Thursday, 28 February 2013

CAA UK – a conference to twitter about

My busy week did have its highlight in London last week, where I attended the CAA UK conference. I was presenting the ceramiscene to the computing audience. Our paper ended up being the first after some fiddling with the original programme and this meant I ended up storming through the central London dragging my trolley in order to make it in time to the conference venue in East End.

This conference was unusual, since it was hosted by a commercial unit, namely L-P:Archaeology. It was also held in a bar – in the side building of the former Truman brewery. Suiting fine with these difficult economic times, the wine reception was a pop-up event in an empty shop front. All very NOW. By the screen there was a side screen for all the incoming tweets from the conference attendants and others. This was a concerning news to me and I did not dare to check the tweets when speaking – being videoed was bad enough. Apparently there were no too critical comments during the ceramiscene paper, so I got through it reasonably well, considering I literally ran to the front of the screen to deliver. My lunch bun was waiting for me in the first row.

The interactive nature of a conference with tweets flashing to the screen could be truly scary, but all content was very civilised. Some critical comments or questions were targeted to the key note speaker Mark Lane, who has edited a volume of World Archaeology on open archaeology. The irony of the eventual pay-for-view nature of the traditional publication series and the topic had not escaped other archaeologists and some authors dropped out when they heard about the set up. Lake was very protective about the publishing venue – and he referred to the fact that his University expects him to publish in a series of certain importance and impact – but most open archaeology publication do not have the standing, yet. He was generally critical and I was wondering if he truly is for or against open archaeology, but overhearing his comments to some delegates suggested that he is for it in principle. I did my duty as the Editor-in-Chief of the Monographs of the Archaeological Society of Finland and pointed out that most of the open publications are relative newcomers and we are just building up the reputation and a reliable and classy peer reviewer base.

The conference gave a good snap shot of the present state of computing. Since this year’s CAA International is in Perth, Australia, there were many European papers and delegates from Scandinavia and Baltic states among others. The papers covered cloud computing and cool mobile phone heritage apps. The laser scanning seems to be going slightly out of vogue and photogrammetry was lauded with some applications using historic records from earlier excavations as well. If you were not there, you can visit the papers, since they are to be uploaded onto YouTube. Ours can now be seen on YouTube.

As I said, we were conferencing in a bar. Not only was the venue comfortable with warm brick walls and comfy sofas for some delegates to sit on – a definite improvement from non-descriptive university conference facilities – but the conference had all the tech where its mouth was.

PS. It was sad that the Brick Lane curry was the worst I probably have ever eaten. While the colleagues around me were complaining about their curries being too hot, my aloo paneer was the mildest thing ever. It was like a Finnish spinach soup with some paneer thrown in. A curry as made by an old Finnish lady... But it was admittedly a Friday night and there were about 60 of us, if not more.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Sour grapes

I did not touch last week the great revelation of the week - suggested though for some time - that is the confirmation of the identity of the man excavated from the car park in Leicester. Nevertheless, I thought the internship issue had to be covered before jumping the Richard III band wagon. I already discussed the matter with some Embrace Arts and WEA students and was explaining how I find the basic research behind the flashy headlines reassuringly robust. Nothing to do with the fact that I have eaten the divine walnut cake baked by the osteologist who cracked slightly Richard’s skull with a mattock to the amusement of the field archaeologists everywhere.

This was in the Pitts blog as well (University of Leicester)

After the TV documentary headed by the secretary of the Scottish arm of the Richard III Society and the Death from the Stupid Deaths of the Horrible Histories the critics raised their heads and sharpened their axes. I could point out that a well-presented press conference can bring the results of a project together like no peer-reviewed publication, that the peer-reviewed article will be provided by the Antiquity (if it passes the peer-review) as soon as possible and that archaeologists have always popularised their results. Part of the funding and the idea came from outside the profession, so the University was answering a demand in the community. This may be an occasion when Leicester is delivering a result to the official expectations of the authorities for research to have a social impact. The critics such as Charlotte Higgins would probably have loved to have this kind of possibility to enhance the reputation of their own university. For academics with a visible and widely acknowledged media profile to suggest that other academics may be slightly misplaced to publicise their results in a press conference comes across as sour grapes. I could go on and on but this all has already done better.

Mike Pitts in his long Digging Deeper post gives well-established opinions and shows that professional archaeologist can give respect to their peers who ‘strike gold’. But he does edit British Archaeology magazine, so he is better informed than most of us. And what regards any discussions on the non-existing screenwriting credits in the IMdb or the re-enactment of ‘Britain’s Most Haunted’, better not to continue further...

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Let’s work for free! An internship anyone?

After a trip to a workshop in Groningen, I am back to write about an important contemporary issue that effects not just landscape archaeology but all archaeology. I will return to the themes I have been thinking about even before the workshop, namely computing, later during the month.

There are clear signs that the professional archaeology is stepping back in time – just as apparently the whole education system is taking a leap back to the 1950s. The highly laudable effort that is DigVentures when it is resurrecting the excavations of Flag Fen is now advertising for an intern. Similarly to the political internships this one does not mention any salary nor does it mention any expenses either, even if much of the early meetings will take place in London. The internship requires two months commitment and basically this person will take care of the social networking and web side of the interaction by DigVentures – or should I say advertisement.

Harsh times require new remedies, but making budding archaeologists to work for free without tying the scheme to any of the existing MA/MSc programmes that require periods of practical work embedded in the year of study is problematic. This work experience could have fitted nicely to the computing or media courses there have been in places like Bristol, London and Southampton. Failing to make sure that the unpaid work would 'pay' in this way suggests that the not-so-laudable practices are creeping into archaeology. Naturally, small companies wish to keep themselves afloat and nothing is more economic than a free employee.

The ethical dilemma in this case lies squarely on the fact that this intern will be essential in keeping the company afloat. The interaction and web presence will engage people and get them to part from their money. Bluntly put this person working for free will help the certain number of archaeologists be paid through their payroll in DigVentures. This is OK, if the person 'interned' will get a tangible outcome out of the experience. The work experience may be enough, if the person is a student and the internship will count towards his/hers degree. Perhaps DigVentures will pay this person in the future for his/hers services. In any case they have to make him/her feel valuable and compensate for the fact that that person will help them to get their salaries.

I for one have never been in the position to rely on my relatives for my income; thus, archaeology or something else has to pay. This is the situation with most of the people who have entered archaeology during the eighties, nineties and noughties. Paying for work is the only way to keep people in archaeology and make sure that our interpretations take into account the experiences of the widest possible width of population. Otherwise we are back in the situation where archaeology will become an ivory tower of independently wealthy again.