Monday, 26 December 2016

Tweeting and advocating (a TAG story)


A tribute to David Peacock

The week before Christmas is the time for the annual Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) meeting. This year we left it to the week before to actually decide which one of us will go to Southampton. In the end, I headed there, since I did not have any holidays left to cover the childcare and I thought that the conference and the DigiTAG 2 session there would be a good vehicle for the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) live tweeting session. After all, the DigiTAG sessions are organised in collaboration between the CAA and TAG and the first session took place in Oslo in April. This time the session was all about storytelling, ran this time as previously by James Taylor and Cara Jones, but also of the more serious business of knowledge creation.

Due to the need to be the whole day in the same session in the middle day of the conference and my interest in the Archaeology is a political matter session, I ended up hearing practically none of the random papers about the less known archaeological areas or regions that are the main feature in my usual TAG experience. There would have been a very interesting session on Following things in motion with everything from the sarsen stones from Stonehenge to how to be an Egyptian mummy in Victorian Britain as well as copper and colonialism together with druids, if all the papers took place as intended. There were the usual cancellations and overlapping papers, which meant that I could not hear the Tintagel Castle paper that was moved to a time I had to take my train.

Even if I could not hear everything, it was a TAG that gave a lot to think about. It was also an event to celebrate the 50 years of the Southampton department. This celebration took the format of a Personal Histories debate with all the big names in the panel, including Lord Colin Renfrew, Tim Champion, Mike Parker Pearson and Simon Keay. Since the admired pottery specialist David Peacock had recently died, the discussion was very polite and sober. The most colourful piece of information was Tim Champion’s acknowledgement that the Class of 1979 with Mike Parker Pearson and Tim Darvill, both in the panel, was the most competitive of all. The discussion was also guided by a PowerPoint presentation, prepared by Joshua Pollard and Andrew Jones, the organisers of the debate.

Before the debate there was Rosemary Joyce’s keynote Antiquity lecture that was given on a subject not expected by the organisers. Much of the conference was about art and visualisations – there was a Sightations art exhibition with the sessions attached as well – they had hoped to get a lecture on figurines. Instead, we all heard about nuclear landscapes. This sounded very familiar, since Cornelius Holtorf has a project on nuclear waste deposition, but Joyce’s paper gave a unique insight to the concepts behind the suggested deposition sites in America. It was all about how to make universally conveyed a message that these sites are beyond touching. It was interesting to know that archaeological sites had been used as examples of long-term preservations and the winning concept included a rectangular ‘Stonehenge’. After this double event, I and our friend Mark headed to get our complimentary glass of wine in the reception, sponsored by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA).


Tara in a remote mode

My live tweeting could have gone better, since I lost the signal in the middle of the session (I should not have left it to the guest Cloud service to host my tweeting), but at the beginning I was on the money. Luckily, there were others in the session who were copiously tweeting, so I could retweet the most essential content in between. The highlight of the session was Tara Copplestone’s remotely delivered paper on the Playful Past, Storytelling through Videogame Design and Development. It discussed the matter of the position of the creator in forming archaeological stories and described how the process of creating multiple videogames engaged the PhD author with the problems of coding, storytelling and archaeological process in consecutive steps during the development. The paper took form of ‘live’ doodling so it was well-executed on all levels. Naturally, it was impossible to be positive about Matthew Fitzjohn and Peta Bulmer’s LEGO creations for primary schools or be mesmerised by digital funerals by Audrey Samson. Similarly, Paul Backhouse’s presentation showed how much creativity there is in Historic England.

The next day I just marginally missed hearing a paper about Brexit. Nevertheless, the first paper I heard by Marjolijn Kok discussed openly the matter of hidden political acts in commercial contract archaeology. She was talking about Holland, but similar issues are faced anywhere where the commercial market has been embraced. The developers do not exactly want the archaeological service but take the lowest bidder and the existing theoretical environment means that the theoretical in archaeological is seen only to happen in the interpretation phase, not in the formulation of the methods and data collection. These issues and other stuff led her to leave her job – but not archaeology. Now she has been involved in contemporary archaeology in recording an Occupy camp in Rotterdam. The presentation can be looked for in academia.edu.


From Richardson and Lennox's presentation

Other highlights of the session included the discussion on public value in archaeology by Rob Lennox and the description of the experience of running the Local Heritage Engagement Network by Lorna Richardson and Rob Lennox. I know, they were the organisers of the session, but they had a lot to say. So much so that Rob’s carefully thought graphs had to be photographed in order to be appreciated later. The LHEN showed that while some campaigns did fine work, even if too late in the process, many volunteers are reluctant to act. This is partly to do with the fact that that is not why they are doing archaeology and do not see themselves as campaigners. However, local planning can be influenced only at the local level unless the policies change…

So, next year, it will be Cardiff and hubby’s turn to experience TAG and see the people we go for curry in TAG.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Christmas conference

Last week it was the time of the Department's traditional Christmas conference, an occasion to either discuss important recent issues or developments or present current research at the Department at Stockholm. This time we selected few presented our current research projects. I myself was discussing defining group identities whereas the other topics were varied both chronologically and geographically. Sadly, there were few cancellations, but I am sure we will hear about Ann-Louise Schallin's research in Greece or Magnus Enquist's ideas about evolutionary transitions at a later stage. Maybe in the next Christmas conference.

A few of the presentations were discussing the current DNA work in the laboratories. These presentations included Aikaterini Glykou's many studies on Baltic seals in the mid- and late Holocene. Her and her collaborators many methods include also DNA studies. Naturally, Anders Götherström presented the surprises from the ATLAS 1 and 2 projects and some idea were the human DNA studies are venturing at Stockholm. In addition, Maja Krewinzka presented a new and exiting project studying the multiple burials from Sigtuna. There was also a short talk on plant DNA: Matti Leino is carrying out some experimental work with charred grains. It will be interesting to see if he will succeed in pointing out the conditions where the DNA could be preserved.

A couple of talks discussed attitudes in the past. To start with, Anders Andrén presented his project on An Archaeology of Absence. This is an ongoing study on the archaeology of disappeared and non-existing Jewish communities in central Europe and Scandinavia. In his talk Arne Jarrick did not touch upon only Annalistic history writing but also gave a retrospect of his whole career as a researcher, from the starting points to the future lines of resarch. Frederik, on the other hand, told us about his project Materiella bilder for which he has just got three-year funding and in which he will try to outline past image programmes from the Bronze Age Mälare area. It was refreshing to hear about the rock carving tradition of central Sweden that is less well known than the southern Scandinavian and Norrland traditions.

Some project were site-based. Jan Storå presented his and Jan Apel's almost finished project from Gotland. Their study of the pioneer settlements show different adaptations for aquatic resources at different kinds of sites. In the other chronological end of the Swedish prehistory was the presentation of Sanby borg - a 5th century ring fort on Öland by Gunilla Eriksson. We learnt about the interesting life and death of this Iron Age site.

Geographically, the most far-flung place was Egypt. Åke Engsheden from our Section of Ancient History and Classical Archaeology was presenting his infrastructure project during which he will create a digital catalogue of Coptic ostraka. His examples presented a reminder of how the humans had very human relations even in the past. A very suited reminder when we all from different Sections of the Department got together in order to hear the diversity and variety of the archaeological research at Stockholm.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The most materiality of all

It is again the time of the year that is the most materialistic of them all - Christmas. I was reminded this by my search for a small present for my husband. At Christmas we all embrace the materiality of things - and it is not only a negative thing, even if Christmas seems more and more commercial every year. However, in the darkness of Sweden the Christmas lights on balconies make a real difference. The many stars in the windows lighten the darkness. It is the time for candle light and the smell of Christmas trees. Suddenly, there are sellers in every suburb in Stockholm. Even in England the hubby has bought and decorated one. The family cat has only knocked it down once so far. These are the things a Christmas does not feel like Christmas. The candles, the Christmas tree, the presents.

The materiality of Christmas evokes the memory of the Christmases past and the rituals make us feel safe and content. I have spent some moments thinking about my Christmas card that will be sent through social media and its digital immateriality is a reminder of the materiality of the cards we will still send out. We have started to plan the most important of rituals: the Christmas meals. One for the Christmas Eve, one for Christmas Day and one for Boxing Day. I have already discussed the gingerbread making with my work colleagues and hope that this year's lot will be better than last year's. There is such thing as too much butter. Not to mention too much ginger and too much cardemom. Through the actions we live and relive the Christmases past and present. Through the ritual of the Christmas meals we join a long history of mid-winter feasting.

For a couple of years, even the Chrismas advertisements in the television are becoming safe rituals. There is no Christmas Calendar programme in the TV in the UK so perhaps the advertisement are the forerunners of the festivities. I have kept my eye on the Swedish and Finnish offerings and hope that something can be seen when back in the UK. The flickering Christmas lights on a computer screen.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Sunday night drama

I have been following with half-hearted enthusiasm the ITV series of Tutankhamun on Sunday evenings. In a way it is a perfect Sunday night costume drama with Edwardian and early 1920s costumes, the Valley of the Kings as a backdrop, and the unimaginable treasures to be found. However, the last item is the real problem, since you know from the start what is going to happen. They are going to find a royal Egyptian tomb. An intact royal Egyptian tomb. So no nail-biting suspense there then.

It took Carter and his financer Lord Carnarvon a long time to find a tomb and the First World War ended their original exploration. However, the frustration has been very politely presented to say it the least. Maybe it is the lead actor for me, since the son of Jeremy Irons does nothing to me. I find his face lacking the expression of emotional depth. This I found again quite amusing yesterday when he tried to express his mind-numbing emotion and surprise after he had found the tomb intact and good mutter that he sees ‘wonderful things’. But maybe it is just me and Max Irons is not my cup of tea.

The emotional moments where over quite quickly, whereas I as a long-term Tutankhamun admirer would probably like to have the glimpses of finds in slow motion and the actual moments of findings to last as long as possible. After all, finding the riches had taken them two and half episodes and it was all done in the space of probably five minutes. Then they were carrying the finds out of the tomb and started to record and discuss the finds with the local antiquities authorities. So the climax of the series was over very quickly considering the time before the after.

This being a Sunday night costume drama it cannot do without romance and other intrigue. We get a good idea of Carter’s love interests over many episodes and the other matters than the tomb naturally are in focus when there is four episodes to be made in flesh. Naturally, this side of affairs is less familiar with the archaeologists who have been reading different treatises of the find and are more familiar with the photographs of the find than any liaisons of the heart. I am not so familiar with the background stories that I cannot assess how much of the drama is true and how much have been hyped up.

So, the series so far is mildly interesting, pleasing to watch, filled with talented actors and actresses including the staple feature of international productions, Sam Neill as Lord Carnarvon. It has been worth watching, but I have been dipping in and out without any guilt. The result of knowing how it all ends.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

When soft is too hard

This week showed that Sweden is not the only country that needs petitions in order to save archaeology. Over the North Sea in England, the AQA exam board is culling its archaeology, classical studies and history of art A-levels. This is apparently not about money or concentrating on the hard core EBACC subjects. No, this is providing every student the best exam results they deserve. What the students deserve just do not happen to include the disciplines that tell about the development of the humans or their culture.

The reason given for the cull is that these disciplines telling the human story are complex and difficult to mark evenly. So, these disciplines that apparently belong to Gove's so-called soft subjects are so hard that they cannot be offered to the students, since it is apparently difficult to find talented markers. It is quite alarming that the cull may take away subjects that make students, teachers and markers to think, evaluate and argue. These one would imagine are skills that would benefit any students later in their life. In addition, archaeology is not just about humanities but has a lot of both practical and science content. It is something that can give something to any learner, no matter what their strengths are. That should help students to get the best exam results they deserve!

Luckily, all members of professional communities covering archaeology, classical studies and history of art have been vocal about the added value their discipline brings to the A-levels. Archaeology got Tony Robinson to tell about its significance. He called the plans to drop archaeology A-level "an assault to Britain's heritage". The Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIFA) came out fighting and one can sign a petition online. The plans of scrapping have been described as "barbaric acts" target="blank" and it is true that in the long run these kinds of acts may lead us to barbary of a kind, if society does not educate rounded and skillful individuals. One just have to hope that the real reason for the scrappings is not money. These are minority subjects that take money to provide and mark their 'hard' exams. If only the money talk, it is one sort of barbarism when it hits the education system.

The petition against dropping the archaeology A-level has currently over 11,500 signiture. Maybe you can add yours?

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Another autumn, another petition

It seems that drama never really leaves Swedish Classical Archaeology. This year's petition is not about any of the Swedish Mediterranean Institutes but about the Mediterranean Museum in Stockholm. The politicians are suggesting to creating a new World Culture Museum out of the Mediterranean Museum, Ethnographic Museum and East Asian Museum. This is not really about their core activities failing but a shiny exhibition space making a loss. Thus, a rescue plan that would see building of a new museum and scarily vanishing of specialist expertise in any of these museums. The new curators would not be specialist in classical cultures or China but more general topics, such as gender studies. This is not bad in itself but why have collections when you have nobody who knows what the things are? How do you educate and help research effectively? Therefore I hope this petition to reach its goal and saving the Mediterranean Museum!

Currently there are just above 900 signatures. Maybe you can add one more using the link above...?

Friday, 27 May 2016

Book reviews

I am currently on sick leave and will be until late June. I will resume my blog at a suitable moment when I feel better. In the meantime, you can read my latest book review on Walsh's Consumerism in the Ancient World in Arctos 49.

I have a recent book review in Antiquity as well, on the volume on the tribal area of the Vestini in the Samnite area.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Galway was sunny!


Students posing and showing the poleholes of a circular residential structure

Last weekend's Conference of Italian Archaeology saw me giving two presentations and chairing the Roman session. There were a huge amount of interesting papers on funerary archaeology. There was exciting new site work from the Italian colleagues, presenting the finds from Pontecagnano, Cumae and Capua among the places mentioned most often. Naturally, I did not hear much of the southern Italian sessions, but what I heard as part of more thematic sessions, they provided interesting novelties from all over. Nevertheless, settlement archaeology was not totally forgotten and the large Dutch Crustumerium project presented their latest finds by Peter Attema.

Highlights were so many they are almost impossible to present, but Phil Perkins did the first presentation of the new Etruscan inscription of Poggio Colla, a site where he collaborates with the American field school of the Mugello Valley Archaeological Project. The find was beautifully presented in press coverage, such as the Archaeology magazine. This find came from a secondary setting, incorporated in a wall, and its meaning may remain uncertain, although scholars are working on it as we speak.


Indegenous metal object from Megara Hyblea

The Have you said métissage, acculturazione or hybridization? session brought together French and Italian archaeologists and anthropologists among others. One of the highlights came from the École Francaise, when Reine+Marie Bérard presented the few indigenous finds from the necropolis of Megara Hyblaea. The finds of indigenous metal objects came from the children. She assumed that the children could present mixed identities, while the potentially indegenous mothers may have had to follow the Greek rite for religious reasons. In this session Pithekoussai and its international community was presented, too. Valentino Nizzo on Constructing Deathscapes presented also a thorough review of different theoretical approaches while was one of the most interesting presenting mixed communities.


Nizzo on Pithekoussai

Elsewhere Sarah Willemsen and Tanja van Loon presented how radical reform of ritual practice, when people moved away from wine mixing and banquet vessels to nothing. The connection to drinking and libation rituals and different kinds of feasting changed. Anna Rita Russo's presentation of aes rude from tombs of Pontecagnano showed how the weights relate to monetisation of Italic tombs while the finds relate to hands and double pots.

One of the most touching moments was the session to celebrate John Wilkinson's and Ruth Whitehouse's work. Their former colleagues remembered their contribution to the Accordia Research Institute and Ruth's students Carrie Murray and Lucy Shipley brought gender views prominently into the session.

However, now back to recuperate and more the next time...

PS. I did forgot to thank Eóin O'Donoghue who was delightful and helpful all the way. No rainy day - even if there were clouds.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Space Archaeologist and History Guy do the Vikings


The main team at the site (image linked from the Guardian web site, Freddie Clare/BBC)

Some time ago I wrote a TV review on Space Archaeologist’s and Dan Snow’s, aka History Guy's, programme on the Roman Empire. I had wanted to like the programme, but there were aspects that seemed to make the narrative simplistic, basically simplifying archaeology and hyping up the findings and methods. Last week’s programme on the Vikings, the Vikings Uncovered on BBC1, even if it was much more balanced and improved from the Roman offering, still had some of the formulaic TV speech that does not make archaeologists happy: everything significant is named as ‘clues’ and different uncertainties or facts or hypotheses or conclusions are repeated and repeated and repeated again and again. I cannot remember, if ‘mysterious’ featured. The programme also seemed to enforce the perception that archaeology programmes on BBC are predominantly headed by non-archaeologists, albeit people working in the related fields (e.g. Dan Snow, a historian, and Professor Alice Roberts, originally a medical doctor and lecturer in human anatomy, in Digging for Britain). However, Space Archaeologist is an archaeologist with a PhD in archaeology and the advisors included Dr Karen Milek, an expert in scientific study and fieldwork across Scandinavian Viking world and its archaeology.

Nevertheless, Dan Snow’s round tour of Britain was illuminating and Space Archaeologist’s search for differences in vegetation in the treeless turfed landscapes of Iceland and Newfoundland was methodologically rooted and developed further in the methodology of archaeological remote sensing. It is just the way she appeared in the programme to turn up without any preparations or reading, totally relying on experts on evaluating all aspects of northern Atlantic archaeology. There is wide literature on all matters Viking, also in other languages than the Scandinavian ones, one could turn to. In a way this reliance on experts was an improvement from the programme on the Roman Empire, where she was presented as an expert on every method possible, able to point out relevant features anywhere in the Mediterranean. However, now the emphasis seemed to veer slightly to the other extreme, not showing that a scholar can accumulate knowledge by reading and examining collections, even if it be said that it is safer to ask people with decades of experience of local geology and material culture – as the scientific analysis of some supposed iron slag and a rivet or nail showed. The team had excavated a stone and a piece of natural ore instead of definite evidence in Newfoundland. It was also nice that she showed that the research is a team effort at Birmingham in the States, so that she complements her strengths with those of the others.

The programme did omit some crucial facts that had emerged after they had finished filming. Not adding a voice over or a text board at the end of the programme on the new exciting facts gave an appearance that the team based their conclusions on the biased use of evidence. During the programme Space Archaeologist was developing through trial and error a way to observe potential Early Medieval turf-walled houses from space. The vegetation seems to thrive were the cut turf quadrangulars have been piled in the past and they have then turned into a soil having microlayers of mineral soil or, in the case of Iceland, volcanic ash improving the growth conditions. In Newfoundland the site had signs of fire and carbon samples had been gathered. The dating results shown in the programme seemed to date the place in the 17th century, but these were dismissed outright due to suspected contamination problems. Considering the evidence showing only heating natural ore at some point, this gave an idea that the makers wanted and accepted only one answer. Only by following the hashtag #VikingsUncovered Twitter feed the following day, I realised that they had received a series of results dating to the 9th century and slightly later afterwards. This omission left the archaeologists watching the TV show with a wrong impression – even if in the end the team had proven the Viking Age activities. Not all read the details of the pre-show press releases, since news about a ‘potentially important new Viking site in Newfoundland’ was circulating across social media some days before.

Even if The Vikings Uncovered was highly interesting, it was also slightly too long. Even if the best parts were the visits to the earlier excavated sites in Britain and L'Anse aux Meadows in America together with the delightful experts in Iceland, the slightly ‘Famous Four’ styled search for the Viking turf long houses dragged on and on. Again there were some slight comedy TV moments, when certain activities were performed for the camera. Naturally, jeeps were involved crossing beautiful landscapes and the camera followed a speed boat taking Sarah around the islands. In Newfoundland Dan Snow allegedly trekked for an hour to Sarah Parcak's excavation site. He had a crisp blue shirt, seemingly empty rucksack and brand new trekking shoes. He did walk into every puddle on the short trek he was shown to do. He paid absolutely no attention where he was walking. In real situation, his shoes had been flooded with steps one and two and the hour’s trek had been very inconvenient in the end. When he happily arrived to the small dig site, he seemed to have had no discomfort...

Finding new Viking sites in America is exciting by default, but the best parts from my point of view were those telling about the major sites in Britain. The digital visualisations of the Viking York, for example, were amazing. The stories such as the crushed skull in the Portmahomack monastery in Scotland, the major monastic centre of the Picts, showing clear sword cuts, featuring the interview of Professor Martin Carver, the excavator of the site and Sutton Hoo as well, really educated the viewer about the very limited evidence for the Viking raids. Similarly, the funerary evidence from the Viking Repton at St Wystan’s Church in Derbyshire was astonishing. The remains of entangled skeletons, making a reference to the burial, historically believed to have been one of a giant warrior, told a truly fascinating story of a war lord at death. There was slightly a sense that two programmes – one on the Vikings in northwestern Europe and one on the search for the turf long houses, both deserving a fair independent and intelligent presentation – were trapped in one maxi episode.

It was interesting to recognise an aesthetic style featuring nowadays in many of these big archaeology productions: archaeologists seem to be moonlighting as secret agents, working in dark basements for SPECTRE or some other mysterious organisations. Archaeologists sit with laptops at very small tables with one spotlight illuminating their tiny workspace. The spotlights light presenters’ faces in obtuse angles in the shade where they tell of scientific finds. It is all made for TV, but the simultaneous glorification and dumbing down leaves an archaeologist feeling a bit short-changed. This material – and the talented archaeologists and historians - were worthy of so much better treatment across two programmes. What a programme BBC4 had made out of this material. The kind of headed by Joanne Fletcher or Lucy Worsley – or more fittingly Nina Ramirez. As an archaeologist, one has a very specific view, perhaps even too critical, and thus, one is left wondering, if the Joe Public really enjoys the hype over a humorous, but informative and non-repetitive narrative.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Palmyra recaptured: doom or hope?


Temple of Bel before and after
(linked from the Mashable web site, original Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images)

I was going to write this blog post about Florence and its marvellous archaeological museums, but once again, the real life events have meant that I have to postpone the cavalcade of beautiful photos and discussion of Italian input into different fields of archaeology to another day. Suddenly, Palmyra is 'free' again. Considering the social media and newspaper output, there is about two general lines of taking this news. Either we lament the lost treasures, which were many - and we do not yet know how many archaeological sites within were plundered and robbed - or we celebrate what is left. No matter how reconstructed it may be.


Not Florence, yet

I can declare from the start my point of view: I hope that we can take a hopeful view in the long term. Yes, there are heartbreaking destruction and two main temples are no more. However, the site still exists and now it will stand for resilience against parties that do not have respect towards the achievements of others or value of a shared history but only can prosper when bringing destruction and sufferance to others who do not share their specific point of view. The stones are still there - and we may be able to see the destruction as a monument to other people's care and ultimate sacrifice, pride and preservation of our common heritage. I am more shaken of the news of displacement, cruelty and pointless deaths in the desert.


Our shared heritage in the southern Mediterranean

However, what the future brings is still unclear. As it has been pointed out, the 'liberators' may not have always been such 'preservers' as they may now hope to be seen. We have broken countries, looted tombs, broken people and human sufferance that does not currently have an end date. The modern Palmyra is a ghost town, the bombed shells of houses standing as they do in Aleppo and other scenes of battle. When we can recapture personally Palmyra and other sites of world heritage across Syria and Iraq we do not know. The mapping of archaeology, the historic photo collections, the virtual reconstructions - there are many routes people have already taken and the destruction has woken a community. There may be more doom on the cards, but I see signs of hope.


The destruction in the Palmyra Museum is apparent from The Guardian.
The drone footage shows what is standing.
The before and after images are not a pretty sight.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

RACed and TRACed? Part 2


The cast gallery at Sapienza University

Are RAC and TRAC different? One assumes that the first is for established professors, and so it sometimes was in Rome, and the latter is for new currents in recent research, organised by PhD students, postgraduates and early career researchers. On paper part of the programme was so: there were Mediterranean-wide topics on ports and trade in sessions organised by illustrious professors and researchers and other overview sessions describing research over Roman Britain, Dacia (more or less modern Romania) and Lusitania (Portugal) in the RAC, where as in the TRAC sessions discussed for example Marxism and gender. There was also Session 1 in the RAC that introduced the new research initiative to bring the materials from the Pontine area, Tiber valley and suburbium all together in collaboration between the University of Groningen, Sapienza University and the British School at Rome. However, in places, it was impossible to say outright which conference you were sitting in. Considering contemporaneity of the themes, the sessions on Sensing Rome and that on Urban Streets as Communication Spaces could have been in the TRAC as well.

My conference started with supporting my fellow Swedes and listening the first two papers in the Beyond the Romans: what can posthumanism do for classical studies in a disappointingly sparsely attended session (to start with). Irene Seisvold (University of Gothenburg) outlined the general themes in posthumanism, emphasising human’s place only as one of the historical actors and agents on the planet. Linnea Åshede (University of Gothenburg) gave the first case study with a talk on Priapus figures. She emphasised the relations between art and viewers and the qualities the works stand for. She stated that the most important point in time is during encounters when different identities and agencies meet and create actors and cause effects. They prompt people to position themselves – both in the past and present.


Landeschi in the Sensing session

From posthumanism to Interdisciplinary approaches to ancient Roman diets. Among the talks I heard the most interesting and thought provoking was Emily Holt’s presentation (SUN Buffalo/Museum national d’Histoire Naturelle) on ‘Animal consumption: social inequality and economic change in a non-elite area of Pompeii’. The results from the Porta Stabia project did show how the nutrition changed over time. Holt wanted to know if the economic growth of the Early Imperial times had positive effects on food consumption of the average Pompeians. Her research methods included traditional bone figures, micro remains from flotations and SEM-identified egg shells. Her results were mixed. On one hand the lower class Pompeians got more and better meat from younger animals, but the cuts were poorer. Marrow provided calories (which she took as a good thing, even if I do think remembering that within the Victorian times bone samples, evidence of eating marrow shows deprivation) and pigs were the preferred eaten species. She interpreted this mixed bag of results as a sign that more meat was on offer, people could afford cheap bits, but the selection was limited and they were priced out from buyng meatier and plumper cuts.

From inequality to Marxism. Some of the later papers apparently left people wondering where the Marxism was, but the session started with a more traditional note with Steve Roskams (University of York). He made it clear from the start that he believes that mode of production is defined as a way the elite sustains itself. However, his presentation was a historiography of different approaches to modes of production in economic history of the Roman Empire and his own review of the attitude towards social relations. Interestingly, he reviewed Greene and Aubert ducking the issue. In practice, he seemed to be advocating historical materialism as a tool of analysis of social relations and viewing change as dialectical process, i.e. how social contradictions, consequences of inequality and conflicts were resolved or not resolved in the past. The two following papers had the interesting premises and some interesting interpretations on variations and multivocality of eastern European Marxism (Emily Hanscam, Durham) and how in the DDR classical archaeology was perceived as bourgoise and could live in the form of economic history (Paul Pasieka, DAI, Rome). Pasienka also gave an overview of Italian Marxist archaeology that he buried ca. 1992 with the demise of Dialoghi d’Archeologia. Both suffered from the poor acoustics of Aula III that did not enhance presentations read from paper.


Veitch’s aural GIS maps

My personal highlight of the conferences was the TRAC session Method matters that emphasised archaeological methods in constructing historical narratives in Roman colonisation studies. The big idea of the Leiden School of field survey interpretation is emphasising vici, i.e. the larger rural settlements, villages, and their importance instead of standard independent colonist farms in local settlement patterns during the early colonial period. It is interesting how persistent the idea of nucleated village is in central and southern Europe. In northern Europe a dispersed village is a norm during the historical times (as are free peasants), so I have advocated the dispersed village model since my PhD. In early urbanisation in central Italy, though, but different settlement models should be revisited clearly more. Damjan Donev’s talk on interior Balkan areas was interesting, but it was Anita Casarotto’s presentation (with Pelgrom and Stek) that compared the legacy data from Venusia, Aesernia and Cosa that really got me going. Point density analysis suggests that southern areas were different with more clustering. Jesús Garcia Sánchez in his exciting talk was comparing functional distributions of pottery and different architectural ceramic materials. It is nice to know that not only our ceramiscene, as also presented in Rajala and Mills's poster in the RAC, highlights the ways survey material can be used further. However, in addition, he compared these distributions to geophysics, especially resistivity. His results seemed to go together. It was interesting to see a cleaning take to surveying areas where vegetation covers the surface: scrape the grass off from a systematic point sampling area.

Intertwining with Session 1 I was dropping in and out from Beyond hybridity and codeswitching TRAC session discussing new approaches to the Late Hellenistic archaeology. Raffaella Da Vela’s (Universität Bonn) gave a very interesting case study of studying cultural identities with Social Network Analysis (SNA). It was fascinating to see how density, centrality and clustering changed from period to another. Later in the session there was an interesting talk from Claudia Widow (also Bonn) about Samnite brick stamps and coin hoards. I chatted with her later in the conference and it turned out that she was actually studying the architecture of the temple sites. Nevertheless, the origins of the coins tell something – if not about the origins of the audience, then about the contacts along the line.


Children and houses

On Friday, my favourites where the Sensing Rome and Urban Streets sessions. Naturally, I enjoyed giving my talk – especially when the audience increased by the door. The strike action in the morning affecting public transport delayed many people. Luckily, I had to come during the guaranteed rush hour traffic earlier. With only 20 minutes to use, I decided to give an outline of my theoretical model and some key points from interpreting inscriptions and funerary architecture in my study area across central Italy across the chronological disciplinary boundary between Etruscology and Roman archaeology. I missed the early Sensing session due to my own talk, which I had apologised in advance to Eleanor Betts, but got a short summary from my Finnish colleagues in the audience. Even if I do like the Pompeian tabernae and Giacomo Landeschi is my colleague in Sweden and does brilliant 3D work, this time around my favourite was Jeffrey Veitch’s (University of Kent) talk ‘Structure of Noise’ presented a kind of acoustic GIS maps of the decibel levels across rooms and spaces in Ostian houses that showed something new about the interplay between sounds, architectural elements and building materials.


Simelius on peristyles

Anette Haug's and Philipp Kobusch'sStreets provided us with ideas about looking for children and their possibilities in mobility and interaction in Pompeii (Ray Laurence, Kent), discussion about Bourdieu’s habitus in different types of inscriptions (Peter Keegan, Macquarie) and election notices and graffiti hotspots in Pompeii and the importance of larger private houses plus secluded spots in the case of graffiti (Eeva-Maria Viitanen, Helsinki). Which reminds me that I did not say anything about Samuli Simelius’s (University of Helsinki) peristyle talk. Well, it was interesting, but more interesting was his comment in the Villa Lante residents’ kitchen before leaving from Rome: “I feel I may have caught something, a conference cold”. Yes, I did, too, but it became a ‘back from Sweden to UK’ cold. Sigh – where people come together, there is a cold. Leicester, the most diverse city in UK, my home town, is also the home for more variety in cold bugs than anywhere else in the country. Thus, beautiful minds from all over came together in Rome, discussed and had lunched and dined – and Leicester got one bug more.


I apologise all my readers for my failure to have pictures of female speakers this time. In some cases, I just did not think about it, I was dealing with the initial net connection, the battery was flattish or I was unsure if I had a permission to photograph and in one case the photo I had uploaded to social media was commented in a way that I thought it may be better that I do not plaster it here. The all male panel was not intended (I am sure you have heard this excuse before).

Sunday, 20 March 2016

RACed and TRACed? Part 1


Reconstruction of Portus as presented by S. Keay during the key note talk

The Portus trip at the very end of the Roman Archaeology Conference in Rome went more or less pear-shaped from my part, but otherwise I enjoyed Rome in March as one could be expected to. I was suggested in beforehand that a conference this big may be irritating and tiresome, but even if I missed some talks due to people dropping out and the schedules being tinkered at the spot, the general feeling was as sunny as the weather outside on most days. The real problem, and really down to myself, was being at Sapienza University at time early in the morning. This in turn turned me into an old lady by Friday evening, so instead of any Mostra opening or TRAC party, I and my colleague Eeva-Maria Viitanen who had her talk last in the conference on Saturday as one of the handful delegates, we headed for a quiet dinner near Doria Pamphilia.


Well deserved thanks to Chiara Maria Marchetti

Generally, the conference was well-organised and the things that went slightly awry were nothing in comparison with one truly chaotic conference I have attended in the past. All the rooms had functioning laptops and projectors, there were plenty of nice students to help us and the conference secretary Chiara Maria Marchetti was an ever-present fixture everywhere. Things got sorted promptly without delay. The poster session advice however changed along the way and there could have been signs on the walls to guide the delegates to the right lecture rooms, not only in the conference booklet. At the beginning I was a bit out of my breath – mainly because I came to Rome after a quick detour to Florence – but the coffee breaks and lunches were served also in the Museum of Classical Archaeology among the casts of the statues, which gave grandeur to the proceedings. It took a couple of hours to get going and by picking up interesting lectures and themes from both the RAC and TRAC I created a versatile programme.


The book stalls among the cast collection

There were even special effects. In the Sensing Rome session the air conditioning in the Odeon was working on overtime and my choice of short-sleeved dress for my presentation day meant that I was quite cold before it was all over. There would have been a possibility to Hoff one session for being an all-male panel, but considering who were present, I decided that it was more important to bring in a female voice by making a relevant question and take part in discussion in Italian; I did get a very good answer. In general, there were plenty of female organisers – as in the Urban Streets session where Eeva-Maria was speaking – and there was a whole session for Sex, Gender and Family (see the session list).


The end is nigh at RAC/TRAC2016

Most importantly, in the opening address the Superintendency in Rome was thanked for our free access to some sites and we were reminded of the challenging times for heritage management in Italy. We were also reminded of the struggle many of our colleagues are having and there was a wish that the loss of colleagues that stood for their heritage was not for vain. This was nice to hear, especially since my colleague was just telling in social media the story of a female colleague that had to leave everything behind and flee for her safety.

The delightfully cheap conference dinner was an enjoyable treat, spent discussing with Peter Attema from Groningen and Simon Malmberg from Bergen. It turned out that the latter was very familiar with my research, as he himself suggested. He had been in the panel that had evaluated the candidates for a Mediterranean lectureship at Oslo and he was suggesting that my research was impressive. He also shared a taxi back to Gianicolo after a nice evening.

My Friday was busy, since I was live tweeting all afternoon, not only presenting in the morning – and we were literally running a chair-it-yourself session. The first speaker was a real star and started promptly on time and finished in a similar manner while giving a good talk on Urban Structure in the Graeco-Roman world. He even loaned me his watch, so I could time my talk. With his help and little assistance from the nice students, I managed to finish on the spot and hand the turn to the Vindolanda talk. As my friend suggested, we could have been pouring our content to the listeners without any regard, but we were very civilised.

I will come back to some of the highlights I heard in the Part 2 of my conference posts. I will also come back to the Archaeological Museum in Florence when I have a slot in my weekly blog.


Rome in March

You know, it was fun. The enjoyment was increased by being able to eat breakfast on the sunny mornings on the terrace looking at Rome at our feet. I am lodging next door to emerita Margareta Steinby who has every now and then commented delightfully the everyday happenings we have faced. Now I just hope for uneventful travel.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Waiting for... but reporting

Some week's are in a funny way without major reports for public domain. No matter how much one travels or works or does. This week is one of those while waiting for next week that will undoubtedly provide blog feed for a couple of weeks. I did work a couple of weeks home, do my presentation for next week, attend meetings in London and tweet from a lecture, travel to Stockholm and sort out some software issues there and visit a major shopping area outside Stockholm for some essentials. However, the matters discussed in the meeting are confidential, the tweets are out there to be looked for and the research will be reported in its due course. Last weekend's CAA-UK was already reported in last week's post. In a way it is all about waiting. Everything begins to be ready for the Roman Archaeology Conference and Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference next week.

In addition, I missed one of this week's major events at Stockholm, the latest from the Iron Age team working for The Atlas Project (or let's give its full name The Atlas of Ancient Human Genomes in Sweden) that tries to look for the population movements during the Swedish prehistory and for any hints of the stability or changes in populations during the key moments of transition. Naturally considering only periods when the burial rite was inhumation and we have skeletal remains. Luckily, the key team is located in the office opposite me, so I heard all about it the following day when I returned. It is all so red hot new from the presses that I leave any reporting to them via proper channels. I can only say that the things I heard will give new information on late Iron Age society.

It is a pity I missed the talk, but at least I had nice chats with my colleagues the following day. While they were discussing the Iron Age, I was reporting from a similarly interesting find, the Whitehorse Hill Cist in Dartmoor. This find in the blanket peat has revealed astonishing finds that have been presented lately in many lectures around Britain, as they were also in the Royal Archaeological Institute lecture on Wednesday. The cremation was excavated in a laboratory and it has revealed some unique features, including unusual preservation of organic matter, and many that are rare, but discovered in other parts of Britain as well. Some features just reflected what was common in the Dartmoor area in the Early Bronze Age. Of the unique features, the most unique were the pure tin rivets of an arm band and a bear's pelt. There was also a copper alloy pin and amber and shale beads in a colour-schemed neclace. The speaker, Dr Andy M. Jones, remindered us that a single flint flake, a common feature in the region, may have been the only object to be found in a burial without pottery had there not been the peat.


The bead necklace (linked from the Dartmoor National Park web site

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Will I CAAuk it?


CAA-UK: one of Eve's title pages

This has been one of those weeks which have been extremely busy. Even so I managed to ram in talks and conferences. I am starting to scribe this on a flight back to Britain, with the ambitious plan to head to a conference on Saturday in Leicester – even if I won’t be back home until midnight. I have not registered to the conference either, but it is in Leicester and the CAA-UK, which is definitely not a stuffy conference at all. I have been slightly unsure of the timings with Phil’s best friend around, but now it seems that I will be able to attend the wine reception. I will see how things develop otherwise. I have not booked the conference dinner, but if it is anything like the previous conferences, the things should work out. Or I will head to bed. I will be country hopping the coming three weeks anyway.

This week saw one visiting scholar and one final seminar with an external opponent by a PhD student at Stockholm. The visiting scholar was Professor Clive Bonsall from Edinbufgh who was presenting the evidence for the change to the agriculture and proper Neolithic along the Danube around the Iron Gorge. It was a fascinating tale of old excavations, badly published in the Balkans and isotope studies going back to the 1990s. It was interesting to know how different scholars in different universities are piecing the evidence from different samples – all somehow stabbing in the start without proper final publications of the excavations. Even Lepenski Vir came out of something stitched together from different overall descriptions and preliminary reports. Suddenly my own sins in non-published fieldwork – only eight years aback – feel like small potatoes. I promise to work on it in the summer – if the current research allows.

The final seminar was all about southern Swedish bronze moulds and their social context. This seminar was fascinating due to the fact that the opponent had been an excavation director and report writer at many of the motorway excavation sites this PhD and its case study along the Mälare area was based on. He was very polite – but could make so many suggestions how to improve the manuscript. He even attended the meal afterwards in my favourite beer restaurant in Stockholm – the Kvarnen. He also made me wonder if they were talking about the sites around Uppsala I visited all those years ago as a fresh student on a student society trip to Uppsala. We headed to some very muddy motorway excavations in Uppland – but I think they were Iron Age.

The most interesting part of this PhD is the fact that the doctorand is able to make a difference along the gender lines in the social context of bronze crafts. If the mould fragments were found in the long houses, they seem to testify of the manufacture of dominantly female objects, but if the mould remains were found in ritual houses, they tend to have been used to mould male objects. Certain objects were manufactured in both settings – among them the daggers and the swords. Absolutely fabulous – although I was surprised the PhD candidate had not used weights of fragments from different sites to measure the magnitude of bronze craft industries. In any case, the manufacture seems to have been dispersed and not particularly managed by any elites. I hardly can wait for the public viva. However, we have to wait until 2017 according to Anna who now has a lot to ponder from the constructive and measured comments.


CAA-UK: Joyce discussing using drones

So fastforward to the Saturday morning and the CAA registration – that turned out to be online only. However, these things sort themselves out. As did my attempts to semi-live or live tweeting. This conference was going to be my test run for a live tweeting session I will have in Rome in the Roman Archaeology Conference. I thought it would be good to see, if my old smart phone still could make it (no, it does not) and how it all will go in an unfamiliar environment. Switching phones became an operation. The conference – in an auditorium underground – reminded of other important aspects. The wifi was on and off and there was no mobile phone reception, so there were limited back up options when wifi was off. This one test run was done without much preparations, so for the real run, one have to make a list of the essentials. Luckily, the live tweeting will be on the third conference day, so I will have time to get the basics right. I will have time to check the room beforehand, see the general wifi performance during the conference days and do some test tweeting on my own behalf before performing.

The conference day in itself was fantastic. It covered some lines of research I have to return again – and it seems people are making astonishing progress. However, the day began with Libya, as it is fitting at Leicester with the Libya archives and large projects across northern Africa. Louise Rayne presented the Endangered Archaeology image interpretation methodology using Google Earth in collaboration with Oxford to map damage and destruction for all kinds of monuments in the Middle East and North Africa. Hopefully, training of Libyan archaeologists will guarantee that the EAMENA database will continue to be updated after the end of the project. After Libya we headed to Madinat al-Zahra in southern Spain. This early Islamic town site has been studied with geophysical methods. Now they have experimented with the use of portable XRF in order to see if the anomalies in the magnetometer survey coincide with the hotspots with certain heavy metals. This pXRFing the top soil works probably at the metal working sites, but the discussion between another team suggests it is problematic.


Casswell: comparing the cost surfaces from different terrain types in Britain

Then Daniel Joyce presented different possibilities in the development for drone use in archaeology, restricted by very limited fly times defined by battery charges, for which there are lines of solutions coming up. However, the possibilities range from site surveys including multispectral recording to site tours and building recording. After this more general overview there were a series of good papers on Britain. A number of papers, including the single and joint presentations from Michelle De Grouney and Edward Casswell from Durham, explored the current work on cost paths and cost surfaces. It became clear that the finer detail of the models is becoming more reliable with new research on differences different walkers have on different walking surfaces and better understanding how different algorithms in different software packages affect the routes of cost paths and size of cost surfaces. The discussions were even more interesting than the papers, revealing the new localised work in order to understand land cover in the past.


Sycamore: hoard sites and locational precision

The papers discussing Roman Britain hoards by Rachel Sycamore and one aspect, in this case field systems, studied by the English Landscape project by Chris Green delivered food for thought on these very English site categories. The reliability of the historic hoard find was an issue for Sycamore and she has not quite decided if she will go for fuzzy classification or weighting better known sites. At least the poor data does not cluster. Green on the other hand has managed to find chronological differences between coaxial field system sites and aggregate sites. He was searching for suitable metrics for analysis on the character of field systems. He could find a difference between the elevations of the Bronze Age and Iron Age field systems as compared against the national values. In discussions he suggested that more ways to compare the systems may come in their landscape context.

So did I CAAuk it? Well, at least I hope to be back next year. Sadly, I had to pass today's second day due to Mothers' day and other commitments. The day I could attend finished well with Stuart Eve's paper on augmented reality. The previous attempts on non-digital augmented reality with door frames in Bodmin Moor was mentioned, after Stuart presented his more restricted views from virtual houses. However, it was his aural and smelly experiences, using mobile positioning technology - and infused cotton wool in the case of smells - was truly augmenting heritage reality. The wearable gear in the smelly tour did not look very appealing, yet. So that was the day it was. Next, I will country hop from UK to Sweden and then start to ponder (T)RACing it.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The firsts - at Lund and Stockholm

This week I have spent some quality time at the airports – not always in happy circumstances. The week started with some moments dedicated to cursing the wifi service at the Gatwick airport. Norwegian did not manage to get the cabin crew together at one end or another so my flight to Stockholm was 2.5 hours late. The Gatwick wifi – all 45 free minutes of it – is provided by a private company and the web site does not always work or it is very slow to get you into the contact with the service. Naturally, all recharging points except for five around one column were out of order. This meant that inevitably the battery was heading to flat and most of the 45 minutes was spent waiting for the web pages to load. Luckily, I had decided not to come with the earlier train...


The seminar audience

Back in Stockholm I managed to make it to the shop with half an hour to spare, but otherwise it was straight to bed and straight to the University in the morning. I was back at Arlanda the next day in order to fly to Lund that I visited for the first time in my life. I was giving a talk about my project, funded by the Swedish Research Council, for which I had returned to work at Stockholm, and meeting some colleagues. The visit was a most pleasant one.


The LUX building

The Section of Classical Archaeology and Ancient History is placed together with other archaeological disciplines and other Humanities and Theology in the new Lux building in the university area. Lund is one of those old university towns where everybody is cycling among the Medieval buildings. It is very similar to atmosphere to Uppsala or Cambridge in that manner. Even the bus trip from the Malmö Airport gave you experiences. Skåne where Lund is located – together with the famous detective Wallander – has always been influenced by Denmark and it was even at one time part of it. There are no red farm houses like in the Stockholm area or in Finland, but white plastered wood-framed historic buildings in a relatively flat landscape.


The Medieval Cathedral peaking

The talk went fine and I had a series of comments and questions. How quickly one and half hours do fly. Afterwards we sat round a cup of coffee before heading to the Bishop’s Arms for a postseminarium. It was a splendid choice to take a later flight back to Stockholm, so we had time to talk about Blera and other topics. Then it was time to face the curse of airports again.


In the countryside

I had hoped to get quickly to the city centre using Arlanda Express, but when I got to the station the train was just standing there on the way to nowhere. There had been an accident somewhere north of Stockholm and the service may have restarted in an hour, but I and other customers headed for the coach services instead. Mine was slightly raising my heartbeat, since I live in a new neighbourhood to me and was heading to a local train station I had never been before. I only knew that my train stops there. But all well that ends well. Back to work the next morning as normal. With the cold symptoms Phil had the week before.


The Swedish viva setting

My Friday afternoon was saved by my first Swedish public PhD viva. This viva was not about any Bronze or Iron Age sites in Sweden thesis, but a tightly packaged 332 pages on Funding Matters: Archaeology and the Political Economy of the Past in the EU by Elisabeth Niklasson, who had attended The [late] Research School of Studies in Cultural History at Stockholm with two other PhD students in archaeology. Her opponent was Björn Magnusson Staaf from Lund University, although working there as an associate professor in charge of museology. It was interesting how different this event was from my ‘three people in everyday clothes in professor’s office’ Cambridge viva and from the full pomp and formality of a Finnish viva with men in tails and women defending in black dress or suit in full academic regalia with the kustos (as in 'custodian') nodding between the defending PhD student and the opponent, usually being a professor or some other unfortunate soul taking this ceremonial relic role from the 17th century. No sword fights nowadays.


The opponent explains

A Swedish viva – at least this time – is a very polite and good-natured event in a darkish dress or a jacket and trousers combo. What was surprising to me was that apart from the defender commenting potential typos in the thesis, any summarising was left to the opponent. In an English viva the defender is normally asked to tell what it was all about and the Finnish viva starts with a defender's summary and comments. At Stockholm there were some questions addressed to the defender, but nothing too dramatic and everything was more like one of those discussion programmes in TV where an expert is mildly questioned about some issue of today.

The thesis showed amazing amount of work. Not only interviewing about 30 stakeholders in detail, recorded and all, but also analysing a huge amount of policy texts and call details and looking at the process of financing archaeology within an European framework. The thesis lists the archaeological projects that have got funding from the main EU heritage programmes up to 2013. At the core the projects can be seen exploring and creating Europeanness. This is more than clear when you read through all the project names and their abbreviations. However, it seems there has not been a unified policy to use archaeology in the present identity creation by the EU - at least after 2007 when archaeology was not specifically mentioned in relation to European identity or research policy.

Before heading back to my lodgings, trying to shed the aches and pains by sleeping, I attended the reception while we waited the grading board to return and tell if the thesis had passed or not (not a difficult guess which way it went). A little of bubbly and an interesting discussion with our new Hungarian osteology professor wrapped up an interesting afternoon.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Tut’s it?

Once upon a time there was a tweenie who found ancient Egypt very exciting, even romantic. She had been reading memoires of early explorers, especially those women in the 1920s and 1930s joined the trips to Africa or did animal observation somewhere. She also ended up loaning Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt ’s book on Tutankhamen and was mesmerised by the fragmented evidence for the family history and all the faded characters in the saga, including all the minor pharaohs and Tiye and other women. The Amarna age and monotheism was a safe haven in the still slightly religious young eyes and there was all the splendour and adventure to count in.

Fast-forward – ohm – quite a lot of time and the same girl was sitting in front of the television on a Friday night while her husband was in a Green party meeting and wondering if anything good will come out from Channel 5. Or if she should even be watching anything from a channel the recent archaeological offerings have been less than ethical. However, the theory of the secret chamber in Tutankhamun’s tomb had got a lot of publicity and number of articles in journals and some in the archaeological and heritage community had got excited. However, the young mesmerised tweenie is now a somewhat more sarcastic character and the monotheist hero of the past in ancient Egypt looks like quite a deranged zealot with many health problems who moved a lot of people onto a very dry plot along the Nile. No wonder all ran off as soon as the pharaoh was gone.

It all promised a good story, though, and I wanted to know more about that potential chamber where Nefertiti was supposed to lie. The programme started promisingly with a specialist telling how different items in the tomb where made potentially for a woman (there is apparently a wide academic back catalogue on this) and how the famous mask was a composite and the ears had belong to a woman (ditto). However, the bearded male theorist was joined by another male specialist, this time with glasses and significantly less facial or other hair, from one of my former almae matres, the University of Bristol, which made it all far more interesting, starting to trace another story for the current whereabouts of Nefertiti.

Talking of Nefertiti. Quite a lot of air time was actually given to the bit part players who were re-enacting the young Tut and the royal couple, Akhenaten and Nefertiti. I hope they had afforded slightly more expensive head gear, considering the flimsy number the young Tut was wearing. In addition, calling Tutankhamun constantly ‘Tut’ gave the programme not a popular flavour they probably were after, but slightly down-market one (not helped by the head gear). Not only feeling a bit ‘tut tut’, but ‘Tut’ also easily rimes with ‘tat’. Not necessarily the association the programme makers wanted to have.

The theories were actually quite interesting. The bearded specialist, Chris Naunton, Director of the Egypt Exploration Society, was explaining the way Tutankhamun’s burial chamber may actually had started as a corridor to another, original burial chamber. The sealed and concealed rooms were a feature in pharaonic tomb chambers. There even were suitable unevenness in the ceiling to conform to this theory. The art historians had made a nano-level accurate model of the tomb paintings that as a 3D laser scan and its 3D print also faithfully reproduced the surface of the wall. There are all kinds of lines there and a red rectangular was place on one part of the painted wall. All quite plausible, but this specialist just was not Nicholas Reeves who originally made the claim. He did pass the space in front of the camera during the programme, but he was not a main character, just passing. What was going on there?

However, the University of Bristol expert, Dr Aidan Dodson, painted a totally different story. Nefertiti has actually potentially been found, one of the female royal mummies reburied after the ongoing tomb robbery in the Egyptian times. Dr Dodson was standing next to a display case, where a visibly beautiful woman, showing some resemblance to the famous bust, but unfortunately having a very nasty rip where the mouth once had been, was lying. This woman, he asserted us, was the biological mother of Tutankhamun, as evidenced by DNA testing of female mummies of the Amarna age. The father definitely was Akhenaten, but the mother has been assumed to be somebody else but the main wife, Nefertiti. The DNA suggested that the parents were brother and sister, but Akhenaten did not have any known sisters. Possibly the continuous marriages between first cousins and siblings resulted with the similar DNA? This woman thus could be a Nefertiti, actually.

What became clear was that Nefertiti is very much still dead and her mummy can be here or there. But what about that secret chamber? Then came the major disappointment: after having shown quite a many shots of the scanning and printing of the wall, the recent thermal imaging of Tutankhamen’s chamber was rushed through, the resulting map of more thermal area there on the screen for such a short time it was a ‘blink and miss it’ moment. Was it the same area as the fault lines I saw or the red rectangular? Why does thermal photographing give results here? It apparently has in the pyramids, but there is probably no one alive in. How does this work? The Egyptian authorities in the programme talked of 90% certainty or probability that there may be a chamber. But this was galloped through in the last couple of minutes of the programme and the two experts were left wondering how the best to break a wall. I felt quite counterfeited. However, some googling explained: the Egyptian archaeologists do not believe the theory and in late December 2015 stated that they will not allow any damage to the chamber. I do not blame them.

What is my ancient Egypt grading and evaluation? Easy, give me Joann Fletcher. Any time. But I am just an archaeologist: the Guardian loved the programme... Unless they were also older and wiser. They did in the end paraphrase the treasure hunt feel in the programme: “If it’s ‘just’ a store room like the others in the tomb, it is probably chock full of unbelievable stuff – the most incredible hoard since Carter found Tut!”


You may wonder why I am a bit frivolous instead of writing of a real archaeological good news, the potential statutory status of HERs and planning archaeology in Wales as part of the new heritage bill. Part of the reason not to, is that I am a big softie and Tutankhamun is still my childhood explorer self’s hero. It is the week when Howard Carter found the tomb back in the 1920s after all. The other thing is that Howard Williams wrote a very good blog post on the matter – and he knows much more about Wales than I do. This time, I trust a professor with the matter!

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Love of books – a Valentine story?

This weekend it is the Valentine’s Day – the Friend’s Day in Finland. People are hugging and hearting the Old Oswestry hillfort in an attempt to save it. A similarly worthy cause would require us to heart a slightly more than we do but it does not get similar recognition, only a few sad shrugs from academics. A story a colleague shared about my old alma mater reminded me of that.

No matter even if I am myself working a lot online and actually editing an online monograph series, this has only made me more aware of the pitfalls we can take, if we lull ourselves to a belief that digital is the all and the end. It definitely makes our life easier and it is so much quicker to search, browse and – ohem – copy and paste. However, it is also fickle and elusive when it comes to keeping a library stocked. This is not ever clearer than when you try to catch that book, present in the library catalogue of your university, that was discontinued from the online bundle they subscribe from this publisher or another but still spookily comes up in a ghost-like manner in your searches.

Back to my colleague’s story. He was looking for a certain volume in a periodical that was duly listed in the online catalogue, but did not have any location mark, only a faculty library name. He definitely remembered having had one volume relatively recently on loan in his study at the University, so he made his way to the library in question. On arrival he got to hear that the periodical series was part of Generalia that had been decided to be chopped off from the library’s collections. When the colleague pointed out that he had managed successfully to loan a volume recently, the library assistant was wondering aloud if this series was the one that had been lingering in the garage, packed in cardboard boxes. Going, going from the university library any way. My colleague counted his blessings and booked a distance loan from the University of Helsinki – a university where the library is cutting their subscriptions as well.

This caught my eye when in London earlier this week and adding a new specialist library card to my collection, joinging the Cambridge University Library card, the Kungliga biblioteket, Vitterhetsakademien etc. etc. All those lovely old books, whenever you need them stacked in endless corridors. I simply adore it when I walk in the maze that is the Stacks at Cambridge – or sit in the reading room of the American Academy in Rome, surrounded by the folio prints of the books from the late 19th century, seeing the gardens from the open windows. Or tapping away in the high reading room in the Swedish Institute in Rome when the floor boards creek slightly under your colleagues' feet. Or you calmly flip through a periodical in the upper library in Villa Lante in Rome and forget that at noon the canon will go off on Gianicolo and - BANG! - the windows and the whole building just shake around you.

Nowhere seems to be safe. The collections are moved around, repacked, rearranged, reshelved and put in a storage magazine. Old readers’ tables are covered by the volumes that burst the library shelves. The overlapping subscriptions in different libraries are cut – or the management tries to cut them – but sometimes the users can keep their volumes, if they moan loudly enough – and actually have money. The libraries try to find a virtue in digital subscriptions, but they forget that the most certain way of keeping ownership of something is actually to have a hard copy. The electronic subscription can vanish in a split second.

In the times of Costafication of the university libraries, their keepers should remember that well-stocked library is an essential research resource for most humanists, social scientists, lawyers, medical doctors and many scientists as well. You lose that resource and you lose your historians and human geographers – if not anywhere else but to those few libraries and places that actually still have books away from your institution during the term time. As the cartoon artists commented sometime ago, in the times of the modern fashionable plasticky 3D printing, the books are actually already in 3D.

I know many who hope they had fewer books and would not need so many bookshelves. However, there is something extremely pleasing in old books, even romantic - and our house is filled with them. You never know when you need one. That is why I got a car boot full when the Institute of Continuing Education disposed their students' library.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Bound by Brooches – a visitor from Oxford

This week’s seminar happening at the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies was the visiting lecture by Toby Martin from the University of Oxford. He is a British Academy research fellow who works on the Early Medieval brooches in Europe and his talk at Stockholm was titled ‘Bound by brooches: multi-scalar networks in Migration Period Europe and Sweden’. He and Alison Klevnäs from the Department organise together a session in the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) conference in Vilnius in early September. This session is called What's it all worth? Material possessions and value in past societies. It all sounds very interesting, but let see what happens in my late August and late September.

Toby was talking about his broad study of the Migration Period covering the whole Europe. He has been compiling a database of the Migration Period bow brooches (Early Medieval Brooches of Europe Database, EMBED), a specific detail in a female dress of the period. These mainly cemetery finds are an interesting material, since their condition in the burial suggested that they had been worn as cloak fastener or similar during the life-time of the deceased.. Bow brooches appear suddenly in the European archaeological material in the 5th century AD and spread quickly across Europe having a series of distinctive regional types. The database includes 7560 bow brooches and 2044 grave contexts.


Composite objects

Toby had started studying Migration Period bow brooches in his PhD in which he analysed the distribution of the Anglo-Saxon brooches. These are neatly concentrated in Britain, so their connection to an ethnic group seems to be clear. There is even an absolute emptiness in Wales and Ireland, whereas the East of England is densely dotted. Similarly the types in the areas related to the Angles and the Saxons in nowadays northern Germany and to the Visigoths in central Spain the distributions are neat. On the other hand, the Frankish brooches have a wide spread, whereas the Ostrogoth brooches are everywhere in the central Europe.


European distributions

Through the Ostrogoths, this talk had suddenly a research relevance to me. I have had to look at the Ostrogoth settlement patterns in northern Italy lately and could comment on the sparse distribution in Italy. Naturally, the general network research design was also interesting. The lack of finds in my native Finland also got a comment. The bow brooches are a Scandinavian type, found in a few examples in Vöyri, if my memory does not fail me, and what is happening in Finland is quite different. As if I have excavated a Migration/Merovingian Period Period site in Finland. Naturally, in the Nordic countries these periods are part of the Iron Age, i.e. prehistory, not Early Medieval Period.


England works fine

Toby’s composite classification, since the brooches were made up of distinct parts that are recognisable in most examples, was interesting. He was using correspondence analysis for the recognition of any groupings but could only achieve fuzzy results. Any way, he specified 8 fields in the brooches and defined 77 different designs. His networks were defined by the minimum number of shared components and most often the good results were received with the minimum number of 4 [or higher]. As indicated, English and Continental networks are very different. However, he could verify Hines’ typology with the English great square-headed brooches.


The Italian brooches (Ostrogoths)

Sweden was then something else. Nearly every brooch out of 187 is a unique example and there is one definite type, Type Götene, one can say to be Swedish. Otherwise, the distributions are fragmented. However, there are evidence of moulding of these brooches from Helgö and Uppåkra – central place sites that need no presentation to a Scandinavian audience. The former was a trade post and the latter a ritual temple site. Metalwork was elite related, but very local and individual.

After the talk, we moved to celebrate the promotion of Jan Storå to a professorship. Naturally, it is not a chair post, but a recognition to his research in osteology and involvement in the Atlas project. Later, some of the seminar audience headed to the Östra Station for a supper. It was an unusually traditional archaeologist outing. We were the last customers to leave.