Friday, 29 March 2013

Mysteries, mysteries?

I may have not seen the Stonehenge programme the other week, but this week I saw three different archaeological - or archaeologically themed - television programmes. These contained the good things and bad things about the archaeological programming. The one-off Pompeii documentary put me off instantly. Not that I have anything against Margaret Mountford, the egyptologist from the Apprentice. She was really lovely when making a guest appearance in Chris Naughton's The Man who Discovered Egypt that told the story of Flinders Petrie.

Chris Naughton in Egypt

The problem with the Pompeii documentary was that it made a huge mystery of the way the people, who have been immortalised in plaster casts, died. My instant reaction a couple of minutes into the programme was to switch channels, since I just did not want to face the prompt every five minutes requesting the solution to the puzzle. After all, there was a huge volcanic eruption, toxic gases and ashes and stones raining from the sky. How did they die? The volcano erupted. And I was wondering why we did not have a Mary Beard, but an egyptologist.

I read afterwards from a review that the problem they were looking at was the reason for the Herculaneum bodies evaporating and the brains exploding and the Pompeii bodies dropping down, decaying peacefully and leaving us with facial expressions and all. It was apparently all down to the different temperatures. Luckily, I found this out without watching an hour of prompts.

Joann Fletcher in a tomb

The really lovely and interesting programmes were both about egyptology. The Flinders Petrie documentary I already mentioned, but I have to underline how informative it was. I had not realised that Petrie was still active around the time the Tutankhamun's tomb was found. He just had redirected his interest to Palestine, since he could not profit any more in Egypt from exporting the objects from the excavations to Britain to give to the museums and societies that funded him.

The other programme was Joann Fletcher's Ancient Egypt - Life and Death in the Valley of the Kings. It the fascinating story of the builders of the tombs of the Valley of the Kings. She may look flamboyant in her all black attire contrasted with red hair, but the programme told a truly fascinating story and provided proper information and evidence. What we really need is less sensationalism and more truly fascinating details!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Detective work

This year is probably the 20th anniversary of many things, but I spotted that it is 20 years since Ingold’s seminal article on taskscapes, a concept our ‘ceramiscene’ owes more than a reference. As a consequence, we are planning to arrange a TAG session (TAG is the annual Theoretical Archaeology Group conference in UK - the forerunner of the Nordic, Turkish and American TAGs - that incorporates the nationwide Christmas party) on taskscape and its developments, including ceramiscene. We just had one problem. We had not made it to the Liverpool TAG, so we did not know where the next TAG was going to be.

The first port of call in modern times when you have any enquiry is to google. I tried it, my co-session organiser tried it and I tried it again, but with no results. We could find out that the Nordic TAG is definitely still going to happen in Iceland, the American TAG will be in Chicago and that the Turkish TAG was going to be as well. Nevertheless, there was no sign of TAG 2013. I even considered for a fleeting moment, if archaeologists had become superstitious... Then I started e-mailing the usual suspects.

My friend at Liverpool clearly had read my Facebook message, but she apparently did not know, since I received no answer. Cambridge archaeologists, including Pam Smith, whose Personal Histories interview series, to be including this year the films on Martin Carver and Tony Robinson, is a visible presence every year, gave negative answers. Even John Carman from Birmingham, who has attended the meetings regularly, did not go to Liverpool and was not any wiser than anybody else. I asked around in the CAA UK with no result either; the news had not reached London, yet.

Then my co-organiser did what I should have done earlier. He e-mailed Britarch. We got a reply that somebody had an understanding it was going to be Bournemouth – to the amusement to one of our friends who lives in Bournemouth and will not have any excuse this year. Now I only had to get a confirmation, since there was nothing on the university web site. Finally, a friend working at Bournemouth confirmed that Bournemouth will organise the TAG 2013. Their web site is under construction and will go online for the normal start of the session proposals later in the spring. Now their research blog announcing the conference, dated to early February, is fortunately coming up in the search engine. So the search is over and we can start putting the session together.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Embarrassing admissions

This week of my friend specifically asked me to write my blog about the Channel4 programme on the latest finds from Stonehenge. I had noticed that Mike Parker Pearson had been in the papers and Stonehenge was presented as a burial place and as a result of the communal effort of whole Britain. This result had been discovered by studying the animal bones from the Riverside project excavation site, where the builders of the Stonehenge allegedly lived. Those cows had been living before coming to Wiltshire from up and down the country.

Call the Midwife (still by BBC)

Apparently after the TV programme where were some irritated comments, mainly due to the normal reasons of irritating voice over and other TV mannerisms. However, I have not seen the TV programme. No matter how many marvellous iPlayers and 4oD services there are, they do not actually provide you with any more time. In addition, the original reasons why this programme slipped my net are slightly embarrassing to admit.

The main reason was that the programme collided with the Call the Midwife. It was the last episode and I had been following the budding, problematic romance emerging between one of the nuns and the male doctor, who widowed in the series one. I wanted to shed a tear and enjoy my Sunday night entertainment instead of watching re-enactors passing by some stones in the dusk and sweaty men pushing big stones – the programme on Stonehenge may or may not have contained such elements.

After actually visiting Stonehenge for the first time in the late 1980s, I was relatively unimpressed by the stone themselves. Somehow Avebury catches more my awe. Anyway, after my MA at Bristol I appreciated even more all other landscape elements in the plains, including the Romano-British villages/towns. Stonehenge evokes imagination when considered as part of a landscape and when one looks at some elements, such as the dagger carvings and the human burials. A few of the interpretations promoted by the professor have somewhat cold, since they have felt slightly glued on, but I cannot ignore the importance Stonehenge has in the minds of my colleagues and my ‘lay’ friends. It is a prestigious site and everyone wants a piece of it or has an opinion. Nevertheless, I must now wait for a repeat.

Of course, there is the matter of female archaeologists not normally admitting doing such frivolous activities as following Sunday night entertainment. I have never kept it a secret that I do read the gossip and watch lame programmes. After following the Bold and the Beautiful in the 1990s, I have left the soaps alone, though. My male colleagues do many things from fishing, long distance running to Roman re-enactment on their spare time. I am currently so busy with different things that pure enjoyment is a luxury. Thus, on this occasion, I wanted my fluff.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Open Access

Open Access is all in vogue now and I have suddenly acknowledged that I am actually an Editor-in-Chief of an open access series. Not that I have been thinking the Monographs of the Archaeological Society of Finland first and foremost as an open access publication. Actually, web presence is a way to allow producing peer-reviewed publications in a convenient format. The learned society and their umbrella organisation provide the storage space on a server, which is a saving in comparison with a full hard copy publication.

In his keynote speech in CAA UK 2013 Mark Lane discussed the issue of affordability of open access publications. Some do ask the authors to pay a fee instead of asking for libraries and users to pay for subscriptions as the traditional, prestigious publications do. The price of these subscriptions has gone through the roof and many libraries are ‘rationalising’ their orders. Even an institution such as the University of Cambridge has dropped – or at least has tried to drop – overlapping subscriptions from the University Library if these are provided by a departmental or faculty library.

The business plan is in the core. Our business plan is traditional, since all the editors, members of the editorial board and peer reviewers do the volumes in the academic fashion – for free. Or more precisely, all activity is subsidised by their proper job or other income. Nevertheless, this is how different publications work anyway. Very few apart from the most prestigious ones have paid part-time editors or editorial assistants or secretaries. Actually, discussing the publications as open access makes the existing practices transparent. Basically, additional value is created through voluntary work.