Sunday, 19 October 2014

Across the Baltic Arch

This week saw me unexpectedly being a northern expert at Stockholm - thanks to my docentship at the University of Oulu that has resulted me keeping an eye on my colleague's work presented in a closed Facebook group and more widely in Facebook and different archaeological media. Speaking and reading Finnish is sometimes a plus, even if we Finns have to learn more than two languages in order to communicate properly in the modern world. My expertise had its use during the questions of Per H. Ramqvist's interesting talk about the large Recalling the past research programme that tries to shed light to the little known late Iron Age and Medieval period in Norrland, Lappland and elsewhere in the northern Sweden. This area was the meeting point of the Sami, Scandinavians and Finns during this period and very few archaeological monuments related to permanent [Scandinavian] farming communities are known even if there is an understanding that animal fur was one of the high-status exports during the time and there are unique farm stead of Gene (Ramqvist 1983) in Norrland and a few burial mounds and stray metal finds from the coastal area near the modern Finnish border.

A reconstructed house at Gene

Archaeology tends to be a national discipline and the research follows national [and language] boundaries. Thus, in most of the maps in Ramqvist's presentation the colours and symbols restricted to the area within the Swedish national boundaries and Norway and Finland were almost empty. However, this is actually far from the truth and I know that the last two years have revealed a new Late Viking Age inhumation burial ground in Ii in the northern coastal area in Finland. There are also plenty of both Sami monuments in Finnish Lapland (that starts basically where the Swedish finishes - a source of one stilted discussion at the department this week, since mentally I perceive Swedish Lapland as 'Norrland', since Finnish coast line is still technically northern Ostrobottnia, not Lapland) and the same stone settings plentiful on the Swedish side and connected to seal hunting are similarly plentiful also on the Finnish side.

I proceeded to ask if the University of Umeå that is running the research programme does collaborate with the University of Oulu, which has its seminar dig at Ii and has for decades studied northern Iron Age and Medieval period. The answer was delightful 'yes'. It seems that different projects and programmes at Umeå and Oulu discuss with each other and are in some kind of merging process. Thus, we can expect that in the future we will see distribution maps where there are colours and symbpls for example fpr different monument types and Sami placenames from both sides of the border.

Ramqvist, P. H., 1983. Gene. On the origin, function and development af sedentary Iron Age settlement in Northern Sweden (Archaeology and Environment 1). Umeå: Umeå universitet.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Landscape Archaeology Conference 2014 Part 2

A landscape: Stockholm from Skinnarbacken, its highest point

Now that I and my notes are in the same city and land I can write more in detail what I learnt in the LAC 2014. Since this conference was in Italy, many of the important sessions were run by famous Italian scholars. This meant a series of papers on relatively local topics. Not that my own paper presented really material from more than one place – I thus fit the Italian framework well – but it was an occasion to hear more about the research that is going on in different less ‘crowded’ research areas. This does not mean that all papers presented local case studies. The opening keynote lecture was by an earth modeller who is not an archaeologist but an environmentalist who is interested in how much prehistoric humans affected the general vegetation levels and climate. Jed O. Kaplan’s models suggested that most of the Europe was lacking wilderness by the Medieval period and the large scale influence on landscape fragmentation can be assumed for the whole Holocene. He suggested that the deforestation was a factum of most of Europe already by the Early Iron Age (1000 BC). This actually fits well to my own local example where the GIS models suggest that all suitable agricultural land was needed for cereal production by the Archaic period (500 BC).

Running conference in three different institutes meant that one had to spend more time consider the papers one really wanted to hear, since the move from one location to another always required exiting and entering institutes through a public road. However, it was clear from early on that there were generally less people in the Swedish Institute, which meant that it was the place to be at lunchtime. You needed to queue less and there was food left when you reached the table. The poster sessions were cosier and you generally discussed more with people. The queue to the toilet tended to be shorter, but not as short as in the Belgian Institute. Small things are important when you need to catch a paper in another building...

It is always a pity that people cannot come and read their papers and I have been sinner as well, even if I try to avoid the matter now as far as possible. It was interesting to notice that one speaker who had apparently fallen ill (or whose family member had) let read two papers in the conference: one should not have been read by anybody else, since the point was lost when the replacement reader monotonously ploughed through the text and the author was not there to explain the key inscriptions and patterns on maps freely. Contrarily, the latter one was clear presenting an interesting online Republican family name database with well-thought narrative arch and nice maps of individuals from Praeneste moving around the Mediterranean in the past.

I was hoping to hear a lot of GIS papers, but ended up sitting quite a lot in the ancient topography session. It was nice to give definite faces to some people whose work you have read for ages and there was extremely good papers, too. Sadly, not the one about the Sicilian find distributions. Apparently all distributions on the maps were random, but when I looked at them, terracottas and cooking wares definitely peaked in different areas. Did the author mean that the correlations between grids and numbers were not significant, or did he not want to interpret small variations? This way or that way, I hope he does not dismiss the evidence. However, the work at Verucchio was highly interesting, as could be expected, and the other Finnish input, the geophysical survey Jari Pakkanen runs at Naxos was just such an interesting piece of solid research with a mathematical twist in the end.

The conference ran a competition for PhD students, a.k.a. young researchers (when will they have a ‘thank you that you still bother come up with new things, darling’ award for us slightly frustrated golden oldies?), notified some researchers I had noticed in the conference. One of the poster awards went to a female PhD student,Felicity Winkley, who had already flown back in the afternoon, which I communicated to the organisers. She studies metal detector finds and was generally fun to talk to. The runner-up award in the paper competition went to another female PhD student from Glasgow, Francesca Scalezzi, whose hair took the centre stage during the presentation. Do not take me wrongly, her paper on the use and data entry classification of legacy data was excellent, but her hair did need drawing back constantly and even so stayed hovering above her notes most of the time. A true performance on so many different levels!

The great papers I enjoyed and that were relevant to what I do were the discussion of sensitivity analysis by Marieka Brower Burg, the latest on the salt production and transhumance in central Etruria, read very quickly indeed by Franco Cambi and Gijs Tol’s paper on how Groningen projects in the Pontine Region try to incorporate inscriptions in their study. Gijs also spotted important points from our paper and got the very important amphorae observation as an answer. We will need to look at that thing elsewhere, too.

However, this was a conference of meetings of old friends and giving faces to people behind different work. I did meet ‘the poster lady’ in flesh, saw Michael Tiechmann and Thomas Whitley after so many years and shared a taxi with Jari after a decade or 15 years of no see. I discussed a couple of times with Matthew Fitzjohn and heard the latest from Gianna and family and Liverpool. Every meeting, not to mention spending time with my Swedish colleagues from the Swedish Institute, Riksantikvarieämbetet and Uppsala University, made the conference fee worth every euro.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Things are not as they used to be

As my notes of the Landscape Archaeology Conference are in Stockholm, I have to leave the conference reporting to another week. Just when I had needed the notes in order to cover for a quieter week that has seen me to start writing our joint article for our edited volume and finalising a presentation to yet another workshop where I will be one of only three people looking at Mediterranean migration from an ancient viewpoint. The other talks will undoubtedly include words such as 'Lampedusa', 'Syria' and 'boat' and make our contributions look slightly 'lighter' at the face of modern suffering, even if old power politics have relevance in today's world as well.

I will start with a lament of an grumpy middle-aged archaeologist and proceed to the remembrance of those who are not among us any more. I will first do my best J C coffee room impression and then pay attention to those who did their share there [relatively] quietly and make huge contribution and those who did not quite get to make everlasting contribution before the time was up.

My grumpiness is related to the fact that it seems that current students do not take student-run conferences - even if on the postgraduate level - as studenty as they used to. They do not pay attention to normal fieldwork/holiday times and are beginning to show the tendencies of the more 'serious' conferences. In the past seem to be those times when the postgrads were begging for papers long into the spring and all flowers could flower. No, now it seems that it is perfectly OK to announce the call for sessions in August so that most people miss the call when facing their mailbox at some point in September (when it was too late already). The result is that the two sensible sessions with the themes I and many others could contribute to are closed sessions and our suggestions will go directly to the general session - that will be huge on the face of the lack of sessions with general theoretical discussion potential. To keep the form, the deadline for the papers is at the end of October, almost five months before the conference! In any case, it will probably be lovely in the end. At least it is at home so we do not have to go anywhere and we may be able to get a babysitter even if I have to fly to another conference a day after.

After releasing my grumpy old lady, I release another feeling of age: the sadness when your friends disappear from your side. Our common friend lost her battle towards cancer so rare the doctors at the Addenbrooks Hospital were unsure about it. We followed her brave messages on Facebook from the hospital bed and tried to give our cheers, but when the words 'decharge plan' came up, I started to fear the worst (coming from a medical family makes me sensitive to euphemisms). We are lucky that another friend managed to pull it through, but increasingly good friends and those who were at the University with us have succumbed to all kinds of ends. For some, there have been kind obituaries, but some others left before they could finish their studies or PhDs or other major professional merits. However, they do live in our memories.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

A fine day: Italic inscriptions and databases workshop

The web link works! (photo: R. Hedlund)

After two successful TAG sessions in a year – one in the Bournemouth TAG and one in the Stockholm Nordic TAG – I just haven’t managed to get rid of that painful memory of the awkward Lampeter TAG session in 2003. Not only had the organisers moved the session from afternoon to morning AFTER the printing the programme, but this change was only communicated on a handwritten A4 placed above the information desk among the other colourful notes. I apparently should have been shouting the change on the rooftops myself. Instead, I went to the basic Finnish communication mode and concentrated in getting through with it. Result: the only listener was the computer helper on behalf of the organisers – who luckily was quite interested in the philosophy of archaeology. The key speaker informed me on the day he could not come, a few papers were read by me or other participants and as the result the discussion was dismal. After the sessions some friends came to tell me over lunch how much they waited for my session and I had to tell them that it was all over already. For this, I had left fieldwork in India early, only for the small crew to stumble into an unusual find and I should really have been there to record it properly. That memory lingers.

I and Kristian Göransson opening the workshop (photo: R. Hedlund)

This time it was bigger with a grant from the Riksbankens Jubileumfond and people flying from the Nordic countries, but I should not have been worried, since it was all lovely and high quality. Naturally, there were the customarily cancellations and quirks. The Director from Berlin just couldn’t leave his workplace and was replaced by a junior researcher from Rome. One presenter had fallen quite unpleasantly ill, but Harri Kiiskinen read her paper very well indeed. One Mac did not talk to the video projector, one speaker came in late and I had to run out of the room when the evening restaurant called just during a Very Important Paper. As a result, the timetable was thrown out of the window with me explaining the owner of the restaurant that I had already confirmed all the previous week with somebody over phone after talking to her. However, otherwise it went so nicely.

Karin presents (photo: R. Hedlund)

I should not talk about the content too much, since one of the participants has promised to write a piece to the AIAC Newsletter and I am still wondering, if we should do a series of project presentations to the Archeologia e calcolatori. Thus, I do not mention everybody and their contribution. However, I can tell Karin Westin Tikkanen gave a wonderful presentation on the languages in pre-Roman Italy and showed that we have a lot of common interests in the light of potential future projects (I am waiting for all sorts of decisions later this year). Professor Silvia Orlandi from La Sapienza explain the latest, same day news of the EAGLE project and answered enquiries about the project and the future portal to an audience composed mainly of Nordic archaeologists, classicists, epigraphers and historians, but also participants from Italy and Germany. The workshop brought together the researchers from the Finnish and Swedish Pompeii projects to compare their work with the political graffiti in Pompeii and their digital presentations. These people had not really met and discussed their work before. The Skype video link to Florida worked and we got an interesting contribution of using old squeezes digitally.

Professor Orlandi presents (photo: R. Hedlund)

I was very fortunate that Kristian Göransson, the director of the Swedish Institute in Rome, was enthusiastic from the start, gave opening words and was present a considerable part of his working day. We also had a surprise visitor, since I had not quite thought Christopher Smith, the Director of the British School at Rome, would have time to come for a [free] lunch, even if we have common interests and he gave me advice on a failed money application. Having a director from the G8 of the international institutes in Rome (not a term coined by me) gave new kudos to the workshop and kept alive a contact that will be needed for the most important of the scenarios I have for future research. This is what it was basically all about: getting people together, presenting and discussing and starting little by little building a collaborative framework for the research of Italic and pre-Roman identities in Italy. And if nothing that grand comes out of this, I will have to create a research database and place it or parts of it in open access – one day.

Discussion (photo: R. Hedlund)

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Landscape Archaeology Conference 2014 Part 1

The initial irritation of the fact that the organisers had mistakenly told us that we have a poster – only for me to find our names in the list of oral presenters AFTER the poster was sent to the printers - disappeared with the sympathetic conference in Rome. This was organised initially remotely from Amsterdam, so you can understand that all came into the place when all people where in the same place. After all, the international institutes in Rome have a long experience in organising multi-institute conferences during the conference season. The organisation was probably not helped by the fact that the conference was very near EAA in Istanbul where 3000 archaeologists met. In Rome we were 300 and some flew directly from Istanbul.

I had to pass Istanbul for time and money issues, but those who had been in Istanbul lauded the quality and pleasantness of LAC2014. Yes, some Italian colleagues did the sending a title in English and then speaking regardless in Italian, but it was nice to see the practitioners of the Italian topographic tradition taking their natural place within the landscape archaeology. There are slight differences in emphases and methods, but in principle, the lines are so similar at least the topographers do not see the difference. This is good, since it is just richness to have plentiful traditions.

The conference was organised in the Dutch and Swedish Institutes with the Belgian Institute and University of Rome “La Sapienza” adding to the spaces where different sessions and key note speeches took place. The conference celebrated the 400 years of official diplomatic relations between the two countries, Sweden and Holland. The institutes are side by side in Valle Giulia and the gardens were joined for the conference dinner and reception.

This blog is about the conference in general. I will next week return to the topics of the conference, slightly depending on how my own workshop on Tuesday will go. If it will be fabulous, I will probably write about it and leave the many details in LAC 2014 for a quieter week. Although the conference was otherwise marvellous, there were two sources of wonder: Why a small portion of posters were place around the corner in the Dutch institute when there was a lot of space in front of the Institute where most of the posters were? You can guess where ours was... And why it took so long for the Belgian and Dutch Institute to put the air condition of their lecture halls on? It was sauna all around.

The funniest moment of the conference was when the Dutch organisers and helpers of the conference found me and my three Swedish colleagues waiting to get in before the final reception. I had had both the two-hour poster session and our joint presentation during the final afternoon and all I needed after that was cold beer. Colleagues could provide a summary of the keynote speech on the novelties of landscape archaeology whereas we had a good discussion on the work practices at the Riksantivarieämbetet on the terrace while rehydrating.

Monday, 8 September 2014

No more Whitechapel speculation?

The recent days have brought about the amazing news that the mystery of Jack the Ripper has finally been solved using the latest forensic DNA technologies. And as the Finnish newspapers have noted, the analyses were all done by a Finn, Dr Jari Louhelainen, a senior lecturer in molecular biology at the Liverpool John Moores University. This work was apparently partly funded – or at least publicized as a world exclusive by that every archaeologist’s favourite read, The Daily Mail. At least there is a book out available on the matter.

Map of Whitechapel (from

Elsewhere in the Independent the naysayers were suggesting that this is all unreliable and there is no guarantee that there was no cross contamination when these new analyses were carried out. The story is quite amazing. A man called Russell Edwards had seen Johnny Depp movie ‘From the Hell’ and started his ‘extensive’ research into the matter. I assume this research was more thorough than mine that happened when ‘Ripper Street’ TV series by the BBC started some years ago and I spent one night reading the Wikipedia on the Whitechapel murders. He made his way to the National Archives and has read original documents in Kew.

However, Russell made an even more far reaching additional step: he bought in an auction in 2007 an old tatty, bloody shawl in Bury St. Edmunds (as you do) that had already featured in a Channel 5 documentary. This had allegedly been taken from a murder scene of Catherine Eddowes by a police man called Amos Simpson and had never been washed by the lucky wife of the police man who had got it as a present. Unwashed and dirty – soaked in what turned out to be blood and semen in the analyses. It was tucked away and a descendant of this policeman, one David Melville-Hayes, wrote a letter and gave his word that this was true and the shawl had been taken with a permission from policeman’s superiors. Melville-Hayes had even given the shawl to the Crime Museum, which had put it into the storage, since the provenance could not have been proven. The shawl was more expensive than an assumed alcoholic prostitute could afford and one had to believe that Jack the Ripper came with a shawl that he did not take with him afterwards. Thus, Melville-Hayes returned and reclaimed his gift back and sold it instead.

Russell managed to find Dr Louhelainen and some descendants of both Catherine Eddowes and the main suspect of all times, Aaron Kosminski, who had been sent to an asylum about the same time as the gruel murders came to an abrupt end. Amazingly, Dr Louhelainen could find DNA of the ancestors of both Eddowes and Kosminski – or their descendants. This is the dubious provenience and provenance that raises the eyebrows together with the quality of the analyses and descendant DNA. The quality of the latter seems to be fine with Eddowes’s three times great-grantdaughter and a female relative of Kosminski’s sister. It seems plausible that the mystery has been solved.

These new breakthroughs of forensic science do have something of a letdown in them. Even if it is exciting that Richard III has been found in a Leicester car park and was not chucked into the river and that Aaron Kosminski was the lunatic who hated women and slashed them, the mystery is disappearing. Undoubtedly, there will be a series of new mysteries and unsolved dilemmas, but nothing seems better than an unsolved murder mystery with out-of-this-world details. Now the endless line of TV series (Ripper Street, Whitechapel etc. etc.) and the cottage industry of home-made sleuths may come to an end. Luckily, something stays: the mental image of a murder landscape along the narrow lanes of Whitechapel. More research is also carried out about the women murdered and it is clear that they may not have been prostitutes, but have had more complicated stories.

As an interesting note, one can see that the Wikipedia entry of the Jack the Ripper has been locked until September 10, 2014 due to an 'editorial dispute'. Russell's book is out on September 9, 2014. It seems some Ripperlogists are not happy... Pseudo-academic publication disputes!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Hidden landscapes

It is the time of the year when archaeology is properly on the menu in the newspapers and the current online papers are no exception. This August had more news from the Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project in the Daily Mail. The University of Birmingham team headed by Professor Vince Gaffney together with the Austrian Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Archaeological Prospection and Virtual Archaeology have ‘unearthed’ 15 new monuments using geophysical methods.

Visitors in the late 19th century

Vince with his brother is an old hand not only in geophysics but all prospection and surveying methods. Knowing him, it is a great joy that their project has been successful – considering how volatile the position of archaeology at Birmingham has lately been. Now the study of 6 square kilometres has revealed new henges in addition to the more expected late Neolithic pits, barrows and ditches. However, some of the features are so large and relate to the previously known monuments, such as the Cursus, that they must have had special meanings.

Such is a case with a huge pit, laying at the eastern end of the Cursus, that has been interpreted as relating to the rituals at the Solstice. The 4.5-metre-diameter pit also was laying in the path of the rising sun at the Solstice. This pit forms a triangle with another pit, laying on the path of the sun going down below the horizon, and Stonehenge. Naturally, without an excavation the team cannot say what is there in the pits. Were they fire pits or offering sites? It is known that pits were important for Neolithic practices (see Garrow 2006), so they may just have spent time ritually digging large pits.

Nevertheless, the real story is that geophysics were used to draw a new archaeological map. This is not a novelty: Roman Towns project has been doing it for whole millennium near Rome in places like Falerii Novi (Keay et al. 2000) and Portus (Keay et al. 2005). Here the methods used were magnetometer and ground penetrating radar - the latter technology being successfully used at Volterra as well. The Ludvig Noltzmann web site gives an abridged description how the project was run over five years. However, the catch is that these are interpretations. The validation and verification – crucially with dating - comes only with excavation. In any case, awesome results.

  • Garrow, D. 2006. Pits, settlement and deposition during the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age in East Anglia (British Archaeological Reports British Series 414). Oxford: John & Erica Hedges.
  • Keay, S., Millett, M., Poppy, S., Robinson, J., Taylor, J. and Terrenato, N. 2000. Falerii Novi: a New Survey of the Walled Area. Papers of the British School at Rome 68: 1–93.
  • Keay, S., Millett, M., Paroli, L. and Strutt, K., eds. 2005. Portus: an archaeological survey of the port of imperial Rome (Archaeological monographs of the British School at Rome 15). London: British School at Rome.