Sunday, 23 November 2014

Pompeii in Stockholm

The scale of the Swedish Pompeii exhibition in the Millesgården museum, statue park and art gallery on Lidingö is much smaller than that of the large Pompeii exhibition in the British Museum two years ago. However, many of the elements and – if my memory does not completely fail me – at least one of the exhibits are shared. Both exhibitions started from a door and a street space and presented a house layout and the bust of Caecilius Iucundus. However, whereas the British Museum presented a section of Roman life and a general ‘everyhouse’, the Stockholm exhibition presents one specific house, that of Caecilius Iucundus, from the Insula V,1, a block of houses that was studied by the Swedish Pompeii Project.

The visit to the exhibition was organised by the discipline of Classical Studies from the Stockholm University and it was a joint outing for the Universities of Stockholm and Uppsala. The director of the original project had been Anna-Marie Leander Touati, currently at the Lund University, who was unable to come to guide us. We were guided by Professor Arja Karivieri who had been the assistant director at the Swedish Institute at Rome and one of the field directors of the Swedish Pompeii Project. Thus, we also heard how the project came about after the Soprintendente Guzzo had invited foreign institutes and universities to excavate, record and publish blocks in Pompeii in the late 1990s. The block in question was selected through the expertise of Margareta Staub-Gierow who after her collaborations with the German excavations suggested this block due to its interesting wall painting chronology and content. The excavations started in 2000 from the northern side of the block from the Greek Epigrapher’s House and proceded the Banker’s House (of Caecilius Iucundus) and finished in the House of Bronze Bull.

The exhibition was not the largest and especially the garden part felt a little bit cramped with a bonsai and some Mediterranean herbs in pots representing the central courtyard garden and some lemon trees growing elsewhere in their large pots bringing Mediterranean vegetation in the gallery. The original items were not very many, but the selection was representative. Not all finds were from the Banker’s House but most of them were from the block studied by the Swedish team. The highlights included the bust of the Caecilius Iucundus himself, the bronze bull from the eponymous house, a set of silver bowls, plates and spoons from the same house, framed wall paintings from the Banker’s House and other buildings in the block and the copy of the frieze presenting the 62 AD earthquake from the house shrine. Much of the architectural detail was exhibition constructions and photograph mosaics, but excellent work nevertheless (even if the floor size was not correct).

A corner presenting Pompeii’s effect on the public and private architecture and sculpture in Stockholm was interesting and a TV documentary from 2003 brought the excavations and images from Pompeii to the exhibition space. There was also a brand new video about a new purpose-build laser-scanned 3D stereo reconstruction. Not all furniture, doors or shutters were totally successfully modelled, but the actual scanning and the modelling of the house structure was impressive. Especially the computer-modelled peristyle courtyard garden gave a good idea of the original outlay of these town houses.

The real minus is the lack of a catalogue on sale. This is apparently due to the limited funds available, but this was something I was looking for after myself (an easy Christmas present to an Archaeologist Husband). The entrance fee is considered relatively high (150 Swedish korna), but all the costs have to be covered by the income, since this is a private foundation and no public money has been spent in the exhibition. It is a pity that the funds could not be stretched to the 'publication', since the exhibition is of national importance and was opened by the Crown Princess Victoria. As a curiosity, one can tell that due to this opening, the Director and Assistant Director of the Swedish Institute in Rome could not attend a large event day in Rome on the activities and importance of the foreign institutes, organised by the Italian Government as the EU prime minister country in Palazzo Altemps [the irony, the irony considering the recent events] and they arrived just in time to the opening of the Landscape Archaeology Conference straight from the airport. But then it was important to show loyalty to the Pompeii project and the private foundation, which has already done a laudable job with the exhibition.

Summa summarum, the exhibition is not as impressive as the British Museum exhibition that had a whole painted triclinium with its birds, authentic wooden furniture and plaster casts of the perished people, but as a presentation of a research project and its results with some good museum architecture and original items from actual buildings studied, it was a pleasant experience. Naturally, we got specialist guidance from our professor and free entry that made our visit extra special.

A Finnish friend asked if it is worthwhile for an ancient historian to travel from Helsinki to Stockholm to see the exhibition. We discussed this in the coffee table and the shared answer was "No" - unless really interested in comparing the Finnish and Swedish Pompeii projects. However, the exhibition is open until mid-May, so one could do a late spring cruise with the Sweden/Finland ferry to the Värtan harbour and head to Lidingö, away from the beaten track, and enjoy the whole of the entity of the house museum and statue park as well in a better weather. There is also a castle-like Scandia hotel in the neighbourhood and a restaurant, so it could be a spring cruise holiday with a partner or friends. Then it would be worth it.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Swedish Institutes saved: the celebrations

Archaeologists at Stockholm celebrating

Yesterday, Monday November 17, brought by the eagerly waited news that the new Swedish Government withdrew its budget framework proposal and stated officially that the state funding of the Mediterranean Institutes will continue in 2017 and afterwards. This means that all those almost 14,000 supporters who signed the Save the Mediterranean Institutes petition, did help us to save the Swedish Institutes. And many who did not manage to sign were supporting in principle

Vi fikade

The government published a press release on the Education Ministry's web site around 1pm on Monday and the news spread like a wild fire (thanks our tweeting Ida, the Facebook group and private e-mails; now also in English). The news even reached the Director of the Swedish Institutes in Rome, travelling with students in Sicily. It was not only the social media but the ongoing discussion in the Swedish newspapers and blogs plus the background work of the Rectors of the Swedish Universities, the boards of different Institutes and the friends of different Institutes that did the trick - not to mention all the research, courses, talks, publications, art events, conferences and networking the Institutes do, and the support from the other institutes, foreign and national, universities, researchers and citizens. Now we all can enjoy the Institutes in the future.

The printed out petition lists and articles

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Snodfest: the children of the Classics revolution

How do you define a good professor? I got one answer last weekend in the 80th birthday conference of Anthony Snodgrass. It is clear that he did not only write groundbreaking books and start a revolution within classical archaeology by advocating survey archaeology and not concentrating on vase painting, but also nurtured a legion of students many of whom are nowadays in prominent positions all around the world. They were prepared to (wo)man three separate organising committees – one in Britain, one in Holland and one in America. Then they all flew to Britain and spent one weekend in Cambridge giving first-class papers and seemed to have great fun throughout. I know – I paid for the Saturday dinner and saw how the people in my table seized the moment to chat with their friends they had not seen socially for ages.

James Whitley, Sara Owen and Lisa Nevett present Snoddy with the book

When I heard who were organising this conference, I knew I had to be there in order to witness it, even if I had been at the Department of Archaeology and not the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge. However, I remembered a gentle, kindly spoken man during his last years in the high office at the turn of the millennium – and now all these big names were coming to one place to celebrate him. At that time I did not guess just how much of a warm group hug it all was going to be. The students and colleagues had not only prepared one, but two volumes of papers – one from his students and one from the colleagues – all given to the birthday boy in a preliminary format. An old mountaineering friend had painted a landscape to commemorate the occasion. This was even if his 90-odd years did not allow him to come to the occasion himself. It also turned out that these ‘big names’, such as Susan Alcock and Ian Morris, were good company and I had splendid time in the pub and in the ‘fun table’. I now owe Susan a pint and hope to repay one day, if I ever get to an AIA (American Institute of Archaeology) conference.

The Saturday dinner in the Cripps Court

The conference itself was top notch and all the people had taken care of preparing something special. Instead of carting to the pulpit the same old, same old, all were either presenting new research or drawing long-term conclusions out of their old projects. Thus, we heard John Bintliff to draw together 30 years of the Boeotia survey, peppered with delightful photographs from the 1980s. David Small discussed his new ideas about applying complexity theory to pre-Classical Greece – work so recent that the graphs presented only the results of a preliminary work from the Iron Age Knossos – not that he had remembered to put the titles in the graph (thus, I had an easy question to pop in the lunch table). Rolf Schneider discussed his and his student's reconstruction of the Phrygian sculpture programme of Basilica Aemilia – a piece of research that only have become possible lately when the collection of the marble fragments have been available for the scholars. Alexandra Coucouzeli discussed the potential gods in the shrine at Zagora on Andros. The absolute revelation was Tom Gallant’s project in contemporary or near contemporary archaeology in Greece, combining archaeology of field terraces and mills to the archive study of migrant flows from the Ottoman times to the free Greece. He also explained that his book on a murder on a Greek island will be made as a Hollywood movie. Why study property deeds, when you can look at a cold case straight from the archives!

Bintliff on the Boeotia survey

I also learnt more about the references to archaisms in Hellenistic art, how to study manuring in the Mediterranean and agencies presented in the pre-Classical times by a krater and a pithos. I also managed to behave like a true Oxbridge brat. The constant travelling and a late arrival night before and early departure in the morning had resulted in me being a bit zonked, so I ended up suggesting slightly in a wrong tone of voice (and actually not only slightly, but in a full-on feisty duelling mode) to de Polignac that Mill and Rajala’s ceramiscene actually had already brought the suitable concepts into the interpretation of the hinterland of a polis in Italian archaeology. Even if I tried to pacify him later by saying that I do agree with his interpretations and admire him very much, he did seem to stare me with an icy look the reminder of the time. I feel guilty now, since how much literature in Greek archaeology I have time to read?

Snoddy's postscript

Those two and half days were memorable and provided food for thought for weeks to come. After all the talks Snoddy asked the younger generation to carry the torch and remember that agriculture was during the pre-Classical times 10 times more important than commerce and the painted pottery is 10 times more important to classical archaeologists than for the people in Greece or Etruria. Slowly I have realised that with my survey work, agricultural modelling and archaeological computing, I am a Cambridge girl and actually I am part of the revolution.

Things seem always happen to me. Luckily, nothing truly serious, but again one of those unexpected little irritations and puzzlements of life. When all was over in the Snodfest, I realised that my coat had vanished. Somebody else had used the hanger I had laid my coat on in the morning and in the rack next to mine, there was another beige trench coat. Unfortunately, although it was of a more expensive make, it was a full-length male one and of no use for the shorty me. I can only commiserate the person who apparently was wearing a suit and ran away before lunch to the train station or airport – and only too late noticed that instead of his well-made and beautiful coat, he had grabbed my old £25 Tesco sad-excuse-for-a-coat that was in a desperate need of a good wash and had had half of the buttons replaced by more or less similar kind of buttons of variable colours. Good for making a bad Columbo impression but not for much else. I only still had it for that short month-or-so-long period in Stockholm between summer and winter, when it is not yet cold enough for a woolly winter coat – with no time to spare for coat shopping. Any way, the fancy coat was still in the Cripps building on Tuesday when I was in Cambridge and checked if my coat had come back. If somebody overseas is moaning about grabbing an awful coat, he can contact the porters at the Magdalene college Cambridge!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Migration and the Mediterranean – USI and the Swedish Institute in Rome together

Very demanding two weeks have come to an end. It has been a time of running from one airport to another and crisscross Europe in a couple of days intervals. It has been the most rewarding time with two major conferences – both in their own way magnificient – this week. The week has also seen more exciting events with me joining those people who leave their laptop in a taxi. Luckily, my hotel in Rome had booked the taxi to the airport, so the company they normally use could track down the driver and I got my laptop back in time for my flight. In addition, the already late aircraft was stopped in the runway due to a brief thunderstorm and hale shower. Unfortunately, the aircraft was hit by lightning, so we were forced to return to the terminal for a check-up. An hour or so later we finally made our way to the skies. I arrived home at 11pm – only to leave for a train to Cambridge 7.25am. But I made breakfast to my son before leaving!

Kristian Göransson adresses the conference

I was in Rome in the Migration and the Mediterranean conference, where a multidisciplinary group of scholars discussed the migration across the Mediterranean in the past and present. The event was organised in co-operation by the University of Rome Tre, Lund University, the Swedish Institute in Rome and USI network (Universities and Swedish Institutes). This is an example of the kind of events the Swedish Institutes host these days. Collaborative, international and bridging the past and modern times. Together with the USI network the institutes in Rome, Athens and Istanbul organise MA-level university courses that have a residential part in the Mediterranean and that are frequented by students from all over Sweden. This time – during the week when the Mare Nostrum rescue operation in Italy came to an end and was replaced by the EU border control programme Frontex – much of the attention was concentrated on the North African migration to Europe and asylum situation in relation to the war in Syria. Many of these asylum-seekers try to enter Europe via Tunisia or Libya and Lampedusa is their point of contact with European officials.

Reception in the Swedish Institute for the delegates

Almost a half of the researchers were jurists discussing the migration flows from North Africa, international sea rescue laws and marine principles, the definition of minors in the asylum process and the principle of solidarity and Dublin convention in the European Union. The director of the Swedish Institute in Rome, Kristian Göransson, talked about the early migrations of major civilisations across the Mediterranean and I presented my case study from Nepi discussing Latin colonisation as migration. My argument needs definitely more work and I overrun and had to cut my talk short, since one has to explain more to non-archaeologist audience, but I could give an inkling how a local archaeological study can have implications to regional and even global issues. I also asked people to sign the Save the Mediterranean Institutes petition.

This week saw the Swedish newspaper articles that seem to confirm that the source of the financial cut plans in regard to the Mediterranean Institutes came from the Swedish Treasury. There was also a suggestion that these plans were drawn a significant time ago and were now presented suddenly in the budget framework. Another development is that the Higher Education Minister has been asked to face the Culture committee of the Swedish Parliament in order to answer the questions about the preparations of the budget framework item(s) and if the concerned parties and stakeholders were consulted as required by the Swedish law. Apparently the law states that if the cuts have consequences in the functioning of the organisations in question, these have a right to make their case BEFORE the plans are made public. The hearing will take place on November 18 and it will definitely make interesting hearing and reading. It was confirmed in the papers that the head of the governing body of the Institutes was phoned on October 22 – a day before the plans were made public on October 23. The procedure may have been incorrect. This makes the collection of names to the petition important, since it will show the government the support, contacts and collaborations the Institutes have nationally and internationally.

The most important contribution

The opening panel in the Migration conference saw the current Swedish ambassador in Italy speaking about the ancient civilisations and their migrations and influence in the Mediterranean and over our culture in her talk. The current Italian ambassador in Sweden talked about the urgency of the migration issues in Italy and Europe and the need for co-operation. In their diplomatic and tacit ways they supported the Institute and USI in these unexpectedly turbulent times.

The conference was finished with a panel on the Syrian issue of more grass-root experts ranging from a Syrian refugee, Syrian researcher living in Sweden, Italian journalist based in Beirut and specialising in Syria and advising different public bodies and different NGOs helping Syrian refugees in Turkey and France. They had concrete suggestions how the situation could be eased or even slowly solved, but they saw a few years of war ahead of us. Some of the suggestions were such that one would have hoped that the representatives of Italian government and European Union had been present. It made a lot of sense, but the whole panel reminded everyone in the audience how much Turkey is bearing of the refugee support and how small numbers of refugees are taken officially by different European Union countries. Sweden is there among the two biggest helpers, but sadly my homeland is sticking to its traditional hundreds and my adopted homeland is not pulling its international weight.

Mare Nostrum ensemble on stage

The conference finished with a delightful concert of the Mare Nostrum ensemble, a special event organised by Roma Tre in the honour of the conference. The ensemble played Renaissance and Baroque themes that had travelled Europe-wide and influenced Bach and other great composers in order to bring a pan-European message to Rome. The lovely evening with music and song finished with a Neapoletanean version of Santa Lucia – originally a local boat song. It lightened the atmosphere after the serious discussions on Mare Nostrum, Frontex and Syria. With the openings of potential new lines of co-operations between archaeologists and lawyers, we live exciting times – and not just worrying ones.

The following sentences are left only to keep the historicity of this blog intact: "We will still need all the signatures we can get in order to show that we have support both nationally and internationally. Please, sign and tell your friends to sign too, if you already haven't:
Save the Mediterranean Institutes petition". We won! The Swedish Government has now promised to provide state funding for the Mediterranean Institutes in the foreseeable future.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

A perfect storm – and how to respond

Back at Stockholm all classical archaeologists have been acting against the absurd suggestion in the budget framework that the Mediterranean Institutes in Rome, Athens and Istanbul should lose their funding by 2017 and effectively close. This in effect would also threaten the existence of our subject, Classical Studies, that combines ancient history and classical / Mediterranean archaeology. It may feel for a person who is not into classical studies that it is surprising that this discipline is taught in four universities in Sweden, but there is a good explanation to it. No, I do not mean the tradition with the King Gustav VI excavating in Etruria, but the way all foreign and Italian institutes in collaboration save our common World Heritage.

The Mediterranean studies have a long tradition in ecological investigation, too, so archaeologists and historians are not only revealing the origins of agriculture and metal production in Europe, not to mention Classical art, architecture, Latin and Greek alphabet, law making and drama to list a few things we have still among us today. No, archaeology has been helping in such Europe-wide investigations erosion in the Mediterranean as ARCHEOMEDES and MEDALUS for decades now. One country alone cannot grasp the vast heritage around the Mediterranean or exhaust research questions. The management and protection of this heritage is a huge effort and countries like Greece need joint efforts – especially in these times when conflict and economic misery bring added problems to the Mediterranean. Naturally, we have to care for the people first, but the Mediterranean heritage in its entirety including both the eastern and western and northern and southern traditions deserves us working together.

If there is one person in whole Sweden personifies carrying the flame that is Ida Östenberg, a docent in ancient history at the Gothenburg University. She wrote quickly an opinion on the web page of the Swedish Broadcasting Company (SVT) on Friday October 24 when the whole issue had became apparent to the Mediterranean humanists in the afternoon of the day before, Thursday, October 23. She also spoke in the radio and has been active on Facebook and Twitter and helping to pass different screenshots from the Rädda Medelhavsinstituten Facebook community. In one place one could find the letters written by Elizabeth Fentress on the behalf of the International Association of Classical Archaeology (AIAC), the letter written by Christopher Smith on the behalf of the Union of the International Research Institute in Rome, the images of key tweets, such as that of Mary Beard, and the signatures on the Save the Mediterranean Institutes petition, such as that of Andrew Wallace-Hadrill. Swedes from both sides of the political spectrum have signed and the Swedish and other Nordic signatures are alternated with those from both sides of the Atlantic, bringing together professors, students and people who live around or visit the Mediterranean.

The Humanities have felt threatened for some time when the usefulness of the natural sciences have been emphasised. Nobody seems to remember that in order to sell anything across the globe, one cannot only to go about speaking English and expect everybody thinking similarly and having the same customs. Our economic situation has parallels and one has not to look further than the late antiquity to see stagnation and diminishing living standards. In addition, we humanists and scientists do work together today nowadays, so natural sciences and humanities cannot live totally without each other. Some of us are not without scientific studies, even if we are mainly humanists. To expect to build internationalisation elsewhere while cutting away decades of development and building up that has been carried out in order to allow students and scholars to see the monuments first hand, interact and find the books and series not available in the Nordic countries – or even Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, London or Oxford – would be unimaginable hit to the heart of the Mediterranean studies. By collecting names and my colleagues filling the notice boards with notices at the University, we remind the government what would be lost and could not be rebuilt. And our colleagues are giving their helping hand.

I will post this blog entry already today, since tomorrow I have to write another piece like this, but for a more serious forum and then I will head to Rome to the Migration and the Mediterranean conference, organised partly by the Swedish Institute in Rome. For my talk I have had to think why I am doing this in the Mediterranean, why my work is relevant and what use is my little footnote in the history of Latin colonisation. I have to verbalise it as I had to conceptualise the potential Mediterranean archaeology has this week in a trial lecture – and it has huge potential. I woke up late to the situation and have contributed mainly by sending few e-mails that may or may not have been helped the cause. I do not know what the next week in Rome brings – or if I have woken up anybody so that they will wake up for Kristian’s, Director’s, talk on the coming Wednesday morning – but maybe I can contribute from my tiny part to the preservation of our common heritage.

Nevertheless, hats off for Ida, our shining light. With her kind of people, and such as the journalist Sanna Ryman, whose early column shed light onto the situation, and archaeologists Moa Ekbom, who got the Facebook community and the petition going being the first to sign, Ingrid Berg, who linked the whole budget suggestion text to Facebook with the crucial page 308 on the morning of October 23, and Julia Habetzeder, who collects all blog entries in one place, and with media such as Aftonbladet, which apparently was first to notice this scandal, we can show that we Mediterranean scholars and all humanists and our friends are modern, sassy and sharp, and protect something we could lose so easily.

The following sentences are left only to keep the historicity of this blog intact: "We will need all the signatures we can get in order to show that we are united and value humanities and international collaboration. Please, sign and tell your friends to sign too, if you already haven't:
Save the Mediterranean Institutes petition". We won! The Swedish Government has now promised to provide state funding for the Mediterranean Institutes in the foreseeable future.