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Public Archaeology in Fragments: My Public Archaeology Twitter Conference Talk about Project Eliseg

April 28, 2017

Anyone else followed #PATC?


This is the abstract, tweets and slides from my PATC paper. I also posted it on the Project Eliseg website Enjoy!


This presentation explores the challenges of Project Eliseg’s (2010–present) public archaeology. Investigating what transpired to be a multi-phased Early Bronze Age kerbed cairn surmounted by a 9th-century round-shafted cross with a long Latin inscription, Project Eliseg explored the complex biography of the Pillar of Eliseg (Denbighshire, Wales) from prehistory to the present. The cairn and cross were incorporated into the Cistercian monastic landscape during the 13th-16th centuries, and the sculpted cross was pulled down/fell down and fragmented in the 17th century. In the late 18th century, the mound was dug into and a skeleton found before the cross fragments were ‘restored’ and re-inscribed by local squire Trevor Lloyd. Subsequently, the Pillar became a romantic ruin and an enduring landmark down to the present day…

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I admit it, I was wrong

April 28, 2017

A few weeks ago (it may have been longer, renovations of HARN towers are continuing, time is telescoping and I’m losing all sense of proportion/humour/colour co-ordination) I criticised Simon Thurley’s The Men from the Ministry, I even went so far as to suggest that he might have made a better decision had he decided not to write it, I now wish to publicly recant. I still think it’s a bit ‘meh’ and could so easily have been a better book giving more history of archaeology and less hagiography of supposedly great men. I have little interest in the history of lawnmowers and feel that Mr Thurley may feel they play an important role in the work of English Heritage but his presentation is less than persuasive. And, having read most of it now, my main debt to him is being introduced to the work of Edward McKnight Kauffer and the other Shell advertising poster artists (this is good too). However, and this is very important, it is not this. Or this. Now, I will concede that having only read the  sample chapters I can’t judge the entirety of these tomes, I can, however, judge what I have read and, even for you lovely readers, I am not prepared to spend my money and actually buy these books to see if they’re as bad as the samples. They are gloriously, hilariously, astonishingly awful, but if I read too much of them there is a very good chance my brain will melt and dribble out of my ears.

Now, confession time – I will read pretty much anything, apart from knitting murder mysteries (yes, that is a genre, so is cooking murder mysteries, isn’t the world wonderful?) having read one such book I realised that was several hours of my life I wasn’t going to see again and vowed one was enough for any woman. It’s going to have to include an exceptional knitting pattern, a plausible plot and no graphic details of murder before I’m going to even consider reading another. I have sidetracked myself. I am a voracious but not particularly selective reader, if there’s nothing else to read I will read recipes on cereal boxes, instructions on shampoo bottles (in all the languages including those written in Cyrillic) and I have even been known to read appliance instructions. One of the reasons I can’t drive is because it’s impossible to do it while reading. Having run out of books on a dig I once read this – I know, Martyn reads Peter Ackroyd on digs, I read about giant monster crabs. And, sidetracking again, can I just say it was utterly splendid?* The entire excavation team ended up reading it and ‘click, click, clickety click’ became the phrase of the dig. When I do have a variety of resources I will admit my tastes are still not particularly highbrow, after a hard day hacking at the coal face of motherhood, HARN administration and lecturing, I am more likely to read Jonathan Stroud, Charlie Fletcher or Jeanette Winterson rather than Doestoevsky or Conrad. I used to read at all possible (and some impossible) times, vacuuming can be done while reading, as can most cleaning, including cleaning oneself, obviously reading in the bath is a well known joy but you can read and shower if you don’t mind the book getting soggy, and I had a special category of books I kept solely to read in the shower. I was even prepared to risk life and limb to carry on reading – reading while walking? Yes. While preparing food? Yes, (actually, I still do this and have the scars to prove it). These days I no longer believe time is wasted if I’m not reading but I still spend as much time as possible reading and as I say I will read pretty much anything. But, even taking into account my indiscriminate, greedy consumption of the written word, I can’t bring myself to read any more of Nige’s work.

It’s not only that the bits I’ve read are badly written, it’s the lack of understanding that really grates. The old adage of ‘write what you know’ has been completely shunned, instead Mr Plane has decided to write about that which he patently hasn’t a clue about – from archaeology through to spiritualism with an excursion into prostitution he is bafflingly ill-informed – but does he let that stand in his way? Not a jot! I had thought of getting Martyn on board and the pair of us writing a review for you, I thought it might be a light-hearted and jolly post. Then as I read on I worried it would turn into a savage critique and finally I realised all we could do is ridicule the poor man and that seemed unfair. Yes, I am aware I have ridiculed him in this blog post, but believe me there is so much more I could have said.

So, by comparison, The Men from the Ministry is a model of restrained, informative and well-researched prose. It does have its interesting moments (that’s damning with faint praise, isn’t it? ‘interesting moments’) and I do intend to write a review in the future. In fact, reading back through this post I realise I could have simply said ‘Haven’t finished Men from the Ministry yet, will do soon, will write about it’. Let’s have some more Shell posters to counterbalance my twaddle.

Shell Pamela Drew

Pamela Drew 1936

Shell Edwin Caligan

Edwin Calligan 1936.

Aren’t they fab? I feel I could do a whole post on archaeology and Shell advertising, a coherent post no less! Maybe after a review of Men from the Ministry?

In the meantime, have a great weekend


*If by splendid you understand me to mean absolutely awful but addictive in a ‘can this get any more implausible or badly written? Oh my heavens, another terrible sex scene’ style.

The Guennol Stargazer – an iconic work of art from the 3rd millennium BC… and from Turkey

April 27, 2017

Oh, oh dear

conflict antiquities

‘With its sleek, abstract form and its eyes tilted slightly towards the heavens, this rare complete idol from Anatolia is set to be a highlight of Classic Week in New York.’ But will it be a highlight for the right reasons? Investigative journalist Özgen Acar gave a slightly less star-struck introduction: ‘The “Kilia Idol,” a 23-centimeter statuette that has been smuggled from Turkey, will be auctioned on April 28 at New York Christies at an estimated price of $3 million.’

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Paper Trails Conference

April 27, 2017

170425 lower res poster effort red logo

See here for more details. The programme hasn’t been released yet but when it is I’ll re-post it here.

Manalot – The All Male Round Table

April 25, 2017

Issues of gender equality surface repeatedly in the world of archaeology, the latest being a rather ironic situation where there was an all-male panel in the session Professional standards and ethics: making a world of difference, at the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists annual conference. CIfA have issued a response to the criticisms and a plan […]

via Manalot – The All Male Round Table — Archaeodeath

O porto da praia de Santos

April 18, 2017

Ana Cristina Martins has been in touch to notify us of this upcoming event


Thank you Ana

I got nuthin’

April 13, 2017

It’s the Easter holidays over here and yet again, despite being written in BIG letters on the calendar, this has taken me by surprise and I have no post for you. No post, no plan, barely any brain left. I have been to the cinema several times – it’s been a cold and wet holiday so far – but while I might manage to make some connection between the history of archaeology and Moana, I suspect I’d land myself in deep trouble pretty quickly. There are too many experts on ancient Polynesian myths out there for me to risk it. And I can’t make any sort of history case for Trolls, in fact the only things I can say about Trolls are that the music is excellent (thanks Justin) the plot is ‘meh’ but the 5 year old loved it. I preferred Moana. Up next is, I suspect, Beauty and the Beast and then Power Rangers with the 11 year old – I don’t see there being anything I can justifiably discuss about either of them, although it’s interesting they’ve both caused controversy for including gay characters, see here and here. (But, such minor moments people, come on, to paraphrase Justin Trudeau, it’s 2017 let’s have a bit more reality in film, eh?) No archaeology, though.

I have been reading and when I get the time to think about what I’ve read I’ll be back with a review. Right now I’m concentrating on us all surviving the holidays relatively unscathed. I’ll get back to you about how that works out!

In the meantime, have a great weekend,