Sunday, 4 October 2015

New finds from Volterra to Pompeii

The remains of the apparent side wall of the oval arena (Photo: Repubblica Firenze)

I have been lately been making plans for the Stockholm Volterra Project with the knowledge that some exciting new finds have been made there and elsewhere. The finding of a possible amphitheatre was declared the most important find of its kind in 100 years – one can consider semantically, if this refers to the amphitheatre finds or monuments in Volterra in general. In any case, the site has remained unnoticed for hundreds of years since its use during the Roman times.

If we move to Rome itself, the new 6th-century BC house remains from the Quirinale Hill have got a lot of attention. In the images the site looks really exciting, but one should not forget that the find like this is to be expected within the area of Archaic Rome. The houses in the 19th century in the area were built with such a hurry that most of the archaeology went unaccounted for in the feverish building works. The new capital of the unified Italy needed new quarters and when one now looks at the urban structure around the Presidential Palace and Via Nazionale it is clear that this neighbourhood was formed in a couple of decades. The fact that the archaeologists then could keep track of some of the burials towards Esquiline is next to a miracle. We can just guess what disappeared in the feverish building activity – and in the light of this new find, what is lurking within the cellars and foundations in the area.

Linked image of the houses on the Quirinale Hill (from Corriere Web Roma site)

The finds came from inside Palazzo Canevari, the former geological institute, from the area of Largo di Santa Susanna, between Piazza Barberini and Piazza Repubblica. The Soprintendenza assumed that the area may have a cemetery, but found 6th century houses instead. The degree of surprise of course is related to the perception of Archaic Rome. We do have the houses of the same period from the Palatine Hill. Of course, it is the slope of the Palatine Hill, the area of the House of Rex Sacrorum, so this was a tone through from the Forum. Nevertheless, the area where Palazzo Canevari is did locate inside the ‘Archaic’ city walls that one can see standing by the Termini train station. Of course, the Archaic character of the walls have been questioned and they have been dated to the Republican period, but the 6th century walls are also known from Veii, so this area was likely to lie within the residential area. Livy's historic references to the expansion of Rome around 500 BC suggest that there were some wide-spread residental areas around Rome during the 6th century.

Linked image from inside Palazzo Canevari (from Repubblica Roma)

I was also relatively unsurprised by the find, since there is ample evidence from elsewhere in central Italy of Archaic houses with stone foundation and sometimes with stone walls. This may surprise some of my colleagues, since I am known to favour so-called low count for the Early Iron Age population numbers. However, here we are talking of the Archaic period and 6th century BC. My view is that from the looser Iron Age villages grew the denser ‘hut’ town areas of central Italy and during the Archaic period proper urban areas with rectangular houses. The Rome must have quite large. Thus, the lack of houses is down to the fact that the areas within the Archaic Rome are covered by built modern town. When the archaeologists start to dig deep enough, they will found more of these structures, if they have not been dug away when the foundations were put in place.

Specialists from the Soprintendenza scanning a cast

More exciting news are coming from Pompeii, where different cemetery excavation projects are revealing new details of the individuals and their origins and health. The Anglo-Spanish excavations at Porta Nola and the Soprintendenza have just released information about the scanning of the casts made in the 19th century of the victims of the volcanic eruption. The BSR blog written by Stephen Kay tells in general of the project and describes briefly the CAT scans that have been done as part of the project by the Soprintendenza. Daily Mail (yes, in archaeology news indispensable, no matter one thinks about it otherwise) has published a series of photos in the article that show the internal remains within the casts. The real surprise has been the good teeth these Romans had. The diet was apparently low in sugar so there were few cavities.

Linked image of the vases (photo: Bastien Lemaire)

Elsewhere, the French excavations at Porta Ercolano revealed a Samnite cist grave with all its southern Italian painted vases. Ever so often one only sees these vases in the museums, so it was exciting to see them in situ, even if broken down. They will be conserved into their previous glory. This grave is from the pre-Roman period in the 4th century BC. Well recorded tombs of this period will help to tell the story of Pompeii in the multicultural Bay of Naples.

Linked image of the cist (Photo: Géraldine Bénit)

Sunday, 27 September 2015

On Watling Street

It has been lately suggested that I should use a common hashtag, used by many archaeologists that study Roman roads. Call me old-fashioned but I just do not get myself using regularly items that contain a concept for rude movies and other adult entertainment. No matter if I am talking casually on Twitter about tombs or other things I feel passionately about. I do understand it is an inside joke and meant to emphasise the awesome qualities of the photo attached, but after testing it once, I have just decided to convey awesomeness otherwise. Not for me. No #tomb***, #road*** or #wall***, I am a Finnish feminist.

Earlier during the summer I was about to write about Roman roads, but then Syria took over. This week I did my casual Twitter following of a conference some of my friends were invited to give talks in. This Past Communities & Landscapes conference was all about my favorites, landscapes and identities, and it related to the EngLaId - English Landscapes & Identities project, funded by the European Research Council (ERC) and run at the University of Oxford. The project uses the data from different research collaborators, such as the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), the National
 Mapping Programme of the English Heritage (now Historic England), Archaeology Data Service (ADS), British Museum and different Historic Environment Registers. It aims at analysing change and continuity from the Middle Bronze Age (c. 1500 BC) to the Middle Ages, up to the compilation of the Domesday book (c. AD 1086).

In his opening talk Chris Gosden presented a map that used the project data in order to present archaeological complexity. Here the density of different site types stand as a proxy for complexity in a long-term time scale covering the whole study period of the project. Thus, the key areas defined by the project as their main key study stand out - as seem to do the Roman roads of Watling Street and Fosse Way. The complexity of these two areas will come as no surprise and probably as a default, since the Roman roads were lined by rural sites, villages and inns, not to mention the hierarchical settlement pattern with luxurious villas and palaces for the top echelons of the society. However, it is interesting, how clearly this complexity can be picked up from a big data survey.

This summer I went for a picnic with my son to Wall village to see the local remains of Roman baths and mansio. The weather was not the best, but it was not raining. Nowadays, A5 bypasses the village, but the original line of the Roman road still runs through the village and from the slope next to the pub it was possibly to see how the modern busy road continues to join the different parts of England as it did two thousand years ago. This village was once a Roman minor aggregated settlement called Letocetum and had it been the right weekend (of course, I was there in the middle of the week), I could have entered the small volunteer-run museum.

From the graveyard to the ruins of Letocetum

Wall is a lovely place, worth visiting for the little Victorian church alone. This church of St John was drawn by Moffat and Scott and finished in 1843. Sir Gilbert Scott became the leading architect of the Gothic Revival and the tense atmosphere is clear on the spot.

The church of St John dominates the ruins

Sunday, 20 September 2015

By the river Bytham

Things do not always go to the plan and last Thursday things were not turning out as expected for the Leicestershire Fieldworkers’ lecture event in the Jewry Wall Museum. Not only was the equipment playing up, but also the person giving the presentation had had a long day and the PowerPoints did not play ball. Thus, instead of hearing about the LiDAR survey across Bradgate Park and the specifics of the University of Leicester project there, we got a presentation about the Palaeolithic and the earliest humans in Leicestershire and Rutland. It was slightly unexpected, but in the end we got a fascinating story from Lynden Cooper – even if the only presentation he could find was originally meant for local primary school teachers. It had the Bradgate Park test pitting in it.

The river Bytham and Brookesby

I did not know that we living near Bradgate Park are living along the Pre-Anglian river Bytham – if not actually in the river. Archaeologists from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS) visit Brookesby Quarry every week until there are no more Ascheulian deposits to be found. This is a site that shows that the Palaeolithic people did not only make stubbornly hand axes no matter where they were, but adapted to the local geology. When they had flint or perhaps rhyolite from Wales, they made a proper hand axe, but otherwise they just kept knapping the local quartzite and selected flakes chopped from cores to have knives to cut their prey.

Coring in Brookesby Quarry (image via ADS/East Midlands research frameworks)

The other Palaeolithic sites were considerably younger. The second site presented, Glasdon, could have been one of the last places for the Neanderthals. This site had earlier activities with now-exotic animals roaming in Leicestershire. Woollen rhinos wandered in the landscape near a hyena den. A field day for the zoo-osteologist when he could use the Africa pages of his reference book.

The third site was from the period of the famous Cheddar caves in the south-west. This site also brought us to the original topic of the evening, the Bradgate Park project. In 2001 the unique open Creswellian site, culture named after the famous cave art site of Creswell Crags, was found eroding down in Bradgate Park. The change of management in the deer park meant that there was interest among the managers in archaeology alongside natural environment. Thus, the management plan, mostly funded by Natural England, incorporates also assessing the archaeological assets. In 2014 archaeologist from the University could made tiny 50 cm x 50 cm test pits when the bracken had been cut back and find out that some of the cultural layers were still there. This week the work is starting again and perhaps in the next few months we will learn much more about this exceptional place.

What we know is interesting enough. It is considered to be a ‘clean’ Creswellian site, so the finds are more or less in situ. It is defined by bladelet production and the finds include a Cheddar point and some scrapers and piercers that show that the activities at the site are likely to have been many-faceted. While all the other known sites from Britain are from caves, this is an open air site. It is very near the surface, just underneath the turf. That makes it so vulnerable in an extremely popular outdoors area.

Testpitting 2014

At this point Lyndon referred briefly to the Bradgate Park project as a whole. Currently, it is made up by three different things: 1) the LiDAR survey, 2) the test pitting and excavation of the Palaeolithic site, and 3) the field school studying the Medieval structures and the Tudor Bradgate House. At the end of the project these three lines of enquiry will be brought together and we will know more about the many landscapes of Bradgate Park, perhaps the only manor house park in Britain that never experienced the re-landscaping by Capability Brown into an English landscape garden

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Stonehenge II to the rescue

Stonehenge 1 (photo: P. Mills)

In archaeology we do not have Ant and Dec, but we do have our favourite Geordies, the Gaffney brothers, Vince and Chris. Both professors are now back at Bradford – and how successful their reunion has been! Recently, the Doggerland has been again in the news. Then, we got the sensational news from Stonehenge – Stonehenge II and its invisible stone lines underground.

Ant and... I mean Vince and Chris Gaffney (photo: ChronicleLive)

The University of Bradford is famous for its geophysics. The late Arnold Aspinall was a true pioneer of the archaeological geophysics equipment and use and the Gaffneys were his pupils. Alongside pottery distributions and geophysics, Vince is also one of the pioneers of GIS research and his book with Stancic on the island of Hvar is still essential reading, even if hardware and software have seriously moved on. He was also involved in the study of Forum Novum as part of the Tiber Valley Project of the British School at Rome where GPR was used extensively to find an amphitheatre, for example. Chris is a true geophysics specialist, as his long-term involvement with Time Team shows. Chris recently visited Finland and I heard only lovely things from my colleagues about his demonstrations during fieldwork at different important sites.

The reconstruction of Stonehenge II (Ludvig Boltzmann Institute)

In my New Year’s blog I was assessing last year’s archaeological finds and instead of emphasising the importance of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape project, I wanted to lift up the monitoring of the heritage in Syria. I still stand behind that personal evaluation, partly that sentence ‘they basically found a couple of pits – I am unimpressed’ blurted by one of my colleagues still ringing in my ears. Well, now the international collaborative project has found seriously more than a couple of pits. A whole curved line of stones, 30 intact, hidden below the surface using ground-penetrating radar. Some of these were up to 4.5m high. There were signs of 60 more originally standing stones, either fragments of them or the anomalies related to their wide foundation pits. The monument seems to have been demolished and redeveloped when the Durrington Walls 40-metre-wide superhenge was erected by the Neolithic builders. This hints to religious changes during the Neolithic period and continuous change in the Stonehenge landscape.

HOOOH comparison (images: the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape partners and HOOOH)

The announcement and the press release happened at the eve of the British Science festival in Bradford. It was ‘archaeology on steroids’ as suggested by Vince. One of the immediate reactions was Tom Holland’s tweet suggesting how foolish the tunnel option for the A303 will be in light of this new find. More importantly, the HOOOH, while trying to save the Old Oswestry Iron Age Hillfort landscape being cannibalised by development piece by piece, was watching, reading and reacting. The RESCUE had already pointed out in their scathing statement that the council had not carried out an archaeological evaluation – and in the light of this new find this seems a foolish disregard. Now the HOOOH has published a statement in Facebook where it declares just this lack in knowledge and reminds of the impressive group of scholars and backers who value greatly the whole landscape, ranging from Lord Renfrew to Professors Richard Bradley and Colin Haselgrove.

It is also interesting to note how the ‘business men’ behind these developments and councils forget the importance of tourism as one economic factor when discussing these monuments. Nobody will want to see the 117 houses planned, the visitors come to see Old Oswestry – and Stonehenge I and II – in its setting.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Blown away - into a sound of silence?

Palmyra in Google Earth

It was the eve of the Big Birthday of assyriologist and hittitologist Sanna Aro-Valjus when the news started to circle. On her birthday it became clear that we have lost the Temple of Bel in Palmyra in Syria. Another round of media attention, another round of interviews for the specialists. The complications of the situation are clear and the scholarly world is split: show we talk and share information of heritage in danger or should we be quiet, silence the IS and take away its propaganda outlet, cut the oxygen?

Temple of Bel (photo: Wikimedia)

Cornell assistant professor of Near Eastern Studies Lori Khatchadourian suggests the latter and she is correct, if the only motivation for the Daesh is to irritate the west. On the other hand, it appears that the destruction of the funerary towers came only into light, because archaeologists were monitoring the Palmyra area and noticed that the monuments had disappeared. This act is more likely to be a result of plundering the monuments for illicit antiquities used apparently to fund the organisation. This motive for the recent destruction has been suggested by the Lebanese-French archaeologist Joanne Farchakh. Would the suggested media silence help or hinder the work people do against the spread of illicit antiquities originating from Syria?

Temple of Bel (photo: Wikimedia)

ASOR Syrian Heritage Inititative by the The American Schools of Oriental Research has written a very sensitive report about the destruction in Palmyra, not only the destruction of monuments and loss of cultural property, but also of human loss. This report is exactly the kind of monitoring by the specialists and heritage professionals as Lori Khatchadourian is calling for during the media silence. Nevertheless, if there is a media silence, how this information will be shared among the scholars in these times of Facebook and Twitter? Would it be totally beneficial, if the real damage is only whispered among the chosen ones in the back cabinets of the UNESCO or equivalent?

The illicit trade and trafficking are to be discussed in a conference in Sofia, Bulgaria, organised by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Sofia and the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research with the patronage of UNESCO. The Balkans are a major route for human and immobile trafficking and working together with the Bulgarian Ministry of Culture, the Bulgarian Interior Ministry, the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus and a Dutch non-governmental organisation called “Walk of Truth” the Norwegian partners will try to find ways to stop the trade. The key note speakers include Dr Neil Brodie, a known specialist and researcher on illicit antiquities, and Dr Rubina Raja, a known scholar of history of religions at Aarhus, Denmark, so the potential is there, partly depending who are attending the workshops and roundtables advertised. It can raise awareness among the border guards, local professionals, auction houses and private museums and collectors alike. It will facilitate and increase international collaboration as well.

The preservation of cultural heritage, the combat against trafficking, the protection of refugees and multicultural tolerance are themes that join the positive voices in different discussions on Syria and the Mediterranean ‘migration’ crisis. Tim Whitmarsh and Tom Holland wrote in the Guardian about Palmyra as a symbol of syncretism and mutual tolerance, as a monument to all the Daesh seems to stand against. These voices definitely were worth reading and hearing in the current refugee situation.

In reality, it may in occasions be that the Daesh does not really care always what the West thinks. Part of the destruction may be for internal discussion and local politics. The Wahhabi Sunni ideology against worshiping idols has been used to explain the apparent disregard the Saudi government has shown to the heritage in Mecca and Medina. The original monuments from the times of Mohammed and his family members and disciplines have been erased in order to accommodate the crowds taking part in the Hajj, the pilgrimage described as one of the pillars of Islam. Temples and art are part of idols and in the case of Palmyra definitely built by infidels. The Daesh may need to be seen as pious. Locally, in Palmyra, one can only assume that the ruins are revered as a source of pride and livelihood for the town. Demolishing the main landmarks will show to the town people who have the power. Both of the two measures may be needed in order to maintain internal cohesion and ideological rigour within the Daesh. In these discussions, western media may be just noice, even if useful noice, if it helps to track the trafficking routes and safeguard other heritage sites elsewhere. The discussions have already brought about different archive resources on Palmyra, such as the photograph collection of the French Institute in the Middle East (IFPO).

The western cemetery area in Palmyra (IFPO)

Nevertheless, considering the voices discussing the past of Palmyra as a symbol of tolerance and a source of civil pride in a lay society in Syria, one can already perhaps dream for the future. This can also be seen as part of trying to celebrate the surviving Middle Eastern heritage as Khatchadourian suggested and as Aro-Valjus has done in her blog. One can dream of peace in Syria again. A return of Syria that had 1 million Palestinian refugees. A dream of a safe return for the refugees to whose plight the world has started to answer and has started to drop the heartless rhetoric of the right at the face of human suffering and the senselessness of the war. The refugees are now called refugees in the and one day they may be able to go back. One can dream of a time when the Temple of Bel and other standing ruins made to dust in Palmyra can be rebuilt. They will not be original, but may be destruction will bring cooperation and healing to Syria. It could be an act of rebuilding the society through rebuilding the monuments that stood for tolerance and multiculturality.

I am starting to favour the Middle Eastern name, used also by the French government, for the organisation behind the Caliphate – I do not wish to call them a ‘state’ in English nor blacken the name of the Egyptian goddess. Even if ‘daesh’ includes the word ‘state’, it is not directly recognisable to a non-Arabic speaker, and even if the word allegedly sounds like ‘someone who crushes something under the foot’, it sounds also very similar to ‘someone who sows discord’ – very fittingly in so many senses. It will undoubtedly be their downfall as well.

If you can Finnish, you can watch an interview with Sanna Aro-Valjus in the Finnish breakfast TV.

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.