Saturday, 26 December 2015

River Song constellation

The sublime episode of Dr Who brought us again the wonderful character of River Song, beautifully (in every sense of the word) acted by Alex Kingston. River Song is an adult woman, funny, sassy, adventurous and quick-witted with a marvellous dressing sense. More importantly, she is an archaeologist and a wife of Dr Who, the status not granted to any of the other assistants and companions who have come and gone over the years (my husband is a Whovian, so we watch old episodes on the Horror channel where Doctors, assistants and villains are constantly interchangeable). She is something else – in so many ways.

Even as a fictional character, she has more nuances than many other female characters in the movies or TV series. There is more emotional range than one would expect from a series basically directed to tweens, teenagers and their dads. She is the character, together with the assistant pair of Amy Pond and Rory Williams (oh no, they killed Rory – again) and the Victorian lizard lady and her partner, that truly delivers for mums as well. Her trade as an archaeologist is, however, firmly in what I call ‘the Indiana Jones school of archaeology’, a perception of archaeology as the continuation of adventurous exploration of the late 19th century. Think of gentlemen with independent funds visiting the Mesa Verde, the expeditions of different early societies and that sort of thing.

She is probably nearer the character an everywoman – or perhaps more like an everyfemalearchaeologist – would like to be in their more empowered Indiana Jones dreams (not in the ones where they team up and be rescued by Harrison Ford – very few females, even feminist ones, would let that one pass). Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie is a male day dream, whereas River Song is a more realistic portrayal of a female human being in the dreamland. However, she has common nominators with real women – or at least some things they dream to be. You can also expect her to turn up at a dig and run it without difficulties. Naturally, as the body images go, I cannot expect any fictional characters nor archaeology programme presenters to fit my bill – bespectacled, overweight shorty with a foreign accent – but she is a fantasy figure one would like to be. She is not alien, since she has the familiar kind of sassiness and sarcastic funny manner of speech that remind me of certain female colleagues and departmental workers around.

Archaeology is naturally a shorthand for a licence to explore and raid and even the awesome sonic trowel (well, for an archaeologist) is declared ‘embarrassing’ by the Doctor. The sound bites include River Song’s declaration that an ‘archaeologist is a thief, but with a patience’, which alarmingly puts archaeologists nearer to those trading with illicit antiquities than anybody else. No archaeologist can claim that they do not like finding things, but most of the time people act according to permit systems and ethical codes. The aim for the most is to explain and interpret the past and to show how we got here we are now and what reference the past has with the present. Most real archaeologists do not follow a diamant to the end of the galaxy, but try to understand the relationships of the features in their excavation area.

Archaeology as escapism is nothing new and it comes up constantly in popular fiction, especially in the Anglo-Saxon countries where it is more visible in the media anyway. Captain Picard in Star Trek New Generation was carrying out his explorations in the holo deck and a more realistic and interesting portrayal is in the recent Detectorists comedy series on BBC4 where the sympathetic younger character has an archaeology degree and have to explain how he reconciles between two roles and keeps it ethical. I must say I watch it more because of human portrayals of Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook. The latter has also written and directed the series, so does he actually have studied archaeology... He so acutely describes the different characters who are in archaeology and in [ethical] detectoring...

Nevertheless, Dr Who and Detectorists give us perceptions of archaeologists from the people who do not really know and those who do. It would be nice to travel the universe and drop the oneliners like ‘I am an archaeologist. I dug you up.’, but it would be nice to be seen more realistically as well. However, there is no better fictional female role model than River Song in the guts terms.

Sunday, 20 December 2015


I had a strong feeling I should only more or less to copy and paste here last year's blog entry for this week, just leaving out the references to the REF and replacing Manchester with Bradford, but it probably would not have made justice to the reality. If I was a spin doctor, it would be relatively easy to give a positive spin to this week: our edited volume is almost ready, I was successful in getting the final articles in and pairing them with peer-reviewers and we finalised the paperwork for my three-year contract so I will be employed from the first of January again at Stockholm. Nevertheless, my life was basically about replacing fullstops with commas, transforming footnotes to endnotes and informing my Nordic colleagues that they should replace the decimal commas with decimal points in the scales of their figures. I needed breaks, so I managed to enter firmly to the Hyacinth Bucket school of ignorance when making earlier a few tweets (I could mentally hear my colleagues verbalising 'Could you please read/watch before opening your mouth/typing those letters on the keyboard') plus spent half a day sending Christmas cards, forgetting to include quite a many people in the list.

As a result of the continuous editing and the fact that I could better spot the diversions from the house style by having short pauses, I ended up following this year's TAG in its Twitter feed relatively regularly. I also commented the events both in my private and public roles. The duality was replicated in the Twitter reality where the tweets from the Mental Health in Archaeology and Fiction sessions were alternating and almost commenting each other. In one tweet from the Fiction session a tweeter told that the current speaker concluded that in archaeological narratives social, cultural and interpersonal interactions are mostly absent and the following Mental Health tweet, in time just after the former, suggested that there people were discussing suffering during the fieldwork.

The theme of the TAG this year was diversity, but somehow the Mental Health theme sounded more like a CIfA conference one. It turned out that there was an important input from the CIfA. However, the TAG potentially gives better access to younger archaeologists, both students and early career ones, and more mix with academics, so I can see why it was there. There was also a session about the young people (or their absense) in archaeology. This session was also reflected in the tweets that seemed to elude many interesting sessions. The tweeters were unevenly spread plus some major actors were presenting. Thus, there was very little Monumentality and movement or Heterarchy.

These kinds of interventions enlightened my days while I was reformatting references or pestering my colleagues, pleading for emergency peer-reviews that I was asking to be given now/in a few days/by Christmas Eve. I still will have one article to get and one peer-reviewer to find who will be period specific and can do over the holidays. I should also download the files for the next volume of the Monographs of the Archaeological Society of Finland that also requires finally attention. I already sent the editorial board their Christmas cards, but they may get further communications on this matter before the term will start again.

It has been editing days, although it was not that my life would not have any drama... As indicated last week, our family cat was displaced - so much so that she was missing for almost a whole week. But that I leave to my mummy blog.

Next week it will be Christmas, so this blog may or may not take a week's leave. Eating chocolate on Boxing Day may trump any scribing!

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Missing out

Former Wihuri Fellowship holders in Helsinki (photo via the IRF/Villa Lante)

It seems a fitting morning to reflect the academic events that were happening while I was in the fieldwork in Volterra. Tomorrow I will be disappearing to the world of punctuation, indentations and reference formatting while my colleagues group to Bradford to discuss archaeological theory in the Theoretical Archaeology Group conference and have the annual TAG party. After gallivanting for four weeks abroad, it is my turn to do the school run - and perhaps occasionally see from the Twitter stream what is going on. I also seem to have misplaced the family cat, who was not supposed to be let outside due to recent operation...

It was lovely, though, in Volterra

The timing of Volterra fieldwork was beyond my choice, so unfortunately, I could not attend the Swedish ämneskonferens for classical archaeologists and ancient historians, even if I had originally make the trip on my own cost, if possible. It is useful to hear what other people are studying and I would have had my own presentation to give, if there had been space in the programme. The timing of the conference also meant that I could not organise the visit of the director of the Swedish Institute in Rome to Volterra, even if I have money reserved for it. This has to wait until the coming year.

At least I was handed the programme of the conference. The research themes covered by the Swedish classicists are fascinating ranging from the Mediterranean-wide study of the polygonal columns (Tess Paulson) to family potraits in Athenian grave monuments (Agneta Strömberg) and to the changes brought by Roman expansion in Ager Bleranus (Hampus Ohlsson). This year in this biannual meeting the focus was on PhD students and postdoctoral researchers, but the professors and lecturers presented their field projects and teaching and more famous researchers presented their latest projects (public mourning, Ida Östenberg) and there was also indications of the things to come (Francavilla di Sicilia, Kristian Göransson).

Since I was in fieldwork, my excuse not attending the classical events was rock solid. Regardless, I was feeling a bit sorry my face could not be among the former Wihuri stipendiates, the grant holders in the Institutum Romanum Finlandiae. The trust of the institute and the Wihuri Foundation organised a big gala dinner to celebrate the 50 years of the fellowship on November 19. This naturally collided with the ämneskonferens, so at least I did not have to choose, which country, Rome institute and group of colleagues to support. I had managed to write a short piece remembering my stay in Rome during the academic year 1997/1998 that involved learning Etruscan pottery with Marco Rendeli's group of laureandi, part of the restudy of the South Etruria Project, at the British School at Rome, mixing with the Finnish au pair crowd in selected bars, taking part in the excavations at Veii and having discussion lessons in Italian from an architecture student whose competition work I ended up taking to Barcelona. My fellow ex-Wihurist told me that all he could remember of my piece was my difficulties with Italian verbs! It may be that my Italian colleagues strongly agree. Well, at least I could see the photos on the Facebook page!

It was not only the things classical I missed. I also missed the Finnish archaeologist days, which naturally were this year organised in my home city of Tampere. I could have seen my friends and visit my mother before Christmas at the same time. The programme concentrated on Finnish industrial heritage, very suitable topic for the old textile and paper industrial town. Now most of the factories are silent or transformed to offices, flats, shopping centres and museum spaces, but the old paper factory by the rapids still pushes steam. My own report as the Editor-in-Chief of the Monographs of the Archaeological Society in Finland (MASF) had been sent hastily in a few lines in an e-mail before vanishing to Italy.

I and my assistant managed to have a small miss ourselves in Rome. I suddenly realised on the last Friday that I have to put the drawing board, graph paper, first aid kit and other utensils somewhere and contacted Villa Lante, the Finnish Institute in Rome where naturally nobody could guarantee that anybody will be on a late Sunday afternoon in the house. It was a glorious sunny Sunday that day when we drove through Etruria back to Rome. Predictably, all were out, so all I could do was to throw everything in a plastic bag, tape a message in Finnish and Italian onto the drawing board explaining that the things should go to the office and that I will sort them out the next time I will be in Rome and throw the items inside the gate. Apparently, it was not raining during the night, since everything had been collected and taken inside.

Nevertheless, may be I should mention an occasion I could make. I did advertise and also tweet about the marvellous talk Dr Rebecca Jones gave on the Roman camps in Britain in the Royal Archaeological Institute lecture. Next time, I hope the photos also go through - it apparently was an evening of cyber attacks and Twitter and my phone just could handle texts. The following morning all went swimmingly through.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

“Whatever docents” – disrespecting specialists and knowledge

Photo linked from the site of the Finnish Broadcasting company

It is the Finnish Independence Day today, so 'Hyvää itsenäisyyspäivää' all! In order to mark this day, I discuss a parallel development in my two homelands, Finland and UK. As my husband says, a reflection of neoliberal ideology that worries many in Academia.

First, I have an admission to make – I am a docent, i.e., a honorary adjunct professor assessed by a Finnish University to show independent research equivalent to the amount required for a doctorate and teaching skills. My specialism is very narrow, protohistoric central Italian archaeology, but that is what I currently do and that was what the University of Oulu was happy with at the time (now they have become ‘an Arctic university – but that is another story). This week after returning from Volterra, I have actually managed to spend half a day in the library, even if mostly I have had to deal with more practical matters, such as doing accounts, receiving data files from the GPR crew and paying my assistant his stipendium. These practical acts need to be done before spelling out the results of different collaborations. And ultimately study such unimportant topics as identity and multiculturality, for example.

This week the prime minister of Finland made an angrily toned comment in live TV about ‘whatever docents’ who counteract government’s policies. His comment, word by word directly translated as ‘whatever docents of this world’ suggests that he feels contempt towards those who have pointed out how many of the governments initiatives have been poorly prepared and in places against the law. He seems to consider different specialists the opposition of progress for which his government has the righteous vision. It is a right-wing government whose ministers have been caught generously speaking ‘giving wrong information’ and in plain speak ‘lying’. It is very difficult to see how stating that 90% of civil servants support a scheme that is in its core a tax avoiding scheme can be seen just ‘giving wrong information’ when the true situation was exactly the opposite. No wonder the support figures of certain Finnish ministers are plummeting rapidly.

This government has also started a harsh programme of cutting funding from the universities. The National Board of Antiquities is about to lose c. 20 % of its permanent staff and the University of Helsinki is starting to look to drop 12% of its employers. The government wants to shut small departments and create single units – at the same time as it dreams of innovation. Monoculture has rarely fostered innovative thinking. Well, I should not worry, since my kind of innovation is not wanted, but useful engineering or Nokia kind of variety. Respect for Humanities seems to be a rare species and the verbalised suggestions from ministers, such as that ‘professors have three reasons to stay in their jobs, namely June, July and August’ and the summertime – the only time the teaching staff can do research – will be taken up for an extra term, show lack of understanding universities and their work. This interestingly shows that the ministers do not know that their funding formulas for Finnish universities are based heavily on research output. How and when do the staff produce this research their salaries are dependent on is anybody’s guess. Academics are probably not supposed to have life.

The result is that the academia in Finland has begun to have enough and the members of the union of the researchers plus that of professors are contemplating strike action. The social media is rife with comments with hash tag #kaikenmaailmandosentit and the academics are guessing which university is the first to hand out an honorary docentship, specified as being in the field of ‘whatever’. One respected senior professor already packed his bags and moved to Edinburgh (but I am not sure how much greener the pastures and research funding really are in UK). I am not expecting any kind of return in any time soon. More like it, I am very likely to try to make sure that my own actions will aim at strengthening humanistic research and wide collaborations. I may be working in Sweden for the next three years, but these uneducated opinions travel very easily.

Similar kind of superficial statements are apparent in my current home country UK. The parliament made a decision to bomb Syria. For my kind of old peace movement member this kind of action seems foolish, when it is almost impossible to separate between a fiend and a friend from the flying altitudes. Our understanding in the west of the Middle Eastern situation leaves wanting the best of the times, but the random figures of 70 000 moderate fighters do not improve any case for war. I for one forwarded Tony Benn’s statement against the Iraq war. That war did not take Iraq anywhere and the bombing alone does not get world rid of Daesh. It is easy to bomb when there is no apparent solution to be offered to a difficult and multilayered situation.

The current government in UK does not probably held archaeologists or any British academic equivalent to ‘whatever docents’ to high views. We are probably ‘nimbies’ who stand in the way of the progress while the nation should cover the green land in new residential estates. Yes, we need more housing, but we also need good planning and better visions. Not knowing the past or understanding other cultures or complex political situations does not lead to innovation, economic growth and sustainable visions. It leads only to short-sighted, hasty decisions and kind of lose-lose situation that turned out to be the Iraq War.

Thus, as the researcher association of my alma mater, the University of Turku, suggested on Friday: “Keep calm and love your dosentti [=docent]”. Knowledge and education are more certain ways to guarantee good governance and progress than easy loose remarks and ignorance, no matter if it is planning procedures, new policies or strategies in order to deal with difficult political situations and international aggression.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Frozen in Volterra

The change was breathtaking in every meaning of the word. From Week 1 and the Indian summer the kind of which Italy had not seen in 66 years with temperature hitting 20 in Florence, we landed through a very rainy and misty Saturday into Week 2, which brought frost and bitterly cold sunny weather. Next week it should snow, but luckily we will be back – in Sweden, so snow may be on the cards anyway. I had planned leaving my winter boots in Stockholm, but I was fortunate to have them with me. I have had heating on all day in my room plus going around in my fleece-lined field coat that made me survive the Grand Arcade 2005 in Cambridge and had been property of the Antarctic Survey before I bought it from the Mill Road Salvation Army shop. I also learnt that Volterra is classified as a mountainous region, so no wonder it was freezing.

It was also beautiful and I was surrounded by good people. My assistant Nadja has been a real star. I was originally a bit worried, since she is very interested in ancient Greek and linguistics and pondering the use of language and meanings of words, but I should not have been. She also has that genuine gift, an eye for archaeology and a way of reminding the boss of important missed details. She is also very interested in measuring, mapping and technical gadgets, so I could through the car GPS on her and let her to set up the real mapping GPS at sites without having to run to the rescue. We walked round the sites, planning the main features of the landscape in order to create general maps for the area, me defining where to take the points and her delivering. At clear sections she just got on with it – and with the exception of a few points were the reception failed, the exported dxf files look good in AutoCad.

The GPR crew at work

Similarly, my GPR crew works with the best, with Maurizio Forte and Stefano Campana. Even if our research is at a pinpoint scale in comparison with their wider scale studies over different city and village scapes in northern Lazio and southern Tuscany, they process lovely 2D overlays. Even the GPS support worked this year. Previously, the working hours were limited with the GPS satellites to the morning after which the satellites disappeared somewhere else. Now one can use both American and Russian satellites and we could work for the entire day. Not just measuring the control points for the GPR grids but actually mapping the site and its setting in general detail so that all can be brought together in GIS with the CTR maps at the scale 1:2000. It is all coming together and it begins to look like a pretty convincing project, the Stockholm Volterra Project.

An audience with Mayor Marco Buselli

People in Volterra are nice and the town council seems to appreciate our work. In addition, the owners of the first site followed our work for three days and were really enthusiastic even if the weather took a turn to worse. When they went back home, they bought us paste (cookies or cakes) as a gift. Naturally, we had to be photographed with them and they were asking when we will come back. The owner of my favourite bar provided me with extra cheese with my last meal in her place and has chatted with me delightfully. The regulars playing card politely made way for me so I could eat my supper. It all makes one feel warm inside even if it was cold outside.

Team Volterra 2015

Previous week saw us running around Florens in order to reach the Soprintendenza. At the end of this week we had to take the GPS kit back to Pisa. This meant that we just had to go to see the Leaning Tower. After all, many of the columns of the cathedral seem to have come from the Roman buildings in Pisa and from its environs. An archaeologist could spot porphyrite and the main Roman marble types in the apsis. We apparently also hit one of the best trattorie in town, as we got the last table. There was a queue soon, waiting to eat the tasty pasta. Sometimes it is nice to be an archaeologist, even if one comes to a site in the morning and finds it all frosty and on some days the trekking boots were completely wet. Nadja resorted into putting plastic bags to her feet.

Just could not resist...

Stockholm University and the Section of Classical Archaeology and Ancient History are grateful for the funding from the Swedish Kungliga Vitterhetsakademien and the collaboration of the Soprintendenza per i beni archeologici della Toscana, especially thanking Elena Sorge, the intendent for Volterra, and comune di Volterra. A special thank you to the Swedish Institute in Rome. The marvellous people in Stockholm, Volterra, Florence, Rome, Pisa, Livorno, Perugia, Leicester and Cambridge made this season possible.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Back to Volterra

Sunday sunshine

Being in fieldwork in Italy during the winter enters you into a different world. The town is quieter and most of the hotels and restaurants are closed. This year we arrived at the end of an unusually late Indian summer that had continued until mid-November. Even if the clouds started to circulate around us almost immediately, Week 1 was relatively warm, even if the rain during the night between Wednesday and Thursday meant that the long grass was wet and we went through a couple of pairs of socks while mapping. The storm winds began to blow on Friday evening and on Saturday the rain was heavy and the clouds hang low. Sunday was suddenly bright and sunny but bitterly cold in comparison. The Italian winter has finally arrived.

Because it is winter, our small group that had diminished from three to two at the last moment flew to Rome and made the long drive from Rome to Volterra. When one is normally Rome-based or works near Rome, it is easy to forget how long the distances are and how long a 50 kilometres really can be in time in the countryside. Optimistically, I planned to fetch some minor necessities from the Finnish Institute and make a fleeting visit to the Swedish Institute to see a colleague who will spend the winter in Rome as a storstipendiat and exchange a couple of words with the director Kristian Göransson. This looked fine on paper but turned out to be slightly more complicated.

Getting the hired car took longer than expected, since their new software did not function particularly well and we had to start from the beginning. Then the car was not parked in the spot advertised and I had to go round the garage to find the correct register plate. We had a GPS in the car, but it seems to have a mind of its own, avoiding the most obvious routes along the big roads and we were invited to a scenic tour of the lesser roads along Via Portuense from the Nuova Fiera di Roma onwards. The roads got narrower, the bumps and holes got bigger and we hit a roadwork as well. Then suddenly, we came to the Via Aurelia and found ourselves from the western side of the Vatican. We managed to get to Villa Lante but decided that I went in and grab what was needed while my assistant guarded the car and then we moved to the Swedish Institute as soon as possible.

GPS that actually works!

I had sent an email to the secretary without knowing that the institute had been without Internet and telephone connection for several days. The financial administrator was puzzled when I suddenly turned up and ran up the stairs towards the attic and came back my hands full of graph paper, drawing board and other smaller items. The director said welcome, but I could only say that actually, I am going now. Only the secretary was left nodding that I had actually informed them about my sudden and short visit.

The drive to Valle Giulia had been painless unless the GPS had wanted us to turn to the other side of the Tiber and take some mysterious route there. We did switch it off in the end. At the Swedish Institute everything went smoothly, we discussed with the director and his wife before having a coffee with our colleague. Then it was getting dark and we started the drive up north.

The GPS continued to torment us by wanting to take every single exit out of the toll road from Rome to Orvieto when we finally snapped. My assistant read the paper map and defined the exit we needed for Volterra and we had an easy drive with relatively little traffic. Naturally, the cash toll point closed exactly when we hit the toll area, but we were soon out and on our way towards Siena. Now the GPS was priceless in the many roundabouts around Siena and the windy road to Volterra. I drove and the assistant warned me of the crossings and turns to come on the long, dark drive. Of course, everything was closed when we arrived, but at least we got to our hotels. It takes five hours to drive – no matter any map service says.

Lunch in Florence

After three intensive days on site we hit the road again in order to meet the sick funzionaria at her office and learned more about the quirks of our GPS. It seemed to take original view to routing, but at least we took the historical road to Florence. However, it seemed not to take into consideration the ZTLs, the areas of restricted driving and parking, so we found ourselves in the historic centre with a big car. Finding a parking spot after escaping the ZTL was far from easy, so we started an unsure hike through the centre. At least the trip was worthwhile and we could have a tasty lunch and spend a little time passing the Duomo and Uffizi.

Back to the car along a right kind of scenic route

Now we wait Week 2 at the mercy of the weather. Apparently, we will be flooded on Monday, a day that may be spent making courtesy visits, but the midweek should be better. Will we get all done? We will know in seven days.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

How many archaeologists am I? Part 4: Italy

At Crustumerium in February 2008

Today I try to tackle briefly the trickiest of the questions: am I an archaeologist in Italy?

Well, I have been, if one considers that I took part as a volunteer student at the excavations at Veii and Ischia di Castro when I was the postgraduate grant holder in the Institutum Romanum Finlandiae in the late 1990s. I also ran the Nepi survey and the Cisterna Grande excavations at Crustumerium, Rome, as a doctoral and postdoctoral research. The foreign teams are incorporated into the national system of applying for the excavations and research permits, but as I write this, the implementation of the new law governing the permits is going on. The permits were previously approved and signed by the local Superintendency, but now an Italy-wide office has been established and the practical reorganisation is ongoing. How this will change the practice is not perfectly clear.

Nevertheless, the different systems and practices related to archaeology and governing the administration excavations has been in flux for some time now. One can read Pintucci and Cella’s (2014) report on archaeological profession in Italy in the recent years and perhaps get an idea how the profession has changed hugely at least in northern Italy. The system there conforms closely to that of commercial archaeology in Britain. As an archaeologist carrying out fieldwork in Italy I am not part of this professional commercial system but the one of the archaeologists working in the parallel system for the international teams and foreign academies. The answer is therefore that I am definitely maybe an archaeologist in Italy. Perhaps half an archaeologist: a foreign archaeologist involved in Italian archaeology.

I am not sure how easy it would be for a foreign academic to be hired professionally in Italy, if I moved there. Similarly, I am not sure how easily I would be hired within commercial archaeology. There are a lot of talented people there making their way to get salaried jobs and any economic downturns make it only harder for individuals.

On an excursion with a colleague in 2015

The reality is that the profession does not stand still. During the time I directed excavations in Italy, we got the safety plans and a health and safety official. I did not have doctor’s statement for all involved in the field, but now the directors of excavations have to present them to the authorities and the diggers have to get them. I could work in Britain as an assistant site officer without having a series of passes on my name, but now I have to get them, if I need to work for units again (which I was expecting to do until last week in not so far away future).

What is clear is that the discussion is on in many countries, not the least in Finland, Britain and Italy, regarding the professionalism in archaeology and the directions where the commercial model is taking us. In Britain it is an extremely capitalist and lean model that does not provide much of job security for diggers but has resulted in the creation of efficient recording systems. In a country like Finland where all sites and archaeology in principle belongs to state and is governed by the all-binding antiquities law and the National Boards of Antiquities, the discussion is on, if there is much point to fragment the field and let business confidentiality to enter the picture as Sweden has done when allowing the commercial units to carry out excavations. The active discussions mean that we are involved and interested in archaeology and fieldwork, even if those circles funding universities, research and heritage do not always seem to be. I hope we do not fall in despair when they show the lack of interest but stay intellectually active.

All in all, three and half archaeologists after four weeks of consideration. Not a bad figure.

Now I will be ready for another season of fieldwork in Italy as a Finnish archaeologist currently funded by the Swedish Kungliga Vitterhetsakademien and representing Stockholm University, living and being active in UK and soon-to-be working in Sweden again.

Sinkhole at Le Balze and Badia in Volterra in 2014


Pintucci, A. and Cella, E. (eds.) 2014. Discovering the Archaeologists of Italy 2012–14. Translated from Italian by D. Pate. Milan: Confederazione Italiana Archeologi,

Sunday, 8 November 2015

How many archaeologists am I? Part 3: Sweden

Buddha from Iron Age Helgö in Sweden

Interestingly, in Sweden I probably would not be a proper archaeologist, if I had only graduated in Sweden in the discipline of classical archaeology and ancient history (AKS, antikens kultur och samhälle in Swedish) in which I worked between September 2013 and May 2015 at the University of Stockholm. In order to run excavations in Sweden, an archaeologist has to have done an exam in excavation methods and passed training excavation. Not all students graduating in AKS necessarily do this in Sweden and this means they are not perceived as archaeologists in Sweden by law. Even if the field courses are run in classical archaeology, if one wants to work as archaeologist in Sweden after graduation, it may be advisable to attend the training in Nordic archaeology as well.

However, I am also an archaeologist in Sweden, since I am an archaeologist in Finland as an Archaeological Society of Finland member, have a Masters from Finland with exams of methodology, a seminar dig at a Late Neolithic settlement site I ended up writing my MA dissertation on and I did also run Iron Age excavations (in Nordic archaeology) as part of my degree in Finland. In addition, I have been validated as a field archaeologist in UK. I am three up.

Goldkammare in the Historiska Museet in Stockholm

What a difference week makes! Last Sunday I was a researcher, affiliated in three countries at three different universities without a proper salary and with a recent tally of unsuccessful funding applications with a very binary set of reviews. I managed to be at the same time an experienced scholar with a vision and potential to explore new things successfully and having absolutely no potential what so ever with a very average proposal reflecting the current state of research practices. Then, suddenly things came together, some of the positive reviewers apparently united in the same process, I got my grant and I am heading to Stockholm again – part-time with the 75% Swedish-style funding.

Nevertheless, it is quite clear that we actually did it together. I have synergy of my linked researcher, Karin Westin Tikkanen, whose research on ancient alphabets in Italy will feed into my assessment of multiculturality in central Italy whereas my data tables will help her. I have also little by little become one part of a network of multidisciplinary researchers interested in these identity related questions, with people with projects that have relevance in colonial situations and others. It feels good to have a glimpse what we may potentially achieve together.

Time for cake?

So I will be concentrating on Italy, but not forgetting Finland, which will be nearer again and where I have to get a next volume of the Monographs of the Archaeological Society of Finland sorted for online publication. Or Britain that will be my family home in the immediate future.

Next week: Italy. Volare...

Sunday, 1 November 2015

How many archaeologists am I? Part 2: UK

At Loddington following Peter Liddle in 2012

Unlike in Finland, when defining a professional archaeologist, the degree is not an end in itself In Britain, but the practised skills and the length of experience. In Finland your university and its archaeology department teaches not only you how to do excavating, but also how to organise an excavation and write an official report, but in Britain the responsibility beyond the basic skills lies with the individual and the employer. You get the experience, skills and training, sometimes enhancing by attending an MA course at a university, and your employer may help you with the Continuous Professional Development (CPD). If you want to be accredited, you will apply to the now Charted Institute for Archaeologists (former Institute of Archaeologists) and they validate your experience based on your CV, experience, portfolio and two references. You can enter at different levels and I have entered as a full Member. I was a MIfa, but will I now be a MCIfA? Yes, I am now two up.

However, in Britain I also was a member in a local field group in Leicestershire after the birth of my young son. This was partly out of trying to understand the local archaeology, be a student of Peter Liddle, in practice the father of community archaeology, partly out of pure love in archaeology that has always manifested in keeping a wide interest in the discipline and in order to improve my chances in getting professionally into British and community archaeology. As a Mediterranean archaeologist, I feel often that I lack some of the credibility among the British field archaeologists, an academic archaeologist, even if I had an MA in Landscape Archaeology from Bristol and have worked for the Cambridge Archaeological Unit. Then I got the post in Sweden and sadly did not have time to go fieldwalking any more, while balancing the work in Sweden and home in Britain with long stays away. I also recently heard that the nearest group had been wound down.

Is it me or not? Perhaps not, but I worked at Grand Arcade, Cambridge (photo linked from the CAU web site)

However, even if I was sitting in the pottery training and walking across the fields as one of the group members, the two roles, as a volunteer and as a professional archaeologist, did merge and blur when it came to test pitting. Our group could do test pitting independently at least on one occasion, since I, an archaeologist and a MIfa, could oversee that everything was carried out properly, records were made and reported further, even if Peter, then still the Leicestershire community archaeologist, could not be there. Even if the presence of an archaeologist is not required by law as long as the landowner approves outside scheduled monuments, the best practice suggests that the volunteers are instructed and assisted. The second time this blurring happened when there were not enough volunteer archaeologist to oversee the test pitting as part of Anstey Big Dig, organised by the Charnwood Roots project. I was there, so my friend could have her garden test-pitted and have a lovely family garden party around it.

Recently, I have been teaching British archaeology especially online. In addition, just a few weeks ago I was also chosen to be the Social Media Communication Officer of the Royal Archaeological Institute and will be promoting our learned society and archaeology in the British Isles and participate in drafting social media policy documents. I am definitely now a British archaeologist, in its many connotations, too.

In a lunchtime seminar at Cambridge

Not that my Nordic or Italian interests go anywhere. On the contrary, I will be more involved actually. To be continued. Next week: Sweden.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

How many archaeologists am I? Part 1: Finland

As my salaried researcher post in Sweden came to an end in the late spring, I was in the position to reflect on my time in Sweden and my new insights into an archaeological community I had the first long-term contact with in the 1990s when I was a committee member and the representative for archaeology students at Turku, Finland, in the Nordic Council for Archaeology Students. In between these two experiences I graduated from the University of Turku in Finland in Finnish and comparative archaeology, decided to change direction and start working within one of my minor disciplines, ‘classical archaeology’, in its pre-Roman Italian archaeology form, moved to England to do first an MA in Landscape Archaeology at Bristol and then a PhD at Cambridge and did fieldwork in Italy as a consequence.

Thus I have ended up in a situation where my professional and personal experience spans four European countries and four perceptions of being an archaeologist. I am still very involved in Finnish archaeology as the Editor-in-Chief of the Monographs of the Archaeological Society of Finland, even if I have not lived there for 16 years. Currently, I am seeing through the publication of an approved PhD thesis with a GIS-study of ritual sieidi sites. Even if I am in my own research dealing with the Latins, the Etruscans and the Faliscans in central Italy, I also still have to keep my eye on a wide selection of different research themes in Finland, Nordic countries and internationally. All my work is very fascinating, but constantly changing contexts and identities leaves me sometimes a little bit confused – especially when I think about the affiliation to any of the foreign research institutes in Rome. I am somewhere in a grey area between the Swedish Institute in Rome, the Institutum Romanum Finlandiae and the British School at Rome – and in practice spending a lot of time in Tram 19 between the Gianicolo Hill and Valle Giulia.

So am I an archaeologist in all four countries, Sweden, Finland, Britain and Italy? Yes and no is the answer, since these countries have different definitions for an archaeologist – in a professional sense. Volunteer archaeologists have existed alongside in all four, but in different kinds of roles and they have been accepted in different ways. In Britain I have also been a local field group member in Leicestershire and thus entered the archaeological community in a volunteer capacity – but in practice that role turned out to cross boundaries. So my position is different in every single country. In the end in the fourth installment, I will try to conclude and count the crucial number in my archaeological existence.

In Finland I have graduated and as a person having a certificate saying in writing I am an MA with a major in archaeology, I could apply a membership in the Archaeological Society of Finland (Suomen arkeologinen seura, SARKS, in Finnish). They checked my credentials and thus I am a validated archaeologist in Finland. Being a graduated archaeologist means that I can act as a director of excavations and I can apply research and excavations permits from the National Board of Antiquities within the antiquities law. A Finnish PhD student carrying out her PhD studies in archaeology in Britain has failed on this ground, since her major was not archaeology but geology. Thus, she has been unable to get research permits from the authorities. This may change, since she is doing scientific tests, but in principle so far she has not been perceived as an archaeologist in Finland, since she lacks the right degree. No matter how much her practical work is within the broad definition of archaeology. Nevertheless, I am one up. Yes, an archaeologist in Finland.

To be continued... Next time: Britain.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

22 years of Whitby headland and other RAI stories

Burlington House in London

This week I was pleasantly surprised when one of the venerable learned societies, the Royal Archaeological Institute, chose me as their new Social Media and Communications Officer. I have posted for the very first time onto the RAI Facebook page, but further action will require establishing an action plan and liaisoning with other officers in order to be properly informed about the existing practices and needs. We will also have to agree on policies and strategies. Nevertheless, if my first encounter was representative, I will have many pleasant meetings ahead.

The Finnish Embassy in Belgrave, London

My day started with a quick nip to the Embassy to order my new passport. The old one expires inconveniently in mid-January, which means that one has in practice to take care of the paperwork before Christmas. Since the end of the year seems quite busy, I decided to do it now when I was heading south anyway, so when we come to London during the Christmas break from school, I can pick the new one up. Of course, the flights in between have been booked with the old one.

The Royal Archaeological Institute has its headquarters in Burlington House, in the Society of Antiquaries. The interview was on the day of their monthly meeting, so I could attend it as well. Especially, since the talk was about the every goth’s favourite place, the Whitby Cathedral. Or not so much about the cathedral, but Tony Wilmott presented the different excavations and interventions English Heritage... I mean Historic England... has carried out there on the headland after the 1924/1925 Peers excavations after the bombardment of Whitby in 1918. Nothing much happened before 1976 when Rahtz actually checked the original excavation maps and compared them to the Peers summary map.

The RAI President Tim Champion addresses the audience

Peers was looking for early Christian monastery cellae and draw onto his map only a selection of suitable squarish walls. He left most of the palimpsest of different walls and structures out of this neat map with the consequence that Rathz considered the map as a misinterpretation and as such he thought it would be difficult to imagine any better example of such than this ‘interpretation’. The many interventions by EH/HE since 1993 have revealed new information of the earliest phases of the abbey recorded as Streonaeshalch by Bede, originally founded in 657 by Osby. The Danes really brought the place down in the 9th century, so that the bones of the saints kept there were moved to Glastonbury in 944 and the new Gothic cathedral rose only in the 12th century. However, in the 13th century, the long process with events of collapses started.

Sorting the technology

The current research and conservation has to deal with eroding headland. Apparently, c. 400 metres of cliff has disappeared and with it the Roman signal station that must have been along the coast, deducted from the others on the shoreline. The various attempts to get the car park and toilet sorted have been hampered by archaeological remains and sudden collapses making the car park in times an exclusion zone. However, the heroic research efforts have revealed Bronze Age round houses, Roman background noise and Anglian and Medieval property boundaries. Now they hope that different measures have consolidated the headland.

The other finds from the headland are quite spectacular. There are signs of a long curved boundary ditch that accommodated an Anglian cemetery. The cemetery seems to have been relatively large and the fragments of epitaphs found in early excavations. A primary cremation dates to a period between 610 and 680, determined with a C14 dating. There is also an Anglian road with ruts and stone foundation of a building. The area of the monastery and cathedral is neatly defined by Medieval ridge and furrow visible in the 1990s geophysical survey. HE hopes that the new geophysical survey planned will reveal more features. The later 17th century house of the Cholmely family revealed a large stoned garden. What a treasure box of archaeology. Sadly, none of the images featured a goth. Nevertheless, the experience and the list of this academic year's lectures suggests that a membership in the RAI will be beneficial to my archaeological general knowledge on the British Isles.

The day was success also otherwise. Between the interview and lunch and the 4.30pm tea I managed to pop to the British Museum to marvel the Sutton Hoo room. I also learned a lesson. Actually, two. The lesson one: do not try to take a selfie with an old smart phone without a camera on the front. The lesson two: do not take a selfie, if you are not 20 any more, ‘big-boned’ and slightly sweaty after speed walking around the museum. I should have buried the result, but for the general education, see, learn and be very, very horrified. The hamster chins is not a good look. You cannot even see the helmet properly!

The photo from the start of the term drinks party in the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at Cambridge is more like it. Especially, when it came after a long successful day in the libraries:

Royal Archaeological Institute

If you are interested in knowing more about the activities of the Royal Archaeological Institute, check the web site. There is the lecture programme and information on the trips. Apparently, in July they visited Stockholm. The conference on maritime archaeology took place this weekend and there is more to come. The membership fees are very reasonable, considering you can access to the Library of the Society of Antiquaries and get a newsletter and the Archaeological Journal as well. The younger members have a special price, too.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Sekhemka on the go?

The Sekhemka statue on show in the 1950s (photo: Wikimedia)

With great sadness one watched how swiftly the Snibston Discovery Museum in Coalville seized to exist and the marvellous displays of long-gone Leicestershire toy industry and still strong clothes trade closed along with lovely play ground for children, train runs to celebrate the trade the town got its name and the theatre facility closed. The local trust did their best, but the doors were closed before the August high season. The county council got some savings, but has to pay back the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The councils and local government are under huge pressure to save, save, save and museums and such ‘soft’ areas without legal obligations are easy targets. Let’s hope that the ideological matters do not play part, since it would be sad to see that the Conservatives do not wish to conserve and present the past of the country they say they will make proud.

Much is spoken about the Heritage Industry, some of it with very critical tone of voice. During these hard times, safeguarding the core business should be paramount and if heritage industry means that the museums and heritage areas have updated information boards, new exhibitions, inform people of their past and the past of their area or the whole world in an experience that is fun and exciting for the whole family at a sensible price, so let it be so. If that will keep the archives and collections running and safe, the side-show will protect the intangible benefits in the future. Considering the customer is not a crime, some other things are more likely to be deemed, if not know, then in the future, a crime at least in the figurative sense.

I was flipping through the British Archaeology magazine and saw a series of linked articles on Egypt. One of them was on Sekhemka sale, the theme that has come up in local media in the East Midlands, Heritage Daily and different blogs, such as Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues. When I first read about it, I was not so alarmed, since I considered an Egyptian statue in a local museum without proper associated collections little a mismatch. However, then I thought again and realised that there are huge issues on stake here. First and foremost, after this sale no benefactor could not be sure if the material they donate to enrich the collections or archives will be pulped or sold the following week. The local authorities, organisations and archives can forget their duties and just concentrate on keeping the doors open and payroll running no matter what. It is just fair that the borough council lost its chance of the HLF grants with losing its Accreditation from the Arts Council and the Museum Association membership.

Even if the Sekhemka statue does not reflect directly the local archaeology, it definitely reflects the local history and general history of learned activity during the late 19th century. Every school child in Britain, no matter if in state or private school, does study ancient Egypt. When one examines the Sekhemka statue in detail, one realises how exceptional piece it is. With bright colours and beautiful reliefs of humans, birds and tasks it is an extraordinary object of art. Any local council owning it would benefit of it and could use it in profiling and teaching as much as they wished. In fact, by auctioning it to an unknown foreign bidder and causing the government to issue an export ban, they have managed to create an unusual amount of publicity to the issue and the statue at the same time as they are not got the benefits of positive publicity. Only underlined the fact that the people of Northamptonshire and Britain will potentially be robbed of this resource.

In addition, the Sekhemka statue reflects the complicated situation it was brought to the collections, as the British Archaeology explains in its article. The situation of export from Egypt and import to Britain in 1850 after a tour in Egypt by Compton, the 2nd Marquis of Northampton, during the winter of 1849/1850 is not clear. Thus, under the international law, actually, Egypt may have a claim to the statue as well. In addition, when the statue was sold at Christie’s on July 10 in 2014, the extraordinary hammer price of £14 million was split for no clear reason between the borough council and the 7th Marquis of Northamptonshire, due to the unclarity of the early history of the statue in the museum collections. There is no record of actual donation that makes the situation even more complex. The first mention of the piece is from 1899, when in a newspaper press cutting referred to a case filled with Egyptian objects collected by Spencer Compton as President of Royal Society and others. The 4th Marquis had donated the Borough of Northampton a geological collection of 295 drawers of specimens and for some reason a collection of Egyptian antiquities. In the museum inventory list the statue does not appear until 1920.

At least the 7th Marquis of Northampton has form in selling terms. He sold the Greek vase collection of Compton at Christie’s already in 1980. Luckily, Minister Ed Vaizey seems to appreciate the past more than his colleagues in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. The Sekhemka export ban has been extended until March 29, 2016. This is a double-edged sword to the Save Sekhemka Action Group. They argue that it would be ethically wrong for any UK museum or conglomerate to raise the £15,732,600 that is needed to match the hammer price plus a buyer’s premium according to the UK regulations. This would just leave the way open for councils to sell other items.

How could UK square the circle? Egyptian buyer to be found? Actually passing legislation to protect collections and heritage as advocated by Lord Renfrew? This is far from clear, since the action houses would see their business cut. UK and Switzerland are the only European countries that feed international arts market without protection. Will government protect British public property or sell it for profit? Ultimately, for government, does society exist or do they govern us without purpose? Do residents have right to know their past? Or will profoundly Neoconservatist economic ideologies be totally ahistoric, creating an intellectual vacuum, uncivilized nation?

One has to thank the British Archaeology and its Mike Pitts for excellent articles on the The Sekhemka sale, 2nd Marquis of Northampton and the related articles on Nefertiti looked for in Tutankhamun's tomb and the cententary of the Petrie Museum.
Stephen Quirke and Alice Stevenson wrote the article on the Sekhemka sale and Mike Pitts the one on the Marquis's travels and collecting that have been used to provide the facts in this text.
The British Archaeology is the magazine of the Council for British Archaeology - of course.

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