Sunday, 28 December 2014

More archaeology in 2015

I am on my annual leave and the only archaeological thoughts over the celebrations have dealt with the recent air photo interpretation of the Bradgate Park landscape and the apparently coming University of Leicester field school there. That will be highly interesting. Nevertheless, we have been enjoying Bradgate Park as it is - as a deer park for all Leicester towners and Charnwood people. Do enjoy your holidays while sharing a photo of snowy Old John tower. That shot is the last photo before the battery of my mobile phone went flat. Thus, I did not get the marvelous shot of all Leicester in different degrees of white below.

Happy New Year and more exciting archaeological events in 2015! I have eye-witnessed some unbelievably interesting things in 2014 and only wonder what will be around the corner next year...

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Reconstructing a conference, REF and other fragments

This week has seen me not going to the Theoretical Archaeology Group Conference at Manchester. This was an interesting experience, since luckily a colleague seem to have been constantly tweeting and now afterwards blogging about the experience. I have reconstructed my own conference from Facebook postings, scrolling through the tweets with #TAG2014 hashtag on Wednesday, getting comments via e-mail from colleagues who were there and help me with peer reviewing and now reading the blogs. As with my comments in my other, more personal blog, this does not replace the physical experience of actually being there (as Skype does not replace hugs at the bed time). Nevertheless, all this belated virtual attendance means that I managed to work on organising peer reviews for a book, dealing with peer reviewing abstract for a conference session, working in the libraries at Cambridge and looking for digital data instead of being 'tired and emotional' after the TAG party and travelling on trains just before Christmas. On the minus side, I could not hear much of the MesoNeo session, since people dealing with Medieval or Roman archaeology seldom follow such things.

NOT this year

The other matter to follow through Twitter and different online media is the REF results that were announced on Thursday. I did forget about the thing until the end of the day, but managed to scroll through #REF2014. All Universities tried to find something positive to announce, even if the results may have been a disappointment. Oxford came out of the exercise as the leading university and Cambridge has to give place to UCL. In archaeology, the analysis of the results is made more difficult by the fact that archaeology is place together with geography and environmental sciences and only the separate figures are given to a selection of different universities on the results page. These mainly include the so-called leading universities, such as Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and Durham, but there is also Chester with its own archaeology figures. Comparing different figures the REF pages give, one can gather that archaeology at Oxford has amazing impact figures, but Cambridge, Oxford, Reading, Sheffield, Leicester and Durham among others have very high numbers of 4* and 3* papers and UCL leads in Environment with Cambridge and Oxford slightly farther behind. As an itinerant postdoc, I do not have to worry about making part of such comparisons, but it is interesting to know what one has to take into account if one worked at a university. The truth is that in the age of diminishing research funds, the future will bring the concentration of research funding to Oxford, Cambridge and UCL. It will be revealing to see if the amazing departments at the universitites that do not hit the highest figures, continue to get funding for their archaeology...

Then, I out my inner grumpy middle-aged person again. Could all conference organisers, please, start to plan the deadlines with a calendar in hand? Organising a full automated online abstract review from start to finish during the two mid-weeks in December? When there is a conference season in UK and Italy and the people in the Nordic countries start concentrate on organising family functions at the start of the annual leave? We made it but only by ignoring a missing peer review and not having time to fathom the finesses of the rules or the interface...

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Stonehenge Apocalypse

I have made a conscious choice (and actually cannot escape statutory childcare and school run duties when at home) not to go to the TAG this year, since I do need a break from serious conferencing - no matter how much I would have liked to have my annual curry dinner with friends and go and chat about work with certain parties that seem to be there according to the long and comprehensive program. Now, I actually have to do work. Write up things, go to the library, peer review and seek peer reviewers. There is also more stuff for the MASF editorial board coming for approval, so it is better to party less, let my Antiquity free subscription to be passed to the new happy owner and leave all the theoretical novelties to the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference 2015. Which will bring about an interesting balancing act happening during the same weekend as my son's birthday. Thus the last postings of the year will take a slightly lighter topics than the end of the universe as we know it (a.k.a. the potential, now-not-happening closure of the Swedish Mediterranean Institutes), island archaeology and Stonehenge landscape.

Which actually are exactly the topics I am going to talk about in more general, although lighter terms. My husband's annual 'cult movie night' exposed us this year to Stonehenge Apocalypse, the movie so laughable that you are literally speechless for a moment after it. It is from 2011 - with all the production values and CGI and VFX of the late 1980s. The main actors and actresses are famous for those American scifi series. Certain elements even apply some of the production choices of that famous Bonekickers British tv series. I am not sure, if the same special archaeology consultant was used here - but I hope not. The trailer brings in mind all those exploitation movies from the late 20th century - and the movie is a rip-off of any 2012 or Mayan apocalypse storyline.

Since this blog is ultimately about landscapes, I just point out a few of the most intriguing facts about the movie. No, I am not going to dwell on how they found Egyptian remains somewhere in the central states in the US or that Teotihuacan, the Pyramids and Stonehenge are mysteriously connected in volcanic action or the stones of Stonehenge move around. No, I was looking at Stonehenge itself and its landscape.

Before seeing this movie, I was totally unaware of the fir trees lining the horizon in the Stonehenge landscape. I was also totally unaware of the plastic texture of Stonehenge and the very-thin-indeed lintel stones. The dark coniferous forest and the flat lands could have been in southwestern Finland, but my guess is that more common destination of the American movie makers - Canada. This could also explain the unexpected vision of a basketball hall in an assumed British school. Plus all cars driving on the right side of the road and the steering wheel locating in a similar manner on the left-hand side in all 'British' army vehicles in the movie. Maybe I will not comment too much the underlining darker details seeing the African-American main archaeologist baddie siding with the generally 'Middle-eastern' crime organisation baddies... Truly speaking, a gobsmacking fail on all fronts.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Metal detector men, Nazi barracks and other ethical issues in community from Turku

November truly and utterly flattened me and I ate more conference food and hang around at the air ports, train and coach stations and ferry ports longer than I want to recognize. It was inspiring, fascinating, mesmerising and delightful – and meeting new interesting people and seeing old friends after a long while is always lovely. Not that it has ended: late January sees me juggernauting again, the list of the work to be done is just longer and longer and the standard 24 hours per day seem laughably inadequate. Nevertheless, let’s go back to November and the marvellous Archaeologist Days of the Archaeological Society of Finland at the University of Turku on the last Thursday and Friday of November. No better topic to write about on the Finnish Independence Day on December 6!

University buildings in Turku

These Days used to be in April and the fieldwork presentations in November, but the fieldworkers who were increasingly working into October and later wanted to have a break and a chance of actually preparing the presentations. Thus, the conferences were swapped and November date is much more suitable for me. Around Easter I am more likely to be in the CAA or home for the holidays than anything else. The First Advent is also a good time to visit family and buy Christmas presents, so the benefits are not only intellectual but also practical and emotional.

The Days have always two themes and this year these were Archaeological Ethics and Community Archaeology. Especially the first did not appeal to me very much beforehand, since some of the discussions are predictable and there is a huge chance of politically correct mild polite time filling in between lunch and coffee. I must admit I was totally wrong and the discussions were not only thought-provoking but also heated. It became very apparent which person will not be the contact worker for the metal detectors, for example! The advice might be stern and compassion lacking with astute directives given, peppered with more figurative speech than people are used to from public service.

Many papers given were involved with historical archaeology or the 20th century, so it was not only the themes that were very 'now' but also the problems and potential threats to war graves, especially in Lapland, and such matters. This type of discussions continued to the second day as well. Part of the discussion on the first day was devoted to the suggested Finnish ethical code for archaeology and which organisation should give advice, guidance and notify, if some research activities are unethical. The Archaeological Society of Finland is not the Institute for Archaeologists, but more a learnt, although professional, society. One could take an example from the Council for Mass Media in Finland that is a joint independent organ of media practitioners with lay members, as was suggested by Petri Halinen who was presenting the code. However, no matter which model one selects, the small pool of members in any panel will become a problem.

Maria Lahtinen’s presentation underlined the interesting situations, which arise when the Finnish and British practices collide and people who are considered in Britain archaeologists through their experience are not such a thing in Finland were the degree in archaeology has traditionally been a mark of a professional archaeologist who customarily can get research permits. Not to mention the ethical questions in sampling human bones that will be destroyed to a degree in the process and the feeling among the scientific archaeologists, shared in many different countries, that other archaeologists are happy to have their results but do not integrate them in the process, especially in the sampling stage in the field. However the main ‘beef’ of the day was the relations with the metal detectorists.

Metal detecting is governed by the Finnish law according to which the known archaeological sites cannot be touched without a research permit. The metal detectorists have to keep away from the inside of the defined preservation areas. The whole hobby has expanded exponentionally in the 2010s and many detectorists either are unaware of the law or some more serious cases are ignorant of it or do not follow it. However, most archaeologists recognize that in some areas the emptying of the fields from any metal objects is happening with an increased speed, and the professionals have to understand where the finds are made. Thus, the Museum in Espoo, as Anna Wessman told us, has tried to involve them in local history projects and has managed to get new Iron Age finds from the areas they were earlier unknown. Päivi Maaranen from the National Board of Antiquities presented their e-mail service where the finds are discussed and information collected. Both had made some surveys of the detector hobbyists and they could confirm that these were mostly men, who liked to walk in the countryside either alone or in pairs. They want online information sheets, get their metal items identified, even if only modern, and, if a treasure find, most often get their monies – even if they do not do it for financial gain. They are less interested in courses, but most of them work, so the events during the working hours of the professionals were unsuccessful.

Päivi Maaranen presents

Riku Kauhanen’s excellent presentation on conflict archaeology and the dangerous balancing acts in the modern conflict areas. He also touched upon the problems of getting information of historic 18th-century structures and finds that traditionally have not been of interest to archaeologist or historians. These discussions could be seen as relevant for the metal detector discussion or later during the Community Archaeology day. Here I use it as a vehicle to move from the first to the second day.

The second day started with Suzie Thomas’ overview of the field in Britain with an early reference to her activities at the University of Helsinki. Finland is lucky to have a professional with all the right English Heritage and Council of British Archaeology contacts. The day continued with specific projects. Kreetta Lesell presented the late Aino Nissinaho’s successful Adopt an Monument initiative for organisations and communities, Janne Ikäheimo presented the site of the last hanging in Finland and Eeva Raike discussed the fact that the rock hackings that are alive tradition with new designs and names added annually are not a suitable site for preservation under the Ancient Monument law: they could not be touched or added to any more.

Leena Koivisto’s talk raised the Finnish question of why the people like to attend the community archaeology excavations away from their own village – the situation almost the opposite to that in Britain. The talk touched upon the question of social media being even too quick, when the excavation directors at the site were not aware of the happenings some metres away that had been beamed to Facebook with the help of mobile phones. There were moments when the boss from the museum had seen all online when the directors still had to check what had been found at site. She also wondered aloud, if it begins to be too easy to ‘Like’ a dig online – and people do not bother joining the activities.

Now we get to the Nazis. The 1940s are now a big thing in Finnish archaeology with a large grant being devoted to the mapping of the archaeological remains from the Lapland war, the German barracks and other visible defence and attack structures being the easiest target. Elsewhere, as Jan Fast told in his presention, his new project in Hanko where he has started to map the derelict German barracks with a community project before they will disappear with a new development being planned. He also discussed the first public large excavations organised by the Heureka science centre in the 1990s and some other community archaeology work, but one has to admit that the Hanko project took the limelight from the Jokiniemi or Kemiö projects.

The Days also reminded us about the passage of time. The young generation does not apparently sit until early hours in the bar and look for a disco bar after the first bar closed and the Bar in Hamburger Börs (people in Finland know the fame) was all dark. No, they seem to be teetotallers and/or take their dogs out for a walk after the conference dinner. We seniors are becoming definitely wiser, though: we were quite grey in the first row the morning after, but we were there for the first presentation – and we were only tired, not emotional!

Sadly, I cannot promise to be there next year, but the discussions are likely to be as fervent, since one of the topics is likely to be ‘what is an archaeological remain and which of them are worth be preserved by law’. Mikko Härö touched upon this topic when talking about the future hand book of Finnish archaeological monuments and remains that will be compiled on a wiki platform. He hinted at the future changes in the law protecting the ancient monuments, so the topic will again be very ‘NOW’.

The sparse attendance of the younger generation in the evening do may have something to do with the 50th anniversary celebrations of the student archaeology society magazine Varelia the previous evening. Apparently, 'important' phone calls were made at 3.50am in a happy atmosphere to a dismayed archaeologist with a job...

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Cyprian on a Greek career

A review of last week's Archaeologist Days by the Archaeological Society of Finland will follow next weekend when I actually will have time to write a blog entry. Today: running around the campus in order to use sticky tape to fix receipts on A4s for archiving, and trying to recover my e-mail address (success!), so it will not happen until next week. Now I will upload my opinionated description of Cyprian Broodbank's Personal Histories event instead: something I made earlier.

The president of the Field Club opens the event

The Archaeological Field Club, the Cambridge society of undergraduate archaeology students, organised together with the Personal Histories project an event on November 12 where Cyprian Broodbank, the new Disney professor in Archaeology at the University of Cambridge gave a monologue of his career so far. It was interesting from many different angles - personal and general. First of all, I have to admit that before the event I had seen him twice: once giving a paper in the Italian Prehistory Day and the second time briefly first sitting down and then leaving the Anthony Snodgrass’s birthday conference. I still have not exchanged a word with him. Secondly, Joan Oates had said that he continued archaeology only because he went to the excavations at Tell Brak in Syria. Thirdly, I hoped to hear what he plans to do as the Disney professor (project-wise).

Cyprian took up an admirable theme in his talk. He emphasised how his career has not always been plain sailing. However, even when relatively speaking not shining out and dropping out, in those relative Halcyon days he managed to bag fellowships here and had in the beginning ended up in the British School at Athens. He also moved between Oxford and Cambridge and then got a job from UCL from 1995. Even during the dry patches his career seemed to be somewhat removed from – let’s say – likely next steps of a drop out from a PhD programme at the University of Central Lancashire [no offence – Central Lancashire has some top people]. Nevertheless, it was nice to hear that not all had been completely on an upward curve. On a sadder note, the maths to count how many years older he was than me made me despair, though. The traditional long, free continental humanistic degree before the Bologna process clearly had its downsides... I did graduate in nine years and I was a spot-on average at the time, but that is no consolation now!

Cyprian’s stays in different universities seem to have coincided with particularly dynamic periods at different departments. The periods at Oxford and Bristol seem to have been less remarkable, but his stay at Cambridge coincided with the turbulent times at the Department of Archaeology with postprocessual archaeology making its mark. The Faculty of Classics with Anthony Snodgrass was a settled place to observe the fervent discourses. Already at Bristol Cyprian had started noticing how island archaeology with surveys and John Cherry started to make their mark. When Cyprian moved to London Peter Ucho and Stephen Shennan offered an active Instititute giving a transforming experience with discussions about the politics of archaeology and World Archaeology Congress (WAC). It can be seen, if similar dynamic period is now ahead at Cambridge.

The most important projects during his career have been the Kythera project and the recent book The Making of the Middle Sea that tracks the Mediterranean prehistory during the last 10,000 years. The latter project was dreamt up when it became clear that the study of the material from Kythera would take a considerable time. The field stage came to an end in 2004 and apparently, the study seasons came to an end year ago, but the project has not been published, yet. The book from its sister project, the Antikythera project (Bevan and Conolly), did come out last year and I myself wrote a book review to the Antiquity. The Kythera projects also had considerable historic, ethnographic and modern elements, so they are predecessors of Tom Gallant’s works on two sides of Greece at the moment.

Cyprian did refer to his coming large worldwide project. He will continue studying islands, but this time it will be at a new scale. Undoubtedly, the symposium at the end of the same week at Cambridge was related to those plans. Anyway, Cyprian’s message to the young archaeologists is to think big, believe in one’s theories and have large study areas.