Sunday, 25 October 2015

How many archaeologists am I? Part 1: Finland

As my salaried researcher post in Sweden came to an end in the late spring, I was in the position to reflect on my time in Sweden and my new insights into an archaeological community I had the first long-term contact with in the 1990s when I was a committee member and the representative for archaeology students at Turku, Finland, in the Nordic Council for Archaeology Students. In between these two experiences I graduated from the University of Turku in Finland in Finnish and comparative archaeology, decided to change direction and start working within one of my minor disciplines, ‘classical archaeology’, in its pre-Roman Italian archaeology form, moved to England to do first an MA in Landscape Archaeology at Bristol and then a PhD at Cambridge and did fieldwork in Italy as a consequence.

Thus I have ended up in a situation where my professional and personal experience spans four European countries and four perceptions of being an archaeologist. I am still very involved in Finnish archaeology as the Editor-in-Chief of the Monographs of the Archaeological Society of Finland, even if I have not lived there for 16 years. Currently, I am seeing through the publication of an approved PhD thesis with a GIS-study of ritual sieidi sites. Even if I am in my own research dealing with the Latins, the Etruscans and the Faliscans in central Italy, I also still have to keep my eye on a wide selection of different research themes in Finland, Nordic countries and internationally. All my work is very fascinating, but constantly changing contexts and identities leaves me sometimes a little bit confused – especially when I think about the affiliation to any of the foreign research institutes in Rome. I am somewhere in a grey area between the Swedish Institute in Rome, the Institutum Romanum Finlandiae and the British School at Rome – and in practice spending a lot of time in Tram 19 between the Gianicolo Hill and Valle Giulia.

So am I an archaeologist in all four countries, Sweden, Finland, Britain and Italy? Yes and no is the answer, since these countries have different definitions for an archaeologist – in a professional sense. Volunteer archaeologists have existed alongside in all four, but in different kinds of roles and they have been accepted in different ways. In Britain I have also been a local field group member in Leicestershire and thus entered the archaeological community in a volunteer capacity – but in practice that role turned out to cross boundaries. So my position is different in every single country. In the end in the fourth installment, I will try to conclude and count the crucial number in my archaeological existence.

In Finland I have graduated and as a person having a certificate saying in writing I am an MA with a major in archaeology, I could apply a membership in the Archaeological Society of Finland (Suomen arkeologinen seura, SARKS, in Finnish). They checked my credentials and thus I am a validated archaeologist in Finland. Being a graduated archaeologist means that I can act as a director of excavations and I can apply research and excavations permits from the National Board of Antiquities within the antiquities law. A Finnish PhD student carrying out her PhD studies in archaeology in Britain has failed on this ground, since her major was not archaeology but geology. Thus, she has been unable to get research permits from the authorities. This may change, since she is doing scientific tests, but in principle so far she has not been perceived as an archaeologist in Finland, since she lacks the right degree. No matter how much her practical work is within the broad definition of archaeology. Nevertheless, I am one up. Yes, an archaeologist in Finland.

To be continued... Next time: Britain.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

22 years of Whitby headland and other RAI stories

Burlington House in London

This week I was pleasantly surprised when one of the venerable learned societies, the Royal Archaeological Institute, chose me as their new Social Media and Communications Officer. I have posted for the very first time onto the RAI Facebook page, but further action will require establishing an action plan and liaisoning with other officers in order to be properly informed about the existing practices and needs. We will also have to agree on policies and strategies. Nevertheless, if my first encounter was representative, I will have many pleasant meetings ahead.

The Finnish Embassy in Belgrave, London

My day started with a quick nip to the Embassy to order my new passport. The old one expires inconveniently in mid-January, which means that one has in practice to take care of the paperwork before Christmas. Since the end of the year seems quite busy, I decided to do it now when I was heading south anyway, so when we come to London during the Christmas break from school, I can pick the new one up. Of course, the flights in between have been booked with the old one.

The Royal Archaeological Institute has its headquarters in Burlington House, in the Society of Antiquaries. The interview was on the day of their monthly meeting, so I could attend it as well. Especially, since the talk was about the every goth’s favourite place, the Whitby Cathedral. Or not so much about the cathedral, but Tony Wilmott presented the different excavations and interventions English Heritage... I mean Historic England... has carried out there on the headland after the 1924/1925 Peers excavations after the bombardment of Whitby in 1918. Nothing much happened before 1976 when Rahtz actually checked the original excavation maps and compared them to the Peers summary map.

The RAI President Tim Champion addresses the audience

Peers was looking for early Christian monastery cellae and draw onto his map only a selection of suitable squarish walls. He left most of the palimpsest of different walls and structures out of this neat map with the consequence that Rathz considered the map as a misinterpretation and as such he thought it would be difficult to imagine any better example of such than this ‘interpretation’. The many interventions by EH/HE since 1993 have revealed new information of the earliest phases of the abbey recorded as Streonaeshalch by Bede, originally founded in 657 by Osby. The Danes really brought the place down in the 9th century, so that the bones of the saints kept there were moved to Glastonbury in 944 and the new Gothic cathedral rose only in the 12th century. However, in the 13th century, the long process with events of collapses started.

Sorting the technology

The current research and conservation has to deal with eroding headland. Apparently, c. 400 metres of cliff has disappeared and with it the Roman signal station that must have been along the coast, deducted from the others on the shoreline. The various attempts to get the car park and toilet sorted have been hampered by archaeological remains and sudden collapses making the car park in times an exclusion zone. However, the heroic research efforts have revealed Bronze Age round houses, Roman background noise and Anglian and Medieval property boundaries. Now they hope that different measures have consolidated the headland.

The other finds from the headland are quite spectacular. There are signs of a long curved boundary ditch that accommodated an Anglian cemetery. The cemetery seems to have been relatively large and the fragments of epitaphs found in early excavations. A primary cremation dates to a period between 610 and 680, determined with a C14 dating. There is also an Anglian road with ruts and stone foundation of a building. The area of the monastery and cathedral is neatly defined by Medieval ridge and furrow visible in the 1990s geophysical survey. HE hopes that the new geophysical survey planned will reveal more features. The later 17th century house of the Cholmely family revealed a large stoned garden. What a treasure box of archaeology. Sadly, none of the images featured a goth. Nevertheless, the experience and the list of this academic year's lectures suggests that a membership in the RAI will be beneficial to my archaeological general knowledge on the British Isles.

The day was success also otherwise. Between the interview and lunch and the 4.30pm tea I managed to pop to the British Museum to marvel the Sutton Hoo room. I also learned a lesson. Actually, two. The lesson one: do not try to take a selfie with an old smart phone without a camera on the front. The lesson two: do not take a selfie, if you are not 20 any more, ‘big-boned’ and slightly sweaty after speed walking around the museum. I should have buried the result, but for the general education, see, learn and be very, very horrified. The hamster chins is not a good look. You cannot even see the helmet properly!

The photo from the start of the term drinks party in the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge is more like it. Especially, when it came after a long successful day in the libraries:

Royal Archaeological Institute

If you are interested in knowing more about the activities of the Royal Archaeological Institute, check the web site. There is the lecture programme and information on the trips. Apparently, in July they visited Stockholm. The conference on maritime archaeology took place this weekend and there is more to come. The membership fees are very reasonable, considering you can access to the Library of the Society of Antiquaries and get a newsletter and the Archaeological Journal as well. The younger members have a special price, too.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Sekhemka on the go?

The Sekhemka statue on show in the 1950s (photo: Wikimedia)

With great sadness one watched how swiftly the Snibston Discovery Museum in Coalville seized to exist and the marvellous displays of long-gone Leicestershire toy industry and still strong clothes trade closed along with lovely play ground for children, train runs to celebrate the trade the town got its name and the theatre facility closed. The local trust did their best, but the doors were closed before the August high season. The county council got some savings, but has to pay back the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The councils and local government are under huge pressure to save, save, save and museums and such ‘soft’ areas without legal obligations are easy targets. Let’s hope that the ideological matters do not play part, since it would be sad to see that the Conservatives do not wish to conserve and present the past of the country they say they will make proud.

Much is spoken about the Heritage Industry, some of it with very critical tone of voice. During these hard times, safeguarding the core business should be paramount and if heritage industry means that the museums and heritage areas have updated information boards, new exhibitions, inform people of their past and the past of their area or the whole world in an experience that is fun and exciting for the whole family at a sensible price, so let it be so. If that will keep the archives and collections running and safe, the side-show will protect the intangible benefits in the future. Considering the customer is not a crime, some other things are more likely to be deemed, if not know, then in the future, a crime at least in the figurative sense.

I was flipping through the British Archaeology magazine and saw a series of linked articles on Egypt. One of them was on Sekhemka sale, the theme that has come up in local media in the East Midlands, Heritage Daily and different blogs, such as Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues. When I first read about it, I was not so alarmed, since I considered an Egyptian statue in a local museum without proper associated collections little a mismatch. However, then I thought again and realised that there are huge issues on stake here. First and foremost, after this sale no benefactor could not be sure if the material they donate to enrich the collections or archives will be pulped or sold the following week. The local authorities, organisations and archives can forget their duties and just concentrate on keeping the doors open and payroll running no matter what. It is just fair that the borough council lost its chance of the HLF grants with losing its Accreditation from the Arts Council and the Museum Association membership.

Even if the Sekhemka statue does not reflect directly the local archaeology, it definitely reflects the local history and general history of learned activity during the late 19th century. Every school child in Britain, no matter if in state or private school, does study ancient Egypt. When one examines the Sekhemka statue in detail, one realises how exceptional piece it is. With bright colours and beautiful reliefs of humans, birds and tasks it is an extraordinary object of art. Any local council owning it would benefit of it and could use it in profiling and teaching as much as they wished. In fact, by auctioning it to an unknown foreign bidder and causing the government to issue an export ban, they have managed to create an unusual amount of publicity to the issue and the statue at the same time as they are not got the benefits of positive publicity. Only underlined the fact that the people of Northamptonshire and Britain will potentially be robbed of this resource.

In addition, the Sekhemka statue reflects the complicated situation it was brought to the collections, as the British Archaeology explains in its article. The situation of export from Egypt and import to Britain in 1850 after a tour in Egypt by Compton, the 2nd Marquis of Northampton, during the winter of 1849/1850 is not clear. Thus, under the international law, actually, Egypt may have a claim to the statue as well. In addition, when the statue was sold at Christie’s on July 10 in 2014, the extraordinary hammer price of £14 million was split for no clear reason between the borough council and the 7th Marquis of Northamptonshire, due to the unclarity of the early history of the statue in the museum collections. There is no record of actual donation that makes the situation even more complex. The first mention of the piece is from 1899, when in a newspaper press cutting referred to a case filled with Egyptian objects collected by Spencer Compton as President of Royal Society and others. The 4th Marquis had donated the Borough of Northampton a geological collection of 295 drawers of specimens and for some reason a collection of Egyptian antiquities. In the museum inventory list the statue does not appear until 1920.

At least the 7th Marquis of Northampton has form in selling terms. He sold the Greek vase collection of Compton at Christie’s already in 1980. Luckily, Minister Ed Vaizey seems to appreciate the past more than his colleagues in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. The Sekhemka export ban has been extended until March 29, 2016. This is a double-edged sword to the Save Sekhemka Action Group. They argue that it would be ethically wrong for any UK museum or conglomerate to raise the £15,732,600 that is needed to match the hammer price plus a buyer’s premium according to the UK regulations. This would just leave the way open for councils to sell other items.

How could UK square the circle? Egyptian buyer to be found? Actually passing legislation to protect collections and heritage as advocated by Lord Renfrew? This is far from clear, since the action houses would see their business cut. UK and Switzerland are the only European countries that feed international arts market without protection. Will government protect British public property or sell it for profit? Ultimately, for government, does society exist or do they govern us without purpose? Do residents have right to know their past? Or will profoundly Neoconservatist economic ideologies be totally ahistoric, creating an intellectual vacuum, uncivilized nation?

One has to thank the British Archaeology and its Mike Pitts for excellent articles on the The Sekhemka sale, 2nd Marquis of Northampton and the related articles on Nefertiti looked for in Tutankhamun's tomb and the cententary of the Petrie Museum.
Stephen Quirke and Alice Stevenson wrote the article on the Sekhemka sale and Mike Pitts the one on the Marquis's travels and collecting that have been used to provide the facts in this text.
The British Archaeology is the magazine of the Council for British Archaeology - of course.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

New finds from Volterra to Pompeii

The remains of the apparent side wall of the oval arena (Photo: Repubblica Firenze)

I have been lately been making plans for the Stockholm Volterra Project with the knowledge that some exciting new finds have been made there and elsewhere. The finding of a possible amphitheatre was declared the most important find of its kind in 100 years – one can consider semantically, if this refers to the amphitheatre finds or monuments in Volterra in general. In any case, the site has remained unnoticed for hundreds of years since its use during the Roman times.

If we move to Rome itself, the new 6th-century BC house remains from the Quirinale Hill have got a lot of attention. In the images the site looks really exciting, but one should not forget that the find like this is to be expected within the area of Archaic Rome. The houses in the 19th century in the area were built with such a hurry that most of the archaeology went unaccounted for in the feverish building works. The new capital of the unified Italy needed new quarters and when one now looks at the urban structure around the Presidential Palace and Via Nazionale it is clear that this neighbourhood was formed in a couple of decades. The fact that the archaeologists then could keep track of some of the burials towards Esquiline is next to a miracle. We can just guess what disappeared in the feverish building activity – and in the light of this new find, what is lurking within the cellars and foundations in the area.

Linked image of the houses on the Quirinale Hill (from Corriere Web Roma site)

The finds came from inside Palazzo Canevari, the former geological institute, from the area of Largo di Santa Susanna, between Piazza Barberini and Piazza Repubblica. The Soprintendenza assumed that the area may have a cemetery, but found 6th century houses instead. The degree of surprise of course is related to the perception of Archaic Rome. We do have the houses of the same period from the Palatine Hill. Of course, it is the slope of the Palatine Hill, the area of the House of Rex Sacrorum, so this was a tone through from the Forum. Nevertheless, the area where Palazzo Canevari is did locate inside the ‘Archaic’ city walls that one can see standing by the Termini train station. Of course, the Archaic character of the walls have been questioned and they have been dated to the Republican period, but the 6th century walls are also known from Veii, so this area was likely to lie within the residential area. Livy's historic references to the expansion of Rome around 500 BC suggest that there were some wide-spread residental areas around Rome during the 6th century.

Linked image from inside Palazzo Canevari (from Repubblica Roma)

I was also relatively unsurprised by the find, since there is ample evidence from elsewhere in central Italy of Archaic houses with stone foundation and sometimes with stone walls. This may surprise some of my colleagues, since I am known to favour so-called low count for the Early Iron Age population numbers. However, here we are talking of the Archaic period and 6th century BC. My view is that from the looser Iron Age villages grew the denser ‘hut’ town areas of central Italy and during the Archaic period proper urban areas with rectangular houses. The Rome must have quite large. Thus, the lack of houses is down to the fact that the areas within the Archaic Rome are covered by built modern town. When the archaeologists start to dig deep enough, they will found more of these structures, if they have not been dug away when the foundations were put in place.

Specialists from the Soprintendenza scanning a cast

More exciting news are coming from Pompeii, where different cemetery excavation projects are revealing new details of the individuals and their origins and health. The Anglo-Spanish excavations at Porta Nola and the Soprintendenza have just released information about the scanning of the casts made in the 19th century of the victims of the volcanic eruption. The BSR blog written by Stephen Kay tells in general of the project and describes briefly the CAT scans that have been done as part of the project by the Soprintendenza. Daily Mail (yes, in archaeology news indispensable, no matter one thinks about it otherwise) has published a series of photos in the article that show the internal remains within the casts. The real surprise has been the good teeth these Romans had. The diet was apparently low in sugar so there were few cavities.

Linked image of the vases (photo: Bastien Lemaire)

Elsewhere, the French excavations at Porta Ercolano revealed a Samnite cist grave with all its southern Italian painted vases. Ever so often one only sees these vases in the museums, so it was exciting to see them in situ, even if broken down. They will be conserved into their previous glory. This grave is from the pre-Roman period in the 4th century BC. Well recorded tombs of this period will help to tell the story of Pompeii in the multicultural Bay of Naples.

Linked image of the cist (Photo: Géraldine Bénit)