Saturday, 11 April 2015

Keep the revolution going?

Booking plane tickets well advance is always tricky, since one does not know how the conference programmes are going to pan out, but luckily to me, the CAA 2015 organisers in Siena had put a price tag to all workshops on offer on the first Monday, so using that day for travel did not rob me of anything covered by the relatively hefty conference fee. Since I was going to pay everything else than the conference fee, I was early with my bookings and ended up having proper British Airways flights – that turned out not to be so lucky after all on Good Friday. Nevertheless, the flight to the Pisa airport was pleasant, even if the 3.45 am departure from the coach station from Leicester was anything but. Thus, my transport to Siena was not determined by the quickest travel time or lowest cost, but point-to-point delivery that would make the probability of sleeping past the Empoli station or leaving part of my luggage in a train minimal. And hail my luck, the coach passed my hotel on the way to the Medieval upper town of Siena to the coach station that was only a stone throw away. In addition, my room had a balcony. Some luxury for sleeping after five exhausting weeks churning out grant applications and PowerPoint presentations.

I have lately concentrated on visiting the UK chapter CAAs, so this was the first visit to the main conference for a while. Last year the CAA in Paris clashed with the Nordic TAG where I and Phil had a session, so it was definitely not on the cards. Nevertheless, it seemed that the conference had matured and improved during the years without a visit. This may partly be due to the sheer number of the parallel sessions that at points hit eight. Thus, NOT finding suitable presentations felt impossible. A slight criticism could be directed towards the apparent clumping together similar themes: statistics, laser scanning, networks, GIS and geophysics seemed to happen on the same days, sometimes even at the same time. The former was actually good, since one could create pathways through the days following certain themes, whereas the latter split the audience and created moments when some persons should have replicated themselves in order to perform in different sessions.

This time around I was actually a co-session organiser together with Jorn Seubers from Groningen. We had both worked at Crustumerium and since we were involved in exploring the development of ancient towns and cities in central Italy, both using digital methods, it seemed natural to me to suggest we organize a session that emphasizes how we can explain things after describing and analysing material with different methods. Our session was relatively small, but it turned out to be very pleasant with thought-provoking papers. We also got a nice extra, since the organisers placed Lisa Fischer’s paper on the virtual Williamsburg (18th century AD) in our session. But the models were fabulous and the site in the United States is always worth presenting. In the end, it could stand as an example of a kind of reconstructions and educational material one could prepare, if the evidence was there.

Jorn started with some new information about the surface loss and transformation rates in different parts of the main settlement at Crustumerium and how these related to the surface collections. This was a beautifully argued and presented case study and showed also the usefulness of historic maps. I continued with my lamentably limping paper (at the end of my contract I had to prioritize those grant applications), but I could present new figures of the differences in past agricultural needs in southern and northern Etruria at Veii and Volterra. Then Francesca Fulminante presented the University of Rome Tre group’s work on the network analysis of southern Etruria and Latium Vetus. I knew from the start that this would be the centre piece of the session, but due to a programme change some of the audience arrived too late and could not hear the talk with some new landscape interpreting results.

At the beginning of the second part of the session Mariza Kormann (Sheffield Hallam) presented the structural stress modelling of an Early Bronze Age corridor house at a site in the mainland Peloponnese and she and her group could expand the interpretation to explain the usefulness of this structure. The two last original papers of the session were field project presentations. One of our own, the Stockholm Volterra Project, mainly presenting the field schools the Department ran and Andreas Viberg’s GPR results. The second was a lovely Polish project that has been exploring Gebelein in Egypt now for three years with increasingly varied digital methods. Their presentation had nice pictures, solid preliminary results and clarity.


Martin Millett gives a key note

We were lucky with our session, since Professor Martin Millett (Cambridge) was listening it all through and the latter part was partly witnessed by Professor Gary Lock (Oxford), a co-author of the Greek paper. Our session topic also fitted the themes of Martin Millett's key note speech a day before that suggested that we should answer more why questions with our methods. However, his main message was that we may think too small and should be studying vast areas and not just sites with a variety of digital methods. It is true that the Siena GPR results from Rosellae (Saito et al.), presented in the geophysics (or should I say prospection) session of the British School at Rome, are a step into this direction, but these kinds of projects require funding and means, so they are not necessarily possible for everyone. I also disagree with him that this large scale study is something new in landscape archaeology, perhaps in geophysics, but this view may be the result of me having been taught about the Bronze Age and Medieval field systems and county-wide patterns by the best in British landscape archaeology (I can only bow my head in the memory of Mick Aston). Nevertheless, potential for digital explorations at different scales was more than apparent in the conference.


Rushmeier and Forte on the podium

Generally, I went and listened the key note presentations and picked up potentially useful talks for my own work. Thus, I heard less 3D and rock art and more GIS, statistics and network analysis together with databases and a pinch of UAV droids. Some of the key notes were better than others and I must point especially to Holly Rushmeier’s illuminating paper on the early 3D scanning experiments she was involved in during the distant days of the early noughties. Sadly for her, her microphone was having its own show, but the subject matter lifted the paper above the average. Naturally for me, meeting Nicolò dell’Unto from Lund was enlightening as well.


Dell'Unto and 3D models of excavations

The ultimate lessons of this conference were that the combination of least cost and network analyses seems to have especially strong legs (papers by Mlekuž & Taelman and Slayton et al.) and the attempts in agent-based network modelling (Brughmans) are interesting. Annoyingly, the latter was a bit of a black box presentation, where the model was not thoroughly presented, but we were expected to trust the results. Nevertheless, it shows that at some point I have to spend sometime looking at those agent-based modelling tools in detail. The Ariadne project was visible over many days and their session had some promising papers, including a presentation of zoological open access spreadsheets for Italian protohistory (Trentacoste et al.). The Europe-wide collaboration between Archaeology Data Service and the Centro Nazionale delle Richerche also will give us 3D viewers and other tools (Galeazzi et al.). I also got good tips for my future research (Hermon et al.) and was probably presenting just a tad too loudly my opinion about digital revolution as a paradigm change in archaeology, but I am sure Isto (Huvila et al.) can take it. At least I and my fellow Finn had pleasant discussions in the icebreaker party where we Finns placed ourselves strategically at the end of the evening near the remaining chianti barrels.

Lastly and not the least, the whole conference reminded me why we go to certain conferences. Naturally, to keep up-to-date, but also to see friends and to meet new ones. I spent my last night in Siena having dinner with a group of female scholars either from or with a connection to Leiden. It was a lovely evening and also reminded all of us there that archaeological computing is not only a male domain.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

TRAC and back

It is funny to be in a conference that is actually in your home town, but your name tag sports the name of another university and another country. On the way to this year’s 25th anniversary Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (TRAC) at the University of Leicester I was asked for directions to the Mercure Hotel on Granby Road on New Walk by a conference delegate. I must have a friendly, unthreatening appearance, since I am asked for directions in many different cities across Europe, including some Italians asking me where the busses are going in Rome – as if I knew outside the city centre. Well, in the conference itself my smugness was somewhat grated, when I failed to find the registration. Reading the directions from the web page would have helped immensely.

During the conference I heard many times how the interlopers are taking over. These people were mostly ancient historians, but I did my part as a pre-Roman archaeologist who actually is a prehistorian. In the days when the conference was coming nearer and I actually returned for my son’s two last school days of the term, this became more and more a thorny issue. Phil who had mostly downplayed the programme and considered our less-than-splendid finances suddenly had a change of heart and was somewhat irritated by the fact that the Romanist of the family was not attending. But I have now been crossing frequently the period boundaries and had promised to give a paper, so there was no way back. TRAC coinciding with the end of the school term and Alex’s birthday gave me a little bad conscious when I headed to the wine reception after fetching my son from the school, but sending the Romanist as the representative of the Stockholm University to the TRAC party made that guilt magically disappear. Phil was happy to chat with his colleagues over some pints. Now, let’s see how much beer is needed for explaining my attendance in the RAC/TRAC for the Romanist next year...


Andrew Gardner giving the key note talk

This being an Anniversary TRAC a good chunk of the programme was devoted to presentations that either reflected the current state of the theoretical Roman studies or presented the latest or almost the latest in the study of the Roman world. The key note speaker was Dr Andrew Gardner from the UCL who assessed the recent trends. This presentation gave a fair review of the state of affairs, although there were a couple of places where I dared to have a different opinion. As I noted in my own talk, the period divide in archaeology may affect the literature we read and references we have. I have recently read some of the best work on identity – and it was not in prehistoric or pre-Roman archaeology I tend to follow. I should have read these works earlier. Andrew did not for some reason mention Punic and Greek colonisation and von Dommelen’s key contributions to postcolonial archaeology, who actually has commented on Roman colonisation. He was lamenting that the postcolonial general literature lacks archaeological components and does not discuss much Roman colonisation, even if the nativism and resistance within Roman archaeology have been hot topics. I also noted that he showed the ‘Death of archaeological theory’ book cover during his discussion on the general fragmentation of archaeological theory and a high turnover of ideas. I did sit in the said Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference session some years ago that book was based on and can assure that it perhaps reflected more the sentiment of the speakers than the true situation. The non-continuation of theoretical ideas probably has more to do with the short funding spans of people who are not Ian Hodders and the need to be original – as Andrew pointed out. In any case, Andrew emphasized the importance of pragmatic theoretical solutions – and who could argue with that.

The main reason of me sitting in the TRAC was hearing the Growth of Rome session. If we are even more specific, it was Tessa Stek’s (Leiden) presentation I wanted to hear more than any of the others. He did not disappoint me who am more than interested in Latin colonisation due to my ongoing research that has its origins in work at Nepi. I heard his presentation more than a year ago in the Frontiers conference in Cambridge and he did add a lot of detail from the Aesernia and Venusia projects. However, my Sunday morning was glorious, since Tessa was among about 15 listeners I had. We had a relatively enthusiastic exchange during the question time and continued our discussion throughout the coffee break. Those 90 minutes alone were worth every penny of the £55 conference fee!

Not that the Growth of Rome – or the other main session on Saturday on public Roman architecture – had been without other highlights. Amy Russell’s (Durham) analysis on gender and spatial experience was enthusiastic and gave new perspectives on where and how women were presented in Rome. And how easily Roman citizens (men) could be upset by female protesting so much so that they lamented it in their classical texts (but did not dare to tell the women). The contrast between the clean Forum and citizens’ space and Basilica Pompeiana with its delicious marble women underlined the difference Amy made in her talk between ‘spaces that make difference’ and those that ‘difference makes’. If the interlopers are like this, we need more of them!

Another gracious female presenter was Penelope Davies (Austin, Texas) who made a very strong argument on the development from conscious avoidance of single sponsor general development plans to the grand plans of Julius Caesar. She also pointed out how concrete and its latest datings made possible the creation of overarching policies. Of other quality contributions in these two sessions, one has to pinpoint Julian Richard’s (Leuven) discussion on the limitations of architectural building type typologies and the resulting avoidance of history and local context of the buildings. Similarly, Saskia Stevens’s (Utrecht) talk on Borderscape suggested that her study will be of importance. Willem Jongman (Groningen) also reminded us that the population in Rome could have kept their energy levels up with olive oil and wine – which were stables of Roman diet during the Imperial times.

It was a pity that Adrian Chadwick’s (‘one degree of separation from every single archaeologist in Britain’) and his colleagues’ coin session was on Sunday morning – not to mention Daan van Helden’s and Rob Witcher’s media session. These I could not attend due to the timing of the general session where my paper Claustra inde portaeque essent was placed. The first session mentioned would have been important from material handling’s point of view and the second would just have been TAG fun. Nevertheless, in the general session David S. Rose’s (Edinburgh) paper on the central places and lieux de mémoire in northern Gaul was truly innovative. If only he changes the central place concept. His talk had nothing to do with core and periphery or Wallerstein. Nice model to check from the conference proceedings.


Leicester and Richard III - in fire sculpture

Some giggles had already been provided in the conference by the fact that we actually decided in the Annual General Meeting that Rome will be the stage for the TRAC next year – even if it is always in the same place with the RAC on the RAC years and the University of Rome “La Sapienza” had already publicized the 2016 TRAC a week or two earlier on the RAC web site. On one hand the numbers of students, self-employed and commercial archaeologists will be down. But on the other it will be Rome. In March. A round of the 25th anniversary beer and wine and a slice of the anniversary cake to that!


More conferencing next week when I will tackle Siena and CAA 2015.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Bye until Easter?

Yes, there is snow again in Stockholm, so one can have snow and spring flowers in the same places. Anyway, I will be busy over the coming two weeks or so with TRAC and CAA plus it is also time for my son's birthday. I will report from the conferences and share my thoughts on some archaeological matters when I have slightly more time. Now, let me see: should start packing, those grant applications are ready to be sent away, PowerPoint needs doing, report bits from colleague reading etc. etc.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Terror and trade


Nimrud as it at least was (photo: Wikimedia)

This week's most important main archaeological news has been the destruction brought by the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the northern Iraq. We have seen lately men with hammers in the museum in Mosul and heard about the demolition of Nimrud and other places. The ancient cemeteries have apparently been pillaged and artefacts sold in order to raise money for the caliphate. Today we have got the news that at least some of the statues may have been modern plaster copies, but not apparently others. In any case, the iconoclasts show no mercy for the people nor their history but try to erase both. As an archaeologist one can only take one stand: against the mindless destruction, prejudice and lack of respect to other people and their past.

Nevertheless, as an individual one feels slightly powerless against the propaganda machinery that tries to fill the enemies with fear. The head of UNESCO has condemned the destruction and Lord Renfrew and others keep the interested audience informed - and have raised the issue long before the hammers reached the tv screens. Locally, in different countries Middle Eastern archaeologists have given interviews and tried to figure out the misinformation and news ducks from the real information dribbling out from Iraq, Syria and Libya. For example, Sanna Aro-Valjus in Finland has raised awareness how illegal antiquities have been used to fund atrocities and Ida Östenberg has revealed how Nimrud was found in the Svenska Dagbladet. However, not all contributions are laudable - and some are downright lamentable and some need to be counteracted by any archaeologist. President and CEO of the Getty Trust has aready earlier made a case against the repatriation of antiquities - his museum is no stranger to the issue of having problems with the provenience of their displayed items. Now he has suggested that UNESCO's policy that secures the right of a country to its patrinomy is the cause to the heritage being at risk. This is taking the awful situation in the Middle East as a hostage to promote own agenda. This kind of 'bandwagonism' does not help heritage.

Taken the complicated situation in the area, a normal archaeologist just does not quite know which side is behind the support sites or how independent and neutral they are, but SAFE and the Syria campaign do exist. In any case, the APAAME project continues to monitor the antiquities in the Middle East from Oxford, and I am sure countless people are scanning through their Goole Earths. It is important for the minorities to know that even if we individuals can do little from our laptops, we can care and try to do little acts of resistance to make people and their past safer. We can read blogs such as the Looting Matters and follow the Chasing Afrodite to stay informed and share the information.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Peer support

From today, for one week only, in order to celebrate the International Women's Day, my two blogs have the exactly same text



The Eve of the International Women's Day could not have been lovelier than spent dining with my fellow 'Mum abroad' Susanna Niiranen - discussing among other topics blogging, photographing, Jagellonica family, children, Villa Lante, grant applications, husbands and wives, restaurants in Stockholm and everything else any person having a full life experience would do. Generally just having splendid time in one of my favourites, Kvarnen, from where we headed to Gamla Stan (it was just so much easier than to try to navigate the trendy places in Södermalm on a Saturday evening).

As a previous NCT (National Childbirth Trust in UK) branch committee member, I know how important it is to meet people in the same situation and share experiences - no matter how you do the parenting and if you are an earth-mother or a career juggernaut. As Susanna said, so many female blogs are about cooking or fashion or decorating - and much fewer, like Susanna's, about women actually having a career, while also having a family and enjoying cooking every now and then. However, I have decided to split my professional blog separate from my more private blog, since I so have things to say about both spheres, but some of the mummy stuff, such as the dealing with the SEN evaluation, school life and bilingual (well, nowadays functionally monolingual for good reasons) family life, is something I rather share more with my peers - the other parents. I also write about adults in my professional blog with their own names, whereas I do not want to write about the friends of Number One Son or their parents in a similar manner.

Well, I have the traditional one child per a female researcher, but Susanna wonders where are the female professors with more than one child? How could we give more hope for the future generations of women and show that you can be a whole person: both to explore and raise a family? Do we women have to try to create a world where 'lattepappor' stare at us in awe and iron our shirts to mirror the one we observe in certain corners? Or do we try to create something truly more equal? The estimates for Sweden to reach gender equality in different aspects of work and family life run between 11 to 125 years, so we will have a lot to do. Happy International Women's Day!

PS. To celebrate, in a more professional manner, do visit the British Women Archaeologists website and follow the Trowelblazers, the stories of those talented and wonderful women who dug it before us.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Multicultural identities: rushing from the BSR to the SIR

Even in my life where a rushed existence is not uncommon, this week quite honestly took the biscuit. On Monday I flew from UK to Sweden while tapping on the train and in the plane. On Tuesday I worked all day in the office at Stockholm preparing different things. On Wednesday I flew to Rome with Professor Arja Karivieri from Stockholm. On Thursday I ran a Multicultural identities workshop in the Swedish Institute in Rome and hosted a dinner afterwards in a restaurant. On Friday I flew back to Sweden after some work e-mailing to Stockholm and Rome. All while the cold I had developed had gone nowhere with very predictable consequences: my world is now silent, since I lost my voice after all that presenting and talking.


Molly Cotton is somewhere there in the photo

Last week in my blog I explained how I managed to land my workshop on a day it really shouldn’t have been on, but this cloud ended up having a few silver linings. At the airport on Wednesday morning while waiting for boarding I had finally time to check, if something was happening in Rome on Wednesday evening, and being the institute circuit in Rome, it was. As a happy coincidence, the Molly Cotton lecture was on that night and my good friend Elisa Perego, whose recent article in the Mélanges de l'École française de Rome (MEFRA) is not only useful in the matters related to ethnic identity, but also discusses my unpublished article on mental distances (I SO need it to come out), was coming down from Milan as well. Some Facebook messaging and texting and we managed to step out of our respective trams almost at the same time. The sad collateral was any hope of a social trip to Villa Lante, the Finnish Institute, to see Tuomas, Simo, Ria and Linda, since the presentation on architect Bassi really could not compete with Gilda Bartoloni and Veii.


Bartoloni on stage

Since I have been lately concentrating on the Archaic period and that weird Middle Republican archaeological draught before the Late Republican boom and my financial situation keeps varying wildly, I have missed some key presentations on the new finds from earlier Orientalising Veii. Bartoloni’s talk 'Veio tra protostoria e storia' filled me with any gaps I may have had on the early history of the wall (clear parallels to Palatium?), the burial on Piazza d’Armi and the potential of certain vase painters residing in Veii first – or at least just after being in Cerveteri. Usefully, all this data will at least partly be found in a new book Novità nella ricerca archeologica a Veio, edited by Cascino, Fusco and Smith. The thing the notice on the British School web site had left out was that the lecture was followed by the presentation of this new volume as well.

Those of us in the audience who had not seen the Archeo note or did not know better were slightly surprised when Professor Bartoloni followed her quite a normal length presentation with a part where she, probably due to the restricted timeframe, basically read out aloud the list of contents of the new volume with added comments while a PowerPoint presentation flicked through the said list with a speed that made reading it impossible. The book presentation would have deserved a longer event of its own where one could have purchased a copy - I would really have liked to have one. Anyway, we managed to be next to the first people at the prosecco table and happy discussions followed, spiced by the comments of the waiters who were jokily reminding Elisa of her time as a grant holder in the School. After this our ways parted and I went to look for Arja for a dinner near the Vatican.


Gleba on textiles

The following day started with a pop to the Fabric of Life workshop, organised by Margarita Gleba and Romina Laurito. My own timetable allowed me only to have short chats with Margarita and Susanna Harris and hear their respective, very informative papers. Margarita draw together the types of textile remains archaeologists have found and gave light on different types of direct and indirect analyses of textile making process, whereas Susanna concentrated on the iconographic analysis of a few chosen items. Margarita’s presentation gave a summary of the textile finds from different very familiar places and Susanna showed some results of her analyses of art work surfaces. She could quantify how the ladies clearly needed to be relatively covered, whereas the men could be naked. Modesty, not equality was the word of the day in pre-Roman Etruria.


Harris on iconography

Then it was time to reassume my Swedish identity and move swiftly between the institutes. I had to tape the signs at the gate, download my presentations, light up the auditorium, chat about the new excavation permit guidelines with the personnel and welcome the few invited participants. This workshop actually grew organically out from a work meeting I needed to have with a few other researchers. In the end, there were four presentations followed by a lunch and very positive discussions. This workshop was different from the Italic languages and databases one, since the main parties were Swedish and Italian researchers and much of the discussion was carried out in Italian. Similarly, our smaller group, which headed for a huge dinner in the erratically named “L'Isola della Pizza” (L'Isola di tutto as Francesco di Gennaro said), discussed solely in Italian. No wonder I end up looking at multiculturalism when my life and reality as a researcher is transformed by an interaction between four countries and the continuous use of four different languages on any given day!

I can only hope that Enrico Benelli takes up my suggestion and publishes his presentation on ‘Epigraphy and identity in Italy, epigraphic responses to incorporation into the Roman state’ in the Opuscula. This would mean that the next Opuscula would have an identity theme with Benelli’s and Andrew Wallace-Hadrill’s potential papers complementing each other chronologically and geographically. Enrico said he expanded from his Archaeological Institute of America paper in January and he truly did not only discuss Tarquinia, but whole Etruria and Veneto.


Walter and Andrea on stage

A group of anthropologists, representing both Soprintendenza speciale dei beni culturali archaeologici di Roma and the University of Rome Tor Vergata presented their most successful ancient DNA results from some Imperial Roman sites. Their studies have so far concentrated on sex and mitochondrial DNA, but they hope to proceed with other lines of enquiry as well in the future. Their results do and will complement those we have from Etruria, published recently for pre-Roman times by Ghirotto et al. (2013).


Fredrik on San Giovenale

Then Fredrik Tobin (Uppsala) presented his studies of tomb architecture and proposography at San Giovenale. This research has direct resonance with my own research and it was interesting to hear that there may be a case against tomb types being equivalent to territorial expansion. We will definitely more about this line of enquiry when contrasted with my research. Fredrik will return to San Giovenale soon, so we definitely hear more from the place at a later stage. But then it was my turn and I discussed a project framework I have developed. Needless to say that multicultural identities were involved, but I will talk about this more at a later stage in my blog.

So that was the week that was. In the end, I did resume my own Finnish identity: having lost all my voice and feeling the cold and travel in my bones I sought healing in the heat of a Finnish sauna and in the steam of a Turkish sauna in the Eriksdal swimming pool. I hope I will recover enough to face tomorrow March that will be murder with its unprecedented workload. If you do not have see this blog updated, it means I am not recuperating and spending my time writing my blog but tapping along trying to finish all I have started - or at least looking for funds trying to do so.

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 brings my past as a historian coming back to haunt me.

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