politics

WINTER IS COMING: COMMUNICATING ARCHAEOLOGY IN A POST TRUTH WORLD

One-Show-31-May-2016-Web-Ve

The author [seated right] discussing the theft of metal from Jutland wrecks with Joe Crowley of BBC1’s the One Show for a package broadcast on 30 May 2016

It is one of the wonders of the Day of Archaeology that as the day progresses we get to see in near real time what friends and colleagues are doing in one day in July, from the timeless task of troweling at the trench face, through the deployment of the latest technology to open up a new avenue of knowledge helping us to interpret the past, to the colleague who is writing about what she did yesterday because to today is a childcare day for a working mother.

Hopefully too, people from outside the profession will look in through the various windows this annual exercise in open communication provides, and in the time honoured spirit of the BBC it is to be hoped that they will be in some way or other, informed, educated and even entertained.  After all, and I know we are not supposed to admit it because we are an academic study, a humanity and a science, validated in the ivory halls of academe, archaeology done right is fun, as well as fascinating, and in its way our science, and our storytelling, can even help to make the world a better place, offering perspective by placing our today in the context of what went before, and helping to build a positive sense of place and identity for communities swept by the wind and weather of globalised existence.

That then is the informative, fascinating and fun Day of Archaeology which is just fading outside my office window.  My day of archaeology however has been thinking about the future and it is hard to avoid the sense that, to quote a certain television epic made by HBO, which contains somewhat more violence, sex nudity and dragons than your average excavation, “Winter is coming.”

In particular, as an archaeologist editing a news blog specialising in reporting and discussing archaeology and the archaeological media as news and current affairs, there are two contexts above all which could be seen as bell weathers indicating the potentially chilly environment in which future Days of Archaeology, and I hope there will be many, will be reported.

The first is “Brexit,” the narrow vote in a referendum advising the UK Government that the portion of the population which expressed an opinion by voting wished to leave the European Union.

The second is the nomination of Donald Trump as Republican Candidate in the United States Presidential Election which takes place in November.

I am not going to discuss the potential impact of Brexit on the way archaeologists are able to move around, live and work in the geographical space and political construct we call Europe; Kevin Wooldridge has already done that superbly in his article “Thoughts from a Corner of Sweden;…”  Instead I am going to look at the wider implications for archaeology and the archaeological media, of the intellectual environment within which many political and academic analysts argue that the EU Referendum, and the US Presidential Primaries, were fought.

Both the success of the Brexit campaign and the nomination of “the Donald” have been seen as an expression of what has been called “Post Truth Politics,” a phrase probably coined by the American writer David Roberts in an article for the on-line environmental magazine Grist in 2010.  Roberts analysed how post truth politics works in this way;

 

“Voters use crude heuristics to assess legislative proposals. This runs somewhat counter to the idealized Enlightenment view, which goes something like this: Voters

  1. gather facts,
  2. draw conclusions from the facts,
  3. form issue positions based on the conclusions, and
  4. choose a political party that shares those issue positions.

The best evidence from political science shows that the process is almost exactly the reverse. Voters:

  1. choose a tribe or party based on value affiliations,
  2. adopt the issue positions of the tribe,
  3. develop arguments that support those issue positions, and
  4. choose facts to bolster those arguments.”

 

Why is this political analysis important to archaeology?  There are two reasons which I would identify.

The first is the apparent view of many cotemporary politicians, put most notoriously by British Conservative politician, and leading Brexiteer, Michael Gove in an interview with Faisel Islam of Sky News on 21 June 2016.  Challenged over the number of expert bodies questioning the wisdom of Brexit, Mr Gove responded that we;

“…have had enough of experts”

This populist claim was backed up by data from polling organisation You Gov which suggested that 54% of “Leave” voters in the UK Referendum did not “Trust Academics.”  On the “Remain” side just 19% expressed the same lack of trust.

Journalist and author Jonathan Freedland suggested a reason for this shift in an article for the Guardian newspaper.  According to Freedland’s analysis it is down to a basic function of human nature;

“…fact checking is laborious, tedious and time-consuming, especially compared with the brio that can be generated by a sweeping (but false) assertion… You can almost hear the nation’s inner teenager chant in unison: bor-ing.”

However, perhaps worse for archaeology, even than the general lack of trust in experts and academics, is the sense that, outside of the efforts of a select few archaeologists and historians who get regular media work because they are able to convey enthusiasm, while at the same time translating effortlessly from academic into human, the world of popular communications and TV Factual has already abandoned mainstream archaeology for a post truth construct of its own.

The effect of this unwillingness to challenge an audience on the broadcast documentary media was seen most clearly and crudely early in 2016 in the debacle which was the reality documentary series”Battlefield Recovery” [aka “Nazi War Diggers”], which set out to excavate artifacts from Second World War battlefields in Latvia and Poland.   The production company, London based ClearStory Productions, first approached a cross section of academic specialists in the archaeology of modern conflict [myself included] for advice, only to proceed to ignore all of us, instead choosing to employ a trio of ammateur metal detectorists and a dealer in Nazi militaria to front the programme.  The result was an intellectually and chronologically shapeless jaunt around Latvia and Poland, digging up stuff, where the historical context was reduced to a few newsreel clips and a shallowly scripted voiceover.  So far just so much of a missed chance and at one level, the reason behind this casting is probably, as the advert says, “simples”.  A certain breed of militaria collecting metal detectorists are quite happy to hoik stuff out of the ground without recording it, get moist with excitement when they find guns and explosives without getting too concerned about elf’n’safety, and dealers are quite happy to put a price on the finds.  In short the chosen cast enabled ClearStory to deliver a character driven, reality show, for blokes about other blokes, finding war stuff which some people sell for cash; and they did it in a way which was cheap, with no expensive and untelegenic post excavation and reporting.

However, it is at the deeper policy level, that the decisions made by the producers of Battlefield Recovery become really disturbing.  Having consulted expert professionals, including several with extensive media experience,  ClearStory and the National Geographic Network which originally commissioned the series, still deliberately chose to adopt a format which pandered to their perception of their target audience’s expectation for goodies, guys , guns, and stiffs rather than challenging it.  The result was a “look at that, wow!”  freak show, where tipping a human skull out of a soldiers helmet on camera, replaced a genuine exploration of the experience of that soldier in that war and deliberately short cut any attempt to establish his identity and return his remains to his family through forensic archaeology.  Like the export of post truth Trump style political campaigning to the UK during the referendum campaign, this was the export of American post truth documentary to UK television, where all that matters is the bottom line, the political or ratings win, not how you get there.

Understandably the wider archaeological community responded to “Battlefield Recovery” with fury.  Both the UK broadcaster Channel 5 and the regulator Ofcom received scores of complaints, including reasoned arguments from leading sector organisations such as the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, the Council for British Archaeology and the Society of Antiquaries.  Many of the complaints focussed on the ethics of amateurs digging up human remains and and the egregious safety breaches shown on screen, both in excavations and in handling unexploded munitions and still the programmes were broadcast and still Ofcom refused to even investigate the complaints.

I would identify a number of reasons for this.  First of all there is a freedom of speech argument.  Under the US First Amendment and the European Convention on Human Rights you have to put up a pretty strong case to prevent someone having their say, however unethical or deluded you think it is.  Indeed, much as I despise “Battlefield Recovery” as a programme, I would go to the barricades to defend ClearStory’s right to make it.  The true problem lies in the fact that ClearStory felt able to use the format they did in the first place, and then in the complete lack of accountability to its subject and audience once the programme was made.  Here I would suggest that the biggest reason for the failure to have “Battlefield Recovery” held to account was that in the eyes of Ofcom and the broadcaster, the opinion of archaeologists just does not matter in the way that, for example, the opinions of the medical Royal Colleges were heard in the heated debate over the coverage of the controversy surrounding claims that the MMR vaccine caused Autism in some children.  This can only be thanks to the failure of successive generations of archaeologists to engage and embed with the broadcasters in helping to deliver the mass audiences which our media serve and which their networks and accountants crave.  We have been so comfortable in our own space, welcoming in those few who are enlightened enough to come to us, that we have made too little attempt to seek to venture outside to seek and nurture new audiences.  Now we do need to venture outside to combat ethical abominations such as “Battlefield Recovery” we find that a large part of the pass has already been sold.

Across much of the digital broadcasting spectrum, what the commissioners call history factual now consists largely of treasure hunting reality TV of the kind shown in “Treasure Quest” and of which “Battlefield Recovery” was a cheap and cheerful example;  of deluded conspiracy theory TV claiming to prove that the history we were taught at school was wrong and archaeology is one big cover up, of the kind peddled by Forensic Geologist Scott Wolter in “America Unearthed” and “Pirate Treasure of the Knight’s Templar”;  or outright fictions such as “Hunting Hitler”, “The Curse of Oak Island,” and most notoriously  of all “Ancient Aliens.”  It is the consistent failure of all but a few archaeologists to challenge and be seen to challenge these cynical, formulaic, conspiracy products which is almost certainly one of the principle factors which has enabled the media, Ofcom, and even Government to largely discount archaeology in policy making, in programme commissioning and in calibrating regulatory frameworks.

In the current post truth political climate that is a dangerous situation for archaeology to be in.  All the more so as we now live in a media world where any kind of serious questioning is increasingly difficult.    This is in large part thanks to the effect which digital activist Eli Pariser has called “the filter bubble”.  That is the sense that as the media each of us as individuals consumes becomes increasingly fragmented across multiple digital formats, which can be chosen and time shifted at will, while being at the same time personalised by the algorithms offering us the information on our Facebook pages and Google searches which the companies behind them think we want to read, confirming our existing attitudes and bias, it becomes ever more difficult for us to recognise and challenge those biases, even if we want to.

Outside the filter bubble, our world of academic archaeology where debate, discussion, and challenge are the norm and even deliberately sought out, looks increasingly isolated and odd, perhaps even in that most deadly of modern political insults, “elitist”.  Any such dismissal of the core essence of what we do could have a dangerous practical effect on the future of archaeology as we know and practice it.  To channel the spirit of the famous quote about the threat of Nazism written by Pastor Martin Niemöller.  When they come for the archaeologists, to make the cuts, to close the university departments and to liberalise the planning laws, thus destroying the economic basis of commercial archaeology and the jobs which go with it, who is going to be there to stand alongside the lecturers, the surveyors, the finds specialists and the diggers, when all those who, like the “Time Team,” reached out to a wider audience have passed on or have been dismissed as academically lazy populists.  No one will be there, because those who might have been our audience and who might have chosen to stand beside us if we had only reached out to be inclusive and bothered to put up a fight on the wider political and media stage, are instead at home, sitting in their underpants under a tinfoil pyramid watching “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel.

And it is not as if we did not have the chance.   For twenty years the seminal archaeological procedural “Time Team” on Channel 4 delivered audiences in the millions, in the process becoming, and remaining, an instantly recognisable national institution.  The trouble was no one else stepped up to the plate to challenge “Time Team’s” hegemony, or to develop other formats grounded on evidence based process, until like the mega fauna caught out by the deadly double whammy of climate change and predatory humans, even “Time Team” became an evolutionary dead end, succumbing to changing priorities at Channel 4 and the inevitable aging of its cast and core audience.  Time Team’s co-creator, the late Professor Mick Aston of Bristol University summed this up in his last major interview, given to Current Archaeology in June 2013;

“But even though Time Team built up an incredible audience, the archaeological world never really ran with it. All the public interest generated in that first 15 year period was wasted. Our colleagues were too busy saying ‘you can’t do it in three days’, or ‘I don’t like the way you’ve done that.’ Nit picking really, but it could get nasty. If you went to a pub and mentioned Time Team to a bunch of archaeologists you’d instantly have a fight on your hands. People who got what the programme was doing thought it was great, but others just said ‘you can’t do archaeology like that’. I feel as though I’ve suffered from that for 20 years.”

Aston added later;

“The sad thing, I think, is despite the public interest in archaeology we don’t seem to be able to harness it. I don’t know why, because so much work does need doing. If every parish had a project like Winscombe going on not only would we learn a lot, but the spin-offs in terms of social cohesion and the involvement of people would be absolutely phenomenal.”

It is difficult to communicate when you no longer even have the means.

 

Martin Baron, the executive Editor of the Washington Post [and hero of the recent film “Spotlight” which celebrated the role of investigative journalism in exposing the scandal of paedophile priests in the United States] put the danger we are all in, on account of this failure to communicate outside our particular silos of knowledge and opinion, most succinctly in his commencement address to the School of Media and Communication at Temple University earlier this year;

“Today we are not so much communicating as miscommunicating. Or failing to communicate. Or choosing to communicate only with those who think as we do. Or communicating in a manner that is wholly detached from reality.

Too often we look only for affirmation of our own ideas rather than opening ourselves to the ideas of others.

Too often we are inclined only to talk. Too rarely are we inclined to listen — when listening is the superior route to learning and understanding. Listening has become a lost art.”

And before anyone asks why I am quoting a journalist and not an archaeologist, especially when “journalistic” is so often inscribed on an undergraduate, or higher, essay as a term of criticism, ask yourself this.

What is the point of being an archaeologist if you cannot and do not communicate your work to anyone who wants to listen and learn?

And do we too not all too often take the easy route of only discussing our work with the people who think like us, and when we do, are we also often guilty of using a jargon ridden language only we, and sometimes not even all of us, can understand?

Ask also, when did a leading archaeologist last talk about the need to communicate with the world in those terms?

We have enough trouble even communicating with each other.

This brings me to a related issue, one with which I am particularly engaged, and which has risen up to bite again in the course of my research and writing during my day of archaeology.  That is the issue of access to the transfusing lifeblood of academic debate, academic articles communicated through publication in journals of record.

As happens to all of us, a notification sat in my inbox this morning regarding a paper which would, on the face of it, be directly relevant not just to a paper I am currently writing, but also to a heritage crime investigation I am currently involved with; so in that routine way you do I tapped on the link.

Of course, as a freelance archaeologist and writer with no current academic affiliation I do not have the magic login which serves as the free pass to the higher degrees of academic discussion [in spite of the fact that I do self identify as an academic, possessing as I do a Masters degree and some subject expertise, which should be tested, and might even be of use to colleagues], so having been treated to the abstract, which confirmed I certainly wanted to read the full article, I was asked to pay £26 for the article, or £124 for the complete issue of the journal concerned.

The verbal response to this shameless demand for a poll tax on knowledge is of course well known to scholars of Old English and consists of two words, the second of which is “off”.

You do not have access

 

As a result of this short sighted imposition of an academic exclusion zone there are no winners.  I do not get to access the information and arguments contained within the article which might well have helped to ground, focus or enrich my paper, thus impacting on anyone who reads my work when it is published [which it will be, in an open access format of course].

Meanwhile the four joint authors of the paper I would like to read suffer because they lose a citation, and the pleasure and challenge, of being quoted and maybe questioned.  The brutal marketing decision of their publisher has taken them from High Impact to No Impact at the click of my mouse.

The only bright spot in this is that the publisher also loses because their greed and willingness to facilitate a research apartheid has gained them precisely nothing.

So;   For inflicting that completely avoidable collateral damage to the ongoing, international, debate and development of archaeology and on the careers of five professional archaeologists, Routledge, of the Taylor and Francis Group, publishers of World Archaeology,  consider yourselves named and shamed.

[In fairness I should add that other publishers and Journals of Record are equally guilty of turning legitimate researchers without an academic login into the research equivalent of Cassandra, speaking truths, but condemned never to be listened to]

 

But this is the day of archaeology.  A day when we celebrate each other, our work and let the public in to see us, so I should finish on some form of up beat.  Let me suggest what we can and should be.

Later in the commencement address quoted above Martin Baron quoted one of the founding principle of the great newspaper the Washington Post;

“The first mission of a newspaper is to tell the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained.”

The Day of Archaeology proves every year what a diverse, brilliant, thoughtful and thought provoking profession and calling we are lucky enough to participate in, as our work attempts to ascertain what those sometimes elusive and difficult historical and archaeological truths are, as nearly as maybe.   It is also a profession and a calling which I think most of us would agree is at its strongest and most creative when we think, talk, and act together.

And it can be done.   The package about the theft of metal from the wrecks of ships sunk in the Battle of Jutland pictured above, was broadcast on BBC 1’s daily magazine programme the One Show on 30 May 2016, the eve of the one hundredth anniversary of the battle.  Working closely with academic colleagues, the programme production team, their lawyers and presenter Joe Crowley, himself a history graduate, in seven minutes, using a popular magazine format in Prime Time, we managed to cover the historical context of the story, show the archaeological evidence for the theft and identify the thieves, address the ethical issues surrounding maritime military graves and explain the Protection of Military Remains Act, all to an audience of over three million, who also saw the human aspect of the battle and the emotional cost of the theft, expressed through an interview with a relative of one of the sailors lost in the sinking of HMS Queen Mary.   It is a bonus that we also managed to embarrass and hold to account the Ministry of Defence by forcing them to answer questions about their failure to protect the wrecks.

Overall, the One Show package was a prime  example of the kind of popular public service broadcasting which can still be achieved if archaeologists seek out the right stories, the right partners and employ the right visual and spoken language.

However, allowing the continuation of ever decreasing literary circles to take place in a succession of sealed and self regarding academic halls of mirrors, is not only in my view counter productive for our profession, risking rendering it increasingly inward looking and to the wider world, irrelevant.  Worse, in the post modern, post truth environment, where we breathe the atmosphere of lies and misrepresentations generated by the likes of the Brexiteers, the Donald and the producers of “Ancient Aliens” and “Hunting Hitler”, not to communicate what we do in the widest most effective way possible is also a dereliction of our duty to take an active role as participants in the wider world which we go home to when our day of archaeology comes to an end.

 

 

 

About Andy Brockman

Andy Brockman is a specialist in the Archaeology of Modern Conflict and editor of the on-line archaeological media and current affairs blog thePipeLine 

He particularly enjoys researching, reviewing and debunking pseudo history from buried Spitfires in Burma to Hitler’s 1945 excursion to Argentina by U-boat.

Thoughts from a corner of Sweden: If the UK leaves Europe, where does that leave me ? (and the many other archaeologists in the same sinking boat)

This year my Day of Archaeology posting comes from Sweden…..At the moment I am working on the site of Nya Lödöse, the old town area of Gothenburg. I am told it is the largest urban excavation ever to have been undertaken in western Sweden. My interest is in the early post-medieval houses and workshops of the town, but we are also excavating the church and its associated cemetery. As with every urban excavation, anywhere in the world, we are under pressure both in terms of time and resources…. but there are many joys. The scale and survival of the buildings is brilliant, the cemetery is producing all kinds of interesting anatomical and spatial data.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Nya Lödöse excavations 2016

I continue to follow the progress of the Intrasis dedicated archaeological GIS, but this time in the nation that developed the system….I am sure all my colleagues back at Historic England would love to see the latest version of Intrasis being used on a really intensive excavation…and to see demonstrated the facilities where onsite inputting of GIS data linked to an external remote database is possible.

We finish this phase of the project at the end of August….but there is another part of the cemetery and town to be excavated in 2017….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Three members of the team

But enough of the good news… there are bad times a coming and coming up fast. Anyone who has read any of my previous Day of Archaeology posts, will note that over the years, I have taken full advantage of my rights as an EU citizen to travel and work in quite a few different EU and EEA countries. Unfortunately, future opportunities of this type are likely to limited for us Brits. I don’t intend to say anything about the motives or mind set of the 52% of British voters who decided the UK should quit the EU. Those folk will one day have to justify their decision to someone mightier than any of us and may indeed feel real regret as they descend into the ninth circle of Hell, sweating through the flames of the Inferno and overcome by the stench of the raw sewage within which they hopefully will stew for all Eternity….

No, what I would like to say is something about how the decision of the UK to leave the EU will affect archaeology and archaeologists across the whole continent.

we are stuffed

In the first instance those of us Brits that work in other EU countries will have our wings clipped by the Brexit vote. Hopefully some arrangement will be reached where we can still work within the EU/EEA area, but I imagine that extra layers of bureaucracy will be placed upon us. As someone who worked in Europe before freedom of movement, I can recall the hours spent waiting at various airports, police stations and the like getting documents and permissions verified; on occasions having to attend medicals to ensure that I wasn’t bringing the Black Death back to one of its source nations and often having to take out separate (and often expensive) private health and liability insurances. Let alone the difficulties of opening bank accounts, transferring funds from work nation back to the UK etc etc.

Secondly, the situation will become equally difficult for the large number of EU nationals currently working in UK archaeology. EU citizens do not at present require visas to work in the UK, but that is likely to change following Brexit. Archaeology is not a ‘protected profession’ when it comes to granting work visas and non-Brit archaeologists wanting to work in the UK will find they are subject to the most restrictive forms of visa. The worst of this is the requirement for the post to provide a minimum salary level, currently £35,000 pa, before a work visa is granted. Only a very few UK archaeologists currently earn that amount and it seems unlikely that a massive wage increase will be instigated to retain non-UK workers

Thirdly, there is the question of research funding, collaboration projects and the status EU archaeology students in the UK and UK students in other EU countries. I anticipate a minefield of funding options, none of which will be less expensive than current levels and surely will result in less choice, less research and less collaborations. My personal grief will be compounded if employment with European research institutes and/or universities becomes difficult if not impossible as a result of Brexit…..It is already being predicted that the Erasmus student exchange programme will be severely curtailed for UK students travelling abroad and UK universities hosting EU students.

So here’s the rub. I think that the opportunities for British archaeologists to work in many different European corners and for EU nationals to come and do the same in the UK has contributed to a wider and more comprehensive understanding of our discipline. Archaeology across the EU benefits from the UK being an active participant. We equally learn from out interaction with colleagues from across the continent. I believe that there are cultural and social advantages in exploring the commonality of our continents history/prehistory.

Postscript: If anyone knows of a nation out there willing to offer asylum to the large number of UK archaeologists who are proud to rise above petty nationalism and declare ourselves ‘European’, please get in touch….

Why Should Archaeology be of Interest to Politicians?

Of course, most archaeologists will know exactly why they feel archaeology should be of interest to politicians: it provides vital information about human life in the past, in all of its fascinating complexity. This information in turn entertains and enriches us, giving a sense of perspective and depth to modern life, helping us to see and understand where we have all come from and the skills, struggles and mistakes it has taken to get the human species this far.

But why should any of this be of any interest to those who are elected to represent the populace in the political arena? By its very nature, the job of an elected politician is to represent people’s interests, and there are many, many pressing interests which they are asked to represent. Some of these are local – planning disputes, resolving local conflicts, campaigning for greater resources for healthcare, childcare, schools, roads and rubbish collection. Other interests are wider and more strategic – representing their party’s interests, the slow grind of arguing for and implementing policy and, inevitably, doing things that might help them get elected the next time around too.

I work for the Northern Ireland Assembly as Research Officer for culture and heritage. I see the intensely competing claims on the time of our local MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) first hand, and I often wonder if and how archaeology is of any relevance to them. I am an archaeologist by background; having spent time in commercial archaeology, then carrying out academic research in Britain, Ireland and in the Middle East, and then teaching, I found myself at the Council for British Archaeology with its headquarters in York. It was there that I first began to understand the crucial interface that exists between politicians and organisations like the CBA, and the crucial nature of the work that they do in representing and explaining the significance of archaeology at every twist and turn of legislative, policy or fiscal change to the Ministers and MPs who make significant decisions.

Having moved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, I now support statutory committees by providing them with (hopefully) informative, objective papers and presentations on topics within my brief. I also support individual MLAs who often request research to support either their own internal party discussions, or sometimes constituency business. Starting here in 2010, I suddenly had to think about not just archaeology but also things like arts policy, sport, public libraries, and languages. What funding do each of these sub-topics get within the over-arching remit of ‘culture’? How are the policies pursued here different to the Republic of Ireland, Great Britain, or elsewhere in the EU? What could be tried here in Northern Ireland that has worked elsewhere? Is there evidence of problems within particular policy areas?

These are the kinds of issues which come up regularly, but I am often surprised by how often archaeology and heritage come forward as important issues for MLAs. I have been asked, for example, for papers on the scale of undeposited archaeological archives from commercial projects, the role of cultural rights within museums, differences between the planning policies for the historic environment in each of the jurisdictions of the UK, metal detecting, the restoration of historic canals, and the quantity of Irish artefacts held outside Ireland. All of this work involves careful liaison with staff in the relevant departments here (the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Department of the Environment), but also in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in London, and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in Dublin. It also involves talking to those who are often the real experts on these topics: those working in the field, in NGOs and in voluntary organisations. What surprises me further about this work is that the relevance or legitimacy of archaeology alongside all of the other political issues which are around at any particular moment is rarely questioned. Some of the anxieties which I know that archaeological organisations can sometimes feel, like how to argue for resources and parliamentary time for archaeology in the midst of seemingly more urgent business, are almost never real issues for politicians. I have never heard it said that archaeology and heritage are less deserving of discussion or consideration than schools, hospitals or crime. Of course, there are different views on how such issues are to be funded or addressed, but heritage is recognised as being fundamentally important in contributing to community identity (something of real significance in Northern Ireland), but also as an economic driver for tourism and regeneration.

So today I am working on a paper which examines the social impact of heritage: what role, for example, do museums, the historic environment, and community archaeology play in contributing to quality of life, or to alleviating social exclusion? There are lively debates around all of these issues and plenty of evaluations, strategies and assessments to plough through. I will be speaking to National Museums Northern Ireland, to the Northern Ireland Museums Council, to academics at the University of Ulster and, of course, doing plenty of reading, reading and more reading. The Assembly is in recess now so it’s a good time to tackle a complex topic and try to get to the bottom of it before the MLAs return to the Assembly in September.

A day in ceramics, glass and metals. Conservation at the British Museum

8.55 am. Misting a waterlogged leather purse inside a pot with deionised water.

The purse contained a hoard of silver Civil War coins currently going through the Treasure process. If the leather dries out, it will distort. Treatment is delayed while questions of ownership and ultimate destination for the hoard are resolved but we have pressed for a speedy decision!

9.05 am. Excavating fragments of an Iron Age cauldron from a soil block.

This is just one of a group of bronze cauldrons, some with iron rims and handles, found at Chiseldon.

9:15 am: Identifying old restoration on a bronze portrait head of Augustus under ultra violet light.

The results of the investigation will be published and the head may go on display. You can find out more about the head of Augustus on the British Museum website.

9.22 am Revealing silver inlay in an iron Merovingian axe wanted for The World of Sutton Hoo exhibition that will open in September 2011.

Further details on the handaxe can be found in collections online.

9:30 am: Two 18 month contract posts have just started to clean coins from the Frome hoard, the largest hoard of Roman coins in a single pot found in Britain. They have calculated that they will have to clean about 40 coins each a day to fulfil their contracts.

An extensive blog has been posted by the Portable Antiquities Scheme on the discovery of the Frome Hoard and it will form part of a video conferencing workshop for children.

9:32am: Piecing together fragments from the old Naukratis excavation.

You can read more about the Naukratis research projecton the British Museum research pages.

9:37 am: Reconstructing the bowl that was placed over the mouth of the pot that contained the Frome hoard.

9:54 am: Removing a tiny wisp of cotton wool caught in the gold cloisons of part of the Ostrogothic Domagnano Treasure.

You can learn more about this object on Collections online.

12:32 pm: Reconstructing the pot that contained the Frome Hoard.

12:40 pm: More joins found in the Naukratis material.

12:43 pm: Editing a conservation record on the British Museum computer system. Recently it was announced that the 2 millionth record had been generated and most of these are open to the public via the BM Collections On Line website.

1:58 pm: Consolidating lead items that have formed part of a comparative study of galvanostatic and potentiostatic methods of reduction.

2:23 pm: Still gluing the Naukratis fragments.

2:26 pm: Still building up fragments of the Frome pot. (Note picture on the wall of the pot still in the ground.)

2:59pm: Investigating the Lilleburge assemblage, a collection of Viking objects that includes items still in the small blocks of soil in which they were excavated in 1886 from a long barrow in Norway.

For more details on the Lilleberge assemblage, visit these pages.

3:01 pm: Filling gaps in the Frome bowl.

4:58 pm: Examining an X-ray of a cheek piece from the East Leicestershire helmet made from iron overlaid with silver gilt. The helmet, which dates from just before the Roman invasion of Britain, was part of what was originally called the Hallaton hoard and was buried full of Iron Age silver coins

The Hallaton hoard has been acquired by Leicestershire Museums Service and Helen Sharp blogs about the treasure elsewhere on this site.

5:23 pm: Removing tarnish from an Anglo-Saxon silver gilt buckle for The World of Sutton Hoo exhibition that will open in September 2011.

You can find more information on the buckle on the BM site.

Planning field work in Egypt

So-called "barrow" on Hampstad Heath
Boadicea’s Grave‘ on Hampstead Heath

The chapter writing  is coming along but after driving my desk for a few hours, I needed a break and went for a run. I often go up to Hampstead Heath, and even there archaeology is never far off. Somewhere on the Heath is a Saxon ditch and earth bank, which formed early ownership and administrative boundaries (since at least AD986), though as far as I am aware I’ve not come across it yet. And of course, there is the so-called ‘Boadicea’s Grave‘ which may be nothing more than a foundations of an old windmill or a folly (right).

My desk

My desk

So back here at my desk for more writing, I am excited to find an email regarding some paid field work in Egypt. I may have the opportunity to undertake reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) this Autumn at South Abydos in Upper Egypt. Prof. Joe Wegner (who taught me during my BA at the University of Pennylvania) has been directing excavations there for years and is keen to document the sealings from the Middle Kingdom town. The sealings are quite small, only a few centimeters across, and there are a lot of them, so this will be an ideal job for the RTI mini-dome (see Figure 5).

We’ll see what happens though. As many Egyptians continue to seek a better future and more economic equality, the current political situation in Egypt means that the cultural heritage sector is undergoing many changes. It’s an issue that weighs on my mind quite a bit as I job hunt and look for opportunites to collaborate. As an archaeologist I’ve developed various skills and experience relating to Egypt’s ancient past. Now the question for me is, how can I both obtain employment in my field, and do so in a way that supports a better Egyptian present?