Sunday, 30 August 2015

Echoes of the Summer of Love


My son's first Stonehenge (photo: P. Mills - I was driving)

Question: How do the people who are skint go to the holidays? Answer: They go and visit relatives. Quite pleasantly, my English family lives in southern England.


Don't ask about British summer weather

I have rarely been so inappropriately packed or dressed. In an extremely optimistic fashion, I dreamt of West Sussex swimming in the sunshine, us having pub lunches with the in-laws and promenading along the Brighton and Hove beach. I did not pay any attention or give a second thought to the fact that we were going to visit a community in Devon. With the attempts of self-sufficiency and all that smallholder malarkey. I had packed my decent jeans, best white shirt and a couple of summer dresses. The reality was a complete wash-down in West Sussex and a request to help to get the potatoes up in Devon. Great! I was creating that hippy look in my Desigual top I had bought for conferences. My only piece of appropriate wear were my trekking boots. I did not even have a woollen top.


We enter the car free zone

I am a complete city girl and despite being an archaeologist and standing in the rain during the working hours, I am known to refuse to go camping. You cannot predict when it is going to rain during a British summer, so no, I do day trips or could discuss chalets. Or camping vans. Nevertheless, it was lovely to spend time in the middle of the Two Moors trail in a commune where my brother-in-law is the youngest adult. The other residents were remembering being in a full summer of love mode during the Summer of Love in the year when he was born. In addition, even if some residents where living in rooms, there are also self-contained flats and central heating. Luckily to me, they have to sort out their temperamental wifi, so I had a couple of days of total social media holiday. Naturally, there was no TV, so Andrew Wallace-Hadrill and the building of Rome had to wait for another day.


Beech Hill - with not a hippy but hubby

Being the holiday season, we only had one proper communal meal on the said Thursday when Andrew had his second premier. being true to the tradition, we did have lentils. The residents were enthusiastically discussing the following evening's Jeremy Corbyn's visit to Exeter. Most had booked their tickets and Friday night in the community was very quiet. On return people were visibly energized. This is what the Labour elite is afraid of. The grass root and 'the hippies' actually like his policies.


In the walled garden

The children were enthusiastically running around with the dog and collecting the eggs in the mornings. We did a hike through the woods to the nearby village and went for lattes in the village shop. We visited the parish church and did a day trip to Exeter. We fed the children in Pizza Express and cultured ourselves in the museum afterwards. We even met the editor of the Smallholder magazine and saw my sister-in-law in its cover. Since our son really misses his cousin and wants to see her again, we will return. With excavation trousers and a woollen jumper.


You can go camping in the Beech Hill Community. They also do courses, you could participate in voluntary weeks and there is a micro B&B, too.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Death in Syria

What more could I add to the discussion after UNESCO has commemorated Khaled al-Asaad and many illustrious scholars, such as Dan Snow have had their say? The execution of Khaled al-Asaad has been described in a minute detail in various papers, such as the Independent, the Guardian and on BBC. The venerable Howard Williams in his ArchaeoDeath blog already analysed why somebody would like to kill archaeologists. There has been a web article by Kristina Killgrove describing the response from the archaeologists. My Finnish colleague Sanna Aro-Valjus, an assyriologist, hittitologist, classical archaeologist and a general Middle East specialist from the University of Helsinki, has already commemmorised her meeting with the Syrian scholar in Palmyra. A few Finnish colleagues have remembered their visits to Palmyra, part of the tour to commemorate the opening of the Finnish Institute in Damascus that sadly coincided with the prelude of the Syrian civil war. The institute had to move from the newly restored old-fashioned town house in Old Town Damascus in a few years after it had opened.

The sudden emergence of the first martyr archaeologist coincides with a time when there is a lively discussion on Mediterranean population movements going on in Finland and many other countries. These discussions have partly been carried out in a nasty, right-wing xenophobic tone where people wonder aloud why young men flee countries like Syria, Libya and Afghanistan and the people fleeing mostly Syria, Iraq and other fighting hotspots – or coming from sub-Saharan Africa, known for desertification, increased militant activity and other problems – are lumped all together as ‘migrants’ in the media. People wonder why would people flee places like Syria where the ethnic matrix of the villages in a rich cultural and religious mosaic has collapsed and different fractions and militant groups are fighting non-democratic ‘central’ government and each other with unsurprising collateral damage. Journalists have pointed out that young men did flee Karjala when it became part of the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War and if we had not helped those people, who conveniently were our own countrymen, our history in Finland had been quite different.

Khaled al-Asaad was part of the establishment in the Assad Syria, but he is revered for his work for his site. He was an old man and his son, who was still working in Palmyra, was apparently spared and is now in Damascus, if we can believe governmental reports. He was clearly respected among the Palmyra researchers and others who visited the site and he was a local man, proud of his own heritage. His death was potentially an exemplary one – at least all archaeologists were not executed. But he was apparently tortured before the execution while questioned about the ‘hidden treasures’ and ‘gold’. This suggests that ultimately, this was all about the money.

Howard asked in his blog ‘who kills archaeologists’ and rightfully pointed out how illicit trade of antiquities feeds violence and crime. He names bigots and fundamentalists. Al-Asaad was a symbol of the old regime, with his contacts to Damascus and knowledge of everything at the site. The Caliphate erases the churches and monasteries of the other faiths in their areas in Syria and Iraq and they say this is in order to create a religious state and they are demolishing the shrines and idols of the infidels. However, their actions actually tell another story. About men wanting absolute power and being able to fulfil all their wishes of violence and carnal pleasures along the way. They can drive people to slavery and use executions, shock, horror and rape as tactics in terrorising people under their power. They raise funds for their ‘state’ with antiquities and I would not be surprised if drugs move around as well. That is after all what Afghanistan lives on. Drugs, illicit antiquities and humans are the merchandise and trades all criminal organisations dabble with and they bring in currency. One can only look at what kept the militant organisations in Northern Ireland and South America going.

Now we have an archaeologist who was killed because he was ultimately an archaeologist. Suddenly, one of us has been murdered and it was because the ancient stones (or ‘the treasures’) are so important in this context. But his violent execution and the way his body was handled in order to scare and give the inhabitants of Palmyra and other areas a warning stands also as a monument to those nameless people in Syria and Iraq and Libya who have lost their lives and when fleeing the papers call ‘migrant’ in a dehumanising way. It has been pointed out how countless numbers of people cannot leave whichever troublesome area they are in Syria but some of them engage in humanitarian acts in wherever they are. These are the people we normally do not hear, the normal Syrians who show courage, mercy and compassion.

The death of Khaled al-Asaad makes suddenly the whole situation in Syria even more personally felt. The narrative is not any more just about abstract heritage or a series of stones bulldozed. It is now about people dying for what they stand for and what they stand for is what I and my colleagues stand for: the preservation of the past for and to the future. Our task is not possible without people, so we as archaeologists could do worse than show respect and compassion not only towards those who are our fellow archaeologists, but also towards those who do not get media attention, who preserve the remnants of the civilised society among the carnage and turmoil, who flee the persecution and are in the mercy of traffickers, the sea and the militants and may enter Europe. We should remember them when the politicians and media talk about the nameless masses who dare to try to survive and risk drowning in the process.

No, I did not visit Palmyra or meet Dr al-Asaad, but I visited other Syrian places and met other Syrian archaeologists, however briefly. Now I and we can at least show some solidarity towards the Syrians. It is cheap and easy to spare a few moments to write a few lines or share a social media post or image in the safety of our own homes.


I was going to write about Roman roads in the Midlands until the 18th of August, 2015. For obvious reasons, those photographs and thoughts can wait another week. Sometimes the world events take over the aspects of our lives.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Heritage, landscape and worth protesting – Nineladies ecowarriors meet heritage crime

When one arrives to the Nine Ladies stone circle one cannot escape from hearing the noises of quarrying. Large lorries drive regularly up and down narrow Derbyshire Dale lanes – I ended up having an encounter. I had truly arrived to the site of the longest running protest camp in the UK history.

A visitor starts to feel there is something special of this place when one notices a large number of votives hanging from an oak tree nearest to the stone circle. Not all visits are recreational or by trekking parties but by people having religious beliefs who find this place spiritual. I had heard about the protests from my friend who used to go to the Stonehenge midsummer happenings before the children. I had come to a place that represents the many challenges facing the archaeologists, heritage professionals, local communities and environmentalists. We definitely have both local, national and world-wide issues. A parable of our modern times.

The Nine Ladies protest camp came to an end in April 2010. For almost nine years the ecowarriors manned and womanned their tree houses and tepees in order to fight the Peak District National Park being used for quarrying. Early this millennium a quarry company called Stancliffe Stone told about their plans to reopen Endcliffe and Lees quarries at Stanton Moor. A Stanton Lees Action Group was formed and a group of people concerned of the environmental consequences moved in to the vicinity of the circle and did not leave even if they received orders to leave. When the situation was the most heated in 2004 with an imminent eviction order hanging above the heads of the tree house dwellers, there were more than 100 protestors on the site.

Ultimately, the protesters did not leave until the then local government secretary Hazel Blears had decided that Stancliffe Stone's planning permission was to be revoked and the company got in exchange the right to quarry at Dale View, in an area that was less sensitive. The last 20 protesters did not pack up until they had the decision in writing. This was a story of co-operation and resilience where the ecowarriors in and out of tree houses worked with the local community to counteract the quarry that would have had grave consequences to the nearest village.

The stone circle lies now at the crossroads of trekking routes and a continuous stream of visitors passes by while visiting the Peak District. However, not all visitors approach in peace. There was a cardboard sign from Historic England noting the damage to the site from August 1. This was accompanied by a small feather votive. The letters carved to the 10th flat stone were easy to spot. In addition, one of the upright standing stones had painted graffiti on it. This is low-level heritage crime, something nobody is going to pursuit. Nevertheless, it is highly detrimental to this site and similar damage is inflicted to other sites. Even Colosseum does not escape this type of vandalism.

So, the lessons of my visit? The communities have to fight any silly plans, since it has been made quite clear that there is no local empowerment but central government tries to forward plans in the name of ‘progress’. They can be successful if the joint effort and an undeniable case for preservation is there. In addition, our heritage will require respect and this will take some education. Teenagers on a dull weekend evening will do silly things but they will perhaps know better in the future.

The protestors at Old Oswestry Hillfort, the spirit of Nine Ladies is clearly with you.


Photographs from the Ecowarrior Camp, not preserved to the new generations, on Colin MacPherson's web page.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

France in Britain


Creswell Crags

This week flipping between entertaining my son on summer holiday and all the things I should do in two weeks are taking their toll. The blog will be short, but presenting a magical place on the boundary of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire where one can imagine being in France. Yes, this landscape at Creswell Crags is like the limestone cliffs of Dorgdogne. If you bring your baguettes and red wine [analcoholic if driving] with you to the picnic, you will be whisked momentarily somewhere else. Like teleporting in Star Trek, but instantly achievable with a car and one hour up M1.


Around the Dog Hole cave

Similarly to the limestone cliffs of Dordogne, Creswell Crags dons a series of caves. Not as deep and breathtaking, but the only site in Britain with cave art. There are no paintings, but scratchings and carvings in the walls of a few of the caves. These depict bisons, deer and birds. Some are clear, but some need all the imagination you have in order to be separated from the folds in the rock.


The Museum

This place was known to have had ancient human visits since the late 19th century, but the cave art was found in the early 2000s. The museum opened in 2009 and I noticed that the Heritage Lottery funding for the Limestone Journeys, having modest funding for improvements in the visitor experience and recording and caring about dry stone walling, will finish this year. Considering the huge savings that have to be made in unprotected departments in the national budgets, will Creswell Crags Museum be open in five years? The Snibston Discovery Museum in Coalville is no more, since the Leicestershire council closed it down at the end of July - and has to pay back grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund. How many other lovely museums and local resources will close in the future? My advice is to visit now.


'Exploring Archaeology online - Stonehenge, Creswell Crags and beyond' in Chesterfield in September 2015 (3 Saturdays from September 12) and in Derby in October 2015 (3 Saturdays from October 3), organised by the WEA.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

The roads to Volterra


Roman theatre from the Pinacoteca

This summer’s major trip to Italy was a week-long round trip from Rome to Volterra. This trip was financed from the grants from V√§steuropastipendier and Enboms donationsfond from the Swedish Kungliga Vitterhetsakademien (the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters). I got these grants and a third one from the Gihls fond in order to realign the Stockholm Volterra Project from an educational summer course with scientific content into a proper research project. This journey around Lazio and Tuscany was a preparatory visit in order to form and plan collaborations and discuss our fieldwork at a later stage during the academic year 2015/2016 with the authorities in Volterra.


Scaffolding stored in the BSR

Our small group consisted of three people: I who had organised all by booking the car and hotels and making all but one of the appointments, Professor Arja Karivieri from Classical Archaeology who is the main responsible for the Volterra research project and an ancient DNA expert Christos Economou from the Stockholm human DNA laboratory. We had five very pleasant days that also allowed me to assess the different routes to Volterra for further planning.


A site model in the Superintendency laboratory in Ponte di Nona

The fact that Director Kristian G√∂ransson was on summer holiday in Sweden allowed me to swap a visit to the Swedish Institute in Rome to a courtesy visit to the British School at Rome. When stepping in, I was encountered a huge mountain of different parts of scaffolding stored into the entrance hall. This felt more a building site than a research institute. Half of the School is behind scaffolding and I could hear the voices of Italian workmen together with the sounds of advancing work. Apparently, there is a big green sustainability renovation project going on that will cut electricity and heating consumption by 25 %. The rooms will be warmer in the winter and the majority of the work will be concluded this summer; updates can be found in the BSR blog. The BSR also has a new cook. This brings in mind the time when I was finishing the excavations at Cisterna Grande in February 2008 and simultaneously managing the work of the Roman pottery and CBM expert Phil Mills in Civita Castellana for the Nepi Survey. He could not work on Fridays when the museum custodian was not working and arrived to the BSR for weekends. I joined him for a dinner every Friday he was in Italy and was faced with the fish suppers. Well, Fridays are Catholic fasting days and we had many pleasant evenings before I returned to the northern suburbs for Saturday mornings’ excavations.


From Frescati to Frascati - DNA experts Flavio and Christos

The following day we had meetings in the Superintendency compound in Ponte di Nona and the University of Rome Tor Vergata in order to discuss possibilities for future collaboration between anthropologists and the ancient DNA laboratories in Stockholm and Rome. We had a fruitful meeting at the Superintendency with the Head of Anthropology Paola Catalano and her team. Then an Italian ancient DNA expert Flavio De Angelis presented us the Tor Vergata laboratory facilities, parts of which are in Frascati. Since the Wallenberg laboratories where the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies is based is located in an area called Frescati and the new university buildings are raised in Albano, this seems a collaboration that is meant to be. Before heading to Volterra we also had a pleasure to meet briefly the Head of the Centre of Molecular Anthropology for ancient DNA studies Olga Rickards.


Porta Etrusca depicted in an ash urn

From Rome I drove us to Volterra. I learnt that I should not take the inland route in the evenings, since the sun almost blinded me when we turned towards Volterra. With pedestrians and other cars on the local roads, this is something to be avoided. However, it was sunny and lovely in Volterra and our visit got a pleasant start with a meal in the restaurant with an Etruscan well (actually Medieval). The following day we had a meeting with Intendent Elena Sorge from the Superintendency in order to pencil the future GPR surveys and another one with Director of the Pinacoteca Alessandro Furiesi.


Inside Tomb of the Caecinae

We also had time to introduce the main sites and museums to our new member Christos. We started with the Pinacoteca and continued later with the Guarnacci Etruscan Museum. Since we had a car, we could go to see sites that are slightly apart and difficult to cover in one day. Thus, we had an opportunity to visit the mounds at Il Portone and have one of my little adventures, this time concerning a car wheel and a rainwater channel that had opened to the widening of the road, meant for parking. Luckily, the other visitors and bypassers helped to sort this out in no time and we could marvel a multichamber tomb and the round tomb of the Caecina family, similar to the famous Tomba Inghirami, reconstructed in the Archaeological Museum in Florence. We could also visit Porta Docciola with its fountain and go and photograph the large collapse hole Le Balze from the north-eastern side of the town.


Le Balze with Badia (left) and the church of San Giusto (right)

After a brief but intensive stop in Pisa we took Arja to the Pisa airport and I and Christos returned to Rome using the coastal motorway. Thursday in Volterra had been hot and dry, but on Friday morning it was clear that there had been a scirocco rain during the early morning and everything was cooler. Rome at the start of the August holidays was sticky and humid. After finding a petrol station near Portus and making our surprising way back to the terminal, I was wondering how the flight would turn out to be. There had been a grass and pine forest fire in Fiumicino on Wednesday and power cut at the airport on Thursday and these delayed some flights. My flight was late, but we heard later that this was due to swapping the cabin crews and planes at Gatwick earlier. Nevertheless, first we lacked the personnel to load the luggage into the hold and then the worker to tug the plane from the terminal had wandered off, so I was at Gatwick very late indeed. Luckily, I have not lost anything from my Interrail skills after it became clear that the hourly bookable Yotel was full and I had to wait for four hours for my 5.50 am first bus to Leicester. An old pro sleeps anywhere! To the hilarity of my husband, I also slept until late Saturday afternoon at home – to more simulate the student years.


Sunset above Volterra

Sunday, 26 July 2015

CHAP as I know it

A few years back I was getting more involved in community archaeology in Leicestershire, but then I was catapulted for 20 months to Sweden and lost somewhat from my sight the matters local. While I was away, the local parties in Beaumont Leys got the Castle Hill Archaeology Project (CHAP) going and dug their first test pit in 2014. This summer the project had a long weekend of activities near Castle Hill as part of the Festival of Archaeology that finishes this very weekend.

This being a school holiday season, I went to see the open visits on the Sunday with my son. The project had very considerately sent invitations to the local schools to be included in children’s book bags, so we were welcomed very generously. Not that there had been many visitors – the test pits locating in a plantation outside the actual Castle Hill, away from the occasional walkers’ eyes – but after we arrived there was a nice little group coming from the village of Anstey.


The view from Castle Hill

Castle Hill has had many uses and Beaumont Leys is famous mainly of its Iron Age sites, partly excavated as part of development work. It has earthworks, a squarish wall around an area on the top of the hill, similar to some other Knights Templar sites, and some other humps and bumps, sadly related mainly to the 19th century sewage works. The older structures have a connection to the Knights Hospitallers from the 14th to the 15th century, although much more exciting is its connection to the Knights Templar – however short in the 13th century AD. There are also Roman and Iron Age finds from both the earlier checks and found by CHAP.


Boundary ditch

The main idea this summer was to cut a trench through the ancient boundary ditch between Beaumont Leys/Leicester and Anstey. There were also displays of the site and old maps of the area and the park ranger Stefan, a long-term activist, had a folder full of recent material, such as the Lidar images from the University of Leicester (the Lidar data from the Environmental Agency will become open soon, so all with a suitable viewer will share the view of this site and others in the future). Sadly, the clay soil is hard and the trench was only started with the people digging it having to go away on Sunday.


The slates covering the ditch

Nevertheless, two test pits had been dug and there were bones and grey ware iron Age pottery for my son to marvel. The test pits were dug in places chosen subjectively, with one aiming to see to the Anstey side of the boundary ditch and the other lying in the wider area of the fish ponds drainage. The test pit in the latter area hit some kind of ditch covered with slates a gentleman was preparing to draw when we arrived. My son got his first real feeling of archaeology when cleaning the pit floor – not that his concentration stayed there long. He truly enjoyed the experience, though.

The future for CHAP may be interesting. They have approached tentatively English Heritage/Historic England on the possibility to do something within the Castle itself, a scheduled monument managed by the organisation. With their connections to Peter Liddle and a couple of us professional archaeologists in Anstey, I am sure they will have no problems to develop the project further.

Castle Hill site:
Historic England entry
Pastscape entry




The tomb and the monument

My other chap of the week was Richard III. I finally managed to visit the Cathedral on another day than Sunday, when they tend to keep it closed from tourists for services and such like. The tomb was simple but monumental. The week brought the news that the Visitor’s Centre nearby had missed its visitor target of 100,000. I just hope that the future expansion and revamp of the Jewry Wall Museum, with the old Vaughan College property purchased by the City developed, will lure the tourists. At least the site will improve, when the nice museum is not shadowed by the sad, abandoned college building.


The installation before reburial

Sunday, 19 July 2015

When in Bristol – in praise of regional museums


Entrance to the Museum in Bristol

I had just managed to visit the Newarke House Museum in Leicester with my son, when the news reached me that the city of Leicester considers selling the property to the De Montford University. The venerable Peter Liddle delivered a link to the petition, which I duly signed. As I also signed the petition against the closure of the Snibston Discovery Park by the very same Leicestershire County Council that some years ago ‘let Peter Liddle go’. As the petition made clear, the last thing Coalville needs is more housing in the area that is now the Discovery Park and the conservation area. It is a declining place, a former pit town, with little hope if Snibston goes. Some people will stay and commute to Leicester and East Midlands Airport to work, but no groups will come to marvel the place for any reason. Similarly, the beautiful fashion collection will be placed behind a lock and key.


Shaun the Sheep

Similar news of selling museums and closing doors come from places such as Lincoln and the heritage professionals try desperately to remind the decision makers how much cultural economy actually creates wealth. Nevertheless, with the conservative government wanting to create a small state, it will be difficult to keep heritage going. If there will not be enough money for the NHS, what hope do archives or museum storage have? Somehow the government seem to hope that ‘community projects’ (i.e. people doing professional work for free) will rescue the sector, which after all is dear to many party supporters. In the end the question is, whose responsibility is our past and heritage?


The mound frieze

Which kind of entity will be responsible for saving the memory of the past generations to the future? Will it be private beneficiaries? Will it be the private citizens? Will it be the local companies? Will it be the multinational corporations? As UNESCO and other organisations acknowledge by making agreements with countries and governments, this responsibility lies with the STATES. If the state cannot fulfil its functions, it will be neither Great nor Britain, since the memories will be lost. It is quite sad that one has to remind people about the fundamental responsibilities while they are hoping to engage the public with the discussion of the urgent problem of aggressive seagulls – while museums are closed, planning departments are strained under work, Greece is going down, young doctors will be forced to work unsocial hours and parents are not allowed a say in the status of the local schools (when did ‘forced’ action become the default policy for everything? What happened to ‘local empowerment?). Some people seem to get their priorities just right...


The Nimrud frieze

Anyway, let’s remind us what marvellous things our museum sector has and does. I had to visit Bristol this week for a job interview and after a long time could pay a visit to the local Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. I admit, many of the older collections in this museum originate from the colonial times, but who could not marvel the impeccable Egyptian collection or try to trace the puzzle of the origins of the Nimrud friezes. When a small room in a museum allows local children the same kind of attachment to the origins of our Western Civilization as the British Museum, isn’t it wonderful? The items, such as a Benin head, may have been taken and sold without the consent of the real owners, the peoples of different colonised countries, but their sheer existence allows important discussions to take place in the class room locally and raise awareness of contemporary issues.


Benin heads in Bristol

I wandered through the displays of local dinosaur finds and thought that my son would love to be there as well. I encountered the Victorian and Edwardian paintings and was thinking how this collection, even if smaller than in Birmingham, has some pretty beautiful examples of Pre-Raphaelites and even a nice piece from my all time kitsch favourite Alma-Tadema. There are Pissarros from France and paintings from Gainsbourough and others from the 18th century, not to mention Elizabethan portraits. Even Martin Luther is there on the wall. Where did the 19th century sense of providing citizens with educational experiences disappear? The high-class members of societies and corporations may have been slightly patronising, but they put together beautiful collections to show city-dwellers.


A painting by Alma-Tadema

This was repeated all over Britain during the Victorian times. Flinders Petrie’s expeditions to Egypt were financed by these regional museums and that is why you have these beautiful Egyptian collections in cities like Leicester. Then you have the Pre-Raphaelites in Birmingham and German expressionists in Leicester again. Derby has its Wright collection and Etruria its potters. Are we heading towards a new dark age when this all is lost? Collections need dependable funding for decades, not project funding. This type of monies comes only from a state and official bodies, not fickle private donors.