There has been more baking this week, although yesterday we made strawberry ice cream which isn’t technically baking, but we did then make meringues to use up the egg whites and I discovered how useful children are for the boring bit of whisking eggs whites until they’re fluffy, with an electric whisk I hasten to add, I didn’t stand over them and make them whisk the whites manually, although now I think about it perhaps I should. I also discovered my children will watch an ice cream maker churn away for a good 10 minutes before getting bored, It’s possible they’re suffering excitement deprivation – they gave me a running commentary on the increasing pinkness as the strawberries were incorporated into the custard. It’s also possible we all need to get out more but due to one thing and another that isn’t going to happen so maybe I should just be happy they’re so easy to impress?
Anyway, I am not going to post about food, children, the rain or any of that stuff, no, this post is going to be full of the history of archaeology. And, short. A short post about the history of archaeology. Section drawing to be precise. I’ve been writing my paper for the EAA and I’ve been
distacted by researching the changing style of section drawings. I love section drawings. In my other career as an illustrator I save them up, doing the plans and other bits and pieces first. If I can get the section drawing to coincide with test match cricket then I’m as happy as a happy thing, but even without Test Match Special a section drawing is a cause for joy – you can see where my children get their capacity for being easily pleased, can’t you? (See, it’s all linking together, fortuitously!) I love the amount of information a section drawing can contain, the way the layers tell the story of a site. I love their simplicity and beauty, the slumps and troughs. I love devising new ways of representing the soil colours and consistencies – mixing realism (or is it naturalism? I always get those two confused) with symbolism. I can get very enthusiastic about section drawings. Obviously I try not to do this in public because people have been known to back away from me at social gatherings when I get talking about sections. So, the history of archaeological illustration with especial reference to section drawings is obviously going to appeal.
All different, all more or less informative, all beautiful. But, do they show significant changes over time? And, what do these changes indicate or tell us about the history of archaeology? Also, why is no-one writing about developments in archaeological illustration? Or are they and am I simply showing my ignorance, again? I’ve read Stuart Piggott’s Antiquity Depicted and Lucas’ Critical Approaches to Fieldwork, Chris Evans’ various articles, when I can afford it I’ll read Geoff Carver’s chapter in Unquiet Pasts and his article in Archaeological Dialogues . Am I missing something obvious? Do tell me if this is the case and when I’ve finished my EAA paper I shall go and read everything I can.
Meanwhile, have a great weekend. Don’t forget the HARN Conference is in 12 days,
I think I have a blind spot when it comes to school holidays: every time I blithely assume all will be well, I will get work done, children will have a good time but largely entertain themselves. Ha!
So – in brief. The HARN conference is only 18 days away, do send us an email saying if you’d like to come and you’ll get the reduced fee £10 in advance £15 on the door remember. I’m really looking forward to the conference and to meeting you all.
In other news Kate is speaking at the Petrie Museum on the 9th of September. Kate will be talking about Margaret Murray’s work on Malta, her training of Gertrude Caton-Thompson and Edith Guest and Murray’s informal network of female archaeologists. This is going to be fascinating so book your place now.
And, Christine Finn has launched a new blog about writing her biography of Jacquetta Hawkes. Finn launched the site on the 5th of August – Hawkes’ birthday – so I’m a bit late to the party. No surprises there! But, go and check it out, it’s about so much more than archaeology and takes a very different slant to traditional biography. I think it’s going to be extremely interesting.
Right, I have to go and do something to entertain my children, it’s raining so I suspect I’ll be doing my usual trick of baking something ‘Look, biscuits! A game you can eat! Shut up! It will be fun!’
I’ll try to be more coherent next week, in the meantime have a great weekend,
You may be asking yourself: “Is a review of the world-renowned Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City’s Central Park necessary? We all know it’s awesome. Come on, guys.” To which we say, “YES!”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Met Museum, or the MMA, is at 5th avenue and E. 81st Streets in Manhattan. The whole building itself is about 4 blocks long. It is located in Central Park, and its immediate backyard contains the New York Obelisk, also called Cleopatra’s Needle.
You can get there any number of ways, subways are relatively close, busses drop off and pick up right in front of it, and, if you’re staying anywhere in Upper Manhattan, it’s a nice and relatively short walk. Admission is technically free, but they do suggest donations of $25 for Adults. Much like the Brooklyn Museum (see our earlier post), you don’t have to give $25, but you should give something.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded in 1866 by a group of Americans who wished to bring the arts of Europe to the American public. The first building opened in 1870, and the collections began building from there. By the 20th century, the Met held some of the most impressive collections of art. But you can find all of this on their website, here, so I will not simply repeat what they have said. You are reading this to see what is there, what I thought of it, and maybe sort of as a guide to your visit. So here we go.
It may go without saying, but the Met is HUGE. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy tells his father that they need to find their friend, Marcus Brody, because “he got lost once in his own museum.” If Brody had been the director of a place like the Met, I can see how that would be possible. Not that I got lost or anything. I swear.
When you come to the Met, plan to arrive around 9:45am to wait in line to get in at 10am. You’ll want and need to stay the whole day if you want to see a fraction of the collections. (There are 4-5 places to eat within the museum—a bit expensive, yes, but not much more so than the restaurants on the Upper East Side, and very worth it to fuel your whole day.) As you walk in the giant foyer, you can go left to Greek and Roman art, Oceania, and European arts; straight ahead is the massive staircase, behind which is Medieval Europe and decorative arts; to the right is Egyptian art, the Costume Institute, and more. Upstairs is more art, sculpture, photographs, Asian Art, Near Eastern art, contemporary arts, and the important American Wing. I know I’ve missed some departments, but I won’t list them all here. See here for a full list. Finally the Met also contains the Costume Institute, whose exhibit this year is called “China: Through the Looking Glass.” It is full of beautiful clothes, and is well done. The Museum also has a large portion of their medieval collection housed at the Cloisters, which is in a separate part of New York City.
The Egyptian art section tends to be the most crowded, but for good reason. They have two rebuilt tombs—of Per Neb and Meketre—and the fully rebuilt Temple of Dendur.
You don’t have to go to Egypt to see all the graffiti, either. The Temple has quite a bit of it, and I dare say it’s one of the most interesting parts of monuments in Egypt. As a historian of Egyptology, that is. Not that people should go writing their names on monuments.
It was given to the US by Egypt for helping to save antiquities from being destroyed during the building of the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s. It was awarded to the Met in the mid-60s and finally put on display in the mid-70s. Don’t miss it. Almost all of the 26,000+ objects of their Egyptian collections are on display. It is the largest collection of Egyptian art outside of Cairo. They also have the Treasure of Lahun, found in 1914 by Flinders Petrie and his crew, was given to the Met. Much of it is on display as well. It is away from the rebuilt tombs, and there are relatively few people who venture into that part of the collections. There is also an entire room dedicated to mummies and unwrapping them, complete with a wall of mummy linens. I didn’t get a picture of the mummy linens. But there are also amazing mummy portraits.
Enough of Egyptian art, though, because there is so much more to see! The Greek and Roman section has a number of famous sculptures, amphora, vases, coffins and more. The art comes from all periods of the Roman Empire, and from throughout the far-flung reaches of the Empire.
They are particularly strong in Etruscan bronzes. In Medieval Art their collections range from 300-1500 AD in all materials. Their separate building, the Cloisters, holds even more of their beautiful works in metals, tapestries and more. Interestingly, they also have a massive collection of arms and armor form Europe, Persia, and Turkey. They claim to have the “finest collection of Japanese armor outside of Japan” and I believe it.
I worked in the archives of the Department of Egyptian Art for about 2 weeks in May and was able to wander the collections during my lunch breaks. As most of us know, there are only so many letters you can read before you need a break! I tried to get to all the sections of the collections I could, but usually stuck around the Egyptian part, as it was the most pertinent to my topic. But, I did make it out and was always surprised to turn a corner and find myself in a room of Picassos or Monets. I am also a sucker for museum shops, so much so that I usually hit the shop before I wander the collections. The Met’s main shop is two stories and full of tchotchkes, postcards, posters, and large kids’ section, as well as beautiful reprints of artwork, china, coffee mugs (I didn’t buy any mugs in NYC, which is a big step for me), scarves, ties, books, and so much more.
Shall I go on? No. If you can’t make it to New York, you can see a lot of their collections online here—their European art collections are amazing, have a look. As a significant collection, the Met cannot, I think, be rivaled in the US, if the world. The British Museum complex (including the Natural History Museum, the V&A, and both Tates) could give it a run for its money, but you have to go to so many different places to get the variety you can get in one stop at the Met. This is all not to mention the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff, some of whom I was fortunate to meet. From the staff working the front desk for visitors, to the security staff, to the curatorial staff, everyone was friendly and helpful. They all clearly really enjoyed their museum. I hope you get to go enjoy it, too!
It’s possible I’m developing an obsession with books about Avebury. This is the 2nd (or is it the 3rd? I’m losing track!) I’ve reviewed here. One day I might even get around to reviewing an Avebury book written by an archaeologist, but not today. Today we’re firmly in the realm of fiction, but it is fiction with an archaeological theme. Jenni Mills was a presenter and producer with BBC Radio 4, directed TV documentaries, taught voice techniques for broadcasters, wrote a handbook The Broadcast Voice and is now a lecturer in creative writing. Impeccable credentials for a writer, but she is by no means an archaeologist. What Mills has, however, is a real feel for the Avebury landscape: as she explains in an endnote the (North Wessex) Downs are somewhere she’s spent a lot of time and her evocation of the area rings true. Additionally, during her television career, Mills was involved in making a documentary about Keiller and Avebury (The Village in the Stones) and talked to many of the surviving villagers who remembered Keiller, she also volunteered for the National Trust (who with English Heritage administer the Avebury estate) talked to the curator of the Alexander Keiller Museum, consulted the Keiller archive and this research comes through in The Buried Circle.
Like John Preston’s The Dig this book deals with a 1930’s British excavation, in this case Keiller’s excavation of Avebury, but that’s pretty much the only thing the two works have in common. Preston’s book was subtle and nuanced in its evocation of immediately pre-war British mores (or dull and badly imagined, take your pick) Mills’ novel is a thriller and a love story set in the present and in the 1930s with the Avebury landscape as location and almost instigator of the action. Whereas Preston’s work was aiming for literature; Mills has written a galloping, if not rollicking, read and one that is far more fun for the reader.
Having come down firmly on the side of low-brow writing I would point out that while on one level The Buried Circle is enjoyable tosh with sex, shamanism, magic and murder featuring heavily, Mills also discusses some very weighty issues such as identity, family and belonging, the nature of time, as well as looking sympathetically but unflinchingly at what old age does to people. More importantly, from an archaeological point of view and showing she did her research well, part of the plot is based around Keiller’s management of Avebury village. Mills explicitly points out that Keiller bought and then demolished many houses and trees in his attempt to return the site to its prehistoric character regardless of this being only a snapshot in its long history. Avebury village in the 1930s was a thriving place, a proper village with a blacksmith, butcher shop and other amenities, Keiller effectively destroyed this community with his vision of the past. Having spent a lot of time there, I find it difficult to imagine Avebury as anything other than a rather quaint, extremely wealthy, settlement where you can get a postcard, a beer or a cup of tea and cake, but not much else of any use to a non-Druid. It’s to Mills’ credit that she effectively recreates this vanished society.
What is less convincing is the plot. I know, I said it was enjoyable, but the plot is complicated, many stranded if not tortuous, and frankly it doesn’t really matter that it’s unconvincing. Basically the book centres on Frannie and her granddaughter India, switching between the present and the late 1930s/early 1940s. Frannie, as a young girl, is taken on by Keiller’s secretary to assist with sorting out the Windmill Hill archive and slowly becomes more involved with the excavations of the Avebury henge, the unearthing of the barber-surgeon has a pivotal role in the plot. Through flashbacks we learn of her romance with one of Keiller’s workers, Davey, who is possibly also Keiller’s lover, her seduction and later rape by Cromley, Keiller’s site assistant, and her love for Keiller himself. Davey and Cromley join the RAF at the start of World War 2, and, in revenge for how he’s treated Frannie, Davey kills Cromley –and himself – in a deliberate plane crash. What we don’t learn, and this is the question her granddaughter keeps asking, is whether Keiller was the father of her child – India’s mother. Meanwhile, India has come back to Avebury, or rather Avebury Trusloe where many of the inhabitants of Avebury were relocated once Keiller had bought and demolished their houses. India has been working in television but is recovering from a traumatic helicopter accident (no, really) which killed her producer and has potentially ended her career as well as the career of the helicopter pilot, Steve, with whom she had a one-night stand. Helicopter pilot – fighter pilot/navigator, the past is sort of repeating itself and this is one of the many themes going on in The Buried Circle. India becomes increasingly concerned about Frannie who appears to be descending into senility and keeps seeing lights on Windmill Hill, despite not being able to see the hill from her house. However, this turns out to be part of a bigger secret Frannie has been keeping – rape, pregnancy, and a still-born child buried on Windmill Hill during an air raid. As you do.
Still with me? Ok. By a series of massive coincidences, India has the opportunity to work with a different television company on a film about Keiller’s life (Mills uses her own experiences here as she explains in the endnote) which leads her to the Keiller archive and the discovery that her grandmother worked for him. Another mini-excavation takes place and India is involved with this as her grandmother was with the original stone resurrections. India is reunited with the helicopter pilot and after a few twists and turns admits she loves him, she is also reunited with a childhood friend whom she last saw when she was eight and they were both taken into foster care after a different but equally traumatic accident. Unfortunately the childhood friend is not in the best mental health, there’s some stuff about the Mother Goddess that went right over my head here, the friend possibly kills his own dog*, has tried to kill his son’s mother, then attacks Frannie and lands her in hospital, tries to kill India by crushing her – in barber-surgeon style – with the newly resurrected megalith (again, no really) but India is rescued by a helicopter low flying over the circle which topples the stone onto her attacker’s leg. This is not the helicopter being flown Steve, in fact this helicopter might not even exist, but I will admit that by this point I was having trouble with keeping the plot straight in my head. Anyway, it all ends well, except for the childhood friend who’s looking at a lengthy prison sentence as well as having a fractured leg.
Can I just say I haven’t even mentioned John, India’s stepfather, who is a shaman and plays an important role as advisor and voice of reason. Nor the discussion of free festivals, raves, the Battle of the Beanfield, the work of the National Trust or any of the other themes running through this book. You get the expurgated easy to follow version!
Perhaps wisely, given she has so much going on, Mills doesn’t discuss the minutiae of excavation, either in the 1930s or the present. I found this a little disappointing, I would have liked to know how an outsider sees and understands our physical work but she may have felt that Time Team – which she namechecks – makes this unnecessary. Mills does talk about the nature of archaeology, having Keiller, Piggott and Cromley discuss various aspects of the dig: unsurprisingly, given Keiller’s interest in witchcraft (after his death over 400 volumes on witchcraft, demonology and erotica were donated to the National Library of Scotland) much of the reported 30s interpretation of Avebury and Windmill Hill relies on ritual and magic – Keiller never completed his report and the excavations were eventually written up by Isobel Smith in 1965. Modern archaeological interpretations are supplied by Martin Ekwald – Mills’ fictional archaeologist brought in as a presenter by the TV company. Each section of the novel is preceded by quotes from his work, he’s ever so sensible and disinclined to speculate, I suspect him of being a processualist!
Interestingly Mills presents Keiller in an ambivalent but ultimately sympathetic light, he is shown to be irascible, quick-tempered and autocratic, but at the same time he can be charming and kind. And extremely attractive, albeit with unconventional sexual predilections which are, thankfully, not described. Cromley is obviously the villain, but poor Piggott isn’t warmly portrayed either, he’s nicknamed ‘Stu Pig’, has ‘sly’ eyes, is humourless, overly intelligent but insensitive – Mills seems to have taken against his cartoons (I thought they were quite funny when I saw them) – and bad-tempered. Young, Keiller’s foreman then curator of the Avebury Museum, has a very minor role, mentioned only once or twice we’re told Keiller listens to his opinion and that he’s ‘awkward’ around women. There’s a lot of sub-text going on here but presumably even Mills recognised that any overt conjecture about Keiller’s homosexual relationships would have added yet more to an already weighty – and complicated – novel.
So, there you have it. If you’re looking for light-hearted, somewhat crazy, summer holiday reading with an archaeological flavour, I can highly recommend The Buried Circle.
If you have any recomendations do let me know
Have a great weekend
HARN member Neha Gupta would like to make HARN members aware of the following cfp
Session for 81st Meeting of Society for American Archaeology (SAA)
To be held: Orlando, FL, USA, Apr 6-10th, 2016
Dr Neha Gupta
Recent years have witnessed a rapid growth in computational techniques including visibility and least cost path analyses and agent-based modelling in archaeological research. While fruitful, this research tends to focus on a narrow range of themes, overlooking variability in the collection of archaeological data and in the interpretation of the past. Archaeologists have long acknowledged variation in archaeological field studies in patterns that are seen on local, national and regional scales, yet we have only a partial understanding of how and why these patterns evolved through time. This in turn has obscured the impact of such variability on our understanding of the past. Moreover, while current efforts including the building of cyber-infrastructures (consolidated Web-based computational databases for the integration and preservation of digital archaeological collections), acknowledge variability in the nature and organization of sources of geographically referenced information, they often underestimate the social context of archaeology and the intersection of knowledge, space and power, a key factor in the practice of archaeology. For example, who are the archaeologists and the composition of archaeological teams that carried out field investigations, what were their aims, and which methods and tools and technologies did they employ? Where and when did field studies take place and what weight was attached to these places of interest? To begin addressing these questions, this session calls for computational research broadly defined, on social dimensions of the practice of archaeology in any local, national and regional context, covering any period of time, present or past and the impact of social and political factors on the interpretation of archaeology. Papers employing geographic methods in archaeological research are especially welcome.
Interested scholars are asked to contact Neha Gupta (email@example.com) with their email address, institutional affiliation, title and abstract of their proposed paper by August 31, 2015.
I wanted to leave the HARN conference update post up for a long as possible to remind you all to come and hear the wonderful papers that are going to be given, but last week we received an intriguing email from Fleur Schinning who is currently a master’s student at Leiden University. She’s asked for the assistance of HARN members – and anyone else who reads this or other archaeology blogs:
I am currently writing my master’s thesis as a part of my specialisation in Heritage Management at Leiden University in the Netherlands, in which I am supervised by Monique van den Dries. My research will focus on the use of blogs and social media and how they contribute to the accessibility of archaeology in the Netherlands.
Public archaeology has been developing considerably in the Netherlands for the last couple of years, but much can still be improved concerning public outreach activities. This is why I have decided to focus my research on communication methods that are favourable in our current digital age and might make archaeology more accessible for a wider public.
For my research I will be looking at several blogs from both the UK and USA; in these countries blogging seems widely accepted and used a lot as a tool in creating support for archaeology, and I have come across some very interesting and successful blogs.
To be able to explore how blogging in archaeology contributes to public archaeology, I would like to question the bloggers and blog readers of these blogs. This is where my request comes in. I have set up a questionnaire in which I ask the visitors of your blog several questions regarding their motives for visiting the blog and so on.
So, if you can spare a few minutes of your time, head over and answer Fleur’s questions. She’s promised to send us a summary of the results which I’m sure will make interesting reading.
Have a great weekend and don’t forget to email us and register for the HARN conference!