Cardiff and hubby’s turn to experience TAG and see the people we go for curry in TAG.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Christmas conference

Last week it was the time of the Department's traditional Christmas conference, an occasion to either discuss important recent issues or developments or present current research at the Department at Stockholm. This time we selected few presented our current research projects. I myself was discussing defining group identities whereas the other topics were varied both chronologically and geographically. Sadly, there were few cancellations, but I am sure we will hear about Ann-Louise Schallin's research in Greece or Magnus Enquist's ideas about evolutionary transitions at a later stage. Maybe in the next Christmas conference.

A few of the presentations were discussing the current DNA work in the laboratories. These presentations included Aikaterini Glykou's many studies on Baltic seals in the mid- and late Holocene. Her and her collaborators many methods include also DNA studies. Naturally, Anders Götherström presented the surprises from the ATLAS 1 and 2 projects and some idea were the human DNA studies are venturing at Stockholm. In addition, Maja Krewinzka presented a new and exiting project studying the multiple burials from Sigtuna. There was also a short talk on plant DNA: Matti Leino is carrying out some experimental work with charred grains. It will be interesting to see if he will succeed in pointing out the conditions where the DNA could be preserved.

A couple of talks discussed attitudes in the past. To start with, Anders Andrén presented his project on An Archaeology of Absence. This is an ongoing study on the archaeology of disappeared and non-existing Jewish communities in central Europe and Scandinavia. In his talk Arne Jarrick did not touch upon only Annalistic history writing but also gave a retrospect of his whole career as a researcher, from the starting points to the future lines of resarch. Frederik, on the other hand, told us about his project Materiella bilder for which he has just got three-year funding and in which he will try to outline past image programmes from the Bronze Age Mälare area. It was refreshing to hear about the rock carving tradition of central Sweden that is less well known than the southern Scandinavian and Norrland traditions.

Some project were site-based. Jan Storå presented his and Jan Apel's almost finished project from Gotland. Their study of the pioneer settlements show different adaptations for aquatic resources at different kinds of sites. In the other chronological end of the Swedish prehistory was the presentation of Sanby borg - a 5th century ring fort on Öland by Gunilla Eriksson. We learnt about the interesting life and death of this Iron Age site.

Geographically, the most far-flung place was Egypt. Åke Engsheden from our Section of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology was presenting his infrastructure project during which he will create a digital catalogue of Coptic ostraka. His examples presented a reminder of how the humans had very human relations even in the past. A very suited reminder when we all from different Sections of the Department got together in order to hear the diversity and variety of the archaeological research at Stockholm.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The most materiality of all

It is again the time of the year that is the most materialistic of them all - Christmas. I was reminded this by my search for a small present for my husband. At Christmas we all embrace the materiality of things - and it is not only a negative thing, even if Christmas seems more and more commercial every year. However, in the darkness of Sweden the Christmas lights on balconies make a real difference. The many stars in the windows lighten the darkness. It is the time for candle light and the smell of Christmas trees. Suddenly, there are sellers in every suburb in Stockholm. Even in England the hubby has bought and decorated one. The family cat has only knocked it down once so far. These are the things a Christmas does not feel like Christmas. The candles, the Christmas tree, the presents.

The materiality of Christmas evokes the memory of the Christmases past and the rituals make us feel safe and content. I have spent some moments thinking about my Christmas card that will be sent through social media and its digital immateriality is a reminder of the materiality of the cards we will still send out. We have started to plan the most important of rituals: the Christmas meals. One for the Christmas Eve, one for Christmas Day and one for Boxing Day. I have already discussed the gingerbread making with my work colleagues and hope that this year's lot will be better than last year's. There is such thing as too much butter. Not to mention too much ginger and too much cardemom. Through the actions we live and relive the Christmases past and present. Through the ritual of the Christmas meals we join a long history of mid-winter feasting.

For a couple of years, even the Chrismas advertisements in the television are becoming safe rituals. There is no Christmas Calendar programme in the TV in the UK so perhaps the advertisement are the forerunners of the festivities. I have kept my eye on the Swedish and Finnish offerings and hope that something can be seen when back in the UK. The flickering Christmas lights on a computer screen.