Sunday, 14 December 2014

Stonehenge Apocalypse

I have made a conscious choice (and actually cannot escape statutory childcare and school run duties when at home) not to go to the TAG this year, since I do need a break from serious conferencing - no matter how much I would have liked to have my annual curry dinner with friends and go and chat about work with certain parties that seem to be there according to the long and comprehensive program. Now, I actually have to do work. Write up things, go to the library, peer review and seek peer reviewers. There is also more stuff for the MASF editorial board coming for approval, so it is better to party less, let my Antiquity free subscription to be passed to the new happy owner and leave all the theoretical novelties to the Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference 2015. Which will bring about an interesting balancing act happening during the same weekend as my son's birthday. Thus the last postings of the year will take a slightly lighter topics than the end of the universe as we know it (a.k.a. the potential, now-not-happening closure of the Swedish Mediterranean Institutes), island archaeology and Stonehenge landscape.

Which actually are exactly the topics I am going to talk about in more general, although lighter terms. My husband's annual 'cult movie night' exposed us this year to Stonehenge Apocalypse, the movie so laughable that you are literally speechless for a moment after it. It is from 2011 - with all the production values and CGI and VFX of the late 1980s. The main actors and actresses are famous for those American scifi series. Certain elements even apply some of the production choices of that famous Bonekickers British tv series. I am not sure, if the same special archaeology consultant was used here - but I hope not. The trailer brings in mind all those exploitation movies from the late 20th century - and the movie is a rip-off of any 2012 or Mayan apocalypse storyline.

Since this blog is ultimately about landscapes, I just point out a few of the most intriguing facts about the movie. No, I am not going to dwell on how they found Egyptian remains somewhere in the central states in the US or that Teotihuacan, the Pyramids and Stonehenge are mysteriously connected in volcanic action or the stones of Stonehenge move around. No, I was looking at Stonehenge itself and its landscape.

Before seeing this movie, I was totally unaware of the fir trees lining the horizon in the Stonehenge landscape. I was also totally unaware of the plastic texture of Stonehenge and the very-thin-indeed lintel stones. The dark coniferous forest and the flat lands could have been in southwestern Finland, but my guess is that more common destination of the American movie makers - Canada. This could also explain the unexpected vision of a basketball hall in an assumed British school. Plus all cars driving on the right side of the road and the steering wheel locating in a similar manner on the left-hand side in all 'British' army vehicles in the movie. Maybe I will not comment too much the underlining darker details seeing the African-American main archaeologist baddie siding with the generally 'Middle-eastern' crime organisation baddies... Truly speaking, a gobsmacking fail on all fronts.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Metal detector men, Nazi barracks and other ethical issues in community from Turku

November truly and utterly flattened me and I ate more conference food and hang around at the air ports, train and coach stations and ferry ports longer than I want to recognize. It was inspiring, fascinating, mesmerising and delightful – and meeting new interesting people and seeing old friends after a long while is always lovely. Not that it has ended: late January sees me juggernauting again, the list of the work to be done is just longer and longer and the standard 24 hours per day seem laughably inadequate. Nevertheless, let’s go back to November and the marvellous Archaeologist Days of the Archaeological Society of Finland at the University of Turku on the last Thursday and Friday of November. No better topic to write about on the Finnish Independence Day on December 6!

University buildings in Turku

These Days used to be in April and the fieldwork presentations in November, but the fieldworkers who were increasingly working into October and later wanted to have a break and a chance of actually preparing the presentations. Thus, the conferences were swapped and November date is much more suitable for me. Around Easter I am more likely to be in the CAA or home for the holidays than anything else. The First Advent is also a good time to visit family and buy Christmas presents, so the benefits are not only intellectual but also practical and emotional.

The Days have always two themes and this year these were Archaeological Ethics and Community Archaeology. Especially the first did not appeal to me very much beforehand, since some of the discussions are predictable and there is a huge chance of politically correct mild polite time filling in between lunch and coffee. I must admit I was totally wrong and the discussions were not only thought-provoking but also heated. It became very apparent which person will not be the contact worker for the metal detectors, for example! The advice might be stern and compassion lacking with astute directives given, peppered with more figurative speech than people are used to from public service.

Many papers given were involved with historical archaeology or the 20th century, so it was not only the themes that were very 'now' but also the problems and potential threats to war graves, especially in Lapland, and such matters. This type of discussions continued to the second day as well. Part of the discussion on the first day was devoted to the suggested Finnish ethical code for archaeology and which organisation should give advice, guidance and notify, if some research activities are unethical. The Archaeological Society of Finland is not the Institute for Archaeologists, but more a learnt, although professional, society. One could take an example from the Council for Mass Media in Finland that is a joint independent organ of media practitioners with lay members, as was suggested by Petri Halinen who was presenting the code. However, no matter which model one selects, the small pool of members in any panel will become a problem.

Maria Lahtinen’s presentation underlined the interesting situations, which arise when the Finnish and British practices collide and people who are considered in Britain archaeologists through their experience are not such a thing in Finland were the degree in archaeology has traditionally been a mark of a professional archaeologist who customarily can get research permits. Not to mention the ethical questions in sampling human bones that will be destroyed to a degree in the process and the feeling among the scientific archaeologists, shared in many different countries, that other archaeologists are happy to have their results but do not integrate them in the process, especially in the sampling stage in the field. However the main ‘beef’ of the day was the relations with the metal detectorists.

Metal detecting is governed by the Finnish law according to which the known archaeological sites cannot be touched without a research permit. The metal detectorists have to keep away from the inside of the defined preservation areas. The whole hobby has expanded exponentionally in the 2010s and many detectorists either are unaware of the law or some more serious cases are ignorant of it or do not follow it. However, most archaeologists recognize that in some areas the emptying of the fields from any metal objects is happening with an increased speed, and the professionals have to understand where the finds are made. Thus, the Museum in Espoo, as Anna Wessman told us, has tried to involve them in local history projects and has managed to get new Iron Age finds from the areas they were earlier unknown. Päivi Maaranen from the National Board of Antiquities presented their e-mail service where the finds are discussed and information collected. Both had made some surveys of the detector hobbyists and they could confirm that these were mostly men, who liked to walk in the countryside either alone or in pairs. They want online information sheets, get their metal items identified, even if only modern, and, if a treasure find, most often get their monies – even if they do not do it for financial gain. They are less interested in courses, but most of them work, so the events during the working hours of the professionals were unsuccessful.

Päivi Maaranen presents

Riku Kauhanen’s excellent presentation on conflict archaeology and the dangerous balancing acts in the modern conflict areas. He also touched upon the problems of getting information of historic 18th-century structures and finds that traditionally have not been of interest to archaeologist or historians. These discussions could be seen as relevant for the metal detector discussion or later during the Community Archaeology day. Here I use it as a vehicle to move from the first to the second day.

The second day started with Suzie Thomas’ overview of the field in Britain with an early reference to her activities at the University of Helsinki. Finland is lucky to have a professional with all the right English Heritage and Council of British Archaeology contacts. The day continued with specific projects. Kreetta Lesell presented the late Aino Nissinaho’s successful Adopt an Monument initiative for organisations and communities, Janne Ikäheimo presented the site of the last hanging in Finland and Eeva Raike discussed the fact that the rock hackings that are alive tradition with new designs and names added annually are not a suitable site for preservation under the Ancient Monument law: they could not be touched or added to any more.

Leena Koivisto’s talk raised the Finnish question of why the people like to attend the community archaeology excavations away from their own village – the situation almost the opposite to that in Britain. The talk touched upon the question of social media being even too quick, when the excavation directors at the site were not aware of the happenings some metres away that had been beamed to Facebook with the help of mobile phones. There were moments when the boss from the museum had seen all online when the directors still had to check what had been found at site. She also wondered aloud, if it begins to be too easy to ‘Like’ a dig online – and people do not bother joining the activities.

Now we get to the Nazis. The 1940s are now a big thing in Finnish archaeology with a large grant being devoted to the mapping of the archaeological remains from the Lapland war, the German barracks and other visible defence and attack structures being the easiest target. Elsewhere, as Jan Fast told in his presention, his new project in Hanko where he has started to map the derelict German barracks with a community project before they will disappear with a new development being planned. He also discussed the first public large excavations organised by the Heureka science centre in the 1990s and some other community archaeology work, but one has to admit that the Hanko project took the limelight from the Jokiniemi or Kemiö projects.

The Days also reminded us about the passage of time. The young generation does not apparently sit until early hours in the bar and look for a disco bar after the first bar closed and the Bar in Hamburger Börs (people in Finland know the fame) was all dark. No, they seem to be teetotallers and/or take their dogs out for a walk after the conference dinner. We seniors are becoming definitely wiser, though: we were quite grey in the first row the morning after, but we were there for the first presentation – and we were only tired, not emotional!

Sadly, I cannot promise to be there next year, but the discussions are likely to be as fervent, since one of the topics is likely to be ‘what is an archaeological remain and which of them are worth be preserved by law’. Mikko Härö touched upon this topic when talking about the future hand book of Finnish archaeological monuments and remains that will be compiled on a wiki platform. He hinted at the future changes in the law protecting the ancient monuments, so the topic will again be very ‘NOW’.

The sparse attendance of the younger generation in the evening do may have something to do with the 50th anniversary celebrations of the student archaeology society magazine Varelia the previous evening. Apparently, 'important' phone calls were made at 3.50am in a happy atmosphere to a dismayed archaeologist with a job...

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Cyprian on a Greek career

A review of last week's Archaeologist Days by the Archaeological Society of Finland will follow next weekend when I actually will have time to write a blog entry. Today: running around the campus in order to use sticky tape to fix receipts on A4s for archiving, and trying to recover my e-mail address (success!), so it will not happen until next week. Now I will upload my opinionated description of Cyprian Broodbank's Personal Histories event instead: something I made earlier.

The president of the Field Club opens the event

The Archaeological Field Club, the Cambridge society of undergraduate archaeology students, organised together with the Personal Histories project an event on November 12 where Cyprian Broodbank, the new Disney professor in Archaeology at the University of Cambridge gave a monologue of his career so far. It was interesting from many different angles - personal and general. First of all, I have to admit that before the event I had seen him twice: once giving a paper in the Italian Prehistory Day and the second time briefly first sitting down and then leaving the Anthony Snodgrass’s birthday conference. I still have not exchanged a word with him. Secondly, Joan Oates had said that he continued archaeology only because he went to the excavations at Tell Brak in Syria. Thirdly, I hoped to hear what he plans to do as the Disney professor (project-wise).

Cyprian took up an admirable theme in his talk. He emphasised how his career has not always been plain sailing. However, even when relatively speaking not shining out and dropping out, in those relative Halcyon days he managed to bag fellowships here and had in the beginning ended up in the British School at Athens. He also moved between Oxford and Cambridge and then got a job from UCL from 1995. Even during the dry patches his career seemed to be somewhat removed from – let’s say – likely next steps of a drop out from a PhD programme at the University of Central Lancashire [no offence – Central Lancashire has some top people]. Nevertheless, it was nice to hear that not all had been completely on an upward curve. On a sadder note, the maths to count how many years older he was than me made me despair, though. The traditional long, free continental humanistic degree before the Bologna process clearly had its downsides... I did graduate in nine years and I was a spot-on average at the time, but that is no consolation now!

Cyprian’s stays in different universities seem to have coincided with particularly dynamic periods at different departments. The periods at Oxford and Bristol seem to have been less remarkable, but his stay at Cambridge coincided with the turbulent times at the Department of Archaeology with postprocessual archaeology making its mark. The Faculty of Classics with Anthony Snodgrass was a settled place to observe the fervent discourses. Already at Bristol Cyprian had started noticing how island archaeology with surveys and John Cherry started to make their mark. When Cyprian moved to London Peter Ucho and Stephen Shennan offered an active Instititute giving a transforming experience with discussions about the politics of archaeology and World Archaeology Congress (WAC). It can be seen, if similar dynamic period is now ahead at Cambridge.

The most important projects during his career have been the Kythera project and the recent book The Making of the Middle Sea that tracks the Mediterranean prehistory during the last 10,000 years. The latter project was dreamt up when it became clear that the study of the material from Kythera would take a considerable time. The field stage came to an end in 2004 and apparently, the study seasons came to an end year ago, but the project has not been published, yet. The book from its sister project, the Antikythera project (Bevan and Conolly), did come out last year and I myself wrote a book review to the Antiquity. The Kythera projects also had considerable historic, ethnographic and modern elements, so they are predecessors of Tom Gallant’s works on two sides of Greece at the moment.

Cyprian did refer to his coming large worldwide project. He will continue studying islands, but this time it will be at a new scale. Undoubtedly, the symposium at the end of the same week at Cambridge was related to those plans. Anyway, Cyprian’s message to the young archaeologists is to think big, believe in one’s theories and have large study areas.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Pompeii in Stockholm

The scale of the Swedish Pompeii exhibition in the Millesgården museum, statue park and art gallery on Lidingö is much smaller than that of the large Pompeii exhibition in the British Museum two years ago. However, many of the elements and – if my memory does not completely fail me – at least one of the exhibits are shared. Both exhibitions started from a door and a street space and presented a house layout and the bust of Caecilius Iucundus. However, whereas the British Museum presented a section of Roman life and a general ‘everyhouse’, the Stockholm exhibition presents one specific house, that of Caecilius Iucundus, from the Insula V,1, a block of houses that was studied by the Swedish Pompeii Project.

The visit to the exhibition was organised by the discipline of Classical Studies from the Stockholm University and it was a joint outing for the Universities of Stockholm and Uppsala. The director of the original project had been Anna-Marie Leander Touati, currently at the Lund University, who was unable to come to guide us. We were guided by Professor Arja Karivieri who had been the assistant director at the Swedish Institute at Rome and one of the field directors of the Swedish Pompeii Project. Thus, we also heard how the project came about after the Soprintendente Guzzo had invited foreign institutes and universities to excavate, record and publish blocks in Pompeii in the late 1990s. The block in question was selected through the expertise of Margareta Staub-Gierow who after her collaborations with the German excavations suggested this block due to its interesting wall painting chronology and content. The excavations started in 2000 from the northern side of the block from the Greek Epigrapher’s House and proceded the Banker’s House (of Caecilius Iucundus) and finished in the House of Bronze Bull.

The exhibition was not the largest and especially the garden part felt a little bit cramped with a bonsai and some Mediterranean herbs in pots representing the central courtyard garden and some lemon trees growing elsewhere in their large pots bringing Mediterranean vegetation in the gallery. The original items were not very many, but the selection was representative. Not all finds were from the Banker’s House but most of them were from the block studied by the Swedish team. The highlights included the bust of the Caecilius Iucundus himself, the bronze bull from the eponymous house, a set of silver bowls, plates and spoons from the same house, framed wall paintings from the Banker’s House and other buildings in the block and the copy of the frieze presenting the 62 AD earthquake from the house shrine. Much of the architectural detail was exhibition constructions and photograph mosaics, but excellent work nevertheless (even if the floor size was not correct).

A corner presenting Pompeii’s effect on the public and private architecture and sculpture in Stockholm was interesting and a TV documentary from 2003 brought the excavations and images from Pompeii to the exhibition space. There was also a brand video about a new purpose-build laser-scanned 3D stereo reconstruction. Not all furniture, doors or shutters were totally successfully modelled, but the actual scanning and the modelling of the house structure was impressive. Especially the computer-modelled peristyle courtyard garden gave a good idea of the original outlay of these town houses.

The real minus is the lack of a catalogue on sale. This is apparently due to the limited funds available, but this was something I was looking for after myself (an easy Christmas present to an Archaeologist Husband). The entrance fee is considered relatively high (150 Swedish korna), but all the costs have to be covered by the income, since this is a private foundation and no public money has been spent in the exhibition. It is a pity that the funds could not be stretched to the 'publication', since the exhibition is of national importance and was opened by the Crown Princess Victoria. As a curiosity, one can tell that due to this opening, the Director and Assistant Director of the Swedish Institute in Rome could not attend a large event day in Rome on the activities and importance of the foreign institutes, organised by the Italian Government as the EU prime minister country in Palazzo Altemps [the irony, the irony considering the recent events] and they arrived just in time to the opening of the Landscape Archaeology Conference straight from the airport. But then it was important to show loyalty to the Pompeii project and the private foundation, which has already done a laudable job with the exhibition.

Summa summarum, the exhibition is not as impressive as the British Museum exhibition that had a whole painted triclinium with its birds, authentic wooden furniture and plaster casts of the perished people, but as a presentation of a research project and its results with some good museum architecture and original items from actual buildings studied, it was a pleasant experience. Naturally, we got specialist guidance from our professor and free entry that made our visit extra special.

A Finnish friend asked if it is worthwhile for an ancient historian to travel from Helsinki to Stockholm to see the exhibition. We discussed this in the coffee table and the shared answer was "No" - unless really interested in comparing Finnish and Swedish Pompeii projects. However, the exhibition is open until mid-May, so one could do a late spring cruise with the Sweden/Finland ferry to the Värtan harbour and head to Lidingö, away from the beaten track, and enjoy the whole of the entity of the house museum and statue park as well in a better weather. There is also a castle-like Scandia hotel in the neighbourhood and a restaurant, so it could be a spring cruise holiday with a partner or friends. Then it would be worth it.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Swedish Institutes saved: the celebrations

Archaeologists at Stockholm celebrating

Yesterday, Monday November 17, brought by the eagerly waited news that the new Swedish Government withdrew its budget framework proposal and stated officially that the state funding of the Mediterranean Institutes will continue in 2017 and afterwards. This means that all those almost 14,000 supporters who signed the Save the Mediterranean Institutes petition, did help us to save the Swedish Institutes. And many who did not manage to sign were supporting in principle

Vi fikade

The government published a press release on the Education Ministry's web site around 1pm on Monday and the news spread like a wild fire (thanks our tweeting Ida, the Facebook group and private e-mails; now also in English). The news even reached the Director of the Swedish Institutes in Rome, travelling with students in Sicily. It was not only the social media but the ongoing discussion in the Swedish newspapers and blogs plus the background work of the Rectors of the Swedish Universities, the boards of different Institutes and the friends of different Institutes that did the trick - not to mention all the research, courses, talks, publications, art events, conferences and networking the Institutes do, and the support from the other institutes, foreign and national, universities, researchers and citizens. Now we all can enjoy the Institutes in the future.

The printed out petition lists and articles

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Snodfest: the children of the Classics revolution

How do you define a good professor? I got one answer last weekend in the 80th birthday conference of Anthony Snodgrass. It is clear that he did not only write groundbreaking books and start a revolution within classical archaeology by advocating survey archaeology and not concentrating on vase painting, but also nurtured a legion of students many of whom are nowadays in prominent positions all around the world. They were prepared to (wo)man three separate organising committees – one in Britain, one in Holland and one in America. Then they all flew to Britain and spent one weekend in Cambridge giving first-class papers and seemed to have great fun throughout. I know – I paid for the Saturday dinner and saw how the people in my table seized the moment to chat with their friends they had not seen socially for ages.

James Whitley, Sara Owen and Lisa Nevett present Snoddy with the book

When I heard who were organising this conference, I knew I had to be there in order to witness it, even if I had been at the Department of Archaeology and not the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge. However, I remembered a gentle, kindly spoken man during his last years in the high office at the turn of the millennium – and now all these big names were coming to one place to celebrate him. At that time I did not guess just how much of a warm group hug it all was going to be. The students and colleagues had not only prepared one, but two volumes of papers – one from his students and one from the colleagues – all given to the birthday boy in a preliminary format. An old mountaineering friend had painted a landscape to commemorate the occasion. This was even if his 90-odd years did not allow him to come to the occasion himself. It also turned out that these ‘big names’, such as Susan Alcock and Ian Morris, were good company and I had splendid time in the pub and in the ‘fun table’. I now owe Susan a pint and hope to repay one day, if I ever get to an AIA (American Institute of Archaeology) conference.

The Saturday dinner in the Cripps Court

The conference itself was top notch and all the people had taken care of preparing something special. Instead of carting to the pulpit the same old, same old, all were either presenting new research or drawing long-term conclusions out of their old projects. Thus, we heard John Bintliff to draw together 30 years of the Boeotia survey, peppered with delightful photographs from the 1980s. David Small discussed his new ideas about applying complexity theory to pre-Classical Greece – work so recent that the graphs presented only the results of a preliminary work from the Iron Age Knossos – not that he had remembered to put the titles in the graph (thus, I had an easy question to pop in the lunch table). Rolf Schneider discussed his and his student's reconstruction of the Phrygian sculpture programme of Basilica Aemilia – a piece of research that only have become possible lately when the collection of the marble fragments have been available for the scholars. Alexandra Coucouzeli discussed the potential gods in the shrine at Zagora on Andros. The absolute revelation was Tom Gallant’s project in contemporary or near contemporary archaeology in Greece, combining archaeology of field terraces and mills to the archive study of migrant flows from the Ottoman times to the free Greece. He also explained that his book on a murder on a Greek island will be made as a Hollywood movie. Why study property deeds, when you can look at a cold case straight from the archives!

Bintliff on the Boeotia survey

I also learnt more about the references to archaisms in Hellenistic art, how to study manuring in the Mediterranean and agencies presented in the pre-Classical times by a krater and a pithos. I also managed to behave like a true Oxbridge brat. The constant travelling and a late arrival night before and early departure in the morning had resulted in me being a bit zonked, so I ended up suggesting slightly in a wrong tone of voice (and actually not only slightly, but in a full-on feisty duelling mode) to de Polignac that Mill and Rajala’s ceramiscene actually had already brought the suitable concepts into the interpretation of the hinterland of a polis in Italian archaeology. Even if I tried to pacify him later by saying that I do agree with his interpretations and admire him very much, he did seem to stare me with an icy look the reminder of the time. I feel guilty now, since how much literature in Greek archaeology I have time to read?

Snoddy's postscript

Those two and half days were memorable and provided food for thought for weeks to come. After all the talks Snoddy asked the younger generation to carry the torch and remember that agriculture was during the pre-Classical times 10 times more important than commerce and the painted pottery is 10 times more important to classical archaeologists than for the people in Greece or Etruria. Slowly I have realised that with my survey work, agricultural modelling and archaeological computing, I am a Cambridge girl and actually I am part of the revolution.

Things seem always happen to me. Luckily, nothing truly serious, but again one of those unexpected little irritations and puzzlements of life. When all was over in the Snodfest, I realised that my coat had vanished. Somebody else had used the hanger I had laid my coat on in the morning and in the rack next to mine, there was another beige trench coat. Unfortunately, although it was of a more expensive make, it was a full-length male one and of no use for the shorty me. I can only commiserate the person who apparently was wearing a suit and ran away before lunch to the train station or airport – and only too late noticed that instead of his well-made and beautiful coat, he had grabbed my old £25 Tesco sad-excuse-for-a-coat that was in a desperate need of a good wash and had had half of the buttons replaced by more or less similar kind of buttons of variable colours. Good for making a bad Columbo impression but not for much else. I only still had it for that short month-or-so-long period in Stockholm between summer and winter, when it is not yet cold enough for a woolly winter coat – with no time to spare for coat shopping. Any way, the fancy coat was still in the Cripps building on Tuesday when I was in Cambridge and checked if my coat had come back. If somebody overseas is moaning about grabbing an awful coat, he can contact the porters at the Magdalene college Cambridge!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Migration and the Mediterranean – USI and the Swedish Institute in Rome together

Very demanding two weeks have come to an end. It has been a time of running from one airport to another and crisscross Europe in a couple of days intervals. It has been the most rewarding time with two major conferences – both in their own way magnificient – this week. The week has also seen more exciting events with me joining those people who leave their laptop in a taxi. Luckily, my hotel in Rome had booked the taxi to the airport, so the company they normally use could track down the driver and I got my laptop back in time for my flight. In addition, the already late aircraft was stopped in the runway due to a brief thunderstorm and hale shower. Unfortunately, the aircraft was hit by lightning, so we were forced to return to the terminal for a check-up. An hour or so later we finally made our way to the skies. I arrived home at 11pm – only to leave for a train to Cambridge 7.25am. But I made breakfast to my son before leaving!

Kristian Göransson adresses the conference

I was in Rome in the Migration and the Mediterranean conference, where a multidisciplinary group of scholars discussed the migration across the Mediterranean in the past and present. The event was organised in co-operation by the University of Rome Tre, Lund University, the Swedish Institute in Rome and USI network (Universities and Swedish Institutes). This is an example of the kind of events the Swedish Institutes host these days. Collaborative, international and bridging the past and modern times. Together with the USI network the institutes in Rome, Athens and Istanbul organise MA-level university courses that have a residential part in the Mediterranean and that are frequented by students from all over Sweden. This time – during the week when the Mare Nostrum rescue operation in Italy came to an end and was replaced by the EU border control programme Frontex – much of the attention was concentrated on the North African migration to Europe and asylum situation in relation to the war in Syria. Many of these asylum-seekers try to enter Europe via Tunisia or Libya and Lampedusa is their point of contact with European officials.

Reception in the Swedish Institute for the delegates

Almost a half of the researchers were jurists discussing the migration flows from North Africa, international sea rescue laws and marine principles, the definition of minors in the asylum process and the principle of solidarity and Dublin convention in the European Union. The director of the Swedish Institute in Rome, Kristian Göransson, talked about the early migrations of major civilisations across the Mediterranean and I presented my case study from Nepi discussing Latin colonisation as migration. My argument needs definitely more work and I overrun and had to cut my talk short, since one has to explain more to non-archaeologist audience, but I could give an inkling how a local archaeological study can have implications to regional and even global issues. I also asked people to sign the Save the Mediterranean Institutes petition.

This week saw the Swedish newspaper articles that seem to confirm that the source of the financial cut plans in regard to the Mediterranean Institutes came from the Swedish Treasury. There was also a suggestion that these plans were drawn a significant time ago and were now presented suddenly in the budget framework. Another development is that the Higher Education Minister has been asked to face the Culture committee of the Swedish Parliament in order to answer the questions about the preparations of the budget framework item(s) and if the concerned parties and stakeholders were consulted as required by the Swedish law. Apparently the law states that if the cuts have consequences in the functioning of the organisations in question, these have a right to make their case BEFORE the plans are made public. The hearing will take place on November 18 and it will definitely make interesting hearing and reading. It was confirmed in the papers that the head of the governing body of the Institutes was phoned on October 22 – a day before the plans were made public on October 23. The procedure may have been incorrect. This makes the collection of names to the petition important, since it will show the government the support, contacts and collaborations the Institutes have nationally and internationally.

The most important contribution

The opening panel in the Migration conference saw the current Swedish ambassador in Italy speaking about the ancient civilisations and their migrations and influence in the Mediterranean and over our culture in her talk. The current Italian ambassador in Sweden talked about the urgency of the migration issues in Italy and Europe and the need for co-operation. In their diplomatic and tacit ways they supported the Institute and USI in these unexpectedly turbulent times.

The conference was finished with a panel on the Syrian issue of more grass-root experts ranging from a Syrian refugee, Syrian researcher living in Sweden, Italian journalist based in Beirut and specialising in Syria and advising different public bodies and different NGOs helping Syrian refugees in Turkey and France. They had concrete suggestions how the situation could be eased or even slowly solved, but they saw a few years of war ahead of us. Some of the suggestions were such that one would have hoped that the representatives of Italian government and European Union had been present. It made a lot of sense, but the whole panel reminded everyone in the audience how much Turkey is bearing of the refugee support and how small numbers of refugees are taken officially by different European Union countries. Sweden is there among the two biggest helpers, but sadly my homeland is sticking to its traditional hundreds and my adopted homeland is not pulling its international weight.

Mare Nostrum ensemble on stage

The conference finished with a delightful concert of the Mare Nostrum ensemble, a special event organised by Roma Tre in the honour of the conference. The ensemble played Renaissance and Baroque themes that had travelled Europe-wide and influenced Bach and other great composers in order to bring a pan-European message to Rome. The lovely evening with music and song finished with a Neapoletanean version of Santa Lucia – originally a local boat song. It lightened the atmosphere after the serious discussions on Mare Nostrum, Frontex and Syria. With the openings of potential new lines of co-operations between archaeologists and lawyers, we live exciting times – and not just worrying ones.

The following sentences are left only to keep the historicity of this blog intact: "We will still need all the signatures we can get in order to show that we have support both nationally and internationally. Please, sign and tell your friends to sign too, if you already haven't:
Save the Mediterranean Institutes petition". We won! The Swedish Government has now promised to provide state funding for the Mediterranean Institutes in the foreseeable future.