From Cultural Property to Fiction

Cast of part of the Parthenon frieze at UCS

Is there a typical day in the life of a Professor of Archaeological Heritage at University Campus Suffolk?

This is the week of Ip-Art, the Ipswich Arts Festival. On Tuesday night I was at Arlington’s in Museum Street for a poetry evening hosted by Poetry Anglia. The building was constructed as a museum – so it appropriately became the home of the muses! I was invited to be the first reader and offered my ‘Roman Vision‘ reflecting on the Roman remains that peep out among the buildings of modern Athens.

Earlier in the day I had attended an e-learning workshop. There was a focus on the use of iPads, a topic of interest to me through the Gwella project work at Swansea University (in my previous role). I am developing materials that can be delivered to smart phones and tablet devices to assist with the interpretation of archaeological and heritage sites.

Wednesday was the UCS research day. There was a varied programme with a keynote address on e-medicine. I gave a paper, ‘Looting matters: cultural property, conventions and compliance’. This considered a discussion of how recently surfaced antiquities can continue to surface on the market and to be acquired by major museums. I reviewed some of the international guidelines, as well as the ethical codes for museums and dealers in ancient art. The focal point was the compliance (or non-compliance) of dealers and museums when questionable material is identified. (For more on this topic see ‘Looting Matters‘.) Earlier in the week I had received my offprint of a study of the material returned to Italy from Princeton University Art Museum.

The same research conference included a discussion of project management from a colleague in the Business School. We have developed an interesting dialogue about the management of ancient projects. I was struck by the wording the (Athenian) Eleusinian Epistatai decree of the 430s BC that cites the way that the ‘management’ structure for the temple (presumably the Parthenon) and the statue (presumably the Athena Promachos) should be used as a model.

The Sainsbury Centre at UEA

Yesterday was spent in a series of meetings at UEA in Norwich. Part of the day involved discussions in the Sainsbury Centre and it was good to see the series of Cycladic marble figures from the southern Aegean. These figures formed the subject of a research paper with Christopher Chippindale (Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) that was published in the American Journal of Archaeology [JSTOR]. It was the first in a series of studies about cultural property.

One of the trends on Twitter yesterday was the submission of online poetry from around the world to celebrate the forthcoming Olympics.  I offered my ‘Shaded Marbles‘ as an audio track with appropriate images. The theme is on (historic) cultural property currently in the British Museum. (The Greek theme was appropriate given the origins of the Games.)

Another of my roles is as Head of the Division of Humanities. So this evening I will be attending the Short Story event in the Spiegeltent at Ip-Art to hear the competition winner announced. I was one of the judges for the short-listing and I have been asked to say something about our institutional support for this literary event.

Databases and Materials

Back from library, 9 journals in hand. Spent far too much time trying to figure out how to link my Mac to the photocopier so that I can send scans from it back to myself. More and more I find that I do not like paper copies of articles. I much prefer digital versions that I can then edit using PDFExpert on my iPad. This allows me to export all my notes and highlights separately (with page numbers attached), and paste it them into Endnote.

More tedious emails to deal with, and must photocopy and submit those PhD forms!

Computers now all updated, so that this weekend and next week I can really get cracking finalising the data in my database. Then I can start playing with the numbers, looking for patterns and correlations. If I were better with spreadsheets, this would be more fun—as it stands I need to find someone who IS good at it to help. The goal is data-driven research, rather than strictly being hypothesis-driven. I don’t want to miss any possibly important patterns by focussing on pre-conceptions… more can be found on my usual blog ancientegyptiancobras.blogspot.co.uk/. The next few weeks will be really hectic—I have an apprentice to help map the findspots (there over 700 fragments to deal with) and input the data on the replicas we made.

grins, here is some artwork I made for a ‘research as art’ competition held here at Swansea University. It didn’t win, but I think it encapsulates what I am working on …

Demon Blasters and Fiery Goddesses: Ancient Egytian Clay Cobra figurines 

Demon Blasters and Fiery Goddesses: Ancient EgypPan Clay Cobra figurines

“Who am I? Broken now in pieces, a fragment of ancient Egyptian religion, ritual and magic.
Who shaped my serpent form from soft clay found at the banks of the Nile, so long ago? I was passed through and transformed by the element of fire…
I spit fire and flame, illuminating the darkness, a conflagration invoked against demons that trouble the night. Imbued with the power of the fiery goddess, the Egyptians worshipped me, in the Delta, across the Mediterranean Coast from Libya to Lebanon, they chose me to take on their travels. Today you wonder: Who made me? Who prayed to me? Whose fears did I soothe? How many demons did I destroy? How many lives did I touch? Who broke me? And why …”
These figurines provide clues to how the Ancient Egyptians coped with the vicissitudes of daily life, in many ways not so very different from ours.


Now, off to another university meeting—this one on e-learning.

RCAHMS – Amy Gillespie CBA Community Archaeology Placement

RCAHMS also hosts placements from the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) and at the moment Amy Gillespie is working as a Community Archaeologist. Below is her contribution to Day of Archaeology as she explains her placement, work she’s currently undertaking particularly with the Scotland’s Rural Past team at RCAHMS as well as her plans for the future.

RCAHMS Amy Gillespie, CBA Community Archaeology Placement

As I’ve described in the video clip I’m here at RCAHMS for one year as a trainee community archaeologist. I recently completed an MSc in Scottish Studies and I was working part time at the University of Edinburgh as an e-learning resource developer when this opportunity came up. There are quite a few ‘on the job’ training opportunities out there at the moment and I think they are a great way for newly qualified people like me to gain lots of skills and experience.

Today I’m working on Gairloch estate maps, using our online database to catalogue and link each map to relevant sites on Canmore. Once this is completed the maps will be available to the public online. The maps came to be digitised following an SRP training session in Gairloch and so I’m sure the SRP groups in the area will be keen to see them.

One of the great things about my placement is the variety of projects and activities I can get involved in: I have been working with the SRP team validating records sent in by volunteers before uploading them to Canmore; I’ve been to conferences, including one on the Isle of Man where we held a training session in survey and recording techniques; I’m spending time at East Lothian Council and Archaeology Scotland in the run up to East Lothian Heritage Fortnight and Scottish Archaeology Month; I’m in the process of starting up the Edinburgh branch of Young Archaeologists’ Club; and I’m preparing for a two week survey trip to Rum! Phew.

I hope you have a good Day of Archaeology! For more information on the Community Archaeology Bursaries Project go to the CBA website and visit out Facebook Page.