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April 11, 2014


Katy Soar ( Open University

I received my PhD from the University of Nottingham in 2009, with a thesis entitled ‘An Archaeology of Minoan Performance’, and I am currently an Associate Lecturer and Honorary Research Associate at the Open University.

My PhD was on performative approaches to archaeological material from Minoan Crete, in which I explored the role of performance in the creation of social and political structures in Bronze Age Crete. Lately I have become particularly interested in the development of archaeological  and anthropological thinking during the 19th century, and how this affected both the practice and reception of archaeology. In relation to my earlier research, I am interested in how these developments, particularly those of the Cambridge Ritualists, affected the interpretation and reception of Minoan archaeology, and – again tied to my PhD research – how this was reflected in contemporary performance and art. I am also interested in how these developments were incorporated in late 19th century gothic and horror literature, particularly in the works of Arthur Machen.

Welcome and thank you for joining our community!

Amara’s Post

April 4, 2014

The history of archaeology is a wide and interdisciplinary field.  When I finished my undergraduate degree (in History), I never thought I would end up doing a PhD on the history of British archaeology in the Middle East and revelling in the archives of British archaeologists.  For me, the path to a postdoc in the History of Archaeology has been entirely organic.  It started out as an unassessed research project that was part of my MA Museum Studies degree.  I became fascinated by a collection of personal photographs belonging to George and Agnes Horsfield, which I’d discovered purely by chance in a larger collection of RAF aerial survey photographs from the 1920s and 1930s that were in the Institute of Archaeology’s collections (see Thornton 2007).  I started asking myself: who were these two archaeologists?  What brought them to the Middle East?  What were their lives like as archaeologists?  These initial questions led to larger ones – what did their archive have to say about the context of archaeology in the Middle East?  How did the process of archaeology work during this period?  How did archaeology fit within the context of other events and developments – political, social, cultural, economic?


Eight years later, here I am, still hooked.  There’s something profoundly appealing about getting to know people through what they leave behind (I’m sure archaeologists can relate), and in particular, their papers – letters, diaries, photographs, drawings, ephemera – their thoughts, observations, feelings on the page for you to see.  And underneath all of that the elusive whiff of a different time – but not so far back that you can’t identify with it yourself.  It’s a time when people related to each other in a different way, knew different food, wore different clothes, operated in a context that is now entirely different.  This has led me down a number of different, sometimes odd pathways in varying degrees of intensity, including but not limited to exploring archaeological publishing (my current postdoc project), archaeologists and psychical research, archaeological shopping, the history of heritage tourism, relationships in archaeological archives… the list could go on, but I think that’s a decent summary.

Amara Thornton


April 4, 2014

Just to let you all know that the Women in Archaeology 2014 Conference is now available on-line, click on and follow the links to youtube. I’m not sure if this is available worldwide or just to UK visitors – let me know if you have a problem and I’ll get in touch with the organisers and see what we can do. I have to confess (I’m bowing my head in shame here) that I haven’t watched it all so I don’t know if my paper was presented or just circulated, however, what I have seen makes fascinating viewing – Professor Dame Rosemary Cramp talking about her experiences, how can you miss out on that?

In 2 weeks time I’ll post the second part of my attempt to convince you all to read murder mysteries to learn about the history of archaeology. This week you get a far more interesting post – Amara Thornton of UCL explaining her involvement and interest in the history of archaeology. Like Gabe, Amara was one of the founder members of HARN and has organised several important HARN workshops – again it makes for interesting reading. Can I again ask (beg? plead?) for your contributions. Lets make this blog the discussion forum for the history of archaeology. So, if there’s anything you want to say, anything you want to raise, get in touch.

I won’t be posting next week, I’m away and have no idea if there will be internet access, plus all you’d get is the tale of my, no doubt, woeful attempt at skiing rather than anything archaeological.

Last, but not least, a warm welcome to Tomás Aguilera Durán our latest member, good to have you here Tomás.





April 3, 2014


Tomás Aguilera Durán ( Autonomous University of Madrid

I have a degree in History (University of Salamanca) and an inter-university Master in History and Sciences of Antiquity (Complutense-Autonomous Universities of Madrid). My PhD analysed the historiographical and ideological perception of protohistoric Iberia in the Spanish cultural tradition. Thus, my main research interest is the reception of the pre-Roman world in Western culture, which involves the study of historiography and academy, national and regional identities and their literary and artistic projections. My various editorial and academic activities relating to this theme also include the co-direction of the Seminar on Historiography and the Legacy of Antiquity at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

Welcome and thank you for joining our community!

Murder, She Wrote.

March 28, 2014

I do love a good murder mystery, but the emphasis has to be on ‘mystery’ I’m more of an Agatha Christie fan than a P. D. James one, more Elizabeth Peters than Stieg Larsson. Psychopaths, serial killers, graphic descriptions of pain and gore have me shutting the book super fast and going in search of something more peaceful. No, I like the puzzle element, I like to ponder who the villain might be, and I like my murders to happen off stage with the minimum of description. Locked rooms, obscure poisons, overly complicated murder methods, esoteric facts and implausible plots? Fine by me. As far as I’m concerned the period from the 1920s to the 1950s was the golden age of crime; Rex Stout, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers, Freeman Wills Croft, Patricia Wentworth and particularly Margery Allingham are the authors I return to time after time.

Being an aficionado of crime writing of the gentler variety has led to much mockery over the years. However, I have honed my justification to a fine art. Crime writing like this largely relies on stereotypical characters, motives and scenes, it’s the plot, the clues – false and real – and denouement that matter, I tell my critics, therefore these stereotypes give an indication of the views and attitudes of the time in which it was written. Murder mysteries are a microcosm of contemporary beliefs and prejudice, I say. Or, at least, a microcosm of the writer’s attitudes. Or a microcosm of the beliefs and prejudices of the writer’s perceived audience. Look at the way these worlds unfold, I ask their retreating backs, are we seeing an encapsulation of British/American/Whatever society in a given time and place, or are we reading Plato’s shadows on the wall of the cave?

If anyone is still listening at this point I can move on to the sub-genre of crime and archaeology. Archaeologists and archaeological sites feature in a fair number of modern murder mysteries, as noted elsewhere on the internet And, this is also true for crime books published in the first half of the twentieth century. These, I remember asserting to my PhD supervisor*, are particularly useful for seeing how archaeologists and archaeology were portrayed in the first half of the twentieth century. Agatha Christie, who of course had extensive experience of archaeology**, used both famous archaeologists (REM Wheeler and Leonard Woolley) as characters and excavations as locations in Murder in Mesopotamia and, to a lesser extent, They Came to Baghdad.  G. K Chesterton, Conan Doyle, R. Austin Freeman, Josephine Bell and John Trench, amongst others, used archaeology and archaeologists in their mysteries.

Even more usefully, archaeologists occasionally write crime novels. I managed to incorporate fiction by Glyn Daniel and Stanley Casson into my PhD. In Some Small Harvest Daniel explained his decision to write a murder mystery: “I had been reading a detective story and thought it badly written and badly constructed; I threw it out through the bedroom window with snorts of rage. ‘Surely anyone could do better than that?’ I said. ‘Why not have a try?’ said Stuart Piggott, and when I got back to Delhi I did, and that is how The Cambridge Murders came into existence” (Daniel 1986: 160).

I’ve always wondered who wrote the book Daniel threw out of the window because his own two attempts are pretty bad. Daniel relied heavily on literary stereotypes, there’s an absent minded professor, an unworldly cleric, the Chief Constable is a blustering upper-class ex-Indian Army Colonel who, in case we forget this bit of characterisation, refers to hill stations, rope tricks and his curios each time he appears, we have a slow witted local detective, the more alert ‘varsity’ Scotland Yard man and the brilliant amateur who solves the case – Sir Richard Cherrington, Professor of Prehistory. Daniel obviously believed the myth that the methods used in detection and archaeology were closely linked: from the first time we meet him Sir Richard (and others) repeatedly mention his powers of observation “I’m an archaeologist, you know. It puts a premium on visual memory” (Daniel 1954: 11 ) and he decides to try and solve the crime as an intellectual exercise using his training as an archaeologist. Despite this assertion of an archaeologist’s abilities, we never see Sir Richard archeologising, he doesn’t excavate or visit sites; for all the talk of pottery and artefacts the closest we get to archaeology is the mention of an article for Antiquity and checking details in Archaeologia – neither of which have anything to do with the plot. Given Daniel’s renowned dislike of excavation, this inactivity is perhaps unsurprising. Equally predictable, given Daniel’s interests, is the emphasis on food and drink; you may not learn much about archaeology from this book but you do learn about wine vintages and drinking etiquette!

All of which is very jolly but doesn’t really help my contention that such lowbrow froth is useful for historians, however, there are a couple of very useful bits of information which reinforce the impression gained from contemporary archaeological literature, namely that class, gender and race dictate character.

The working classes in The Cambridge Murders are largely university servants, one of whom is shot and although the Scotland Yard detective declares that it is this murder which is particularly unforgivable (Daniel 1954:-162), it is soon forgotten in favour of the murder of Dean. While we are told that the college porters are ‘salt of the earth’ (ibid) they are even more stereotyped than the other characters. They are uneducated, speak ungrammatically and are considered to be unintelligent. Additionally they are noticeably less stoic than their upper class counterparts. Pick up any excavation manual, or site notebook, written before the 1970s and you will find similar views being expressed.

Women, in Daniel’s books, are largely absent; the few we meet are either working class – see above – or femme fatales, emotional, misguided and untruthful. The one female student we meet is more concerned with her love-life than her degree. There are no female dons, no women archaeologists, just as, apparently, there were no women in the past.

Race, one of the suspects – Evan Fothergill – is a Welshman and we are told of “His hot, tempestuous, Celtic nature”. This could be Daniel romanticising his own Welsh roots, but I would argue it’s an extension of the way that Droop, Wheeler and Petrie all defined the abilities of their workforce by their race and Peake and Fleure, along with many other archaeologists, described past peoples in terms of contemporary racial stereotypes.

Casson by contrast did set his murder on an excavation, rather tastelessly the murder method he used was the real life event that severely injured Bushe Fox at Colchester in 1931. And, from Casson we learn far more about the process of excavation in the 1930s as well as attitudes to archaeology and archaeologists.

To be continued . . .

*I don’t think I ever convinced him, but given I once caught him reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies at a wedding reception I feel we’re quits.

** Interestingly Agatha Christie’s The Man in the Brown Suit was published in 1924 – long before she met Mallowan – and features an archaeologist and the crime being solved, partially, by the difference between dolichocephalic and brachycephalic skulls, a concept very much in vogue with early 20th century prehistorians.



March 24, 2014

That’s really all I have for you, and late apologies at that. I’m being a bit rubbish at the moment, I’d meant to post on Friday, it’s now Monday, so apologies for that. I haven’t finished the post I was going to write for Friday, so apologies for that too. I’d meant to say how I hoped you’d enjoyed Gabe’s wonderful post, I’m hoping to get more of these guest posts – if you fancy doing one then let me know, details are here I’d also meant to say hello to our new members. Obviously, none of this happened so apologies all round. I hope to be back to my (slightly) more efficient self on Friday and to explain to you why reading pulp fiction can actually help you in your research.



March 22, 2014


Elizabeth A. Walker ( Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales & University of Wales Trinity Saint David

Elizabeth is Principal Curator of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Archaeology at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, where she has been employed since 1986. She has recently registered as a part-time PhD student of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.
Elizabeth has undertaken research and has published in the fields of Welsh Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology focusing on the history of collecting, both by individuals and by Welsh museums. Her MPhil, also undertaken at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, focused on the history of collecting by museums across South Wales throughout the twentieth century.
Elizabeth’s recent publications include histories of collecting at caves in North Wales, including Pontnewydd Cave, Cefn Caves, Ffynnon Beuno and Cae Gwyn. She has also examined the work of some individual collectors, including Henry Stopes, whose large collection of Palaeolithic artefacts is housed in the National Museum Wales.
Elizabeth’s current research interest lies with researching, understanding and releasing the potential of historic museum collections and using these as a foundation for new thinking about Palaeolithic and Mesolithic archaeology today.


Apen (Carmen) Ruiz Martinez ( Universitat Oberta de Catalunya

Apen (Carmen) Ruiz Martinez (MA Stanford; Ph.D  Anthropology University of Texas at Austin) is an archaeologist specialized in the history of Latin American archaeology. Her research interests include women in archaeological practice, archaeological heritage, nationalism and uses of the past. She has written several articles on  collecting practices (Antipoda), gender and archaeology (Cuadernos Pagu, Cuicuilco). Her book entitled “Insiders and Outsiders in Mexican Archaeology (1890-1920) is about to be published by the Museo de Antropologia in Mexico City. Currently she is based in Barcelona, where she teaches at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya and in an Erasmus Mundus M.A on International Cooperation at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya. In the context of this MA she oriented a student who wrote a thesis on heritage and international cooperation in Nepal. Currently she is oriented an MA student who works on the role of social platforms around the theme of heritage in urban renewal projects in Barcelona.
Besides teaching and research, since she returned to Barcelona in 2004, she has worked as an archaeological consultant, and did several projects focusing on vernacular landscapes and dry stone heritage in Tarragona. She is currently a member of the EU-funded Heritage Values Network project (JPI-JHEP)


William Stenhouse ( Yeshiva University, New York

I work on the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century reception of Greek and Roman antiquities: locating, collecting, publishing, etc. I’ve published two books on the collection and study of classical inscriptions, and I’m now working on late renaissance histories of Greece and a wider examination of the understanding of antiquities in this period. More the prehistory than the history of archaeology! For more info, please visit my page.


Susan M. Dixon ( La Salle University, Philadelphia PA

Susan M. Dixon is Associate Professor of Art History and Chair of the Fine Arts Department at La Salle University. Her research interests include Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Rodolfo Lanciani, and classical archaeology as practiced in late-19th-century Rome. For more info, please visit and La Salle University pages.

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