Monday, 30 June 2014

Not in honorem modern publishing landscape?

I have been invited to participate in an anniversary volume for a late professor who I really admired - and still do - for his research activities, wide contacts and the way he communicated and interacted with his research students. However, I recognise several issues with these celebratory volumes nowadays – and this particular one especially – for various reasons.

Being involved in archaeology in several European countries gives me some insight in the specific domestic policies and traditions that guide the archaeological publishing in these countries. Both in the north and in the south there is a tradition to prepare in honorem celebratory volumes for established figures, but their importance in many countries is waning, since the universities are basing their performance figures – that are in many places the basis of the governmental funding – on peer-reviewed publications in rated international journals. The value of an article in an in honorem volume is practically nil in these comparisons. Thus, putting any new material to these volumes is foolish. For the publication this means that most of the articles proposed and submitted are on an obscure footnote of a research topic or in archaeology present a single object or structure type. Or are recycled from several previous articles published in better publications. Not very inspiring and not necessarily hugely in honorem.

The tradition in the south is still to produce many conference volumes that sometimes randomly publish new results from the researchers who belong to the same circle in unexpected publications. You would not always guess from a book title where you are to find articles on Archaic burial customs, for example. People have started to make an effort to peer-review these volumes, but the peer-reviews have not always been fully regular in the strictest sense. However, most volumes go in press without peer-reviewing and are not evaluated highly in the international university and researcher comparisons.

The volume I have been invited to participate in makes an effort to provide some kind of peer review. This creates another nag: the editorial board wants to have a substantial abstract now, more than half a year before the deadline. I have some new lines of research I would like to develop in order to air some preliminary thoughts on new themes, but I will not be able to produce a page-long abstract on research that is only in my mind and I have not collected the material or do not know, if the details will be interesting enough. In addition, I will work in my potential comparative research area AFTER the deadline. Do I write a page full of preliminary, ambiguous tat that will not guarantee a place in the volume or do I just recycle earlier articles on old themes that actually are or will be in volumes that are not necessarily generally available in all European countries (this would guarantee that they reach target audience in my research area, but I still think it does not serve my new research)? Or do I work on the things I should be start to work on and plead my case with the editorial board promising to publish something new? The volume will probably be flooded with papers, so I doubt they will allow not-a-very-famous-name to be exempted from the normal process...

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Archaeology and spying

There is a long history between archaeology, colonial rule and spying and in the halls of Cambridge one cannot avoid at least once hearing some murmuring about the past double roles. I must admit I myself was wondering the sponsorship of NATO for a remote sensing conference. It is quite clear that for that sort of organisation the real interest cannot be some mounds in a remote landscape, but potentially the modern structures in far-flung spaces, even if the archaeologists naturally heard of the newest and the most accurate methods. Although, nowadays all organisations have to show that they also serve ‘community’ and potentially military organisations want to show that their expensive equipment can be used peacefully.

Archaeologists can move around relatively freely and their wonderings in the landscape with maps and equipment is motivated by so-called good causes. We collect knowledge of heritage and write the history and prehistory of the human race. At the same time some people may wonder if some individuals have double reasons of taking a walk.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (image source:

This week bring about those memories of the Cambridge’s past fame as a source of agents when it emerged that a Green Party member of the Lords, Lady Jones, the former Green Party candidate for the London mayor’s post, had been put on the ‘extremist’ list and her political activities were followed. The same was done to Councillor Ian Driver, who is also a Green Party member. Naturally, this may be related to any environmental protesting, but it has not escaped me that Jenny Jones is a former archaeologist. In a previous life she has been specialised in Middle Eastern archaeology. Being Green and interested in Middle East may rise eyebrows.

Which just leaves me wondering how many other archaeologists may be on all kinds of following lists. There are those who have connections not only to Green Party, but perhaps and/or to peace movements, alternative living and CND. Ho hum, I have been recorded as well, since all the participants of the antinuclear marches were duly recorded by the Finnish ‘secret police’. However, they were so visible with their cameras and overactive finger action that their ‘surveillance’ was not really the best held secret on the planet.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Och samma på svenska – teaching more digital methods

This week was the start of my proper teaching at Stockholm. Even if I have given three research seminars and one lecture in the ‘Humans and metals’ course, my main responsibility is to be one of the teachers in the Volterra field school. This means three lectures on GIS and digital recording methods, two demonstrations and practicals, one lecture on Etruscan religion and burial customs and two weeks in Volterra supervising group exercises and practicals. I do all this in Swedish, even if we will build the database in English, since it will be available to the commune and the Superintendency in Tuscany.

Teaching coordinate systems

The main problem has been looking for the Swedish words for all those concepts I have always discuss and taught in English. Very often the Swedish use the English words as well in computing connections, but one has to prepare lectures with proper terminology. Luckily, the Landsmäteri and many universities had enough content, so I could find the terms but also some illustrations in Swedish. However, to add to my linguistic confusion, our ArcGIS version is in English, so after more theoretical content, I gave a demonstration that was peppered with comments such as ‘Add layer’ and ‘Display units’. Naturally, all Italian map layers available thanks to the INSPIRE directive have their downloading interfaces, names and information in Italian. Hopefully, this will make clear the rule 1 in Italian archaeology: "you really need to read and speak Italian".

I have now also ventured to photogrammetry and will be building models together with students. Sadly, laser scanning will be carried out another year, since ‘grant hunting’ has not been too successful and to be honest, there is only so much I can do as one person; I am already sorting out geographic reference system and physically getting the GPS equipment from Pisa to Volterra. It will be nice to wait for last year’s ‘laserscanner’ to return to continue his work. I am quite happy to concentrate to plan a town GIS and do photogrammetry of objects and buildings.

Old finds at Villa Lante in good use

The teaching was a pleasant experience, although it became clear that the content in the end is easily divided into two blocks (lectures on GIS, a demonstration on ArcGIS and an exercise dealing with a database table for archaeological monuments on one hand and the digital recording and the demonstration of the Agisoft Photoscan Professional on the other), so they should in the future be split between two days in order to guarantee that people learn the basics properly. Having ‘lighter cultural content’ in the afternoon, i.e., beautiful landscapes and objects from Etruria, will make the experience smoother. In this way, people will be able to absorb the technical content better.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Food, glorious food!

This week saw the last of the research seminars in Nordic/general archaeology and we had the last of the postseminars in one of the restaurants in Södermalm. I did not attend every session due to travel home to England or to Italy, but I got quite a good idea of the local offerings. Naturally, I and my family (when on a visit) have been quite loyal to the local “Näset” in the suburb of Näset on the island of Lidingö. It is a true through back to the late 1970s or early1980s – they even play the local ‘oldies hits’ radio station with Europe and Abba. The steaks are on planks and smothered with béarnaise sauce. But essentially: it is very good. My bookmaker’s toast has been constantly a quality meal for 100 krona and better than in much trendier and central “Belgobar”.

A little bit of Finland - or Åland - in Stockholm

“Belgobar” was our restaurant twice, but since I cannot eat mussels, I cannot enjoy the most Belgian of dishes. The beers are good but the food is a bit ‘mah’, but they bring nice bread before the standard hamburgers and the like. With Gavin Lucas we headed to the famous “Zum Franziskaner” when I had barely arrived. Really nice interior and lots of character and tradition, but pricey food, even if so-called ‘beer friendly’ and the standard was not really above the “Weatherspoons”, even if the prices were manifold. “Weatherspoons” came to mind of the “Bishops Arms” in Gamla Stad: food was quite cheap and the menu offered fishcakes and hamburgers. Inoffensive and good for beer.

The end seminar of Ingrid Berg now in the spring was celebrated in the Greek “Esperia”. It was not like any Greek restaurant I have visited before. The food looked beautiful and tasted excellent. The prices were far from cheap, but really modest, when you think about the quality of ingredients and presentation. Naturally, wine is painfully expensive in Sweden, but we shared a very lovely bottle – or actually two...

Of the traditional Swedish restaurants “Tennstopet” was superior to “Zum Franziskaner”, although the dinner room cannot really accommodate bigger groups. But the meatballs were lovely and, once again, bread was really nice. Nevertheless, we visited the best place last. The prices in “Kvarnen” were on the low side and the food was tasty and well made. The beer selection was excellent and the decor was older in a mix of German and Swedish style. We ate in the so called German hall and my reindeer in cream sauce was spot on. And the beer was cheaper than any were in the city centre I have seen. A krona cheaper than in Näset! I want to go back – and sooner the better.

Babas stand in the Taste Stockholm event

This weekend was Smaka Stockholm, Taste Stockholm, event. I passed by this lunchtime before heading to swim with the idea of having a lunch in a food festival atmosphere. There even was a Sweden’s best cook competition on the main stage, but I must say having cooks higher up and looking at a giant screen in order to actually see the cooking and food in the bright sunshine, is not as good as watching Mastercook in your own home. Nevertheless, the ‘Latino burger’ with beef stripes, red onion, tomato, avocado and chilli mayo was extremely good. I was really full, even if the portion had looked small. The stand was “Babas Burgers and Bites” that had been mentioned among the best hamburger places in Stockholm by the Arlanda Express onboard magazine. They were right. Now I just have to use a bit of Google Map in order to find where their restaurant is in the suburbs...

Sunday saw me finding out that I do not like ceviche, Peru's national food. As a consolation to all Peruvians, I do not like Finnish or Swedish sill either, no matter which sauce this herring has been put into and no matter how Finnish I am living temporarily in Sweden for work. Now I know how this hipster food tastes like, so I do not have to taste it any more. I also tasted some inoffensive, if soulless lamb curry with beer in the afternoon. Sadly, I could not fit in a pulled pork sandwich I saw some ladies munching.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Another Etruscan exhibition

Sometimes an exhibition can give you new information but still manage to be a little bit 'Bah humbag'. This time around that sinking feeling hit in the Cerveteri exhibition in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome. It had objects from the Tomba delle cinque sedie. Tick. It had really lovely painted plaques, the biggest single unique find from a known context at Cerveteri. A BIG plus. It had some less frequently seen Hellenistic and Roman art work. Bravo. However, the name of the exhibition, 'The Etruscans and the Mediterranean', conveys an idea that the exhibition could cover Etruria and its contact more widely, whereas in reality, it is more 'The story of Cerveteri'.

Similarly, there were large displays full of similar vases that adorn Villa Giulia and some interesting art work put in doorways or sideways so that most people would not notice them at all. For a specialist, the main text boards read very familiar from the books of the main authority providing the narrative. I probably should mention that most of the figures in the otherwise very interesting catalogue were very small. A few main finds got decent larger photographs, but many of the interesting items had tiny presentations.

The exhibition also meandered in a way that it would have easy to pass a section without noticing. One of the items in the beginning of the exhibition I almost missed, since I came upstairs using the wrong staircase, was a virtual 3D reconstruction of the famous Regolini-Galassi tomb. It was interesting to see the grave-goods placed in the burial chambers but the sticking point was the difficult to manoeuvre interface. May be I just moved clumsily, but turning around and seeing the little idols weeping from a suitable angle was hard work. Well, a way to get some exercise by waving hands in an exhibition.

One of the plaques in the exhibition (source: Wikipedia)

Nevertheless, the best part of the exhibition was totally unexpected. In the room where the research history at Cerveteri was described, there was a television screen showing old news films from the excavations. It was fascinating to see the tracks made for the spoil wagons on wheels and the people handing out pottery from the opened graves. In places one got a feeling that in older times people had a much more liberal attitude towards restoring or reconstructing the structures. Workmen just picked any piece of tuff and formed a nice rectangular block to fit into a wall in front of a burial niche. Hmm...

Even if the Etruscan exhibition did not make my imagination to fly, the Pasolini exhibition downstairs was a tasty dessert. A good double whammy of new professional information and a real story of a murder and new evidence with a Forza Italia connection in 2010. A cultured midday in Rome.