Thursday, 27 December 2012

Mayan apocalypse?

As we all can see and feel, the world did not come into an end on Winter Solstice. I find this fascination with the end of the world very interesting – not the least because there is an instance of declared apocalypse in my family history. Or not really MY family history, but in the history of my family’s home village, a religiously lively place near Jyväskylä in Finland.

Our village got into the world news in the 1930s when a woman who preached in her sleep declared that the world was nigh and the end was here. Although it wasn’t – even if the predicted event reached allegedly the New York Times. The frenzy of the wait resulted with people selling their worldly possessions and the disappointment of the righteous not being pulled to the heavens. This was aggravated by the in-fighting in the village in the aftermath due to the half of the village losing their property and the other half gaining real bargains. These scenes have been relived many times in different communities across the world when panic and hysteria spreads in the wake of the end – that does not come.

December 21 Tikal celebrations in Guatemala (photo by Herald Sun)

This Mayan Apocalypse was interesting, because it was made an event. Some people truly believed in the end of the world – such is the character of a true belief. However, Mexican Tourist Board did brisk business with the official event at Chichen Itza and tourists pouring in. The ethnic Mayans knew that their ancestors had not predicted an end of the world but just a beginning of a new cycle in a cyclical calendar. They were not anxious, but happy to get a full audience at Tikal for a tourist extravaganza.

Apparently there is only one fragment that tells about the end of the 13th Bak'tun period. The close of each Bak'tun period occurs once in 5125 years. The last time a Bak'tun period ended was at the beginning of the current Maya era on August 11 in 3114 BC and the end of the 13th period coincided with December 21, 2012. Callaway and Stuart, two Mayan experts quoted by adjunct professor Shankar Chaudhuri in the Guardian, refer to Tortuguero Monument 6, discovered in Tabasco, Mexico. This is the only text from the whole Mayan period (250AD-900AD) that refers to December 21, 2012, as the end of the Bak'tun thirteen or any kind of important date.

The Tortuguero Monument (photo collage by P. Johnson)

For obvious religious reasons, the western culture is prone to the predictions of the doomsday. After all, the Bible discusses at length the end of Times. The Revelations tell the sequence of the things as it is supposed to happen from the Christian point of view. However, all kinds of religious figures and writers have made predictions – none of them accurate so far. Nevertheless, some sections in the world have contributed to the efforts of facilitating such an end by inventing an atomic bomb and neglecting the upkeep of the nuclear power stations. I myself was drenched in the rain in the days after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and now just wonder how much I radiate...

There is a continuous interest in the writings of Nostradamus, whose shot to the end of the world in 1999 – or at least his poems were seen in that light in our time. His Centuries, published in 1555, included encrypted references into the events in the future, interpreted to include such moments in the modern history as the rise of the Nazism and the 9/11 attacks. All intelligence can be lost in such interpretative pursuits, but he was taken up as one of the ‘authorities’ on December 2012 ‘non-event’. The twilight sources are drawn to support different preposterous arguments.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Wine landscapes

The origins of different agricultural products and evidence of the oldest use of resources are popular research topics – especially now when different scientific methods allow studying DNA and chemical composition of different matters. Considering it is the holiday season different alcoholic beverages are always popular news items and the evidence of oldest beer or wine production normally has worldwide exposure.

Beer seems to be less studied subject but wine studies crop up in the newspapers and Internet every now and then. This is partly due to the fact that wild wine plant is indigenous in many of the modern wine production areas where the companies have funded some of the research. Wine also has religious meaning being shared in the most important communal ritual in Christianity. It was also consumed by the great civilisations in the Mediterranean.

The University of Siena has been involved in studying the wild wines and the derivates in central Italy in Tuscany and northern Lazio. Ethnological work has also been carried out in Campania. Archaeologists have been involved in the projects in Tuscany and neighbouring areas. The scientists have compared the DNA make up of the plants at different locations to the existence of different archaeological sites in the area. ArcheoVino project has plotted the distributions in the Albegna river valley (Zifferero 2010), whereas Vinum project has managed to spot a difference in the characteristics of the plants near the Etruscan sites in comparison with the plants lying ‘in the wild’ (Giannace 2010). The autochthonous grapevine varieties helps to understand the past wine production and perhaps make people curious about the local grape varieties so that the rarer wines produced from the grapes nearer the original exploited wild versions do not vanish.

Ulla Rajala offered the 'In vino veritas: the history and archaeology of wine' course in Madingley Hall, Institute of Continuing Education, Cambridge the last weekend of January, January 25-27. More details from the ICE web site.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Space Archaeologist and Nephew of Jon do Roman Empire

Sometimes even if you know many of the people involved in a television programme it leaves you wanting. No matter how much you would like to like their offering you feel a little short-changed when the programme has ended. It is not the lack of interesting topic, historic events, archaeological monuments or first class research behind the programme that fails Rome’s Lost Empire, but the dumbed down way of speech and the lack of intellectually delivered narrative. The need to be shown to be impressive was probably more important than the real historical narrative and the archaeological results drawn by different teams.

First of all, one wondered, if the team from the University of Southampton digging at Portus, the harbour of Rome, and specialized not only in Roman archaeology but also in archaeological computing with the results reaching Second Life and beyond, really did not spend any time studying air photographs before Sarah Parcak started to look at her satellite images for this programme. She was unfamiliar with the geology and land use and was looking slightly lost somewhere in the flat hinterland of Fiumicino. Her work with the satellite recognition of Egyptian sites is truly amazing but here she was out of her comfort zone.

The Lidar study in Romania, ancient Dacia, gave exciting results showing the extent of one Roman fort there. Nevertheless, with clearly visible earthworks, it was likely to have been known from the start. My guess is that the programme helped the local archaeologists by revealing the exact perimeter of the fort – mapping such a large feature in the slopes of a wooded hill is a big task. The fact that this was a novel method to Sarah, made me suspect that somebody else did the data processing in order to filter the return signal from the trees.

The sections in Jordan and Tunisia presented some touristic images with the presenters riding camels to Petra and having a meal at a Bedouin tent with David Mattingly. In both cases Sarah and her iPad revealed a series of forts, apparently from Google Maps, highly visible in arid landscape if one knows what to look for and which geometric forms the ramparts of a fort take. Naturally, with large projects with huge amounts of field work, research and reporting, it just may be that different projects did not have time to scan the Google or Bing coverage for their study areas. In that case they are grateful that somebody else pays this work and gives them publicity and results.

The programme seemed to be a licence to travel across the Mediterranean and meet impressive archaeologists, so I am not surprised Sarah took this opportunity. After all, it was a Beeb documentary and presented a possibility to co-present an archaeological programme in the prime time. In addition, worthy projects got plenty of air time. However, there are several extremely good examples of engaging programmes, such as Raminez’s Treasures of the Anglo-Saxons or Worsley’s If Walls Could Talk. Nothing is worse for an archaeologist than a historian rolling his eyes and wondering aloud how archaeologists could say anything about sherds of pottery. The scripted scenes of finding possibly previously known features – but admittedly using a method giving results easier, quicker and more extensively – with simple story lines is unfulfilling. Is it such a shame to show one’s scholarly knowledge and speak to the audience like they are intellectual human beings, not slobs?

Nevertheless, there was a truly hilarious and impressive moment when the wiz kids from Southampton (or Beeb?) made the lighthouse of Portus, the symbol of the might of the empire, to rise among the detritus of disposed cars at a local end of the life scrappage centre or junk yard with Sarah, Dan and professor Simon Keay, the current assistant director of the British School at Rome, watching from a distance. The flair of ‘Five Go Exploring’ was there as it was throughout the programme, but the gimmick made a point.

PS. On the BBC web site the ‘If you liked this, you might also like’ suggestion was Homes under Hammer... That probably summed up the expectations from the Broadcasting Company’s side.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Googling my way through world archaeology

I am faced with a dilemma stemming from some teaching opportunities early next year that need preparing already in December if I want to get through everything. However, different educational providers require a certain number of learners to enrol onto the courses so I am well accustomed to a plethora of cancellations. After all, the times harsh and economy stretched. However, this time around there is a fair possibility that one or two courses actually will happen and thus I have to prepare the most obvious one or the one that has most ‘recycling potential’. Naturally, this all is on top of any other duties, such as finishing different articles having deadlines early next year, checking any proofs landing on my way and trying to make progress in long-term publication projects.

Luckily, drafting the skeletons of lectures is quicker than ever before. I still have a pile of paper prints and slides I took in the late 1980s and early 1990s before the dominance of digital photography with the idea that they may be useful when preparing lectures. During those times you arranged slides from your collection to the carousel or similar and used an overhead projector in order to present the bullet points of your presentation. Some of my collection has been scanned but every now and then I have to return to those slides. Nevertheless, now one can collect photographs with the aid of Google from different sources and museum collections have wonderful archives as well. Many museums have a lot of information on many core subjects and is full of the latest articles from different scholars. If one have an idea, it is easy to check part of the facts and collect photos for one’s presentation.

Some resources are better than others:

And for a quick check of the fact before consulting our home library or a proper library, Encyclopedia Britannica is reliable, unlike Wikipedia.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

A Personal History with just a fleeting mention of Sutton Hoo

Pamela Smith has now organized ‘Personal Histories’ sessions for some time. With these she tries to capture at least part of the oral history of archaeology by videoing and recording the sessions with her helpers. She started at Cambridge in 2006 with a panel remembering the 1970s and new archaeology, continued with women and gender archaeology a year later, and has lately been having at least one big session a year. Recently there have been sessions at the CAA conference in Southampton discussing and remembering the beginnings of computer archaeology and one at UCL, where the Institute of Archaeology is not only the largest department in the country but also had a big anniversary, so the project has truly become national. The videos of the sessions have been presented in different TAGs and the big session is like an annual tradition with its tea parties at Cambridge.

Carver on November 28 - on the left and right 40 years apart

This year the big event did not happen, but yesterday we had a smaller do, where Martin Carver was remembering his career. It became soon clear that the session was meant as a kind of career booster for the undergraduates, since as Carver reminded us, ‘if I can make it, anybody can’. He does even not have a degree in archaeology, but only a diploma. Nevertheless, in his generation this is not unusual. Degrees and PhDs where not so important when money was tight and archaeology was not professionalized or organized into heritage industry. What counted was, and counts still today, is the experience, results and publications.

Carver did discuss his research intensively together with his freelance digger and youth programme years at the urban excavations, but Sutton Hoo was mentioned almost passing. He emphasized that it was run as a business proposal with a research strategy with members and people coming to dig during their summer holidays. He also had BBC crew making a Chronicle programme and we did see David Attenborough on one of the photos. The longest Sutton Hoo story involved the lack of skill the modern sailors of a reconstruction Viking boat had in comparison to their forefathers. That trip in question ended with all down in the cold sea after the boat capsized.

What became clear was how important Carver’s military career had been for his archaeological career, although he seemed to downplay its importance. He spent over 10 years stationed in different parts of the crumbling empire and managed in one place abroad to put out a small archaeological exhibition – and he suggested that army time and visits to different countries did not affect his later career choice... Nevertheless, the most lasting legacy of the army life was the routine in planning, strategy, organisation and giving workable orders. At the time when archaeology was to a large extent an academic ad hoc pursuit, as he himself suggested, his concise documents and structured plans must have become as a revelation. No wonder the Sutton Hoo project was such a success and a professorship loomed.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Gastronomic archaeology

This year the Annual McDonald Lecture was given by Professor Mary Beaudry on a topic of gastronomic archaeology. Professor Mary Beaudry works at the University of Boston where she is running a Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy. This degree combines archaeological and anthropological study with scientific study of food stuffs and nutrition. She gave an outline of her holistic approach. After all she is a historical archaeologist/anthropologist.

Professor Beaudry

She did not use the word, but she clearly considers a dinner party as a performance in a scene. In any case she distinguished four elements in a dinner party: a location (scene), material culture (sub-assemblage), food and people. Location does not include only the archaeological context but also bodies, ambiance and smells. People do not include only the participants, but in the case of 18th and 19th-century dinner parties also the servants/waiters/personnel. Material culture helps to create an assemblage of practice that is not only involved in use but consumption.

Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm (photo via link to Boston University)

She has excavated a series of historical homes in north-western United States in Massachusetts. She discussed in her lecture the case study of the pantry excavations at Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury, Massachusetts, originally built around 1690. This extended building was owned by a series of not-so-successful characters during the early Independence. They wined and dined, but did not go very far. However, the totality of the evidence, including the functionally categorised china collection and their diaries with all hovering grammatical and spelling mistakes, was very compelling. They had a steady dribble of guests, family and friends, with roast piglets and veal legs on offer – the former also in evidence in the bone assemblage. These meats apparently were served with roast vegetables in a British manner.

A fitting lecture before the traditional buffet of nibbles, sandwiches and tartlets served with wine and orange juice.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Golden news

The recent weeks have seen a series of archaeological news in the national or international arena. These news do not have much common – naturally, apart from being the results of an archaeological digs. We have seen gold from Bulgaria, mammoth bones from France and a giant from Rome. The most glittering of these is of course – both literately and actually – are the golden objects from a tomb in Bulgaria. These Thracian finds have promptly connected with Alexander the Great. It seems to be all in the family!

One of Thracian objects (link to Daily Mail Online)

The site of the ancient Getic burial complex, in the past area of the Gaths, situated near the village of Sveshtari, approximately 400 kilometres northeast from Sofia. The gold came from the largest of 150 burials. These finds could be, as suggested by Diana Gergova, the chief archaeologist at the site, related to the funeral of the Gath ruler Kotela, one of the father-in-laws of Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great's father. It seems the lure of finding the known named persons from the past is alive and well.

Digging 'Helmut'

The mammoth was found near Paris in France while the archaeologists were excavating ancient Roman remains in a quarry near the town of Changis-sur-Marne. The mammoth has been promptly named ‘Helmut’. Mammoth finds are not that rare; the distribution and extinction of this animal has been studied with the finds from Scandinavia and Estonia and Helmut was the fourth almost full mammoth skeleton from France alone. However, Helmut was definitely in contact with humans as suggested by the flint implements found at the same location. Two tiny flint flakes were found among the bones indicating that cavemen cut into the body, but clearly did not kill the animal with these pieces. Nevertheless, these finds are evidence of mammoth – human interaction 100 000 – 200 000 years ago. The chief archaeologist Gregory Bayle says: “We're working on the theory that Neanderthal men came across the carcass and cut off bits of meat.”

A bone with gigantism from Fidenae (by Simona Minozzi, Endocrine Society)

National Geographic has published the oldest skeleton find with gigantism, the condition that makes the sufferer to grow into a considerable height. The skeleton was excavated already in 1991 from Fidenae, one of the modern suburbs of Rome that was the location of one Archaic Latin cities. This skeleton has only been properly studied recently. Nevertheless, this area had a considerable rural settlement in the Roman period and as it was located on the Via Salaria its probable roadside or villa location was a natural choice for a Roman cemetery. He was 202 cm tall – approximately 35 cm taller than his average contemporaries in the 3rd century AD.

These are all exotic, attractive finds that feed anyone’s imagination. However, there is a serious scientific content with each news item, be it the interregional contacts between the Mediterranean and the other areas, the human – animal interaction or the history of human pathology. In these days Twitter and Facebook deliver the news even wider than the traditional newspapers and broadcasting companies. While trying to find out, if Priddy Circles had been discussed in Twitter, I found a plethora of retweeted tweets with the Roman giant instead.

Mammoths in Sweden: Ukkonen, L. Arppe, M. Houmark-Nielsen, K.H. Kjær, J.A. Karhu: ‘MIS 3 mammoth remains from Sweden—implications for faunal history, palaeoclimate and glaciation chronology’, Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 26, Issues 25–28, December 2007, 3081–3098
Mammoths in Estonia: Lougas, P. Ukkonen, H. Junger: ‘Dating the extinction of European mammoths: new evidence from Estonia’, Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 21, Issues 12–13, July 2002, 1347–1354

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The draw of places – the consecutive reuse of landscapes

A desktop study can reveal something different from the underlying archaeology that is only fully understood during an excavation. The Medieval earthworks at Eye Kettleby suggested Medieval activity in an area of designated development. These ‘humps and bumps’ had already been mapped in the field and from the air photographs in the 1980s, and large quantities of flints and Anglo-Saxon pottery were later recovered during a field survey in the 1990s. These finds suggested activities inside a wide period between Mesolithic and Bronze Age and a later possible Early-Middle Anglo-Saxon cemetery. Nevertheless, the main feature of the published excavation (Finn 2011) turned out to be ‘ceremonial’ enclosures defined by ditches with Bronze Age cremations and with an Anglo-Saxon settlement in the northern area. This shows how the expectation of find something typical, such as an Anglo-Saxon cemetery, defines the initial interpretation.

The area today in Google

The area is bordered in the south-west by a stream but the river Wreake runs farther in the north. The area was at the time of the excavation relatively flat, but there were indications that the carr in the west was filled in during the Medieval period in order to level the area. The flint finds representing the earliest intervention in the area corresponds to blade technology with a few mainly end scrapers dated roughly to the Mesolithic/Early Neolithic. Later layer of flints belong to the Neolithic/Early Bronze Age blade technology with a higher number of scrapers and retouched flakes. Most of the flint finds from the carr were debitage, but there was a Neolithic flint axe, of orange flint and probably exotic, which could have been deposited with intention.

There were a couple of Neolithic pits but the main feature was four enclosures, two round ones and two oval ones. The circular enclosures were in the middle and those oval ones on both sides creating a somewhat elongated shape. The cremations concentrated inside the enclosures. The scientific dates of the Early Bronze Age cemetery are around 2100 and 1800 BC. The circular enclosures do remind ring ditches around the barrows in Leicestershire as is pointed out by Finn. The site was reused as an ‘Urnfield’ cemetery at a slightly later date towards the Middle Bronze Age with 8 separate groups of cremations. Some of these were between the enclosures, some farther away and three groups inside three of four enclosures. The oval one in the east remained empty. The dates from the urned cremations hover around 1500-1600 BC with a wider spread with the unurned ones.

During the Late Bronze Age the site was in both settlement and funerary use. There were pit alignments with animal bones to create boundaries into the area, which had signs of houses with ditches and post-holes and a hearth pit. The Late Bronze Age finds included a socketed bronze axe, spindlewhorl and loomweights. This earlier ceremonial space was at least partly truly domesticated at this point.

The monumental enclosures here did not lie in isolation but as part of a busy Bronze Age landscape with ring ditches and barrows dotting the Eye/Wreake river valley, not to mention flint scatters and possible Late Bronze Age settlements. Interestingly, there is a pit with a considerable deposit of fired clay and pottery that suggests that the destruction of the Late Bronze Age building was deliberate. Brück has suggested that the short-lived settlements were a sign of generational shift. At least these signs of deliberate dismantling are more common than just present there at Eye Kettleby.

Finn, N., 2011.Bronze Age Ceremonial Enclosures and Cremation Cemetery at Eye Kettleby, Leicestershire. Leicester Archaeology Monograph 20.

This site in the online databases:
Heritage Gateway (multiple records)
Archaeology Data Service

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Priddy Circle verdict: how much is a monument worth?

This week brought the sentencing of the case of the partial destruction of one of the Priddy Circles in the Mendips in Somerset. A retired businessman who had bought the farm house near the Circles had hired a contractor to do some building work across one of the monuments. This work led to the partial filling and destruction of one of the Circles. This week the landowner was ordered to pay up to £37,000 for restoration work, given a fine of £2,500 and told to pay legal costs of £7,500.

'Bulldozed' Priddy circle (photo from Telegraph)

How has the archaeological community responded to this sentence? RESCUE has not notified this news on its web page. BAJR does not have it in its archaeology news even if the actual destruction can be found through their search engine in the Past Horizons blog (under English Heritage). Neither is this news on the news page of the Council of British Archaeology or English Heritage. English Heritage has released a press release, though, flagged elsewhere in the blogosphere. I was unable to find it on the English Heritage web pages. I myself noticed the news from that always reliable archaeological source – the Daily Mail Online. It has also been notified by the local paper in Somerset.

Heritage Action blog has dissected the verdict and referred to the EH press release. Their verdict of the verdict is that the fine for destroying a unique Neolithic monument was a joke. They refer to a recent sentence were a fine of £2,600 was handed for installing uPVC windows in a listed farmhouse. It is clear that even if there is a price for the restoration work, the scale of sentencing was lenient – considering the relative wealth of the guilty party. English Heritage states that "English Heritage is very pleased that Mr Penny has agreed to pay for repairs to the monument and other mitigation works at a cost of around £38,000... ...In sentencing the judge was clear that had it not been for Mr Penny’s agreement to pay these substantial mitigation costs, the fine would have been significantly higher".

The judge considered the cooperation of the accused throughout the process a factor that led to a more lenient sentence and lower fine. English Heritage is happy with this verdict as a showcase that they "can and will prosecute in cases of serious damage and unauthorised works to Scheduled Monuments". English Heritage considers as a positive sign the recognition from the part of the defendant and the court that the Priddy Circles are of great importance and that they agree that this was a serious offence.

Is £2,500 a lot? The damaged section is perhaps one quarter of the area of one circle. There are four Priddy Circles, and thus, the damage was done to a 1/16 of the Circles. The site has been compared to the Stonehenge and if this can be taken for face value, one could cheekily suggest that serious damage to Stonehenge might result with a fine of £40,000 – if the accused shows remorse and agrees that Stonehenge is of great importance. And the sum would only be this high, if the damage would cover all parts of the monument...

Thursday, 25 October 2012

University landscapes

Universities seem to mingle and intertwine with their surroundings in different ways. Many older universities concentrate in certain areas and have central buildings but are ultimately integrated to the fabric of the cities where they are located. This is true for example with the Universities of Bologna, Groningen and Helsinki. Some towns ARE basically universities, such as Cambridge or Oxford, that are synonymous with their universities, even if there are other higher education facilities in these cities.


Many universities have separated campuses, either physically in a different location outside urban area, as Keele or Birmingham are. Some of these campuses are engulfed by the city, but separated by a wall, as is “La Sapienza” at Rome. Some newer universities are slotted in different locations and are actually more regional outlets, like the other Cambridge University the Anglia Ruskin with a second campus in Chelmsford. Then, there is the Open University that may engage its students remotely, but has very physical locations at Milton Keynes and different regional centres. Good old-fashioned buildings in brick and mortar.

It is easy to recognize that the main building of the University College London is special and the Cambridge and Oxford colleges represent different modes of college building. In one city the buildings is more open and in the other more fortress-like, but they both are clearly buildings with a certain function, easy to classify apart, even if one was a Martian on one’s first trip on the Earth.

University Library, Cambridge

Nevertheless, no matter how much different universities try to move their libraries online, rationalise their collections, introduce cafeteria and retail areas and cut the book spending, a feature that epitomises scholarly research is a library. Even if I have passed there many times, the long, narrow corridors of the University Library at Cambridge still impress me with the sheer number of books and nothing makes you feel more like a real scholar than sitting on one of the chairs in the main reading room of the American Academy in Rome, when the windows are open with the early summer wind blowing through and you are tapping away with your laptop. The same awe of surroundings and the situational appropriateness fills you in the Bodleian Library. This does make a university a mental place, but defined by the physicality of its buildings and surroundings - not to mention its objects.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Community archaeologist has gone – long live community archaeology!?

It is somewhat ironic that the surge in job placements in archaeology in community archaeology is a simultaneous development with the disappearance of the dedicated community archaeologist post in Leicestershire. Throughout the eighties, nineties and noughties Leicestershire county council gave support to local groups so that local communities could come together and study the past of their villages. Community archaeologist gave training to volunteers, paid visits to different groups in order to check the finds and teach the members to recognize different materials and provided materials in order to record and storage the finds. These were deposited to the local museum for safekeeping.

Community archaeology has not completely disappeared from Leicestershire but the remit has been joined with the other duties of the county council’s museum service archaeologist. With the new round of savings coming and such measures discussed as the ‘temporary’ closure of the Market Harborough Museum, it is questionable how the new archaeology officer has time apart from an occasional visit to see one of the larger and more active excavating groups in action or help with the deposition of the most important finds together with some general communication duties. After all, the new officer is also responsible for all the collections that are presented in different museums from Snipston to Charnwood and Market Harborough to Melton Mowbray. One person cannot do all – and there is the Festival of Archaeology coming up every year, too!

Nevertheless, the local community archaeology and fieldworking groups have a first class asset in Leicestershire Fieldworkers. Nor has Peter Liddle left archaeology, but he works as a freelancer. The severance of the permanent link with the county council and the financial benefit it brought means that the ways of communication between fieldworkers are changing towards e-mail and internet-based interaction, whereas previously the newsletter was posted to every member. This new situation also means that the groups have to take greater responsibility over their activities and probably also deal with the cost. The Fieldworkers as an organisation guarantees – at least as long the current chairman and Peter Liddle are active – the support the groups need and a way to provide professional assistance to the groups in order to guarantee that the high-quality work continues.

Friday, 12 October 2012

The way we live today

After getting an offer on Phil’s Victorian terraced house we have been looking at the properties and visited a series of homes locally, mainly in different local estates. Naturally, coming from abroad, my perception of normal family home is somewhat different from a normal English one since I did live in apartments all my life in Finland. A flat with a living room, a kitchen and a couple of bedrooms together with a balcony was what I and my friends called a home. Many people aspired buying a plot of land and ‘building’ their own homes – or purchasing a detached house package from one of the providers – something my brother is doing right now. My dream home was in one of the early 20th century stone town apartment blocks with their high ceilings and Jugend/Art Nouveau features.

Your average new development

In recent weeks I have seen a series of detached or semi-detached houses with a living room and a dining area behind in front of the patio windows. You could not have patio windows in the northern climates where you could only have a proper large window and a door next to it with proper insulation. Then it is upstairs to the three bedrooms and the pokeyish family bathroom. Some of the boxrooms are decent but some have the stairwell eating into the room with all kinds of shelf and cupboard solutions built on top of them. The standard living space seems often small and these houses suddenly have made the Victorian pokiness seem less so.

The newer the estate the smaller the gardens. Some of the plots are ridiculously small, when you consider these houses were meant to be family homes from the beginning. The fences have to be relatively low in order to allow sun properly onto the small plots, so you will get to know your neighbours in these locations. In some estates there is a huge front garden, mostly taken up nowadays by car bays. In one front garden there were two white vans and a normal car. In these cases the front space is in good use, but sometimes you wonder, if a larger proper garden or a larger house could have been a better solution.

Then there are the garages. They are not used as garages anymore but feature freezers, washing machines and extra dressers and cupboards together with all kinds of clutter. The modern houses are clearly too small, when the things we really need do not fit in into their small kitchens. Some of the dining areas can hardly fit a table for six and can feel claustrophobic, if the large patio doors lead to a very small garden. All the light but no space.

This economic use of space is nothing new. Already the Romans were building type houses and blocks and flats with repeated floor plans. The ancient Ostia has plenty of these buildings that can be explored by modern visitors. These rooms seem to have been relatively dark, although this is sometimes difficult to clarify due to the partial preservation of the remains. The large villas and town houses were lavish and spacious, but the flats could be very pokey. Money talks – and did talk.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Coins in a context

The Hallaton treasure gives us an unparallel insight into the deposition of coin hoards, even if it presents a special case with the late Iron Age shrine it is connected with. Vicki Score (2011) and a series of specialists have published lately a full volume to present different aspects of the hoard. Even if it is clear that more cartographic presentations and reconstructions will follow taken the emphasis on textual representation in presenting the context and interpretations, the volume shows us how the coins entered into the treasure.

Iron Age coins from Hallaton Treasure

Approximately 64 % of the coins originated from properly excavated stratified contexts. Out of over 5000 coins only 149 were Roman and 116 from other Iron Age areas outside north-east Corieltavi. Most stratified finds were related to an entranceway or to the Roman helmet. The latest Roman coins struck were from early Imperial period from the reign of Emperor Claudius AD 41/42. This confirms the exceptional nature of these deposits originating from a time when ‘the Romans were coming’.

The excavators could count 14 separate hoards in the entranceway area, several of them in clustered appearance, clearly been put into ground in ‘purses’. The make-up was very similar and the coins came from the same circulation pool. They were deposited over an extended period but Leins in the volume assumes they were buried in c. AD 43-50, during the early post-conquest period when the East Midlands was falling under the Romans. The coins buried with the helmet, presenting two different areas of deposition, nevertheless seem to form a single act of deposition. There was a discreet group of coins in the north-eastern part of the helmet pit but there was a number of coins alongside the helmet. The chronological distribution of the helmet coins was consistent with the reign of Emperor Tiberius.

In comparison, only a tiny number of coins came from ditches or other contexts. However, the composition of the ditch contexts was different with 50 % of coins being unstruck early types. These coins represented only a few percent of the entranceway or helmet deposits. There were other metal objects from the ditch, including a silver bowl and silver and silver and copper alloy ingots. The ditch deposits were partly destroyed by a land drain so a detailed reconstruction of the ditch fill contents is not possible.

The general trends in chronological composition were very similar, if not identical to the Scole and Warmington hoards. However, the Hallaton distribution peaks at 89-80 BC that is considered peculiar to the site. A number of coins from the stratified contexts and especially from unstratified ploughsoil are from later Roman periods. There were coins from the Flavian period and the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian but a higher number from the late Roman times, especially the late 4th century AD. These finds seem to avoid the Iron Age ritual area, though.

The Hallaton promontory hillock overlooking the rivervalley

The coin deposits follow different logics. The early ditch deposits were lying on the left-hand side when going in, whereas the entranceway deposits were on the left-hand side when going out. In addition, the feasting deposits were buried outside the boundary. Score suggests a social distinction between the participants inside and outside. The location of many of the hoardsites near the hilltops suggest that the rituals were highly visible to those who were not directly participating in the acts.

Score, V., 2011. Hoards, Hounds and Helmets. A conquest-period ritual site at Hallaton, Leicestershire. Leicester Archaeology Monograph 21.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Beaumont Leys, a suburb already in the Iron Age?

One of the most interesting things archaeologically about the Beaumont Leys estate is not necessarily how it stands for the modern architectural ideals that went slightly sour, but how it is a site of ‘aggregated’ Iron Age settlements. No isolated farmsteads here, but a sinuous linear boundary and north from it the remains of nine or so roundhouses, some of them comfortably c. 10 m in diameter.

The sites at Beaumont Leys (© Leicester City Council and MapInfo)

There were signs of earlier visits during the Neolithic and Bronze Age in the form of occasional sherds deposited in otherwise Iron Age structures. This site is one of the hut sites at Beaumont Leys presented in the City Council MapInfo Historic Environmental Record (HER). This is not even the only area with a site of this type but there is another one, excavated around the same time in Humberstone and published in the same volume (Thomas 2011). Nevertheless, visiting Beaumont Leys every week and normally just seeing the shopping centre or the petrol station makes it delightful to know that there is more to the reputation of this estate.

Linear feature on Google Maps

Now the main archaeological site is the site of an Office depot and your average industrial estate warehouse building with a huge car park, virtually approachable in Google Street View. The astonishing fact is that in Google Maps the excavation is still visible and you can follow with your own eyes the linear boundary (see above) rounding up the site on the southern site. In your mind’s eye you can almost see ‘Asterix’ and ‘Obelix’ walking into the roundhouse of the village druid while keeping the troubadour at an arm's length.

Game model of the Gaulish village (linked image from Eclypsia game pages)

Thomas, J., 2011. Two Iron Age 'Aggregated' Settlements in the environs of Leicester. Excavations at Beaumont Leys and Humberstone. Leicester Archaeology Monographs 19.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Darkness in the sun

Jersey beach

There is one part of the UK that was under Nazi occupation. The Channel Islands along the French Coast were occupied for almost five years between 1940 and 1945. The beautiful beaches in Jersey are dotted with watch towers, and the public can visit bunkers and tunnels at different locations on the island. The other islands have similar monuments but for family reasons I keep visiting Jersey.

The island provides wide sandy beaches with dunes and moorland. On a fair day the sea is blue and turquoise, and you have the vineyards and agricultural land inland with cattle herds and endless rows of potato. For a long time the occupation heritage was not discussed much but lately there has been a lot of activity in order to gather more information from the dwindling population who can still remember those times and to make people aware of the past.

The Channel Islands Occupation Society has looked after the building works since the 1960s but a Cambridge researcher with Guernsey roots has been studying the different aspects of the Occupation legacy and its materiality lately. Dr Gillian Carr has four current research projects, running or about to start, devoted to the archaeological evidence from this period. Her first project discusses the heritage of the Second World War and the German Occupation on the islands, whereas the second project looks at the material culture of the prisoners of war during that period. The third project explores the more comfortable aspects of the occupation, namely protest and resistance against the occupiers. Her fourth project will be on the archaeology and heritage of forced and slave labour as part of a European research project related to the Atlantic Wall.

This research activity and the related exhibitions, conferences and seminars allow revisiting this dark period at a moment, when enough time has passed for the collection of its memories to become urgent but also more palatable. The monuments around Jersey always tell a walker about the heritage of the island. However, the megaliths of Jersey remind of a more positive distant past that does not require reminding people about past deportations and other horrors.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Landscape of car parks

Serious heritage ‘outlets’, historic houses and famous sites, do not only have to present their famous contents but also cater for the needs of the visitors. A large majority of sites are not conveniently by the centre of a town as the Ashby Castle is. The English Heritage parking area is minuscule and intended for disabled visitors. The visitors use the general parking areas in this market town.

Chatsworth car park (image: Google)

The largest of sites have huge marked parking areas and extensive facilities to provide food and shopping opportunities, not only for the convenience of the visitors but also in order to raise revenue for the sites. One of the huge professional operations is Chatsworth in Derbyshire. The recent BBC series hints the huge extent of the facilities but only a visit to the buzzing gardens and a look at the Google Earth imagery shows that the car parks – even if covered partly by trees at spacious intervals – cover an area larger than the house itself and its rose garden.

I must be in a minority in not opposing to the roads by Stonehenge. But then the fame of Stonehenge had created this immense mental perception that was duly trashed when the public bus was approaching this destination. The famous site looked much smaller than the extent it had grown in my mind. Nevertheless, people have needed to cross this landscape for ages and the roads have been there for a long time. I can understand that it improves the asset of Stonehenge to try to strip the immediate landscape of these ‘modern’ layers and allow admiring the viewlines, but at the time I was thinking that the earlier plan to dig a tunnel to save a short stretch of a sight of a road was not really realistic. No matter how marvellous opportunity that plan would have given to archaeologists who would have had to excavate along the tunnel line and could have made extensive scientific studies of soils and paleoenvironment. You could hear the brains of the paleoarchaeologists to make plans.

Cars are part of our current culture and the heritage sites have to be managed. Thus, the car parks are here to stay and if they are not next to the site, they will be somewhere nearby, even if out of sight.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Looking for a bad king

Shakespeare and in a much lesser part Josephine Tey have a lot to answer for in creating the modern perception of king Richard III. The king famously perished in the battle of Bosworth (also mentioned in this blog), in 1485 while in Shakespeare’s play (Richard III, Act 5, scene 4, 7) he uttered the famous words “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”. After his death he was taken back to Leicester to a Franciscan Friary in the city.

Now a University of Leicester archaeological team is digging in the city's Greyfriars car park where they think he may have been buried. The precise location of the burial has been long lost but with the modern methods they hope to pinpoint the right location. The project team says that their work is “the first ever search for the lost grave of an anointed King of England”.

This was headline archaeological news presented with some Bosworth re-enactors giving a play battle in the car park. Richard Buckley, the co-director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, revealed the real archaeological aim behind the news-grabbing quotes. The main thing is to find the foundations of the Greyfriars church and place it in the matrix of the Medieval town.

The trial trench (photo: University of Leicester)

A ground-penetrating radar was looking for the lines of the foundations in the car part and now the team has two weeks to reveal any structures. So far they seem to have found what they were looking for - the church, not the body, yet. However, one element of the project has to be pointed out. Somebody had been ploughing through the archives and tracked down a full female line of the descendants of Richard III. A male descendant had been found, and on cameras he took a swap in order to give a DNA sample for the team. However, nobody praised the traditional historical ancestry research, which was required for any more modern analyses.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Perceptions of Flag Fen Alive

This week brought us the news that the crowd-funded excavation at Flag Fen had finished. Peterborough Times quoted Lisa Westcott Wilkins, managing director of DigVentures that run the excavation, who said that they achieved what they wanted to achieve, and they had nothing but positive feedback from people who participated. They stated that the project was a ‘success’.

Journalist does archaeology (picture link)

A reporter from Peterborough Times, their feature editor, visited the excavation and got into cleaning a trench. He joined a team of 25 people who were made up of DigVentures members, Birmingham University archaeologists, total beginners, and the excavation dog called Fergus. During the first day the finds included a fragment of a 5,000 year-old flint axe, animal bones and holes left by the now-vanished timbers used in Flag Fen’s causeway.

On the day the reporter was entertained by resident flint knappers evocative descriptions but he described the hard work in the brutal sunshine in 30 degree heat. Nevertheless, he considered documenting what was found the previous day in the 20-metre long trench by the 10 or so people who had paid to dig “the less inspiring aspect of archaeology away from the uncovering”. But he noted that the enthusiasm of experts on the day, including DigVentures managing director Lisa Wescott Wilkins and Time Team regular and project manager Raksha Dave, remained undimmed.

It is interesting to note that Martin Carver who gave a talk as part of the project in the evening of that same day was somewhat pessimistic about local participation. He pointed to his own experiences in similar project in Scotland and at Sutton Hoo; at the latter site it took three or four years before anyone from the surrounding area came to see the excavation. However, he pointed out that there is a big population in Peterborough and when the schools will be involved, the children will bring their family and parents. This may suggest that people who happily may take part into local archaeology groups are less likely to pay for their local pastime. Considering the success of garden test pits and Michael Wood, one suspects that people come more easily when the site is not over-familiar and they can experience a new famous site.

The trench (picture link)

The day by day news feed can be found on the DigVentures web site. It is clear that the sunny weather helped a lot since the similar weather as early in the ‘summer’ would have resulted in misery for all parties. Now there is a continuous thread of upbeat tweets. The project also got good coverage from the BBC with a prompt about the closure of the dig.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Not Ferragosto yet

Sometimes working in Italy can test your patience. I already told you about my futile trip to Civita Castellana in order to draw some pottery. However, now I have managed to get these few diagnostic pieces drawn and I also found out that my study space was upgraded! I was not in a dark former jail room near entrance but in a room along the main court next to the conservation department. This room was lighter and had a lamp ready. In three hours and with an extra check I was done. If only the travel would have taken so many hours.

One can see that the winter was harsh since Via Flaminia was full off filled potholes and giving me a bumpy ride. Due to the hot weather I rushed towards Rome with the air conditioning on a full blast. I did not register where I was although I just had passed the S. Oreste junction. Thus, I apparently managed to earn three points to my driving licence – although a scholar in the institute suggested they were not added to Finnish driving licences that do not use point system. I have been contemplating the change to the British one so I was glad I had not got around to it just yet.

The weather is one of the number one discussion topics in Italy since after an unusual cold winter the summer started with the August temperatures already in June. I was in the city when the fourth afa-warning came into place. This one had a snazzy name with a dragon in its name and blew from the deserts of Algeria. The first part of my week was manageable with cool nights but the latter part was sweaty and boiling. In the afternoon the mind started to wonder in a small sweaty room. Unfortunately, the same space took the morning sun during the coolest time of the working day but with a certain finishing day one had to try to plough through even if the heat made everything slow.

Luckily, I had made my trip to the library – Biblioteca Nazionale, the only large library open in August in Rome – during a cooler day. The visits always take the same trajectory. You hurry in order to the library order the book you need and then linger around for an hour while waiting for your order. This time around there was something important also in the open collection so I could start my hectic note taking straight after having my morning coffee.

I can here apologize those colleagues I should have contacted but could not under the heavy workload and travelling with my young family. Pazienza – the things will happen when the weather is cooler and the mountains are not obscured by afa.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Everyday view of the Eternal City

What is the first thing you do when you get to Rome? That is after you have made your way from either of the airports to the city centre. Every now and then, as occurred yesterday, my first thing is to go to the supermarket to fetch the dinner and the essentials for the breakfast. This time it was more urgent than ever since my son would not have taken missing his evening milk lightly. It was only an hour to the closing time and it was easier to run down the hill to the well-trotted supermarket instead of finding the way to the more distant ones that are open until 11pm or 24 hours.

So here I went with a rucksack in my back, through the gate and through the park where a large number of pensioners had placed their deckchairs in groups. Down the chairs past the Spanish school and down the second set of chairs into Trastevere. Then a brisk walk across the square almost not seeing the tourist sitting around the fountain and ignoring the beggers. A brief scan around on both sides of the road as I proceeded. Yes, Bar San Calisto was full and my favourite pizza place and the neighbouring pizza places were open for business as well so the future meals seem sorted. Then a quick spurt down the road, turn right and through the doors, meandering through the children’s clothing section (Yes!! The sale is still on!) and down the stairs to the super market.

What followed was a 1920’s comedy silent film paced run through the super market. A grab of minimum fruit and veg and rapid progress to the chilled milk section. A quick pick of a couple of yogurts and plenty of milk, basic cheese and then a turn to look for some bread. Next picking up some ham and a diversion to the wine section. I paused only to check that the white wines snapped from the discount section were not the ones I do normally avoided. I had a grave disappointment when my favourite coffee was out but Lavazza Rossa will do. I managed to find the rearranged fruit juice section and pass the biscuit one and proceed to the tills just before when the lady started to make announcements about the imminent closure of the shop. After ignoring the usual pleas for small change – I did only have a one big note – I had achieved a result. The final hurdle was waiting for the regular bus and get uphill with my bags bursting. Now we were able to cook our dinner. How mundane can a first night in the Eternal City be!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Archaeological professional landscape

This is my last normal working week before our ‘summer holiday’, even if the holiday has to be in the inverted commas, since we have to do some finds work in order to clear our desks and get Remembering the Dead project wrapped up. This just seems to be lingering on – mostly because of the most usual of laments, i.e. the lack of money. Sadly, this time around the other main reason is one other person’s lack of time. I have got promises, but what I fathom from the records I have received this far, the promised schedule is already lagging behind so much that the results will be different from the expected.

The landscape I most reliably see nowadays is my computer screen. I have multiple articles on the go and hope to see major progress with the projects I am writing up by early autumn. Then I hope I will be only one winter away from having my basic publication responsibilities met and becoming free to pursuit other projects. I am dying to get back to the field and hope the commercial archaeology will pick up if the government will resort to the infrastructure project so that the employment prospects and archaeological professional landscape will become more positive. The current news is filled with prominent archaeologists made redundant, and museums and departments being closed.

How the things are today can be read from the Rescue cut map. The Institute for Archaeologists has a Protecting Archaeological Services page where it gives tips for action. This reflects the turmoil Britain is in – considering yesterday’s GDP figures. The less than rosy situation is also reflected by the Diggers’ Forum work away report that points to the high cost of travel. Archaeology is not the only field were the salaries do not really support travelling to work. This is something government should probably think about when they try to get unemployed to the employment alongside the childcare options - something that can restrict working in the commercial sector as well.

The return from the holidays will see another familiar archaeological ‘landscape feature’ reappearing – the next round of money applications is looming...

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Placing your country house

I took advantage of one of the rare sunny days forecast lately and visited Calke Abbey in Derbyshire. There had been a priory but it was long gone, disappeared in the abolishment of all catholic organised religious communities by Henry VIII. Later the land was passed to private ownership and belonged to the local gentry who built their Tudor country house on the land. Later this building was replaced by more upmarket stone house in the 18th century.

The country house

Was it for the effect of the emerging major building work in a valley when the visitors approached from the road above or the ready source of water, the owners chose to place the country house in a hollow and had to cut the nearby slope at a later stage to give their new house a little more breathing space. The monastic houses did lie near a stream in order to help with their fish ponds and provide fish for Fridays and Lent. The slightly awkward location of the private house meant that at the later stage when the garden fashion moved to favour ponds these were not visible from the country house itself. There was very little that resembled a traditional view. The original garden was next to the house but when natural landscaping became the order of the day the walled gardens relocated up to the hill and could not be directly admired from the house either.

One part of the bird collection

No wonder the owners turned inside little by little. Those who have visited this National Trust property know that it is more a house museum than a country house for the traditional entertaining and that the last of the Harpur Crewes lived a solitary existence surrounded by a vast collection of stuffed birds. They kept everything they could and left their house as a testament of obsessive collecting with a paper trail running back to the 17th century. The house is a monument to the 20th century decay of the large country houses but it is also a prime example of private collecting. But that is another story.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Crowdfunding and crowdblogging worked but not all is well in archaeology

After starting blogging I have noticed two things [among others]. Firstly, there are people dropping in comments that are basically just links to their or their client’s business web site. Secondly, a few people push their topics for blogging. Sometimes this is plain awkward when they suggest things that are farfetched from archaeology; I was for example asked to write something about ecology. However, sometimes the approaches are appropriate, such as with the FlagFen Lives! Initiative with DigVenture.

I wrote about Flag Fen initiative back in March. Now I returned to their web site in order to find if they have managed to raise the funding needed to run the initial field season. Yes, they apparently got all of their target of £25,000. Now the excavation has been confirmed and it will run between the July 23 and August 12. It will be interesting to see how everything pans out at a later stage.

I have also been interested in checking the results of the Day of Archaeology 2012 and its entries. Sadly, there is no general participant board, yet, nor a map presenting a selection of the width and breadth of the entries. However, I read an interesting entry from a last year’s postdoc participant who has decided to get a proper job suggesting that people should have a Plan B and decided to keep twittering and participating otherwise in archaeology to keep the flame alive. I also found a long piece from Wessex Archaeology and a cartoon from Museum of London Archaeology. Everything seem to be there – U.S. military veterans engaging in archaeology, a large excavation project at Gabii in Rome stalling for Pietro e Paolo bank holiday and Spanish archaeologists writing in Spanish. I got a thank you e-mail that was lamenting the fact that the participant numbers were down but that is not necessarily unexpected taking into account that the building trade is slow and the archaeology departments, such as the one at Birmingham, are in danger.

The closure of the award winning institute of archaeology and antiquity and the loss of 19 jobs at Birmingham has now been confirmed. There have been many allegations from one party and another. This video and a retranslation of Downfall offer one view to the matter.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Spending reviews and archaeology

My short visit to Rome and its environs coincided with the Italian spending review in our changing financial and economic landscape. At my return it was confirmed that the Italian government will cut 10 % of the state employees and 20 % of managers. This was the talk of the workplace where I visited. The emphasis is on those who will be close to the retirement age, which in Italy depends on the number of years served. Those within two years from retirement will be relieved from their duties.

This will probably have a profound effect on how Italian state will be functioning. Without real changes to the practices it may become difficult to carry out certain duties. Italian bureaucracy is hierarchical and duties are closely defined. If the authority is not there, things may not happen. Often people are really friendly and try to help, but if the person you are dealing with is in a lowlier position, the personnel is unlikely to stretch the rules if there is any possibility of sanctions. Everything official needs an authorisation.

I experienced this once again when I tried to get the final drawings for an article done in an Italian museum where the finds are stored. I had approached the local manager at the museum who has the right to give the finds to the external scholars who have research permits. From this manager I got the name of the new day-to-day custodian who happens to be one of the conservers at the museum. I had phoned the conserver to make sure that he was available on the day I was suggesting an appointment and I sent an e-mail a couple of days later to tell him the box I needed to have in my disposal in order to find the few diagnostic pieces I needed to draw. Then I organized the flights, the transport and the accommodation. The thing I did not do was to call the week before to check that everything was fine since I had another meeting in Rome that required urgent attention.

My transport

When I arrived to the museum outside Rome, I heard that the conserver was ill and the security guards did not know if he would come to work so I waited. I contacted the local manager but he was unaware of my exact arrival date and had arranged four workmen and a digger for some archaeological work for that day. The rules apparently have changed with the appointment of the 'new' local custodian and I learnt that I could not stay alone with the material that was still to be fetched had I been able to stay. The museum director was out of the reach of the mobile network on a field mission so the local manager could not ask for authorisation for any exceptional practices. All this even if I had visited the museum for many times, they knew my finds were from a field survey, the material had been collected by me and my team and people genuinely were contacting and trying to reach different people in order to help. Thus, I will have to rearrange the appointment and, if the conserver will not return soon, I have to arrange everything with the local manager who will be available on certain dates when I will be briefly in Rome again.

The door may be closed more often in the future

In the museum organisations and archaeology the access will be further restricted if 10 – 20 % of the workforce will disappear. Even if the Italians value their monuments, it is likely that the cuts in the culture sector are more likely since they do not necessarily bring in revenue (with the exception of certain large world-famous monuments and museums) and are not as essential as hospitals, schools and local administration. However, if 20 % of managers who have authority over decisions disappear and there will be no creation of new protocols in order to supply authority and flexibility, the future cuts may lead to new inefficiencies since the right authority will not be there. Naturally, the opening hours and such are likely to be altered and subject to diminish. This will effect collections, museums, libraries, archives and probably other parts of administration and planning system as well. The Italian colleagues already often have more in their hands than they can do so the preservation and dissemination of heritage may be more in danger in the future.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Summer season of archaeological news

Summer is a good time for archaeological news. Very often there is less happening in the world with different parts of the western world having summer holiday season at different times. The midsummer bank holiday means the start of the holiday season in the Nordic countries and the closure of the north in July, and UK and southern Europe close in August.

Even if the excavation news are not flooding in, yet, we have been served with further interpretations from the Stonehenge Riverside Project and Roman finds from Japan. The former news reinterprets Stonehenge as the ultimate monument for world peace, even if only in order to unify Britain. The latter find has been seen as a sign of the Romans in Japan. The beads (see above and below), with a hole through the middle, were made with a multilayering technique where craftsmen covered one layer of glass with others and often sandwiched gold leaf in between. Three glass beads were discovered in total. They came from the fifth-century Utsukushi burial mound in Nagaoka near Kyoto and they were probably made at some point between the first and the fourth century.

Even if the glass beads from this Japanese tomb show the existence of extensive exchange networks in the ancient world, it is quite unlikely that there was a direct contact between the Roman Empire and Japan. The Romans did reach Afghanistan and built outposts there so a meeting post somewhere in Asia could not been impossible. However, by the fifth century AD these kind of contacts are unlikely. During this time the Roman Empire had practically fallen apart, which suggests that the beads had taken some time to reach the shores of Japan.

Nintoku-ryo Tumulus (Emperor Nintoku's burial mound)

The mounds in the Kyoto area from which the beads were found were huge (see an imperial example above). The sheer size shows that they belonged to the highest section of the society and suggest that the exotic finds did have extra value that made them fit for important funeral assemblages. As an Huffington Post article points out, there is one Indian Buddha from the Helgö island (in Sweden outside Stockholm) that was an important Scandinavian trading post in the sixth century AD. These finds show that the period saw at least single objects travelling vast distances along the exchange networks, perhaps changing hands regularly in gift giving or exchanging knick knack. Nevertheless, these can be classified as exotica reaching their ultimate, distant final destinations.

The Helgö Buddha and other objects

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Day of Archaeology 2012

Friday, the 29th of June will be the Day of Archaeology. I have now volunteered to a web project that records what different archaeologist all around the world will be doing on that particular day. The results that will be uploaded onto the web on that day or during the following week will give a snapshot of the landscape of archaeological work in progress. I was first a bit unsure since what I do at the moment is far from exciting – unless you find a picture of a computer screen turning you on. I will be likely to be working on an article, digitizing pottery drawings or, if I will be extremely daring, having a trip to the University Library or Classics library to check some references or knocking up a couple of GIS illustrations at the Department. However, the organizers saw this scenario ‘exciting’ since it involves something else than fieldwork, although I am not sure if they are expecting literarily to get a photo of a laptop with Word or AutoCad open on my home office table. This will be a quite likely outcome...

I was told about this web project by the local archaeological officer who together with the local Portable Antiquities Scheme officer took part last year. Their contributions will be representing work that is going on within our council. Since the Day of Archaeology this year does not coincide with the British Festival of Archaeology between the 14th and 29th of July, their work will be less connected with the series of the Leicestershire events during that week. It will be interesting to see if their posts this year are to involve a lot of interaction with public and photos or videos to show them involved in archaeological dissemination. Their last year’s contributions concentrated on the Hallaton Treasure and finds work. Finds Liaison Officer had cunningly ‘outsourced’ her contribution.

Last year there were contributions from places as far apart as Iceland and Tokelau in the Pacific Ocean. There was tattooing in Hawaii, conservation in Ecuador and guiding in Zimbabwe so the breath of topics was the widest possible (see the map of posts). One has to admit that the contributions concentrated to the Anglo-Saxon world. The showcase selection on the map of posts provided contained only one posting from Africa and Asia respectively. Central and Southern America were represented by three posts. However, all the contributors will be presented in a photo wall. Even our Institute for Archaeologists had an entry. Due to the timing, many of the 2011 contributions involved fieldwork, although there were surprisingly many university teachers, museum professionals and students presenting their institution and work there. Thus, the photo wall allows a scene for positive ‘advertisement’.

If you are interested to join the Day of Archaeology 2012, you can go and check the project web page or join up by e-mailing There seemed to be anything from the descriptions of desk-based postgraduate study to voluntary work and videos so everything seems to be counting. I even found a photo of a laptop with Word open from last year – not to mention the illustrations of computers with digital archaeology work. However, I may be considering timing my visits to see a couple of collections for potential teaching or similar in a convenient way to show something more interesting than my normal duties. It is a pity that my visit to Rome will take place at the very beginning of July...

BAJR lap top

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The unbearable lightness of archaeology

No matter how interesting archaeology is and how intellectually rewarding it can be, sometimes real world seems to catch with it and deem it less worthy when weighted against the events in the real world. Lately, a few discussions I have had over a cup of tea have involved meditations on the situation in Syria and a selection of pretty pessimistic predictions of the possible outcomes. Even if I only ended up working there for one season, I could see how exceptional history the country has and how versatile its communities could be. Now I can watch the TV news only with a deep feeling of sorrow.

When I have discussed with people who have been working in the Middle East for decades and have long working relationships with local archaeologists, museum professionals and workmen, I can only guess how they feel at the moment. If seeing sectarian violence raising its head and another country being ‘iraqified’ is heartbreaking for me, I can only guess how those experienced archaeologists must be feeling. The government in Syria did not bring freedom of speech to the masses or freely elected leaders but it had created a country where the Sunni, the Christians, the Shia, the Jewish and the Alawites were living peacefully in a lay country. No matter how the situation will pan out now, the relationships between different communities will not be trusting or carefree any more. Some groups already have blood in their hands.

The unstable political situations bring stop to foreign expeditions in different volatile countries. Anybody who was as blue-eyed as to have wished that the Bush family’s long-term project in Iraq would open the country’s fabulous archaeology to the scholars could have not been more wrong. The collections were trashed, the sites flamethrewn and different buildings bombed or blown out. Nothing makes an easier target in a dangerous country than a locally well-known and instantly recognizable foreign archaeological team. I have heard of a few teams in different countries who have lied low for some time when drug traffickers or other dangerous groups had visited an area.

In a country such as Syria were a huge amount of sites – including Ugarit, Palmyra, Tell Braq or Crac des Chevaliers among many others – has value for world history any conflict can have far reaching consequences for archaeology and museum collections. Naturally, the discontinuation of research projects is a blow to the individual careers of highly competitive archaeologists. However, ethically, these losses have to be considered, even if enormous in the case of world heritage, to be of lesser importance than a potential loss of human life and the potential tragedy of losing one more country to the dark depths of civil war and carnage. Europe itself has been unable to avoid bloody ethnic wars and atrocities in the 1990s so how could the area as volatile as the Near East.

From the beach

We did work next to a beach site with party boats, countless chalets, a long row of souvenir shops and people happily having their day by the sea. The site was used by local tourists but it may be eerily quiet today. One could see Turkey from the beach, and a number of Christian villages are located in the area. The area is relatively near of some of the northern trouble spots but should be peaceful at the moment. If only the worst could be avoided and not only the archaeology but all the citizens and communities could be safeguarded.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Street parties and feasting

This weekend saw street parties up and down United Kingdom. We attended one in Aylestone and the grey skies over us did not burst to rain – unlike the next day on Sunday. We enjoyed a plentiful potluck lunch with sandwiches, sausage rolls, pizza, crisps, fruit and cakes, flushed down with squash or carbonated drinks. The PA system was blasting music from the yesteryear and the children had a bouncy castle. The street was closed and the bunting suggested the type of the festivity. It was the Jubilee weekend after all.

Aylestone (photo by P. Mills)

I really enjoyed the event although I am from a republic and prefer elected governance through and through. Nevertheless, there is something comfortably traditional and simultaneously unbelievably naff in the remaining royal houses. We do need some froth in our lives and the monarchs have curiosity value if nothing else. During this Diamond jubilee in this particular street party the atmosphere was not brilliant but it was more to do with the grey weather. If the party had taken place the previous hot and sunny weekend the people would have been singing and dancing along the road.

I was left wondering if there will be any archaeological reminders from this street party. Everything was removed from the spot afterwards and the bunting will come down eventually. The modern dumps are not in the back gardens so there will be no feast deposits on the spot or nearby unless people forget the decorations in their gardens. However, in the landfill sites there will probably be a layer of masks with royal faces, bunting with Union Jacks and paper napkins and table cloths. These days there will not be huge piles of bones or pottery shards or oyster shells as there once was.

The papers will feature the Jubilee and leave fleetingly a material memory of the street parties. Most of the memory has moved to the digital domain, though. This blog will live in a virtual landscape and similarly the video films and photographs from this particular party are digital. The garbage archaeologists of the future may find perishable remains from the depths of the landfill sites but even the historical knowledge of the event is moving to the world of the pixels. No glazed beer jugs or painted pottery in structured deposits down the road afterwards. Just structured landfills further afield with plastic blue, red and white party hooters and files saved perhaps fleetingly in the World Wide Web.