Sunday, 29 November 2015

Frozen in Volterra

The change was breathtaking in every meaning of the word. From Week 1 and the Indian summer the kind of which Italy had not seen in 66 years with temperature hitting 20 in Florence, we landed through a very rainy and misty Saturday into Week 2, which brought frost and bitterly cold sunny weather. Next week it should snow, but luckily we will be back – in Sweden, so snow may be on the cards anyway. I had planned leaving my winter boots in Stockholm, but I was fortunate to have them with me. I have had heating on all day in my room plus going around in my fleece-lined field coat that made me survive the Grand Arcade 2005 in Cambridge and had been property of the Antarctic Survey before I bought it from the Mill Road Salvation Army shop. I also learnt that Volterra is classified as a mountainous region, so no wonder it was freezing.

It was also beautiful and I was surrounded by good people. My assistant Nadja has been a real star. I was originally a bit worried, since she is very interested in ancient Greek and linguistics and pondering the use of language and meanings of words, but I should not have been. She also has that genuine gift, an eye for archaeology and a way of reminding the boss of important missed details. She is also very interested in measuring, mapping and technical gadgets, so I could through the car GPS on her and let her to set up the real mapping GPS at sites without having to run to the rescue. We walked round the sites, planning the main features of the landscape in order to create general maps for the area, me defining where to take the points and her delivering. At clear sections she just got on with it – and with the exception of a few points were the reception failed, the exported dxf files look good in AutoCad.

The GPR crew at work

Similarly, my GPR crew works with the best, with Maurizio Forte and Stefano Campana. Even if our research is at a pinpoint scale in comparison with their wider scale studies over different city and village scapes in northern Lazio and southern Tuscany, they process lovely 2D overlays. Even the GPS support worked this year. Previously, the working hours were limited with the GPS satellites to the morning after which the satellites disappeared somewhere else. Now one can use both American and Russian satellites and we could work for the entire day. Not just measuring the control points for the GPR grids but actually mapping the site and its setting in general detail so that all can be brought together in GIS with the CTR maps at the scale 1:2000. It is all coming together and it begins to look like a pretty convincing project, the Stockholm Volterra Project.

An audience with Mayor Marco Buselli

People in Volterra are nice and the town council seems to appreciate our work. In addition, the owners of the first site followed our work for three days and were really enthusiastic even if the weather took a turn to worse. When they went back home, they bought us paste (cookies or cakes) as a gift. Naturally, we had to be photographed with them and they were asking when we will come back. The owner of my favourite bar provided me with extra cheese with my last meal in her place and has chatted with me delightfully. The regulars playing card politely made way for me so I could eat my supper. It all makes one feel warm inside even if it was cold outside.

Team Volterra 2015

Previous week saw us running around Florens in order to reach the Soprintendenza. At the end of this week we had to take the GPS kit back to Pisa. This meant that we just had to go to see the Leaning Tower. After all, many of the columns of the cathedral seem to have come from the Roman buildings in Pisa and from its environs. An archaeologist could spot porphyrite and the main Roman marble types in the apsis. We apparently also hit one of the best trattorie in town, as we got the last table. There was a queue soon, waiting to eat the tasty pasta. Sometimes it is nice to be an archaeologist, even if one comes to a site in the morning and finds it all frosty and on some days the trekking boots were completely wet. Nadja resorted into putting plastic bags to her feet.

Just could not resist...

Stockholm University and the Section of Classical Archaeology and Ancient History are grateful for the funding from the Swedish Kungliga Vitterhetsakademien and the collaboration of the Soprintendenza per i beni archeologici della Toscana, especially thanking Elena Sorge, the intendent for Volterra, and comune di Volterra. A special thank you to the Swedish Institute in Rome. The marvellous people in Stockholm, Volterra, Florence, Rome, Pisa, Livorno, Perugia, Leicester and Cambridge made this season possible.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Back to Volterra

Sunday sunshine

Being in fieldwork in Italy during the winter enters you into a different world. The town is quieter and most of the hotels and restaurants are closed. This year we arrived at the end of an unusually late Indian summer that had continued until mid-November. Even if the clouds started to circulate around us almost immediately, Week 1 was relatively warm, even if the rain during the night between Wednesday and Thursday meant that the long grass was wet and we went through a couple of pairs of socks while mapping. The storm winds began to blow on Friday evening and on Saturday the rain was heavy and the clouds hang low. Sunday was suddenly bright and sunny but bitterly cold in comparison. The Italian winter has finally arrived.

Because it is winter, our small group that had diminished from three to two at the last moment flew to Rome and made the long drive from Rome to Volterra. When one is normally Rome-based or works near Rome, it is easy to forget how long the distances are and how long a 50 kilometres really can be in time in the countryside. Optimistically, I planned to fetch some minor necessities from the Finnish Institute and make a fleeting visit to the Swedish Institute to see a colleague who will spend the winter in Rome as a storstipendiat and exchange a couple of words with the director Kristian Göransson. This looked fine on paper but turned out to be slightly more complicated.

Getting the hired car took longer than expected, since their new software did not function particularly well and we had to start from the beginning. Then the car was not parked in the spot advertised and I had to go round the garage to find the correct register plate. We had a GPS in the car, but it seems to have a mind of its own, avoiding the most obvious routes along the big roads and we were invited to a scenic tour of the lesser roads along Via Portuense from the Nuova Fiera di Roma onwards. The roads got narrower, the bumps and holes got bigger and we hit a roadwork as well. Then suddenly, we came to the Via Aurelia and found ourselves from the western side of the Vatican. We managed to get to Villa Lante but decided that I went in and grab what was needed while my assistant guarded the car and then we moved to the Swedish Institute as soon as possible.

GPS that actually works!

I had sent an email to the secretary without knowing that the institute had been without Internet and telephone connection for several days. The financial administrator was puzzled when I suddenly turned up and ran up the stairs towards the attic and came back my hands full of graph paper, drawing board and other smaller items. The director said welcome, but I could only say that actually, I am going now. Only the secretary was left nodding that I had actually informed them about my sudden and short visit.

The drive to Valle Giulia had been painless unless the GPS had wanted us to turn to the other side of the Tiber and take some mysterious route there. We did switch it off in the end. At the Swedish Institute everything went smoothly, we discussed with the director and his wife before having a coffee with our colleague. Then it was getting dark and we started the drive up north.

The GPS continued to torment us by wanting to take every single exit out of the toll road from Rome to Orvieto when we finally snapped. My assistant read the paper map and defined the exit we needed for Volterra and we had an easy drive with relatively little traffic. Naturally, the cash toll point closed exactly when we hit the toll area, but we were soon out and on our way towards Siena. Now the GPS was priceless in the many roundabouts around Siena and the windy road to Volterra. I drove and the assistant warned me of the crossings and turns to come on the long, dark drive. Of course, everything was closed when we arrived, but at least we got to our hotels. It takes five hours to drive – no matter any map service says.

Lunch in Florence

After three intensive days on site we hit the road again in order to meet the sick funzionaria at her office and learned more about the quirks of our GPS. It seemed to take original view to routing, but at least we took the historical road to Florence. However, it seemed not to take into consideration the ZTLs, the areas of restricted driving and parking, so we found ourselves in the historic centre with a big car. Finding a parking spot after escaping the ZTL was far from easy, so we started an unsure hike through the centre. At least the trip was worthwhile and we could have a tasty lunch and spend a little time passing the Duomo and Uffizi.

Back to the car along a right kind of scenic route

Now we wait Week 2 at the mercy of the weather. Apparently, we will be flooded on Monday, a day that may be spent making courtesy visits, but the midweek should be better. Will we get all done? We will know in seven days.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

How many archaeologists am I? Part 4: Italy

At Crustumerium in February 2008

Today I try to tackle briefly the trickiest of the questions: am I an archaeologist in Italy?

Well, I have been, if one considers that I took part as a volunteer student at the excavations at Veii and Ischia di Castro when I was the postgraduate grant holder in the Institutum Romanum Finlandiae in the late 1990s. I also ran the Nepi survey and the Cisterna Grande excavations at Crustumerium, Rome, as a doctoral and postdoctoral research. The foreign teams are incorporated into the national system of applying for the excavations and research permits, but as I write this, the implementation of the new law governing the permits is going on. The permits were previously approved and signed by the local Superintendency, but now an Italy-wide office has been established and the practical reorganisation is ongoing. How this will change the practice is not perfectly clear.

Nevertheless, the different systems and practices related to archaeology and governing the administration excavations has been in flux for some time now. One can read Pintucci and Cella’s (2014) report on archaeological profession in Italy in the recent years and perhaps get an idea how the profession has changed hugely at least in northern Italy. The system there conforms closely to that of commercial archaeology in Britain. As an archaeologist carrying out fieldwork in Italy I am not part of this professional commercial system but the one of the archaeologists working in the parallel system for the international teams and foreign academies. The answer is therefore that I am definitely maybe an archaeologist in Italy. Perhaps half an archaeologist: a foreign archaeologist involved in Italian archaeology.

I am not sure how easy it would be for a foreign academic to be hired professionally in Italy, if I moved there. Similarly, I am not sure how easily I would be hired within commercial archaeology. There are a lot of talented people there making their way to get salaried jobs and any economic downturns make it only harder for individuals.

On an excursion with a colleague in 2015

The reality is that the profession does not stand still. During the time I directed excavations in Italy, we got the safety plans and a health and safety official. I did not have doctor’s statement for all involved in the field, but now the directors of excavations have to present them to the authorities and the diggers have to get them. I could work in Britain as an assistant site officer without having a series of passes on my name, but now I have to get them, if I need to work for units again (which I was expecting to do until last week in not so far away future).

What is clear is that the discussion is on in many countries, not the least in Finland, Britain and Italy, regarding the professionalism in archaeology and the directions where the commercial model is taking us. In Britain it is an extremely capitalist and lean model that does not provide much of job security for diggers but has resulted in the creation of efficient recording systems. In a country like Finland where all sites and archaeology in principle belongs to state and is governed by the all-binding antiquities law and the National Boards of Antiquities, the discussion is on, if there is much point to fragment the field and let business confidentiality to enter the picture as Sweden has done when allowing the commercial units to carry out excavations. The active discussions mean that we are involved and interested in archaeology and fieldwork, even if those circles funding universities, research and heritage do not always seem to be. I hope we do not fall in despair when they show the lack of interest but stay intellectually active.

All in all, three and half archaeologists after four weeks of consideration. Not a bad figure.

Now I will be ready for another season of fieldwork in Italy as a Finnish archaeologist currently funded by the Swedish Kungliga Vitterhetsakademien and representing Stockholm University, living and being active in UK and soon-to-be working in Sweden again.

Sinkhole at Le Balze and Badia in Volterra in 2014


Pintucci, A. and Cella, E. (eds.) 2014. Discovering the Archaeologists of Italy 2012–14. Translated from Italian by D. Pate. Milan: Confederazione Italiana Archeologi,

Sunday, 8 November 2015

How many archaeologists am I? Part 3: Sweden

Buddha from Iron Age Helgö in Sweden

Interestingly, in Sweden I probably would not be a proper archaeologist, if I had only graduated in Sweden in the discipline of classical archaeology and ancient history (AKS, antikens kultur och samhälle in Swedish) in which I worked between September 2013 and May 2015 at the University of Stockholm. In order to run excavations in Sweden, an archaeologist has to have done an exam in excavation methods and passed training excavation. Not all students graduating in AKS necessarily do this in Sweden and this means they are not perceived as archaeologists in Sweden by law. Even if the field courses are run in classical archaeology, if one wants to work as archaeologist in Sweden after graduation, it may be advisable to attend the training in Nordic archaeology as well.

However, I am also an archaeologist in Sweden, since I am an archaeologist in Finland as an Archaeological Society of Finland member, have a Masters from Finland with exams of methodology, a seminar dig at a Late Neolithic settlement site I ended up writing my MA dissertation on and I did also run Iron Age excavations (in Nordic archaeology) as part of my degree in Finland. In addition, I have been validated as a field archaeologist in UK. I am three up.

Goldkammare in the Historiska Museet in Stockholm

What a difference week makes! Last Sunday I was a researcher, affiliated in three countries at three different universities without a proper salary and with a recent tally of unsuccessful funding applications with a very binary set of reviews. I managed to be at the same time an experienced scholar with a vision and potential to explore new things successfully and having absolutely no potential what so ever with a very average proposal reflecting the current state of research practices. Then, suddenly things came together, some of the positive reviewers apparently united in the same process, I got my grant and I am heading to Stockholm again – part-time with the 75% Swedish-style funding.

Nevertheless, it is quite clear that we actually did it together. I have synergy of my linked researcher, Karin Westin Tikkanen, whose research on ancient alphabets in Italy will feed into my assessment of multiculturality in central Italy whereas my data tables will help her. I have also little by little become one part of a network of multidisciplinary researchers interested in these identity related questions, with people with projects that have relevance in colonial situations and others. It feels good to have a glimpse what we may potentially achieve together.

Time for cake?

So I will be concentrating on Italy, but not forgetting Finland, which will be nearer again and where I have to get a next volume of the Monographs of the Archaeological Society of Finland sorted for online publication. Or Britain that will be my family home in the immediate future.

Next week: Italy. Volare...

Sunday, 1 November 2015

How many archaeologists am I? Part 2: UK

At Loddington following Peter Liddle in 2012

Unlike in Finland, when defining a professional archaeologist, the degree is not an end in itself In Britain, but the practised skills and the length of experience. In Finland your university and its archaeology department teaches not only you how to do excavating, but also how to organise an excavation and write an official report, but in Britain the responsibility beyond the basic skills lies with the individual and the employer. You get the experience, skills and training, sometimes enhancing by attending an MA course at a university, and your employer may help you with the Continuous Professional Development (CPD). If you want to be accredited, you will apply to the now Charted Institute for Archaeologists (former Institute of Archaeologists) and they validate your experience based on your CV, experience, portfolio and two references. You can enter at different levels and I have entered as a full Member. I was a MIfa, but will I now be a MCIfA? Yes, I am now two up.

However, in Britain I also was a member in a local field group in Leicestershire after the birth of my young son. This was partly out of trying to understand the local archaeology, be a student of Peter Liddle, in practice the father of community archaeology, partly out of pure love in archaeology that has always manifested in keeping a wide interest in the discipline and in order to improve my chances in getting professionally into British and community archaeology. As a Mediterranean archaeologist, I feel often that I lack some of the credibility among the British field archaeologists, an academic archaeologist, even if I had an MA in Landscape Archaeology from Bristol and have worked for the Cambridge Archaeological Unit. Then I got the post in Sweden and sadly did not have time to go fieldwalking any more, while balancing the work in Sweden and home in Britain with long stays away. I also recently heard that the nearest group had been wound down.

Is it me or not? Perhaps not, but I worked at Grand Arcade, Cambridge (photo linked from the CAU web site)

However, even if I was sitting in the pottery training and walking across the fields as one of the group members, the two roles, as a volunteer and as a professional archaeologist, did merge and blur when it came to test pitting. Our group could do test pitting independently at least on one occasion, since I, an archaeologist and a MIfa, could oversee that everything was carried out properly, records were made and reported further, even if Peter, then still the Leicestershire community archaeologist, could not be there. Even if the presence of an archaeologist is not required by law as long as the landowner approves outside scheduled monuments, the best practice suggests that the volunteers are instructed and assisted. The second time this blurring happened when there were not enough volunteer archaeologist to oversee the test pitting as part of Anstey Big Dig, organised by the Charnwood Roots project. I was there, so my friend could have her garden test-pitted and have a lovely family garden party around it.

Recently, I have been teaching British archaeology especially online. In addition, just a few weeks ago I was also chosen to be the Social Media Communication Officer of the Royal Archaeological Institute and will be promoting our learned society and archaeology in the British Isles and participate in drafting social media policy documents. I am definitely now a British archaeologist, in its many connotations, too.

In a lunchtime seminar at Cambridge

Not that my Nordic or Italian interests go anywhere. On the contrary, I will be more involved actually. To be continued. Next week: Sweden.