Friday, 26 July 2013

Done and dusted

Creating an online course that combines critical thinking with teaching new computing skills was always going to be a hard call, but I think I managed to give most people valuable assets. Now when it is all over, I can assess how the course went and if it was a success or not. Naturally, I have to take into account that this course was not accredited, so no student had to do all the parts; nothing was totally obligatory, but in order to get a certificate, one had to be active.

All but one got the certificate. The only one who did not, only logged in once. May be I will hear in the future, if the contents were unexpected (it is totally conceivable that some people may consider the course to be more about the sites and they could just consume maps and imagery other people had prepared instead of participating in exercises), may be something happened. At least in England the weather became unusually splendid and truly hot, so the student may have decided to vanish to the seaside instead of ‘slaving’ week after week in front of a computer and putting some hours into learning.

It is clear that all ‘certified’ students at least checked the material every week. Some made comments to the discussion forums and two thirds sent me back their mini projects for comments. All those received were good in different ways. The project work made it clear that probably those who had some kind of degree in archaeology got the most out of the course. However, even the self-confessed technophobe did get important cues how and where to look for information. The best of the project work added to personal projects students are actively carrying out in their own regions. In fact, one of the projects presented original work. It will be of wider interest for British archaeology and I wonder, if we will find the results in an article in the future...

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Vampires in archaeology

While reading student assignments, I was amused by a newspaper story reflecting the July mid-summer news draught. Archaeologists in Poland have made an announcement that they have found vampire burials. The interpretation why these particular burials would be those of vampires rests on the fact that the skeletons have their skulls between their thighs. A fact undermining this sensational interpretation is that there were actually gallows near the excavation site in the past, as reported by a local paper and the Guardian, so at least I can come up with a likelier option. They probably were bad people, but vampires – I do not believe so.

However, it seems that the vampire burials are relatively common in eastern Europe where the folk tradition includes undead sucking blood from the living. However, the examples from Bulgaria have had iron rods stuck in their chest, which kind of conforms with the way to kill a vampire. One can only imagine what kind of mass hysteria can break out when for example a mentally ill individual with gum disease or tuberculosis attacks somebody trying to bite them. This kind of situation is perfectly plausible, so with strong superstitious beliefs a community may resort to nasty ways of getting rid of a troublesome individual.

Nevertheless, the undead are now fashionable and different tv series presenting vampires or zombies or both, as Becoming human on BB3 did, are fourteen a dozen. Humans are fascinated by an idea of eternal life and the complexities related in The returned, partly acting as allegories for racism and xenophobia amongst us as In the flesh did. Many archaeologists are looking for their Tutankhamen’s grave – or at least a possibility of gaining media attention and funding for their project.

On a serious note, there seems to be a vampire landscape forming. If these individuals deceased in unusual ways were thought to be vampires in the past, remains unclear. At least the different stories from around Europe, including Italy, reveal the extent and geography of modern contemporary archaeological vampire narratives.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

20 years of taskscapes

This year I and Philip Mills will organise a session 20 years of taskscapes: from temporalities to ceramiscenes in the Theoretical Archaeology Group conference in Bournemouth. If you have missed the advertisement for this year’s TAG, you may not be alone, since you may remember from my earlier blog post how we were tracking down this year’s site at the beginning of the year.

This year TAG will be a TAG-on-Sea. Naturally, since it will be in Bournemouth. However, I assume there will be no beach weather on December 16–18, 2003. Considering the previous years’ weather around that time of the year, we may even see some snow. This did not do too much harm to the Durham or Bristol TAGs I remember from previous years. The TAG 2013 web site is now up and running with all the information on registration and submission you will need.

If you are interested in taskscapes, we are happy to consider any papers sent to the conference organisers for consideration for this particular session. Our session is advertised on their Submit a session/paper page. The session addresses two different themes. Firstly, the importance of taskscapes in archaeology and their application to the study of cultural landscapes; Secondly, the developments of the taskscape concept in the last twenty years. We are interested in papers that will evaluate the concept of taskscape as related to heritage, landscape and material studies from any region and for any period. If these themes are of interest and you will be available on the given dates, send the organisers a title and abstract and we will come back to you and your theoretical and methodological ideas.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

RIP Mick Aston

After moving house and finally getting the broadband reconnected, I managed to update my blog. During my enforced break from blogging among the sea of cardboard boxes some archaeological news have reached us. On one hand the University of Leicester is to continue the study of the Greyfriars in order to study some other graves under the car park and on the other a Durham student has found a head of a statue from a Roman shrine. However, the biggest news during the last two weeks has been the demise of Mick Aston.

Mick Aston (centre) with his Time Team colleagues

I did meet Mick Aston personally several times at Bristol when I was studying for my MA in Landscape Archaeology. When I arrived to England, I was totally ignorant of Time Team, since it had not travelled to the Continent, yet. I was wondering the knowledge of geophysics my fellow English students seemed to have. I only understood after viewing the programme.

Since I did not take part into Time Team, I only met Mick in some departmental functions and trips that were part of my taught course. We visited the Shapwick village, the site of the project Mick ran for decades, where he personally explained the history of the project and the resulting depth of knowledge of that village.

He was a gentle man, liked by the PhD students who helped him in his media research. His wild hair and colourful jumpers seemed to be part of his role, but also implicated his jovial and relaxed nature, which was not some added 'pepper'. We all witnessed how Time Time slowly withered away. It was a pity his last year was filled with some controversy and ill health. However, his legacy in British landscape archaeology will live on.

If you have not read Mick Aston's famous text books, Landscape Archaeology: An Introduction to Fieldwork Techniques on Post-Roman Landscapes (with Trevor Rowley) from 1974 and Interpreting the Landscape: Landscape Archaeology in Local Studies from 1985, you can introduce yourself to his speciality by reading this short treatise on the Medieval landscape in Somerset.