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.
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
Nuraghe Palmavera. Photo by Dave2002.
I’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.
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.
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.
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.
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 a proper haircut.
…and now I’ve discovered you can’t link to audio clips at Amazon. Ho hum.
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.
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 “THAT — BELONGS — IN — 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.
I’ll have to remember to add them both back into the link panel. Their return is heralded by an analysis of Michael Shanks’s hit count. They argue from a very mathematically sound position that 409,908 hits divided by eleven months does not equal 60k hits a month, but rather 37,264. I think their analysis is flawed on two counts. One is that it assumes the hits are evenly distributed through the eleven months. If 37,264 is the mean point and the hits climb at a constant rate from zero when it started then it would be equally reasonable to assume archaeolog’s hit rate is 74,528 a month. 60k hits a month sounds plausible. Still, I can’t get too worked up about it because it’s irrelevant if you think about what a hit is.
I picked up a press release last night on the discovery of the source of the bluestones for Stonehenge. Bournemouth University have very kindly sent me some photos to go with it, which arrived this morning. I’d be grateful if no-one hotlinked to them, partly because of my bandwidth troubles and also because they’re not mine as the copyright notices show.
Leading Stonehenge expert, Professor Tim Darvill of Bournemouth University, believes he has discovered the answer to one of the stone circle’s oldest mysteries – the exact location in Wales where Stonehenge’s ‘magical’ bluestones were quarried centuries ago.
Writing in the July/August issue of ‘British Archaeology’, Professor Darvill describes the very spot high in the Preseli Hills of Pembrokeshire from where the bluestones – which form the inner circle of Stonehenge – were transported, some 240 miles west of Salisbury Plain.
What Professor Darvill and his colleague Geoff Wainwright believe they have found are the remains of a stone enclosure. Professor Darvill describes a “small crag-edged promontory with a stone bank across its neck” in one of the most elevated parts of Carn Menyn. The enclosure is small (less than half a hectare) but according to Professor Darvill it provides a veritable ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ of made-to-measure pillars for aspiring circle builders.
Detail of the excavation through the stone boundary on the north side of the Carn Menyn Enclosure. Photograph by Timothy Darvill © 2005 Bournemouth University and SPACES.
“Within and outside the enclosure are numerous prone pillar stones with clear signs of working,” he writes. “Some are fairly recent and a handful of drill holes attest to the technology used. Other blocks may have been wrenched from the ground or the crags in ancient times with simpler, but no less efficient, technologies that leave no trace.
Excavation of the Carn Menyn Enclosure boundary wall in April 2005. Photograph by Timothy Darvill © 2005 Bournemouth University and SPACES.
“Three things are clear from just looking round the site,” Prof Darvill concludes. “First, those outcrops have been exploited as a source of stone for a long time and much has been taken away. Second, our understanding of what a ‘quarry’ is perhaps needs to be modified because here the extraction of pillars simply involves levering suitably shaped but naturally detached blocks from the ground or a fractured outcrop. And third, the remoteness of the place and its mountain – top situation invite comparison with other known sources of prized stone, exploited for axeheads during the fourth and third millennia BC.”
Carn Menyn, Pembrokeshire, main source of the bluestones used in the central circles at Stonehenge. View looking northeast. Photograph by Timothy Darvill © 2005 Bournemouth University and SPACES.
This has been sat in the drafts pile for a while. I’ve been writing and re-writing because I don’t want to have the post get lost in the rights or wrongs of the occupation of Iraq. I simply wanted to highlight a serious problem. I’ve moved it up because Cronaca notes the Guardian story that illicit excavation of antiquities may be helping fund terrorists in Iraq and suggests taking the story with a mountain of salt. I’m not so dismissive. The picture below shows just one site.
Umma, a Sumerian captial city, trashed. The smooth bits are the unexcavated patches. Photo from the WMF.
This isn’t anything new. SAFE records a ongoing failure to act to preserve Iraqi heritage. The problem continues. There are now large areas of the country where illicit excavators can operate. Control is now so weak that items can be stolen to order and shipped to Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. So far the loot appears to be stored but it should in time be possible to fence the goods on the antiquities market.
Now obviously I’d like to make clear to Christie’s, Sotheby’s and especially their lawyers that I’m not suggesting for one moment that they’d sell goods if an Islamic fundamentalist turned up on their doorstep with a sack of loot. However I’m not totally convinced that their checks are sufficient to stop them from unwittingly selling illicit material. I don’t make this charge lightly. Below is a diagram from Ian Stead’s book on the Salisbury Hoard. The Salisbury Hoard was illegally excavated in the UK and fenced through the London market. See how many names you recognise.
It’s hard to argue that something isn’t very wrong in the antiquities market, when illicit goods can be passed around like that. It’s amazing the British Museum was even able to spot something was amiss. It’s also worth noting that all the antiquities going overseas should have had export licences. I don’t know how many did. It must drive honest antiquities dealers mad with rage. I’m amazed you don’t hear the major auction houses demanding a crackdown on the people who bring their trade into disrepute.
It’s safe to assume that there is the demand and the means of supplying it once the material is out of Iraq.
Now all we have to do work out sort of person is able to work in the remote parts of Iraq where there’s a bunch armed vicious Islamic fundamentalists running amok. If we could also work out some sort of connection between the presumed first link in the antiquities chain, dealers in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and the foreign insurgents in Iraq. Badgerminor at Orbis Quintus has some idea where they might come from.
I don’t think you need a mountain of salt. The one ray of sunshine is the people who go and do this are the ones who get ripped off. Buy buying antiquities you could well be helping fund terrorists, but by far the larger amount of profit will be siphoned off into organised crime. So that’s alright.