Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Czech yourself before you wreck yourself: 19th EAA Annual Meeting in Pilsen

The annual meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) is almost upon us and in this week's blog post Rachel Young, Maney Publishing's new Executive Publisher in archaeology and heritage, cherry picks the sessions that catch her eye:
"I’ve been looking forward to attending the 2013 EAA Meeting for some time. Looking at the programme I feel a bit like a kid in a sweet shop. Generally anything with the words ‘lithic, ‘stone’, and ‘landscape’ catches my eye, and there are plenty of sessions to choose from in this year’s programme.

As there are so many enticing sessions on offer it’s been hard work honing my list. The ‘Public Archaeology’ session on Thursday 5th September is a ‘must attend’. Lorna Richardson has co-organised a round table to discuss the definition of the discipline which should be lively. It will be interesting to see Estella Weiss-Krejci’s session on ‘Archaeology meets modern art: artists’ approaches to prehistoric data’ given the dismissive comments made about the contribution of modern art in many reviews of the British Museum’s recent ‘Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind’ exhibition. Don Henson and Diane Scherzler’s session on digital heritage also catches my eye as I have an infatuation with laser scanning and its potential in multi-scale archaeological interpretation after a recent scanning demonstration. The main digital heritage session, ‘New digital developments in heritage management and research’, is co-organised by Julian Richards, Franco Niccolucci and Elizabeth Jerem and held over Friday. I am planning to see as much of this as I can, digital archives, data standards and open access are going to be core concerns for archaeology publishers over the coming years!
Aleks Pluskowski’s session on ‘Indigenous Communities in Conquered Landscapes’, looks fascinating as does 'Creating Landscape Visions: managing the past while imagining the future'. I’m hoping that there will be some imaginative presentations and perhaps some new methods of presentation.
Iain Banks will be presenting at ‘The Archaeology and Heritage of the Prisoner of War experience: researching and managing a fragile resource’. As this overlaps with the main digital heritage session I will do my conflict archaeology stint in the ‘Archaeology and cultural heritage during and after armed conflict’ session on Saturday afternoon.
With all of this it looks like I won’t get a lithics fix this year, even though these two sessions look very interesting: ‘New Perspectives on Lithic Scatters and Landscapes: Different scales, different approaches?’ and ‘Managing lithic tools: The contribution of technological and functional studies to the understanding of stone tool management during the Neolithic’, especially if there was a discussion on stone selection.
Do please come and visit the Maney Publishing stand to tell me what I’ve missed. If I’m not there you know what sessions I’m likely to be attending or just possibly I'm somewhere enjoying a cold Czech beer!"

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Let's celebrate British archaeology: Yorkshire Archaeological Journal

Festival of Archaeology runs
every year in July
As many of you may be aware, Britain is currently in the throes of the Festival of Archaeology which runs between Saturday 13th and Sunday 28th July and celebrates British archaeology with a whole host of events up and down the country. This varies from a tour of Leicestershire Museums archaeology collections to excavating Alderney’s Roman fort in the Channel Islands.

So in this spirit I wanted to showcase some of the best research in British archaeology that the Maney Publishing archive has to offer and this article from the latest issue of Yorkshire Archaeological Journal does just that. "The Development of Archaeological Thought as Evidenced in the Yorkshire Archaeological Journal" was written by John Collins and explores the role of the YAJ not only as a journal of record, but also as an innovator in the development of archaeological ideas such as landscape archaeology, aerial photography and open-area archaeology, as well as more traditional approaches, for instance tackling historical questions such as the Roman conquest of Britain. It deals with the changes of paradigm which affected both the types of fieldwork carried out and nature of interpretation in both a British and a European context. With the work of Raistrick on landscape history and of Beresford on deserted medieval villages, its publications had an impact far beyond the boundaries of the county. The Yorkshire Archaeological Society (YAS) has also acted as a meeting ground for the various institutions which have engaged in archaeology in the county, both professional and amateur.

The following is an excerpt from its introduction:
"At several times in the last 200 years Yorkshire has been at the forefront, pioneering new ideas in Archaeology, but equally it has absorbed many innovations from outside, and, though these are many and varied, over the long term two major sources can be identified. The earlier of these was from Scandinavia, more specifically Denmark, though some of this came via London where there has always been a strong Yorkshire involvement in the Society of Antiquaries and other national bodies (Giles 2006). The other influence of long-term significance was the University of Cambridge, in theoretical ideas and in the important role played by its graduates, starting in the 1930s, though local universities have been playing an increasing role in the last thirty years.
The YAS was founded
in 1863
The society was founded in the immediate aftermath of one of the most fundamental upheavals in the history of science, with the publication of Charles Lyell’s The Principles of Geology in 1830 and Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859, and the rejection of the biblical date for the creation of the world around 4004 bc. The new paradigm envisaged an open-ended date for the appearance of the world and the arrival of human beings on its surface, so its impact was huge not only on religious beliefs but in Physical Anthropology, Archaeology and Philology."

>> Read the full article for free

>> Visit the Festival of Archaeology website

Monday, 15 July 2013

Digging Deeper: A Load of Old Rubbish? A Quantitative Study of the City-Dump of Early Roman Jerusalem

View of Early Roman Jerusalem city-dump looking south-west
Following the discovery of a stone head - thought to be of a god worshipped by people in the north east of England - at an ancient rubbish dump at the Binchester Roman Fort in County Durham, UK, I took a look in the Maney Publishing online archive for other examples of when the every day waste of over 1,000 years ago can hold the key to further understanding ancient civilisations.

"Holy Garbage": A Quantitative Study of the City-Dump of Early Roman Jerusalem" published in the June 2007 issue of Levant details the chance discovery of an Early Roman city dump (1st century CE) in Jerusalem that has yielded for the first time ever quantitative data on garbage components that introduce us to the mundane daily life Jerusalemites led and the kind of animals that were featured in their diet.

Most of the garbage consists of pottery shards, all common tableware, while prestige objects are entirely absent. Other significant garbage components include numerous fragments of cooking ovens, wall plaster, animal bones and plant remains. Of the pottery vessels, cooking pots are the most abundant type. Most of the refuse turns out to be “household garbage” originating in the domestic areas of the city, while large numbers of cooking pots may point to the presence of pilgrims. Significantly, the faunal assemblage, which is dominated by kosher species and the clear absence of pigs, set Jerusalem during its peak historical period apart from all other contemporaneous Roman urban centers.

The following is an excerpt from the introduction:
Dismemberment cut mark on an axis and a long bone of a sheep-goat specimen.
"During the Early Roman Period (63 BCE to 70 CE), Jerusalem was a large metropolis (ca. 170 hectares) with a resident population of over 30,000 people. It was a temple-city housing the only shrine where the God of Israel could be worshipped. Large numbers of pilgrims gathered in the city three times a year for the main Jewish festivals. The city’s prosperity largely derived from its religious status; produce was brought to the city from the many small farms in the Judaean Mountains surrounding the city (e.g. Baruch 1998). Pilgrims brought animal- and plantbased food provisions to the city, part of which was sacrificed on the altar, part given as tithe to the priests and part consumed by the pilgrims themselves.

The greater part of the ‘second tithe’ was consumed by the pilgrims themselves, within the boundaries of the city. From the animal offerings the Pessah offering was consumed completely by the pilgrim, as well as greater parts of the Zebah Shelamim offering. Due to activities associated with the Temple and its animal sacrifice rites, Jerusalem’s population, whether native or foreign, was a major consumer of meat. While historical and archaeological records have given us a wealth of insights into Jerusalem’s religious rites and practices, we know virtually nothing about how people in the city spent their daily lives and the kind of animals that were featured in their diet."

>> Read the full article for free

Monday, 8 July 2013

Jamestown: America's birthplace?

Aerial view of Jamestown Island
In light of last week's American Independence Day on 4th July, I revisited the 2006 special issue of
Post-Medieval Archaeology on the founding of England's first permanent settlement in North America, Jamestown, Virginia in 1607.

In her article 'Archaeology and the construction of America's Jamestown' Audrey Horning reviews the history of archaeological research on the site and the use of archaeology in the symbolic construction of Jamestown as 'America's Birthplace'. It is argued that the archaeological construction of Jamestown as an American icon ultimately constrains understanding of the site in terms of its broader Atlantic world context, obscuring the motivations, experiences and expectations of the Europeans who made their way to Virginia, and rendering the considerable native presence invisible. Findings from the most recent projects on the Island, placed in the context of past investigations, allow for an evaluation of the significance of Jamestown's archaeology in the twentieth-century. 
The following is an excerpt from the article's introduction:

Jamestown: Girl Scouts hunting for artefacts at Well 20 in 1956
"Jamestown, where England first gained a permanent if precarious toehold in the New World by depositing a fractious group of gentlemen, boys, labourers and ex-soldiers on the shores of a modest island inland from the Chesapeake Bay in 1607, is perhaps the most archaeologically investigated historic site in North America. Since the 1890s, trowels, shovels, bulldozers, and even dynamite have been employed to shift tons of Jamestown soil in search of the roots of a country. Thousands of artefacts were extracted from the earth, the crumbling remains of nearly 100 buildings exposed to curious eyes — even the river was dredged in the hunt for John Smith’s legacy. For over 100 years, the scant physical traces of this early English colonial settlement have been accorded a status and significance arguably far beyond the information provided about the lived experiences of those newcomers and natives who once trod the same muddy soil now deemed sacred."

Dr Horning goes on to conclude that:

"Jamestown is not significant because it was settled in 1607 and therefore can lay claim to being the ‘cradle of the Republic’, or the place where America began. Such a notion not only denies 10,500 years of native life, as well as the 16thcentury Spanish colonial presence in North America and earlier English colonial and commercial endeavours, but more  importantly would have seemed ludicrous to Virginia’s settlers and leaders. It is from their perspective that we must try to understand the meaning behind Jamestown’s archaeological remains. Jamestown’s archaeology can inform us more about the culture of 17th century England than it can about the origins of an elusive American identity."

>> Read the full article for free

Monday, 1 July 2013

“Practising Archaeology – as if it really matters”: Archaeology and a responsibility to the public

A solar energy farm is planned for locations near Peterborough, UK
Last week the BBC reported that plans for a solar energy farm near Peterborough, UK have been put on hold after the city council agreed to have an archaeological survey conducted in the area. English Heritage recommended the survey and referred to evidence that there could be “presence of nationally important buried Bronze and Iron Age landscapes in the vicinity". The article states that "[c]ampaigners hoping to halt plans for a solar energy farm near Peterborough are celebrating" but also that the project "would help achieve renewable energy targets and profits would keep tax bills low". This raises an interesting question - just how much do archaeologists take into account the needs, wants and expectations of the community around them when conducting excavations and surveys that potentially could stop development of areas all together?

K Anne Pyburn considers this question in her article "Practising Archaeology - as if it really matters" published in the August 2009 special issue of Public Archaeology entitled 'Archaeological Ethnographies'. In the article Professor Pyburn surmises that "People care about archaeology for a variety of competing reasons" and that "Archaeologists no longer ignore this as they once did, but few have come to terms on a pragmatic level with their responsibility to the public" and recommends "Participatory Action Research (PAR) as a method that archaeologists untrained in ethnography can use to expediently develop ethnographically sensitive and respectful relationships."

The following is an excerpt from the article:

"I base my work on several preconceptions. First, all fieldwork, whether it is archaeology or palaeontology or geology or something else, has an impact on living people. The degree of the effect is related to various factors including the mere presence of the researcher as an outsider, or at least as someone with a defined agenda, the attention the research draws to the local area, and the political implications of the interpretations the researcher makes...The repercussions of the research can be positive, negative or neutral but most of the time any research programme has some positive, some negative and some neutral effects all at the same time."

Professor Pyburn goes on to conclude that:

"From my perspective, ethnographic knowledge is the result of sharing information rather than simply extracting it from a community to which the ethnographer does not belong. Respecting the people who will be influenced by archaeological research does not amount to learning their habits and language well enough to coax them into supporting what the archaeologist wants to do. The archaeologist does indeed need to know the people interested in her work, but the interested people also need a chance to know the archaeologist, and her culture. Arranging for these processes to happen in tandem is not going to result in the ethnographic excavation Radcliffe-Brown accomplished in the Andaman Islands, but archaeologists need more breadth than depth in their ethnography and for our purposes it is as important to be known as to know."

>> Read the BBC article "Peterborough solar farm: Archaeology puts plans on hold"