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.