Stonehenge…Live! The post-mortem

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I’m writ­ing this up June 23. Yes, I write some entries that far in advance. It’s how the daily updates hap­pen at 9:00 exactly. I file a bunch at once and let the com­puter auto-post. It means I can work on my PhD with no dis­trac­tions, or at least no blog related dis­trac­tions. It also means that I can go back and re-edit entries, though tak­ing a few days before start­ing writ­ing this entry means I’m not going to be as scath­ing as I could have been. Just as well. I didn’t think Stonehenge Live was that bad, just dis­ap­point­ing and a bit of a missed opportunity.

Foamhenge lit by a rising artificial moon
Foamhenge by the light of an arti­fi­cial moon.

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The SEAC Conference starts

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Today is the first ses­sion of the SEAC con­fer­ence. They star­ted with a meet ‘n’ greet last night. I’m not there, I have work to do. This will be the first year in quite a while when there isn’t a new book pub­lished at the meet­ing. Normally the pro­ceed­ings of a con­fer­ence are ref­er­eed and then pub­lished two years later. However the 2003 con­fer­ence was a micro-conference so the papers are get­ting bundled into the 2004 volume, which is due 2006. Readers who work in the sci­ences may find this hard to believe, but this is con­sidered speedy.

So today I’ll prob­ably be grouchy because I’m miss­ing out on sites like the one below. It’s a Nuraghe a Bronze Age tomb for­ti­fied dwell­ing. Not miss­ing them so much that I’d actu­ally pay to go to Sardinia though :)

A Nuraghe
Nuraghe Palmavera. Photo by Dave2002.

More Mysticism

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The Skeptic's CircleI’m told that June 26’s post wasn’t my first exper­i­ence with the New Age at West Kennet. I don’t remem­ber my first trip there, which was when I was five. My Da does though.

Inside West Kennet Long Barrow
Inside the West Kennet long barrow

We went on a fam­ily trip one sum­mer. I went run­ning off and climbed up the bar­row to look around. There’s not a lot to see from the top of the bar­row apart from fields. There’s Silbury Hill, but when you’re five you don’t real­ise that hills aren’t meant to be per­fect hill shapes. I did man­age to find some­thing interesting.

Whoever restored the site had given some thought to illu­min­a­tion. Long bar­rows are nat­ur­ally dark places. In this case the con­crete roof built into the site wouldn’t have helped. To solve this prob­lem little sky­lights were fixed into the con­crete. They were trans­lu­cent, so you could see through them but from the inside they let a little light in. I was five, so I thought stamp­ing on it might be a good idea.

It was a ter­rific idea.

The bar­row was hol­low, so I found that by stamp­ing on the sky­light I could make a big boom noise. For a five year old this is the a dis­cov­ery as excit­ing as find­ing a new planet or a new con­tin­ent. So I stamped and I stamped. Boom. Boom. Boom. My Da came up to see what trouble I was get­ting into*. He saw what I was doing and, being a respons­ible par­ent, told me to stop it. Being curi­ous he then had a stamp him­self. I took that as a sig­nal that I could stamp too and we got quite a rhythm going. We car­ried on doing this until my da was dis­trac­ted by some people leav­ing the bar­row. They were plainly stoned, but non­ethe­less also ter­ribly excited. He caught the word “heartbeat”.

This doesn’t mean that all mys­tical exper­i­ences in bar­rows are fake, but if you’re an ardent believer of paranor­mal stuff it’s use­ful to remem­ber it’s not just the truth that’s out there. I am too.

*the thought that I was half a mile from any­where and there­fore couldn’t get into trouble never crossed his mind.

Graffiti Archaeology?

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I won’t men­tion Athena’s blog and how she’s tak­ing apart altern­at­ive archae­ology claims because I’ve got a post on Graham Hancock lined up for July 2.

Instead I’ll point out Savage Minds again where Suspirium Puellarum Celadus Thraex points out archae­ology blogs I didn’t know of A Visible City and Graffiti Archaeology News.

Graffiti
Underwater Spinning by Eric in SF.

I do remem­ber vaguely see­ing Graffiti Archaeology earlier in the year, strug­gling with the nav­ig­a­tion and won­der­ing ‘what’s the point?’ It works as art, but without any com­ment­ary on the sub­ject is it archae­ology? The col­lec­tion of past images strike me more as Graffiti Antiquarianism. It might be some­thing you do archae­ology with, but without thought as to the mean­ing or use of the graf­fiti I can’t see how it is archae­olo­gical. Hopefully someone can cor­rect me and point me to where the dis­cus­sion of mean­ing is.

It’s prob­ably just me being jeal­ous for not hav­ing a Webby des­pite hav­ing this site run­ning for lit­er­ally weeks. :)

Isn’t Kraftwerk Wonderful?

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Kraftwerk have just released a new live album Minimum Maximum which pretty much under­lines the obvi­ous. They’re geni­uses. Live albums can be awful, with the band drop­ping the gui­tar, singing off key or at their worst tak­ing the oppor­tun­ity for ter­minal drum solos to see if the song can out­live a fair pro­por­tion of the audi­ence. This is the only album I know of where people com­plain that a track, Autobahn, is a mere nine minutes long, rather than the twenty-two it was on the ori­ginal album.

In terms of influ­ence they’re the elec­tronic Beatles. A new band could carve out a suc­cess­ful career rip­ping off their works. This isn’t just true of eighties bands, com­pare The Robots to Daft Punk’s recent Robot Rock.

The com­mon com­plaint by poodle-rockers is that elec­tronic music lacks soul. Listening to Trans-Europe Express whilst trav­el­ling, even if it’s into Leicester, is an awe­some exper­i­ence. I can’t ima­gine Bön Jovi cap­tur­ing the eurphoria of adding and sub­tract­ing like Kraftwerk can on Pocket Calculator. And then very few bands could also pull off some­thing with the fra­gile beauty of Neon Lights.

But most won­der­ful of all they have proper hair­cuts. Who cares if they’re not in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame? They’re too good for that.

A band with proper haircuts.
A band with a proper haircut.

…and now I’ve dis­covered you can’t link to audio clips at Amazon. Ho hum.

I get on with some Pagans

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A busy day at West Kennet Long Barrow
A photo care­fully angled to hide most of the tour­ists out­side West Kennet Long Barrow, because I hadn’t planned on writ­ing up the visit this way.

I decided to take some time to tour Avebury recently. Along the way I stopped off around Silbury Hill and took the short trek up to West Kennet. It’s a long bar­row, a tomb dat­ing from the Stone Age. Effectively it’s a house of the dead. Huge stones were used to build a long nar­row pas­sage­way with side cham­bers and then the whole thing was covered in earth. They’re strange places because rather than each cham­ber being for an indi­vidual or a fam­ily, it seems to have been a type of bone. So people’s fore­arms were put together in one place, ribs in another and so on. Coming up on this day I noticed the out­side had quite a large num­ber of vis­it­ors out­side. I found out why when I went to go inside. A group were try­ing to have a col­lect­ive chant in there.
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Archaeology on TV could be worse

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Rex at Savage Minds has had a jaw about The Indiana Jones thing, which raises some ser­i­ous ques­tions about the image of anthro­po­logy in the US. The com­ments are also worth read­ing. Fortunately this isn’t such a prob­lem in the UK. One is that archae­olo­gists are thought of as grubby his­tor­i­ans in the UK. Even in the lib­rar­ies of many uni­ver­sit­ies you’ll find archae­ology shelved with his­tory away from the rest of anthro­po­logy. In Leicester Anthropology is on a dif­fer­ent floor. The other is we have Time Team, which on the whole is a good thing.

Time Team’s been going for yonks now, and it’s the biggest pull into archae­ology at uni­ver­sity level. You can ask the under­gadu­ates what archae­ology they’ve read and they’ll look at you blankly, but men­tion Time Team and they can all tell you their favour­ite epis­ode. Even Graham Hancock doesn’t get a look-in.

For those of you that haven’t seen it, the Time Team visit a site and then excav­ate to find some­thing out about it over three days. Three days is the limit, it’s just an explor­at­ory excav­a­tion. The cam­eras fol­low the archae­olo­gists about and film them as they dig. It sounds like it should be as fas­cin­at­ing as watch­ing paint dry. Digging, on the whole is repet­it­ive busi­ness and shouldn’t make good TV. What spices it up is that the show is one hour long and they com­press everything into it. So as well as the find­ing things bit, you also see them arrive explain what they expect to find from pre­vi­ous data, what the prob­lem they hope to solve is and then all the pro­spect­ing includ­ing vari­ous Geophysical toys. The icing on the cake is they never lose site of the prob­lem they’ve set. If some­thing is found then they ask what does this mean for our under­stand­ing of the site as a whole. They also show the import­ance of con­text. It’s not just that a brooch is pretty, but that where it was found allows a phase of the build­ing to be dated, so aid­ing our under­stand­ing in a way that merely see­ing a lump of metal can’t.

There are prob­lems. Some stu­dents struggle to under­stand that you can’t solve every prob­lem in the world in just three days. Nor do many units have the funds to throw at a site that the Time Team has. That’s no fault of the pro­gramme because it’s what hap­pens when you treat the audi­ence like they’re intel­li­gent, and that’s the best bit of Time Team.

Suppose they find a build­ing because of crop­marks. In any other pro­gramme there would be a minute lost while the presenter asks “What exactly is a crop­mark?” The Time Team approach is that they’ve covered this often enough in the past that they don’t need to explain how crop­marks work in great detail. They simply say the crop­marks show whatever and talk about what it means. Because they’re not stop­ping each step of the pro­cess to explain the basics to a seven-year-old or someone like a Daily Mail reader, they can talk more about what is inter­est­ing about the archaeology.

So while there are gripes that you can aim at Time Team, it does archae­ology in the UK a huge ser­vice because it means the under­gradu­ates com­ing onto the courses at least have some idea of what archae­ology is about. When drunk they’re far more likely to shout “Oi you, get out of my trench!” than “THATBELONGSIN — A — MUSEUM!” And that’s a good thing.

I do won­der if Rex is show­ing his age slightly :) . The hippest archae­olo­gist in the UK at the moment is Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider. No great improvement.