Friday, 24 January 2014

Blogging about bog bodies: should museums display human remains?

2 February 2014 marks World Wetlands Day so I thought I'd have a peek into the back archive of Journal of Wetland Archaeology and came across the article 'Bog Bodies on Display' by Heather Gill-Robinson which was originally presented as a conference paper. It discusses the display of human remains in German and Canadian museums and the difference in public perception of the remains.
Although bog bodies are on permanent display in Europe, recently several of these bodies were brought to Canada for the first time, as part of the exhibition “The Mysterious Bog People: Rituals and Sacrifice in Ancient Europe”. Though the same exhibition had run in Hanover, Germany without incident, less than a week after the exhibition opened at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa, it faced sharp criticism for the public display of human remains.
“The Mysterious Bog People” is a large travelling exhibition formed through the cooperative international partnership of four museums: Drents Museum of Assen in the Netherlands; the Niedersächsisches Landesmuseum of Hanover, Germany; the Canadian Museum of Civilization of Gatineau, Canada and the Glenbow Museum of Calgary, Canada. Entirely curated in Europe, the exhibition consists of more than 400 artefacts from bog sites in northwestern Europe, as well as seven preserved ancient bodies. The primary focus of the exhibition is to present the artefacts and bodies as evidence of votive offerings to sacred wetland sites.
Although there is no law against the display of archaeological human remains in Canada, it is generally not an acceptable practice. Much of the archaeology in Canada is linked to the heritage of First Nations groups and it may be offensive to the indigenous groups to display the physical remains of their ancestors. Canadian museums, in general, no longer include human remains in any exhibition about First Nations groups and they are careful to ensure that all human remains are shown in an appropriate and respectful manner. During preparations for the “Mysterious Bog People” exhibition, the views of First Nations and other interested groups were taken into consideration as part of the planning.
It was anticipated that strong public reaction against the bog bodies in Canada would exist; only limited negative public opinion has been voiced. The aspect of the exhibition that has caused the greatest public opposition is not the display of the bog bodies, but the commercialisation of the exhibition through souvenirs such as T-shirts.

What do you think?

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Monday, 20 January 2014

Charity launched to help fund excavations at the Ness of Brodgar

It was announced last week that a new charity to support the Ness of Brodgar excavations in Orkney has been launched in the US. The American Friends of the Ness of Brodgar group aims to promote the archaeological work being carried out at the site and help raise funds for the project.
The Ness of Brodgar is a thin strip of land, in the West Mainland of Orkney, separating the Harray and Stenness lochs and excavations on the site have revealed a large complex of ‘monumental’ Neolithic buildings, ‘artwork’, pottery, bones and stone tools. It is seen as one of the most important Neolithic excavations in the world.
'Vikings in the Prehistoric Landscape: Studies on Mainland Orkney' by Alison Leonard was published in a 2011 issue of Landscapes and analyses the results of research on the landscapes of Viking-Age and Late-Norse Orkney including the Ness of Brodgar, about which the author says: "Two clusters in particular presented contrasting examples within naturally coherent landscapes of Norse interaction with pre-Norse archaeology: the area around Birsay Bay and that surrounding the Ness of Brodgar".
Introduction: Orkney and Viking archaeology
Late eighth-century Orkney was a group of islands rich with physical testaments to millennia of previous inhabitants. Standing stones, stone circles and chambered cairns from Neolithic times sat prominently in landscapes littered with barrows, cairns and mounds from the Bronze Age and later periods. Broch settlements from the Middle Iron Age punctuated the region with crumbling stone fortresses which, after the fourth century, gave way to the symbol stones and ‘figure-of-eight’ dwellings of the Late Iron Age. The latter were still occupied at the turn of the ninth century when Scandinavians, predominantly Norse, came to settle the islands. These hopeful colonists therefore had to contend not only with a native population, but also with a diverse built environment that promoted the endurance of Orkney’s ancient past, to which the Norse had no ancestral claim. This paper explores the concessions made and strategies enacted which enabled the Norse settlers to develop their presence on Orkney such that their legacy remains to this day.

Orkney has been the setting for a great deal of innovative research on the Viking Age (e.g. research on diet; bone combs; steatite; and parish formation), but Norse settlement on the islands has on the whole enjoyed less attention from a landscape perspective, in comparison to other areas of the Viking world. This is changing however, and the number of general landscape studies of Orkney is also steadily growing. Increasingly, too, questions about Norse settlement and identity in Scotland are being addressed through environmental research and other analyses. Orkney is characterised by iconic sites, notably Buckquoy and other sites in Birsay Bay, which for many years have been at the forefront of the debate regarding native-Norse interaction. The data from wellknown sites such as Buckquoy inevitably forms a key component of the following discussions. An effort is made, however, to address such sites within their wider environment, and their interpretation is informed by additional sources including place-names and traditional folklore.

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Tuesday, 14 January 2014

CALL FOR PAPERS: Museums and Politics

Museums and Politics
9 - 12 of September 2014, Saint-Petersburg, Russia
ICOM Russia, ICOM Germany, ICOM USA Joint Conference
In the last few years, museums in our countries have changed dramatically and many now have larger social and territorial responsibilities. The preservation and safeguarding of tangible and intangible cultural heritage is considered the most relevant function of museums and should not be neglected. However, contemporary museums have wider goals. They offer public services and social activities, as well as culture and knowledge. They serve new audiences, use new languages and new media. Innovative museums foster public awareness, promote understanding of heritage and offer educational services. They strengthen cultural identities, support social cohesion and develop intercultural mediation - activities which are fundamental in times of crisis. Museums produce public values and improve regional assets in a global world. They provide facilities and resources for local, regional and national communities. They generate not only knowledge and education, but also income and employment. Museums and monuments are among the most appealing factors for the tourism industry, a vital economic sector in all our countries. Investing in museums, their activities and their professionals, is the best way to develop and improve the quality of cultural tourism.
During the last decades, museums have become institutions that form identity of cities, countries and nations with a reasonable political impact. At the same time, the funding of museums has undergone a major alteration, facing cuts from public authorities and the need of finding more and more sponsors whose interests complement museum development. Additionally, museums are increasingly invited to assume and complement educational tasks in the public sector suffering from the training of soft skills and creative competences.
Some museums have become more and more influential within their society and the politics in the countries that pay attention to them. Is this growing influence good for museums or not? Could museums become a plaything for politics or should museums use politics to realize their main purposes?
The conference languages will be Russian, English and German.
The purpose of this joint meeting is to share knowledge and expertise within the museum community. All contributions should be of high quality, originality, clarity, significance and impact and not published elsewhere.

The papers must not exceed 20 minutes. A publication of the papers is planned.
Abstracts should contain a maximum of 400 words and include the presenter's name, place of employment, position and title of paper.
Abstracts should be sent to: Mr. Vladimir Tolstoy ( and Johanna Westphal (
Abstract Submission Deadline 28th of February 2014

Monday, 6 January 2014

NEW PhD Opportunity: Fully Funded Studentship in the Structural Conservation of a Tudor Warship

Application deadline: ASAP

Start date: February 2014

Applications are invited for a three-year PhD studentship to undertake research in the area of Structural Monitoring, Modelling and Materials Science of the Mary Rose Hull structure during the environmentally controlled drying phase of its conservation.

Funding - Courtesy of The Mary Rose Trust
University tuition fees at home/EU level will be fully covered and a tax-free bursary of £13,726 per year will be provided for the three-year duration. Home/EU applicants are eligible for full funding.

Project description
The successful applicant will join the Structural Engineering research group in the School of Civil Engineering and Surveying at Portsmouth University.

The objectives of the proposed research are to:

• Study and understand local movement in The Mary Rose timbers due to shrinkage and
• Monitor and interpret global movement of the timbers and their reliance on existing and
  any additional supporting structures, cradle and barge.
• Investigate additional structural monitoring methodologies and propose/optimise suitable
  future structural support mechanisms for The Mary Rose.

The applicant is also expected to actively participate in the publication of journal and
conference papers.

Entry requirements
Applicants should hold a Masters degree or First (or Upper Second) Class Honours degree in Engineering, Physics or Material Science.

Further information
If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact the academic
supervisor Dr David Begg.

How to apply
Applications (preferably by email) should consist of a letter of application explaining your reasons for applying for the position and your initial thoughts on the research area, a detailed CV (including expected or actual degree class), together with the names and contact details of two academic referees who can be contacted prior to interview.

These should be sent to Dr David Begg by email:, or by post to Dr David Begg, School of Civil Engineering and Surveying, University of Portsmouth, Portland Building, Portsmouth, PO1 3AH.