Monday, 31 March 2014

Applying – a job and a project on its own

I will have two major things in my life for the spring and summer ahead of me. Firstly, I have to proceed with the essential publications I need to get out. Secondly, I have to fit in my summer holiday allowance, i.e., about four weeks over summer. Wait a minute! I have actually more things, since I also have to work around the Volterra field school, the remaining teaching related to it during the summer term and then – the dreaded bit – try to have some work lined up for the next winter. Is that five things? And I could actually add some more, even if the dealing with the family responsibilities goes with the summer holiday allowance...

The last matter – trying to come up with work/money/position for the next winter has taken a disproportionate share of my time recently. This is partly because the high season for hiring is early in the year for the next autumn and partly because that is the application season in Sweden. Talking about the academic landscapes. The wry highlight of the last two weeks is dealing with a major application from start to finish in basically 24 hours. I started around late morning on a Thursday and finished the following morning after proofreading my own text. This included editing my CV and publication list to the format and length required and calculating a budget. I did have to wait until late afternoon for the head of the department’s signature, but that was out of my control. Meeting schedules, you see.

The major project has been the second round of an application process at Oslo. I must admit that even if I did know from my earlier Finnish experience that one should have work certificates – automatically provided by the Universities and available easily after finishing even a short contract in the Nordic countries – I had wilfully ignored the whole matter, since there is no tradition for them in England. The reference tradition means that you ask a couple of people who have followed your career for certain stretches to guarantee that you are not making things up in your CV – even if choosing and showing off in a positive light is allowed. Now it was retribution time...

In principle, I had less than a month – or actually in two and half weeks – to create a portfolio that gives evidence of all I had done to that point. This resulted with fervent e-mailing exercise to those parties I had taught for and worked for. I was tracking down people to Brasil and other places in order to have a scanned file of a few months exercises. I managed to do it, although it turned out that any evidence for those computer courses at Cambridge are in my old handouts gathering dust in Leicester. With the change of management system, all earlier computer records at Cambridge had vanished seven years ago. Ironically, this job is in Digital Documentation, so I got more experience than I could have hoped for!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Agathe - It is easy when you know how

This week left me almost speechless in admiration. I attended themed open lectures and a workshop on Digital documentation in archaeology at the Uppsala University and saw something truly original. The first to present was Bruce Hartzler from The American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA), who presented the digital documentation system he has developed for The School using iPads and Apple apps. Nevertheless, his system is unique, since he does all the essential coding himself and can create what he sees fit and his colleagues need. Basically, he has a system, where he combines hand-drawn plans, scanned as base maps for the system, vectorised basic forms representing contexts and colour-coding representing chronology. Then using web graphics style area and point links he has linked pages from field notebooks and iPad held notes to these plans. He can also show the simple vectorised plans in section and the movement I saw was something I have not seen in any other system. As said, the coding is his.

ASCSA web site

Why he is not a more widely known is probably down to the fact that he came to The Americal School as a classics student and has only attended one international Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) Conference, namely the one in Herakleion in 2002. His classical background and lack of deeper knowledge of wider archaeology became apparent when he himself was totally ignorant who Ian Hodder and Michael Shanks are during our discussion when I asked him about him potentially collaborating with other America-based researchers with different reflexive web applications. His solution does create the kind of reflexive multi-author recording the theorists have been talking about and their teams have been trying to create, but he came to it through practice. He needed to make records of old Agora notebooks that splendidly cross-index finds and structures. Sadly, this singing and dancing iMap version is not running on the Agora excavations web site, but the Agathe database is still a very good record of one of the most important excavations in the Mediterranean at

Naturally, Bruce’s system has some apparent drawbacks. It works extremely well for Agora and other American excavations in Greece and potentially most of the classical excavations. However, it requires all to be done on Macs and iPads and quite sizable continuous infrastructural financing. It is also totally reliant on him, since he has not trained anybody to help him or be able to continue his work. He has been at the Agora since the 1990s so he knows the work practices and material he is dealing with, but he also knows his computing. He has been programming since he was a teenager. I hope they are making notes on him and videoing his programming and working styles at the ACCSA... The most creative archaeological computing person I have met this far.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

From Serieteket to scientific archaeology

This weekend saw the International Women’s Day that is a big mimosa-laden celebration in Italy, where this year Giulia Bongiorno suggested that state would start to pay for housewife’s for their housework – a payback for the all work they do in order to keep the country running, children fed and husbands in ironed shirts. As Barbara Ellen suggested in the Guardian, there is a danger this is and will be what women are supposed to do as opposed to both men and women support to do care work...

Nevertheless, the comics library Serieteket organised together with some of the embassies in Stockholm a French comics festival. In the similar manner as a week earlier, when I heard Brian Talbot talk, I just needed the toilet in the Kulturhuset, but walked about inside near the main entrance and sat down. I did wander in and out – it was the best sunshine around for weeks and boy I need fresh air after all this sitting at the computer – but was so impressed I returned for more this morning for brunch. Yesterday we were entertained with the theories about Ottocar’s Sceptre depicting Romania (they do like their country to feature in all main cultural genres these Romanians), although I could name a couple of Balkan pre-WWII kingdoms that could have merged in modelling Syldavia. Nevertheless, Romania had a big pavilion in the Paris World Exhibition in 1937, so this is plausible. For me the most interesting events were about this Sunday morning.

First Marguerite Abouet was telling about Aya de Youpogon, the comic she writes about a teenage girl and her friends in a specific neighbourhood in the capital of Ivory Coast. It was made an animated film lately and it competed in the latest César Awards, even if it did not won. She was a revelation as was her cartoon Akissi, short comic stories about a small African girl being naughty and mischievous – and sometimes just unlucky and things happening. It has actually been translated into English, but I have now a signed copy in Swedish.

The day continued interestingly with a discussion about comics publishing between Julie Delporte (Canada) and Xavier Löwenthal (Belgium). Comics publishing is absolute niche, so they are hit by all the latest trends quickly. Crowdfunding is apparently so last decade and self-publishing is in. However, what they are actually doing is holding money earning ‘second jobs’ and concentrating more on the things they really want to do – on real paper and a book-shaped 3D print. Somehow sounds familiar and probably nearer home in most archaeologist households in these days of vanishing humanities funding and rumours about university cuts... Amazing thing was that we were about six to listen to this. Where were all those hipster publishers of Stockholm to get the latest whiffs from the world?

EUROEVOL's self image

This week’s absolute archaeological highlight was a ‘postseminarium’ in the Tennstoppet restaurant. We were only a few, but the food was good, company was good and the discussions flew effortlessly. I had lost the plot during the second half of the Kevan Edinborough’s talk about the EUROEVOL project while thinking how they had used C14 datings as proxies for the amount of human activity in Europe by collapsing all the dates from a site into one from every phase. Thus, they practically were plotting sites with potentially more precise datings than most of the pottery dates (not always, though). However, when contemplating this, I lost the other half Kevan was more interested in on the new research on the knowledge transfer. Mathematical, yes. Exciting, yes. As existing as the discovery that sugars may be used to recognise different food stuffs and that certain cheese and its making process can go back to the Stone Age I heard about a day earlier. Riveting stuff. Not all archaeological, but new ideas, influences and knowledge of the world bucket loads.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Back to the basics

This week I have been busy turning my back momentarily to settlement archaeology and my overlong draft of an article that I have to return during the summer in order to take up funerary archaeology and face a series of manuscripts, some from other people, some wholly or partly written by me, that take me to the world of funerary archaeology. Yes, it is time to get the Remembering the Dead project done and dusted. Although there are drafts, there is also quite a lot of work ahead. Well, I must be honest – even if I am not working on pre-Roman settlement archaeology, I still have to at least plan to do some new analyses in order to fix two large holes in our Roman publishing programme for the Nepi Survey Project.

This is the time of the year when many organisations look for personnel for the next winter or different foundations have their application periods. This means that one has to start dreaming up projects that may never really see the light of day, since the financing bodies think there are more important things to fund. It is the time for blue-sky thinking and if not pies in the sky then at least proposals and plans to paper one’s walls with many times over. Nevertheless, instead of dwelling in what may be, may to come or might have been, I can marvel at the research one of my colleagues is carrying out at the moment.

Polygonal columns in situ (photo: Therese Paulson)

On the paper the title ‘Polygonal columns in ancient Greek architecture’ may sound traditional and even uninteresting in the modern archaeological world of identities and networks. However, sometimes one has to have a simple project in order to be able to find truly new things. Nobody has really paid any attention to polygonal columns and I as one has to admit that it would not ever have occurred to me. However, this state of uninterest means that Therese Paulson has an original research topic nobody is studying at the moment. She has already travelled around Greece in search of polygonal columns in order to record and measure them, since most of the time the best records she gets in old publications is a rare sentence that “there were some polygonal columns”. No numbers, no descriptions, no measurements. Thus, her first task is all about very basic research and basic data collection.

Tessa presented her preliminary results from Greece in our research seminar at Stockholm and it all sounded very interesting. Not only are these columns distributed across the then Greek world but they also are more common in specific regions. Tessa herself has been emphasising the economic aspect in choosing this column type in different kinds of buildings. After all, carving a, let’s say, 8-sided column instead of seeing the trouble of fluting the column fully saved time and can be economically sound. However, there may have been local, aesthetic preferences, too, although there is nothing wrong if the economic explanation can be proven.