Monday, 21 July 2014

I do know a blogger or two

It is my annual leave and even if a Finnish newspaper warned about not having a full, proper holiday, I do keep my stress levels normal by working slowly towards the illustrations of a major article. However, enjoying my daytime with my son and digitising pot sherds every now and then do not make an interesting reading, so I forward you to my friends and fellow bloggers instead.

Alun Salt is not only our very own Godless-Father, but also an archaeoastronomer. Anybody interested in classics will find something new in his 'Ancients and meteors'.

And those of us who find death inspiring in one way or another (as long as it is not our own), can look at Archaeodeath. 'Aldworth Church' is worth visiting.

And in order to try to keep a gender balance and introduce a female blogger, not to mention interdisciplinarity, Maijastina Kahlos presents interesting thoughts. I do have a soft spot for frontiers and boundaries, so her entry on her time in Budapest is illuminating.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Digging deep for archaeology?

An article in the Independent – apparently to celebrate the start of the Festival of Archaeology – recognised the current problems of the archaeological profession in Britain. The profession has shrunken by a third, the loosening of the pay is low for graduates, one major department has closed its undergraduate course and there may be a shortage of diggers in the future, if the building and planning picks up. There are signs in our village that this is a case.

I could use this blog to marvel the unfortunate situation after the planning regulations recently. The developers build new estates to the villages where the infrastructure cannot support them. In our village the rush hour traffic is horrendous with long queues, since all the traffic to nearby villages goes through our village. The suggested solution by a developer: to remodel a roundabout to be a double roundabout that does not help to increase the flow – probably the opposite. The only way would be to create alternative realistic routes to Leicester city centre...

Anyway, archaeology is a curious profession, since the archaeological units have a margin thinning business model with competitive bargaining and short-term contracts for most of the workers when its core business is totally dependent of planning regulation. If that was to disappear, archaeology would probably go, too. The local museums are closing or cutting personnel and even if running the community archaeology will bring some jobs, it is unlikely to support thousands of fulltime staff permanently. The funding comes in piecemeal from grants and crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding is offered as a solution, but I am sure hundreds of projects would not be guaranteed funding simultaneously. DigVentures is a high profile venture in this field and says that their grant money is not going to run out in three years, but they have to work continuously in order to keep money rolling in. Luckily, there will be people eager to fulfil their inner archaeologist dreams, but how many similar businesses the country could take? Businesses that could pay continuously salaries.

DigVentures is right in the fact that the archaeologist have to be creative and use all the possibilities, but it would be foolish to think that the crowdfunding will be the basis for long-term solution that will support academics, university departments and regular excavations at planning sites. However, it is a workable solution for shorter research excavations and field schools, but the market can saturate quickly. Nevertheless, the society and charity funding model is now expanding in Finland, for example, so it bring at least short-term help. We can only hope that the government do not shrink the state to the smitterings, since planning guidance is needed – not only to keep archaeology going but also to keep villages from being overdeveloped with overextended primary schools and too many cars in a daily traffic jam with no libraries or museums.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Quiet life for Day of Archaeology

The things are getting quiet at the Universities in Sweden. July is the traditional holiday month and last Friday was the last working day for many before the holidays. Some people are naturally digging or carrying out other types of fieldwork, since it is the best season.However, not me. I am still (wo)manning the Department - even if my holiday is to start soon with the end of the school term in England the coming week. However, I can look forward to be apparently the only person in our floor - unless my colleague studying pottery paintings happens to turn up. One other scholar will be working at home until August. I will have three full days of wandering about alone. I probably has to go to another floor in order to have company over lunch or coffee.

Not that I am idle. On the contrary. I have just realised how much I should do in three days. Basically work that will take two weeks. Somehow I fathom I have to do something in the evenings during my holiday. Sadly, an international journal will not wait for my article draft for peer-review, if I do not send it in in time. They will have other offers, if I do not deliver.

This has been the story of my life for some years now. Computer modelling, pottery drawing, writing, library visits and deadlines. This summer will go past like the previous ones. I probably could just repost my previous entry for the Day of Archaeology, since the content of my work seems to be the same... However, on the positive side, I do currently have a proper monthly salary and I am not working at home, but I have an office. Plus I will take part into a project. An upgrade that can naturally be downgraded again as is the story of postdocs everywhere.

However, there will be no Day of Archaeology posting for me this year. On that day I will hopefully get my tax return finally wrapped up - as you do as the first thing on your summer holiday. Since one child's last school day is the day to get anything serious done for weeks during the daytime.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Not in honorem modern publishing landscape?

I have been invited to participate in an anniversary volume for a late professor who I really admired - and still do - for his research activities, wide contacts and the way he communicated and interacted with his research students. However, I recognise several issues with these celebratory volumes nowadays – and this particular one especially – for various reasons.

Being involved in archaeology in several European countries gives me some insight in the specific domestic policies and traditions that guide the archaeological publishing in these countries. Both in the north and in the south there is a tradition to prepare in honorem celebratory volumes for established figures, but their importance in many countries is waning, since the universities are basing their performance figures – that are in many places the basis of the governmental funding – on peer-reviewed publications in rated international journals. The value of an article in an in honorem volume is practically nil in these comparisons. Thus, putting any new material to these volumes is foolish. For the publication this means that most of the articles proposed and submitted are on an obscure footnote of a research topic or in archaeology present a single object or structure type. Or are recycled from several previous articles published in better publications. Not very inspiring and not necessarily hugely in honorem.

The tradition in the south is still to produce many conference volumes that sometimes randomly publish new results from the researchers who belong to the same circle in unexpected publications. You would not always guess from a book title where you are to find articles on Archaic burial customs, for example. People have started to make an effort to peer-review these volumes, but the peer-reviews have not always been fully regular in the strictest sense. However, most volumes go in press without peer-reviewing and are not evaluated highly in the international university and researcher comparisons.

The volume I have been invited to participate in makes an effort to provide some kind of peer review. This creates another nag: the editorial board wants to have a substantial abstract now, more than half a year before the deadline. I have some new lines of research I would like to develop in order to air some preliminary thoughts on new themes, but I will not be able to produce a page-long abstract on research that is only in my mind and I have not collected the material or do not know, if the details will be interesting enough. In addition, I will work in my potential comparative research area AFTER the deadline. Do I write a page full of preliminary, ambiguous tat that will not guarantee a place in the volume or do I just recycle earlier articles on old themes that actually are or will be in volumes that are not necessarily generally available in all European countries (this would guarantee that they reach target audience in my research area, but I still think it does not serve my new research)? Or do I work on the things I should be start to work on and plead my case with the editorial board promising to publish something new? The volume will probably be flooded with papers, so I doubt they will allow not-a-very-famous-name to be exempted from the normal process...

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Archaeology and spying

There is a long history between archaeology, colonial rule and spying and in the halls of Cambridge one cannot avoid at least once hearing some murmuring about the past double roles. I must admit I myself was wondering the sponsorship of NATO for a remote sensing conference. It is quite clear that for that sort of organisation the real interest cannot be some mounds in a remote landscape, but potentially the modern structures in far-flung spaces, even if the archaeologists naturally heard of the newest and the most accurate methods. Although, nowadays all organisations have to show that they also serve ‘community’ and potentially military organisations want to show that their expensive equipment can be used peacefully.

Archaeologists can move around relatively freely and their wonderings in the landscape with maps and equipment is motivated by so-called good causes. We collect knowledge of heritage and write the history and prehistory of the human race. At the same time some people may wonder if some individuals have double reasons of taking a walk.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (image source:

This week bring about those memories of the Cambridge’s past fame as a source of agents when it emerged that a Green Party member of the Lords, Lady Jones, the former Green Party candidate for the London mayor’s post, had been put on the ‘extremist’ list and her political activities were followed. The same was done to Councillor Ian Driver, who is also a Green Party member. Naturally, this may be related to any environmental protesting, but it has not escaped me that Jenny Jones is a former archaeologist. In a previous life she has been specialised in Middle Eastern archaeology. Being Green and interested in Middle East may rise eyebrows.

Which just leaves me wondering how many other archaeologists may be on all kinds of following lists. There are those who have connections not only to Green Party, but perhaps and/or to peace movements, alternative living and CND. Ho hum, I have been recorded as well, since all the participants of the antinuclear marches were duly recorded by the Finnish ‘secret police’. However, they were so visible with their cameras and overactive finger action that their ‘surveillance’ was not really the best held secret on the planet.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Och samma på svenska – teaching more digital methods

This week was the start of my proper teaching at Stockholm. Even if I have given three research seminars and one lecture in the ‘Humans and metals’ course, my main responsibility is to be one of the teachers in the Volterra field school. This means three lectures on GIS and digital recording methods, two demonstrations and practicals, one lecture on Etruscan religion and burial customs and two weeks in Volterra supervising group exercises and practicals. I do all this in Swedish, even if we will build the database in English, since it will be available to the commune and the Superintendency in Tuscany.

Teaching coordinate systems

The main problem has been looking for the Swedish words for all those concepts I have always discuss and taught in English. Very often the Swedish use the English words as well in computing connections, but one has to prepare lectures with proper terminology. Luckily, the Landsmäteri and many universities had enough content, so I could find the terms but also some illustrations in Swedish. However, to add to my linguistic confusion, our ArcGIS version is in English, so after more theoretical content, I gave a demonstration that was peppered with comments such as ‘Add layer’ and ‘Display units’. Naturally, all Italian map layers available thanks to the INSPIRE directive have their downloading interfaces, names and information in Italian. Hopefully, this will make clear the rule 1 in Italian archaeology: "you really need to read and speak Italian".

I have now also ventured to photogrammetry and will be building models together with students. Sadly, laser scanning will be carried out another year, since ‘grant hunting’ has not been too successful and to be honest, there is only so much I can do as one person; I am already sorting out geographic reference system and physically getting the GPS equipment from Pisa to Volterra. It will be nice to wait for last year’s ‘laserscanner’ to return to continue his work. I am quite happy to concentrate to plan a town GIS and do photogrammetry of objects and buildings.

Old finds at Villa Lante in good use

The teaching was a pleasant experience, although it became clear that the content in the end is easily divided into two blocks (lectures on GIS, a demonstration on ArcGIS and an exercise dealing with a database table for archaeological monuments on one hand and the digital recording and the demonstration of the Agisoft Photoscan Professional on the other), so they should in the future be split between two days in order to guarantee that people learn the basics properly. Having ‘lighter cultural content’ in the afternoon, i.e., beautiful landscapes and objects from Etruria, will make the experience smoother. In this way, people will be able to absorb the technical content better.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Food, glorious food!

This week saw the last of the research seminars in Nordic/general archaeology and we had the last of the postseminars in one of the restaurants in Södermalm. I did not attend every session due to travel home to England or to Italy, but I got quite a good idea of the local offerings. Naturally, I and my family (when on a visit) have been quite loyal to the local “Näset” in the suburb of Näset on the island of Lidingö. It is a true through back to the late 1970s or early1980s – they even play the local ‘oldies hits’ radio station with Europe and Abba. The steaks are on planks and smothered with béarnaise sauce. But essentially: it is very good. My bookmaker’s toast has been constantly a quality meal for 100 krona and better than in much trendier and central “Belgobar”.

A little bit of Finland - or Åland - in Stockholm

“Belgobar” was our restaurant twice, but since I cannot eat mussels, I cannot enjoy the most Belgian of dishes. The beers are good but the food is a bit ‘mah’, but they bring nice bread before the standard hamburgers and the like. With Gavin Lucas we headed to the famous “Zum Franziskaner” when I had barely arrived. Really nice interior and lots of character and tradition, but pricey food, even if so-called ‘beer friendly’ and the standard was not really above the “Weatherspoons”, even if the prices were manifold. “Weatherspoons” came to mind of the “Bishops Arms” in Gamla Stad: food was quite cheap and the menu offered fishcakes and hamburgers. Inoffensive and good for beer.

The end seminar of Ingrid Berg now in the spring was celebrated in the Greek “Esperia”. It was not like any Greek restaurant I have visited before. The food looked beautiful and tasted excellent. The prices were far from cheap, but really modest, when you think about the quality of ingredients and presentation. Naturally, wine is painfully expensive in Sweden, but we shared a very lovely bottle – or actually two...

Of the traditional Swedish restaurants “Tennstopet” was superior to “Zum Franziskaner”, although the dinner room cannot really accommodate bigger groups. But the meatballs were lovely and, once again, bread was really nice. Nevertheless, we visited the best place last. The prices in “Kvarnen” were on the low side and the food was tasty and well made. The beer selection was excellent and the decor was older in a mix of German and Swedish style. We ate in the so called German hall and my reindeer in cream sauce was spot on. And the beer was cheaper than any were in the city centre I have seen. A krona cheaper than in Näset! I want to go back – and sooner the better.

Babas stand in the Taste Stockholm event

This weekend was Smaka Stockholm, Taste Stockholm, event. I passed by this lunchtime before heading to swim with the idea of having a lunch in a food festival atmosphere. There even was a Sweden’s best cook competition on the main stage, but I must say having cooks higher up and looking at a giant screen in order to actually see the cooking and food in the bright sunshine, is not as good as watching Mastercook in your own home. Nevertheless, the ‘Latino burger’ with beef stripes, red onion, tomato, avocado and chilli mayo was extremely good. I was really full, even if the portion had looked small. The stand was “Babas Burgers and Bites” that had been mentioned among the best hamburger places in Stockholm by the Arlanda Express onboard magazine. They were right. Now I just have to use a bit of Google Map in order to find where their restaurant is in the suburbs...

Sunday saw me finding out that I do not like ceviche, Peru's national food. As a consolation to all Peruvians, I do not like Finnish or Swedish sill either, no matter which sauce this herring has been put into and no matter how Finnish I am living temporarily in Sweden for work. Now I know how this hipster food tastes like, so I do not have to taste it any more. I also tasted some inoffensive, if soulless lamb curry with beer in the afternoon. Sadly, I could not fit in a pulled pork sandwich I saw some ladies munching.