Saturday, 30 January 2016

Liberty, equality, humanity – our archaeology challenge

I was invited to send an entry for Doug’s blogging carnival – partly because there were not that many entries when I was asked a week ago. In addition, Doug knows who I am. Apart from trying to make my mark as a researcher on various ever changing temporary contracts and occasional non-archaeological work, I have also blogged on current issues ranging from Syria and the plight of regional museums in Britain to planning process and Old Oswestry Hillfort as well as to that TV series that should not be mentioned any more (Channel 5, you were rubbish and you still are). I may have had my most popular blog entry for the 2016 already in early January while writing it in a hurry trying to finish off my tax return.

Now, getting serious. The couple of last days have brought about several news and issues. Not any small issues. Not just challenges to my archaeology, but yours, too, and your colleagues’ here, there and in other countries. It is about cuts. It is about university education. It is about representation. After a period of increasing professionalism, expanding participation and increasing degree numbers, discussions on protection of cultural heritage, international treaties and recognition of heritage crime and ethics, we are reaching a point where one has to wonder, if we are going to regress instead of progressing.

There has already been extremely well-written blog entry about the uninspiring and downright scary outlook of British archaeology titled ‘Weathering the storm’ by Incurable archaeologist that presents the many challenges from the apparent abolishment of Lancashire HER, similar news from the culture front in Shropshire and severe cuts to the Norfolk services. It points out how the ministers can say sweet words about protecting heritage – when it is from Daesh and in Syria or elsewhere in a conflict zone. He outlines the lack of public engagement within commercial sector – although I may disagree here, since nowadays public days, web sites, blogs and lectures are plenty. Many units have their own officers dedicated to communications. However, HOW things are communicated can always improved. As he points out, planning archaeology has produced fantastic results, resulting in projects on British Roman rural settlements and now the English Landscapes, all benefiting from open access data and the activities what is now Historic England. He does not forget the problem cases either, such as Old Oswestry.

Now the planning system is under strain, because the government that speaks with sweet words elsewhere has externalised cuts to the local government that has to try to keep up with cutting while keeping the statutory basic services going. Archaeology, museums and libraries are battling against the needs in social services and schools. It is not only culture that suffers, it is also children’s services and every kind of support one can imagine. In this kind of climate where the rich countries cut taxation and stop providing services is the story everywhere and it is a ideological choice. Google has to pay 130 million pounds in tax. Value is seen in keeping the companies that do not really pay taxes in the country while cutting from the public good. Currently, all children can go to the British Museum and most of the regional museums. Education benefits from the collections and all this, together with knowing about the past is about to suffer.

This cutting to the bone and beyond is not happening only in Britain. Just a few days ago the University of Helsinki finally announced how they plan to make the huge savings the shrinking statal funding will require. About 25 %of the administrative personnel have to go and apparently 4 – 5 % of teaching and research personnel. It is all packaged as a transformation of administrative services and restructuring of teaching and undergradurate degrees. The matter was not made better by the University’s translation error: instead of terminating contracts, they stated that they will ‘terminate... employees’.

Earlier this week the list of different traditional and digital series the university is going to discontinue was made public. Series in textile research and smaller subjects, such as Egyptology, together with especially French and German language publications are facing the axe. How archaeology will weather will be seen, but the National Board of Antiquities has already seen considerable drop in staff across several years. Some national museums and historic buildings have been mothballed and there are serious doubts how the services will function. The section for the care of cultural landscapes, that is keeping the most important protected sites presentable, will close. Naturally, the excavations have been recently increasingly externalised in order to cut the number of temporary personnel. The archaeological companies that used to be a fringe activity are now an everyday phenomena. People are dedicated, innovative and highly educated, but how long there will be monies?

Then we can see ‘the Italian Job’. The recent sudden plan of changes to legislation seem to abolish the development archaeology and rescue excavations as have been modelled in recent decades after the British commercial model. The different Superintendencies have been joined, the protection of environmentally valuable sites and built environment is heading to the same entities while the protection seems to be loosening. The use of volunteers is promoted while central control is rising in traditionally regional system. In the face of retiring work force, the existing employers play musical chairs. The people – except for those retiring – do not seem to move anywhere, even if names of the institutions and directors are flipping from one to another office. The petition to save Italian world heritage has started its rounds with 5000, and then 9000 names collected and a sit-in protest on January 28 in front of the Ministry. The bloggers have suggested that this all will bring the death of archaeology in Italy. At least one international collaboration is in danger: Fasti Online, a map interface presenting classical fieldwork project around the Mediterranean, run by the Associazione Internationale di Archaeologia Classica (AIAC), will see its Italian governmental funding disappear in the changes in Italy.

This happens while the university education is facing more changes in UK with a danger to become even more expensive. The grants to the poorest students have been abolished. Those without independent means have to take student loans and even if there is an idea that those on lower pay do not have to pay it back, there is no guarantee that the system does not change. There have been already different ideas to sell the student loan portfolio and who knows how the things look in 5 years’ time. At the same time there is talk of different tiers of universities combined with different tuition payments. There is talk about teaching universities and research universities and the new universities are unlikely to be majority of the last ones. The teaching is increasingly in the hands of assistants paid only for hours taught and the jobs after a PhD (the grants for which are in humanities disappearing fast) are increasingly a series of temporary postdocs. It is likely that the proper jobs in humanities will be cut down when the university system reforms.

This hits especially hard women, who have to wonder when they are settling down and starting a family while travelling the world as postdocs or having a proper career while sometimes sidelined besides the male peers. One couple were both shuttling up and done the globe, from Canada to Sweden and separately searching for new positions after the previous was ending. At least their skates were handy in Sweden, too. They tried to apply in the same geographic areas, but they could never guarantee being in the same country. People are getting more aware and ever so slowly the structures are changing, but still the childcare arrangements, life – work balance and expectations of academic careers do not meet. Not helped by the apparent workaholism of many of us.

When one adds to this the potential Brexit, cutting direct EU research funding to UK and maybe reducing the mobility of researcher between the continent and UK, there are huge gambles ahead not only for commercial archaeology, planning archaeology and museum and archive services but also to academic archaeology. In my current position where I will be over 90 days a year outside Britain for fieldwork and such, I will not manage to fulfil the citizenship requirements in UK. International researcher has to travel. I am left wondering, if I, as an EU citizen, can stay legally in the same country as my husband and son without stretching the definition of tourism, if the Brexit happens. However, the latest news for this weekend rise some hope but there will still be a referendum.

Human situations bring me to the human condition and humanity. In the world where our everyday is filled with ditches, pottery and stones, and we try to campaign against the illegal trade of antiquities, it is so easy to forget those who we need to support archaeology. We need people, since without the people, there cannot be heritage and no one will need their past. The borders seem to be closing, the attitudes are hardening, the refugees have been marked with bright colours, and their possessions may be confiscated in some countries. Even if there is talk about increasing access and improving diversity, can such ideals survive the cuts and will liberal thinking and humanistic approach be with us in the future? The actions of colleagues, such as Sanna Aro-Valjus, passing information from the human conditions in Syria and loaning her home to a refugee family while away, and Martin Runqvist has given his time to refugees, suggest that within our profession still has a solid moral core and there are plenty of people whose ethics are admirable. As archaeologists, we need to remember to keep our values, communicate our purpose and remember that monuments need people who also may need our kindness and respect. I can just hope that a few words can help.

We have celebrated before. Can we celebrate in the future?

The international community already helped to save the Swedish Mediterranean institutes. Can we now help to save the legal base of Italian archaeology and help to protect Italian heritage, our European heritage? There are now over 9400 signitures in the petition before your signiture, if you haven't signed, yet. Click HERE.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Changing group identities

From Nepi 2000 to a new project

I got in November the good news that I will be working upon my project Changing group identities in the multicultural pre- and postcolonial central Italy in 2016–2018 at the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies with the funding from the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet). Even if the subject matter falls within classical archaeology and ancient history, my ultimate goal is to develop a general model for characterising multicultural group identities that can be applied at least in part in any geographic area or archaeological period. My own research questions relate to a specific historical and cultural situation that led to the creation of the Roman Empire and I will specifically explore the importance of multiculturality as a precondition to certain historical developments.

Those who read this blog regularly – especially if they read my ‘mummy blog’ as well - may not be surprised that I am interested in multiculturality. I am after all a Finn, living with my husband and son in UK, now again working in Sweden and studying Italian archaeology. We are monolingual at home, versing in English due to my son’s speech difficulty, but my son does go every now and then to the Finnish Saturday School in the East Midlands. Some weeks ago he suddenly did ask what a Minecraft pickaxe is in Finnish. Maybe all is not lost on multicultural and multilingual front.

Not South America but Nepi

In my work I will contextualise my interest in colonial archaeology to the precolonial and postcolonial situations in relation to Latin colonisation that defines the geographic extent of the study area. I will use my ongoing research in the Faliscan area in south Etruria as my key case study area and compare its relationship to other cultural areas in the region. Both my postdoctoral project, The boundaries and territorial geographies of Archaic and early Roman central Italy, and this new project as its extension are built upon my fieldwork within the Nepi Survey Project and the Remembering the Dead excavation project at Crustumerium (Rome). These projects made me interested in intercommunity interaction and its different outcomes in the region (cf. Rajala 2012; in press) and resulted in me starting working towards the theoretical framework of my current research.

Maija records pottery from Crustumerium in 2011

And here I must go a bit mum. The characterisation of group identities in this study will be based upon Social Identity Theory (SIT; Tajfel & Turner 1986) but more about this later, possibly somewhere near you. I already gave a presentation in our departmental research seminar to the joined audience of archaeologists from general archaeology, classical archaeology, laborative archaeology and other lines of research we have at Stockholm. I was on Friday invited to give a seminar at Lund. Then already on Wednesday, when I also gave my departmental seminar, I received the surprising news that my paper had been accepted to the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (TRAC) in Rome.

Finds from Nepi

I had made unsuccessful attempts to get a very lovely inscriptions session with nicely gender-balanced speaker panel to the RAC, a shorter panel to the TRAC and two papers to the RAC. Well, at least one of those got a new life as a poster and the organiser of one session with a considerable number of papers to turn down may edit a book of the entire body of material. The organisers were in a happy position to be able to pick up the best of the best of a staggering numbers of entries, so I can sympathise - I was going to go anyway, since the programme will be the cream of the selection. My TRAC paper at least does, as my current research, have a very theoretical core, so this year my paper cannot be turned down from the proceedings on the basis of ‘not being theoretical enough’ (in comparative terms - I plainly assume they had difficulties at Leicester to fit in all the invited 30th anniversary papers and there were many extremely interesting papers). Of course, it may have read a little flat in comparison of the others in probably a highly contested abstract submission. Nevertheless, the RAC-TRAC has so many sessions and papers that I assume a TRAC publication will not come out from this one either. In any case, it all looks great fun. There are already so many of my Finnish, Swedish and British colleagues lined up that the TRAC party should give great time. Unless my paper will be on Saturday morning AFTER the party. Then I will not at least have headache... Back to drinking tonic water with lemon and ice in that case.

Roman pottery from Nepi was recorded in 2008

Importantly, my discourse will be interdisciplinary between Etruscology, Roman archaeology and Roman history and combine theoretical elements from different social and humanistic disciplines. In addition, my project is linked to the separate research project of Dr Karin Westin Tikkanen at the University of Gothenburg in classics, studying the earliest alphabet signs in Italy, also funded by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet), so the future will be pretty exciting! It may even be awesome.

Karin Westin Tikkanen in 2014 in Rome

Rajala, U., 2012. ‘Political landscapes and local identities in Archaic central Italy – Interpreting the material from Nepi (VT, Lazio) and Cisterna Grande (Crustumerium, RM, Lazio). In S. Stoddart and G. Cifani (eds.), Landscape, ethnicity and identity in the archaic Mediterranean area, 120-143. Oxford.
Rajala, U. in press. Nested identities and mental distances: Archaic burials in Latium Vetus. In E. Perego and R. Scopacasa (eds.), Burial and Social Change in Ancient Italy 9th–5th century BC. Oxford. This is actually coming finally out in late April or so!
Tajfel, H. & Turner, J.C. 1986. The social identity theory of intergroup behaviour. In S. Worchel & W.G. Austin (eds.), Psychology of Intergroup Relations, 7-24. Chicago.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Hello Stockholm!

Approaching Stockholm; nice crisp transparent ice

This week has been one of those after which you feel absolutely drained. It was not only finishing my tax return and submitting it while managing several other things. It was not only the RAI meeting in London and the fact that after it I managed to get my credit card blocked. It was not only flying to Stockholm and the first thing after landing running to my bank and handing in the form that will guarantee that my salary from Stockholm University will land on my bank account. It was not the tasks that were waiting me at Stockholm. No, it was all those together and more.

Stockholm is brilliant because of the combination of cold and sunshine. The sun feels good after the dark Christmas time. I am also exploring a new neighbourhood while trying to find a proper room to stay. However, due to the hurly burly of this week and the holiday season still being so close, I am planning to start the hunt either the coming week - or wait for the news from the Researcherhousing, even if they may still take some time. Nevertheless, now I learn to know the Norrstull area better.

The Beauty from Palmyra (photo: Wikimedia, C. Raddato)

The day I was flying was planned on the basis of the visit of Professor Rubina Raja from Aarhus University to Stockholm. On Thursday evening she was giving a talk on the Palmyra Potrait Project and its database that has been constructed at Aarhus in recent years in the Medelhavsmuseet in central Stockholm. The reason Denmark is the country where this database has been realised is that the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek has the second largest collection of the Palmyrese portraits outside Syria (the largest is in Istanbul). Therefore, there was an interest not only join the other main collections of known portraits to a single database but to digitise some of the archives created by the collectors and researchers.

The number of the portraits has struck all by surprise and the database hosts now more than the expected a couple of thousands portraits. The project has just received four more years’ worth of funding and it will continue its valuable work. The digitised archives allow giving provenance to some of the objects that have gone unprovenanced in the museum catalogues. The most notable of such reattributions is the so-called the Beauty from Palmyra that was actually found from excavations. It also lists all known collections, which helps acknowledging any dodgy attempts to bring artworks to the market from the war-ridden Syria.

This talk took place on Thursday and on Friday Rubina came to the Section of Classical Archaeology and Ancient History in order to give a talk of the other large project she runs at Aarhus. This project is UrbNet, i.e. Center for Urban Network Evolutions, that has funding for nine years from the Danish National Research Foundation. It tries to better understand urbanism by taking ‘high-definition’ approach. This basically means trying to recalibrate the generalisations of urban process in the historical era by exploring a series of case studies in depth, combining both scientific and humanistic methods with field projects. Rubina’s own work is on Jerash and she co-organises the North-Western Quarter excavation project there studying the late antique densification of the urban structure. The case studies cover periods from the Hellenistic times to the Medieval Scandinavian towns. This project not only breaks the geographic and chronological disciplinary boundaries in Europe but also involves projects as far afield as Africa. Truly World Archaeology.

The talk concentrated on Jerash/Gerash and the German-Danish excavations there. The most interesting findings related to the maintenance of urban infrastructure, mainly road network, during the period when the city states were supposed to be in decline. Nevertheless, there are clear signs of gardening inside the city walls, so the civic city was denser than the previous Roman one. There have been wide discussions on the nature of walled Roman cities in the past, not least related to Roman provinces, first and foremost Britain. Thus, gardening in a city is not a surprise. Another interesting development there was the transformation of a synagogue to a Christian church – something that may have something to do with the military establishment next door.

The most interesting digital application was the specialised CAT scans of a rolled magic text within a silver amulet found in the excavations. The project could collaborate with a firm that rescues materials from earthquakes and such catastrophic events and the specialists of the team there could digitally unroll the piece of text. Interestingly, it turned out to be in mock Arabic. It is not known, if this was supposed to be more powerful – or could do when an illiterate client asked for an Arabic verse.

The visit was most pleasant and the talk was preceded by a nice meal in the Faculty Club at Stockholm. Maybe next time we will also hear about the Lived Ancient Religion: Questioning Cults and Polis Religion project or about the Ceramics in Context project. Fascinating times ahead. May be a trip to Aarhus will be on cards to see old friends and meet some new ones.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Briefly on Battlefield Recovery

My blog was going to have two words in it: tax return. But then the escalation of the outrage around the Battlefield Recovery requires me to say a few words more.

Finnish archaeologists, with the first among them Jan Fast who had been approached by the programme makers and duly turned it down after understanding just how gong-ho it was going to be, had thought this actually never got made, but apparently it did. For obvious reasons, I did not even watch it, since my colleague already wondered in the Finnish archaeologists’ meeting in 2014 how this got even to the preproduction stage and just hoped it was going to be buried as a very bad idea. Well, it got made and was dropped from programming by the National Geography and recently in Australia after viewers did complain. Now the same may happen in Britain.

One can see how this kind of thing got discussed with. It is TV after all. It is also true that different countries allow war dead retrieval parties to repatriate bodies and there are all kinds of bilateral and other treaties between countries. The Finnish war hero repatriation societies have regularly visited Russia and Karelia in search of lost relatives and men from their villages since the Glasnost started. It is also true that in many countries these graves fall outside the Antiquities Laws as they are less than 100 years of age. Nevertheless, at least in Finland all Christian burials are covered by the principal of ‘burial peace’. In addition, anything potentially with military equipment is considered belonging to the Army by definition and they have their own property regulations. The regulations elsewhere around the Baltic Sea are naturally different. In addition, there are cultural differences in attitudes towards handling bones and bodies, but there are ethics - and remembering good manners.

Reburying the bodies of war brings closure to the grieving or admiring, but these programme makers were not recovering their own dead, they were dabbling with somebody else’s. They were probably just hoping for the viewer numbers uplift anything to do with ‘Nazis’ brings. sad but probably true.

For World War Two research appreciating our past, look for German camp in Hanko, Finland, 1942-1944, studies on the Channel Islands and Dark Heritage.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Finishing and starting

Back to December 2013 again

I am now late with my weekly blog but for a good reason. Over the holidays I and Phil have been juggling Christmas, New Year and school holidays with getting our 20 years of taskscapes edited volume to the publishers. This has involved receiving peer reviews on Christmas Eve and checking corrected files at different points. In the middle of the holidays, I suddenly realised that our introduction had not been peer reviewed, so there was another round of living off other people’s kindness and curiosity. The second peer review arrived yesterday on Sunday and resulted in hasty rewrites. The last corrected article was sent to us around midnight between Saturday and Sunday, so we were definitely not there at the last moment. Now we just have to hope that the volume commentator actually has time to, well, comment before the end of the month.

We can just hope that our publisher likes what they get. I am personally quite proud of the result and how we have managed to bring together British and Nordic archaeologists. The peer-reviewer list is quite awesome as well, but that thing is naturally a secret (fittingly for a volume with an entry on Secret Landscapes). It is not only that Tim Ingold had time to write his own testimonial of the time in early 1990s, my Finnish colleague Tiina Äikäs who studies the archaeology of the Finnish Sámi had finally have time to write a paper for the volume – not there at the last minute, no. Organising the peer-review was once again a matter of spirit over matter, but luckily other colleagues could accommodate us; now we were able to link Ingold’s subject matter and the use of the concept to the latest in the Sámi research. In addition, there are interesting papers from Andrew Fleming, Killian Driscoll and Matt Edgeworth. Our own ‘ceramiscene’ concept features and we have papers from classical to contemporary archaeology. It took two years from the original TAG session in Bournemouth, but we are always dealing with other people’s timetables, our own timetables and the peer-reviewing process with edited volumes. Nevertheless, it should show that taskscapes are not just for prehistoric, especially Neolithic, landscapes. Now we just wait and see how the publishing process will go.

I am also at the moment in Stockholm even if I sit in our living room in UK. My contract at Stockholm started at New Year and I am lucky to have three years of researchership ahead of me. At the famous Swedish 0.75ft, but that will give me time to factor in my life in UK. I was surprised to get national Swedish funding, considering that another funding body there found my application wanting. However, I did lately get every single grade in the evaluation range in the ERC application process, from completely rubbish to outstanding, so what I do – or at least how I present it – either contains some true innovation or just confuses people. Some people seem to see me having a vision, whereas some doubt the value of my potential output. Either way, I am now sorted and working in a good place.