Sunday, 6 May 2012

What a difference 20 years make!

The last time I attended the Nordic TAG was in 1992 in Helsinki when the conference was small and Michael Shanks was giving a key note speech. After the conference the main question in the pub between the organisers was the name of the culprit for the dwindling audience in the conference. If I remember correctly there was a hiatus before the Nordic TAG took off again but I was then off living in Britain and visiting Italy regularly. In any case, I and one of members of the Helsinki NTAG organizing committee had a trip down the memory lane during the conference dinner.

After 20 years and a mandate as the editor-in-chief of a new web based peer reviewed monograph series I headed to the Oulu NTAG where I also hold an honorary post of a docent. I had my joint paper on a memory stick and newly Oulu based relatives to visit so I had plenty to experience and manifold tasks to perform. The spring was late with huge piles of snow laying in the woods next to the University pushed back from the parking lots with weather alternating between glorious sunshine and cold rain on different days. I had arrived to the conference a day late and after travelling over 12 hours. It only takes three hours to Helsinki but it is all connecting travel adds to the travel time.

On arrival I shared my late status with my former student friend who now works for the Forestry governing body and after that we headed to the different session according to our respective preferences. I was going to learn about the dissemination of archaeology – until I entered the lecture theatre and was encountering a session on Things. I had no problem with the change of topic. What followed was both useful and thought provoking about the possibility for Things to have separate rights to be preserved despite of their importance and human-defined value. The session suggested that our approach to archaeology and heritage is very anthropocentric and value-laden. Especially in postmodern thinking Things could not exist without human definition and construction.

The emphasis of this NTAG was on the study of northern areas, Sami, raindeer economy and soundscapes were popular topics and fit for a host city near the Arctic circle. However, there were odd presentations on the Medierranean and even more remote landscapes, such as Iran and central America. I went to hear my friend’s talk about Pompei and heard a well-established argument about the location of high-status residential buildings among the liveliest neighbourhoods in town. Personally, I presented ceramiscene and convinced a colleague to plan to apply the concept to one of his site with pottery kilns. Soon we will be able to have a session of our own!

The audience was much more multinational than 20 years ago. The common language was English, which meant that Swedish and other Scandinavian languages – not to mention Finnish – were not used in academic discourse. In a way this was a pity but on the other hand it guaranteed that the delegates from Russia, Estonia, England, Spain and the States could properly understand the proceedings. The multinationality fits both theoretical and arctic archaeology and the wide breadth of the papers and topic gave something to everyone.

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