Monday, 10 December 2012

Stones: Teaching

I feel a bit rotten putting a post about teaching into the "Stones" tag list for this blog- it's not really a grumble or groan subject for me, to be honest. Teaching is one of my favourite aspects of academia- I can honestly say that in spite of having put in some horrendous essay marking time over the years of my PhD, teaching students is my favourite part of the week. I love the moments when suddenly, someone gets the hang of a big concept, or becomes confident enough to make links between their own archaeological interests and scary looking theory. When someone makes a really strong point in class, or in an essay, I want to leap in the air and dance and hug them. (I don't, of course- it's strictly non toccare with students, and I don't want them to think I'm nuts). I feel the same way about teaching outside the classroom- when I supervise my trench workers I am delighted when they work out pottery from rocks, or spot a piece of iron slag, or bring me a teeny bronze fragment smaller than their fingernail- that glow of achievement, that pride in doing something really well- it works both ways. I get some of my best ideas for research from teaching- and I stand by the idea that you only really understand something if you can teach it coherently to an undergraduate class, or better yet, a school class.

Some beautiful British stones...

So, when there was a bit of a hoo-ha around Twitter, and a kerfuffle on the Today programme about teaching history in schools, I did get grumbly. I did get ranty. I shouted at the radio and huffed and puffed around the house. Basically, the debate is that Michael Gove wants to make British history the focus of school history syllabi, while his opponents think that this will create an inward looking nationalist curriculum. Both groups have a point- British history is intensely relevant to living in Britain today- but it is USELESS to work on British history without its wider, global context. There is no argument to be had here, and the dichotomy is, frankly, stupid. Its existence illustrates the real problem inherent in both views- that students are being taught to know things, and not to use them. Whether this is old fashioned knowledge of dates and kings, or new types of knowledge about skills for historical analysis, or causes for events, the system rewards knowledge. Knowing what you need to know gets you through the exam. Independent thought is not required. Gove seems to want everyone to know (for example) the dates of a particular event, while exam boards want students to know the "key causes" of particular moments, broken down into a format that can be fed into a 6-mark GCSE question. Neither party think of the student in all of this: they are a drone, to be fed knowledge and prove that they have absorbed this knowledge by regurgitating it onto an exam paper. It makes me want to vomit myself.

What I would love to do is get university style teaching into schools. Give students the primary sources and objects, and get them to see historical events in context. For example- a good old nationally relevant event like the Dissolution of the Monasteries. You can't understand that (very British) phenomenon without a grasp of European politics at the time. You need to know about the Spanish Empire and Martin Luther, Erasmus and the knock-on effect of the Renaissance on religious philosophy, Henry VIII's relationship with France and the history of Anglo-French relationships. You need to recognise the motivations of English protestants who became star ministers- Cranmer, Cromwell. It's not just about Henry VIII getting off with Anne Boleyn, but the entire world of circumstance that made their world as it was. Breaking down the influences and discussing them together- encouraging students to talk about their primary opinions- setting reading for homework- then re-engaging to get a considered view of their ideas. Helping them put together the tools for an argument. Teaching them to see the world in context, and then argue coherently in an essay, not make a 6 mark list of causes. The exams would have to change too- more open ended discussion questions, focused on demonstrating the ability of the student to make an argument, rather than recite a list, whether of dates or "impacts."

My entire goal as a university teacher is to give my students the skills to think for themselves and trust their own judgements- giving them raw information and the tools to process it through reading/listening and then discussion. When I teach first year students, they are horrified by the concept of originality- many don't have the confidence to think for themselves, they are too used to repeating back knowledge, and doing this will still carry them through to a 2:2 or a low 2:1 if done well. But by the end of the course, they are making connections themselves- going off and doing independent research into things that interest them, then bringing their ideas and case studies back to me. This is exactly the same principle as teaching in an archeological field school- I show my students how to identify their finds, then encourage them to speculate as to what they mean for the archaeology of the trench, getting them to put together an interpretive argument. In the age of the internet, shouldn't we be able to use the same teaching methods as this younger and younger? Encouraging not only independent learning, but independent thinking? It doesn't matter if the focus is British history in schools- if taught in this way, it will connect the student to an inter-connected past, and a world of interesting influences on Britain will be brought in as a matter of course. If narrow, traditional teaching practices continue, islands of knowledge, whether about Britain or not, will continue to restrict and restrain the schoolchildren of another generation.

This post is still a "Stones" post- the issues that I've talked about here will surely not be to everyone's taste- there is no simple answer to the best way to teach. It's bloody hard to know what is right. But I know what works- and I know what my students enjoy. I'd rather be challenged and pushed to think for myself than bleated at and bored stupid- no matter how hard it is. Anyone who thinks students aren't bright enough to try independent thinking just hasn't tried hard enough- it's often a real sod to get that first breakthrough. But if we give up, we let them all down, and we let the difficulty of active teaching swamp the potential of our students and our own joy in teaching them. I'll stop ranting now, but I'd love to know- positively or negatively- what you think about this debate. Do you teach too? What do you think of independent learning in schools or in universities?

The shut door to knowledge?
Disclaimer: I know LOADS of good teachers who DO encourage their students to think for themselves- I am NOT having a go at you. I just wish the system was designed to encourage this and the great work you all do.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Place: Home

As you might have spotted in my last blog post, I recently spent 10 days in Italy working. I was originally going to blog straight away about what a great time I had, the lovely friends I saw and the brilliant people I met, and had all sorts of cool photos ready to go. Then I came home. Do you ever get a rush of happiness just arriving at a familiar place? I've never really felt that about anywhere I lived until now, but coming back from Rome after a 2 hour journey from Bristol airport through rising floodwaters, I went through my own front door and was overtaken by joy at being home. I am still feeling the ripples of that original swelling of emotion as I write this. So, rather than write about Rome, and San Giovenale, and the fun of being abroad, I thought I'd settle down by the fire and blog about home.

The glories of Rome- peeking out through the columns of the BSR.

 The funny thing is, I've only lived here about 6 weeks. The house is old- built at some point in the 17th century- and has funny beams, crazy hidey holes and a living room that used to be a piggery. One of our neighbours was born in the end bedroom and told us her parents kept turkeys in the room below. She's our nearest neighbour, about 200 yards up the lane (and she's lovely). Other than that, to get to a neighbour you have to cross the ford or go over the hill to the village. You'd have thought that with the weather we had last week, I'd be dying to get back to Rome, or anywhere where the only way out wasn't through a raging stream of waist-high water (the photo here is after the ford had died down for 24 hours). Somewhere warm, surrounded by delightful people, not alone in a rain soaked valley in a creaking old house moaning with the wind.

Instead, I loved the storm. I loved the grumpy moany house. I loved the streams of water rushing through our garden to reach the muddy torrent preventing me from leaving to get to the shops or elsewhere (honestly, there was half a telegraph pole stuck in the bridge, it was MAD). I dashed to the woodshed to replenish our fuel, made an enormous chilli con carne and basked in the satisfaction of being in a place which makes me so simply and utterly happy.

THEN I got thinking about homes in the past. This was not entirely unconnected to a lecture I gave to first-year students this week on place and space. It's a lecture I relish- two fantastically interesting anthropological case studies*, and a chance to really challenge some of the top-down viewpoints you can get in archaeology. What makes a space a place? The same thing that makes a house a home- the individual people who live there, go there, use the space, mark it out, stamp around, love it, hate it, sleep in it, get drunk in it, have sex in it, go to the toilet in it, cook in it, meet people in it, and feel in it. It's easy for us as archaeologists to provide a functional explanation for space- this was a house, this was a grain store. Sometimes it's more difficult- a problem most obvious in interpretations of big flashy monuments that get gently categorised as "ritual" spaces alone. But I think we should challenge ourselves to do more, push further- what are the things that people actually do in a space, and how can we reconstruct their relationships with a building or a landscape?

The work of Penelope Allison on Roman houses is inspirational in this sense- using small finds to really interrogate how people used buildings**. She is, of course, not the only archaeologist to think about space on a human, personal scale- while there's a certain Marmite effect, phenomenological philosophy has really opened up new ways of considering the experience of place in the past. Chris Tilley's "A Phenomenology of Landscape" was a book I read as an undergraduate and marvelled at- I still think it's bold and brilliant. For me, the key message of this book is the realisation of just how patronising it is to treat people in the past as automata, to refuse to see them as complex, feeling, living humans just like us. It's an almost post-colonial message: the past may be "a foreign country" where people do things differently, but that's no reason to reduce the inhabitants of this foreign space to dehumanised natives, living in a land which is totally alien to the civilised country we ourselves inhabit.

Stockland Great Castle bank'n'ditch

So, as I revel in the beautiful view, the sturdy walls and the feelings that my new home gives me, I wonder about the people who lived here before. Not just in my house, but in the whole valley. There are two Iron Age hillforts just across the river from me- I can see one from the bathroom window (it makes cleaning your teeth much more interesting) and one, which still has a lovely bank and ditch preserved, just out of sight. I can never know how the people who lived there felt about their landscape, about their homes, about their place in the world, or whether they would even characterise these things as important. But in the remnants of the hours of work they put in to defining their world, marking out their space and making a presence for themselves here, I suspect that the connections between this place and its inhabitants were forged as strongly as those I've built over my short time here, even if I can never know exactly what those links were.

What do you think? What do you feel when you go home, or away?

Sunshine and sheep after the storm...

* The first one is a real classic that I love using for teaching- Pierre Boudieu's structural analysis of the Kabyle house. The key point of the case study is that houses may look simple, but are actually really carefully curated and structured. You can read about it in "The Algerians" or in "Outline of a Theory of Practice". The other case study looks at space on a wider scale and how it plays a part in the creation of rituals- I wanted to introduce students to the concept of liminality without dressing it up in an ooooh-how-mysterious way. Victor Turner's "The Forest of Symbols" presents the Ndembu ritual of Mukanda (circumcision) in a fantastically coherent way- he demonstrates how space demarcates each stage of the rite, and each stage of being for the initiates.

**Have a look at her "The Archaeology of Household Activities" or see her online work on Pompeii at

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Bone Post: The Etruscans (A Very Very Short Introduction!)

If you are reading this blog and you know me, follow me on Twitter, have seen me talk at a conference or spotted any of my "online presence" (ahem), you will know that my research is focused on the Etruscans. I say my research is focused on the Etruscans, but it quite often feels that much of my life is focused on these people, who I think about, read about, write about and dream about at least daily. The dreaming is particularly unnerving- these past people have made their way so deep into my subconscious that they come streaming out at me in my sleep. It is therefore inevitable that a huge portion of this blog will end up being Etruscan related- objects, sites, interpretations of other scholars, my own thoughts. Indeed, this blog itself wouldn't exist at all without my Etruscan obsession.

Here are some bones I spotted in an Etruscan tomb (don't worry, they are actually the remains of an unfortunate sheep) from a site I visited at the weekend with some friends/colleagues/fellow Etruscophiles (more on both the site and the fellows another day).

 So, this week, I wanted to blog a bit of an introduction to the posts which will be building and growing over the coming months about Etruscan things. A lovely lady on Twitter yesterday asked me "Why Etruscans?" The short (and incredibly biased and unprofessional) answer to this is BECAUSE THEY WERE AMAZING. The long answer demands some facts and some context for this personal obsession. There are lots of Etruscan websites online (I will review these another day- some are hilarious, some are rage inducing) and even more myths about Etruscans which seem to have been absorbed into the modern psyche through ancient texts and misconceptions (this will also be the subject of a more detailed post). It's almost impossible to state any basic "fact" about the Etruscans without prompting a huge argument, and I think that this, more than anything, is one of the things I love about studying them. It is also one of the things that makes this study incredibly hard.

So, rolling up my sleeves, clearing my throat, who were the Etruscans?

The Etruscans lived in central Italy, between the rivers Tiber and Arno- an area equivalent to modern Tuscany, Umbria and northern Lazio. However, their area of influence spread as far north as Venice and as far south as Naples. The origins of the Etruscans are often described as mysterious, but it is now more or less commonly accepted that their civilization developed from indigenous Italian cultures of the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age. There are certainly settlements on sites which later developed into Etruscan cities (such as Tarquinia, Vulci, Veii and Cerveteri) from the 10th century BC, and the style of metalwork and ceramics from this period, termed the Villanovan after a famous early site,  is certainly an important influence on later Etruscan objects. I will not go into the alternative origins of the Etruscans in this post- suffice to say that there is a suggestion of emigration from the Near East into Italy in the 8th century BC.

This suggestion of people moving into Italy from Lydia (modern Turkey) is associated with the appearance of Eastern-style pottery, jewellery and iconography, found in incredibly rich elite burials. There are objects in these tombs from all over Europe and North Africa- amber, ivory, ostrich eggs, pottery from Greece and Egyptian scarabs. Rather than thinking in terms of migration, I prefer to think of this period as one in which Etruscans accessed the Mediterranean marketplace fully for the first time, taking up a postion as traders and merchants (or pirates if you're Greek) which would continue for centuries. It is likely that ingots and ore from the rich iron reserves of central Italy and the expert bronze workings of Etruria were the objects being traded for these Eastern objects. This pattern of trade and expansion continues into what is termed the Archaic period of Etruscan history, beginning in around 650 BC. At this point, rock cut tombs for a far higher proportion of the population provide evidence for increased availability of imported and previously elite goods, and this time is one of expansion in Etruscan settlements. Temples and sanctuaries decorated with exquisite terracotta detailing were built, and burials were furnished in places with sculptures and paintings (like this one from the Tomb of the Funeral Bed, Tarquinia).

This was all a little too good to last- by the later half of the 5th century BC there seems to have been a crisis in Etruria, with cities declining, perhaps as a result of trade restrictions, natural disasters or warfare. While Etruscan culture would recover into a flourishing Hellenistic incarnation, society and material culture were permanently changed. The sack of Veii by Rome in 396 BC marked the beginning of a period of increased conflict between Etruscans and Romans, and by 283 BC the Romans had dominated what was once the heartland of the Etruscans, whose culture became enshrined in Roman legend. Supposedly by the 1st century BC Etruscan religion was a source of great interest in Rome, and the famous "Ides of March" prophecy to Julius Caesar was made by a person of Etruscan descent.

That's a whistlestop tour of Etruscan archaeology. There are (well, there probably are) a million tiny pieces in this summary that you could pick up and run with. Every sentence I've written hides a fascinating series of objects, tales, lives and experiences. These are what will make up most of the "Bones" posts on this blog, filling in the gaps left wide open in this initial statement.

In answer to "Why Etruscans?" I'd like to post a photo of an object that made me grin like a loon when I spotted it in the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia in Rome this morning. How can you not love a culture who made this grotesque little decoration on a pot?

Do/did you have any preconceived ideas about the Etruscans?

Have you seen any of the other Etruscan content online?

Have you been to the Villa Giulia Museum?

What culture/period/person from the past most interests you?

PS- Further to last week's post on looking down... here are some feet whose owners hurtled past myself and some friends while we were standing near the edge of a cliff looking at tombs. Cinghiale, or wild boar- terrifying and beautiful at the same time, they certainly left their mark on the earth!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Pots Post: Looking at the Floor

This is a little bit of a soppy post. The "Pots" posts here are for things that are everyday, so I thought I'd start off with something that I do everyday. I look at the floor. I don't know if this is something unique to archaeologists (although my family certainly think so), but when I walk around, I tend to notice things on the ground. Of course, I love looking up at the sky, trees, buildings and not bumping into people, but the floor seems to draw my gaze more often than not. This odd activity has its perks, particularly at this time of year. You notice patterns and objects that other people step over: fallen leaves, strangely posed rubbish, prints in mud. You also avoid treading in dog poo and/or nasty puddles, or have a better chance of doing this.

I'm in Rome at the moment  working at the British School (there'll be posts about this aplenty). Yesterday I snuck away from my desk and my work to clear my head in the Villa Borghese park. Here are some things that I noticed on the ground there, and thought I'd take photos of. My faithful old wellies are in a couple of the pictures- they frame my gaze as I look at the earth.

 I noticed the horse shoes in this dried out mud, alongside the horizontal pine needles. The scuffing out and retainment of the prints reminds me of just how ephemeral the traces of passage can be. Some of these horseshoes were deep and pitted, while others had almost been swallowed up again by the dust. The idea of horses in such an urban setting is also quite appealing- these were well off the track of the carriage rides you see advertised in central Rome.

This was the first photo I took from the walk. I liked the bark chip on the floor, alongside the small number of leaves. So many leaves are still on the trees here in Rome, while at home in Devon the trees are almost bare, with the rooks' nests exposed in the branches. The single green leaf amongs the brown dead humus and man made bark chip stood out. 

This is another example of fallen leaves- these tiny yellow and green pieces were flashes of colour on the path. So bright and tiny, yet arranged almost in a spiralling swirl entwined with darker patches of bark. The rotten leaves that had already fallen were dried out and grey, with tiny pices of stone providing a pointillistic effect, if you want to see it there.

I don't know whether doing this is a hangover from my experience of grown-up survey archaeology, or the remnants of hopes of discovery and instant fame from a childhood spent wanting to find Iron Age glory in the dust of parks in Hertfordshire and the sulking of enforced walks. Frankly, when it lets me notice things like these tiny compositions made from the interaction between people, animals and the world of the park, I'm not sure I care. The ground is as much a part of Villa Borghese as the stunning pine and cyprus trees, the lake with its' rowing boats, and the faux and real Roman architecture.

Do you look at the floor? Do you notice things on the ground? Do you think this is weird? Let me know what you think. I promise the next "Pots" post will be more prosaic...

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Stones: Academic Job Applications

This is my first "Stones" post, and it's on a subject that everyone who works in academia has to deal with at one time or another. Just how can you squash all your passion and ideas onto a few sheets of paper, or into a 1000 word research proposal? How can you express your own brilliance without sounding too cocksure? How many publications is "enough" for the post you are applying for? Sometimes it feels like the answers to these questions are "You can't" or "More than you've got." I meet a lot of fellow early career scholars and postgraduate students who are wrestling with applications, or who have come up against them in the past. The response seems to be generally negative, until suddenly someone gets a position, and is then a source of unbridled joy- until the short term contract runs out, and the process starts all over again.

As you might be able to tell, I have started to submit applications for positions starting after my PhD is completed. So, I thought it would be a good time to think about the positive aspects of academic job applications- what the experience of putting them together over the past few weeks has taught me. Yes, they were sometimes sticky to work on, and the guilt over pestering referees is still lying heavy on my subconscious, but they've actually been a fantastic exercise, for the following reasons.

1) Applications teach you to be concise. Less is often more. If you can't point out the key components of a project which make it uniquely perfect for support in 1000 words, who's to say you can in 2000? I found one application particularly difficult as it asked for 600 words of research proposal. Accustomed to 1000, I struggled, but I did it. And I think the 600 word version is actually better in some ways. Applications are a chance to hone your "elevator pitch," shaping and clarifying your research plan. This type of writing style is also an asset in other areas- who wants to read a 50 page journal article that could have been 30 pages if the waffle was cut out? Playing cat and mouse with delete can be fun, and it's good practice for editing.

2) Research proposals make you full of excitement about your own research! I am planning a post-doctoral project that I can't wait to begin. Each job application reminds me how strong this piece of work could be, and how keen I am to start working on it. The research proposal maps out the next three years of my academic life- what I will be doing each summer, the journal articles and monographs that I want to produce. Writing this down formally and seriously considering how I will spend my time gives me a blueprint for the future, for what I want to do and where I want to be- and that's pretty damn exciting.

3) While filling you with excitement about post-docs, job applications make you feel pretty blimmin strongly about finishing your PhD. It needs to be done before any of these fabulous new projects can start, and in applying for post-doc (clue's in the name) jobs, you need to be certain that that thesis is going to be in on time. I am full of determination to get my PhD done and dusted before my funding runs out, so I can start a new job straight away. When I go back to writing up after a job app hiatus of a couple of days, I find myself writing better, and staying motivated for longer.

4) Motivation isn't just about gritting your teeth and getting on with things. I want to blog about this another day, but for now, I want to focus on the importance of self-esteem. You have to believe in yourself to get anything done in academe or any other job you care to name. Of course, you don't want to be an over-bearing, arrogant twit. But you need to believe in yourself and your research, believe that you honestly are a strong candidate and good researcher. Seeing your achievements written down, publications, awards, presentations and all, is a lovely moment of self-recognition. Yes, you did that. All of it.

5) Finally, the process teaches you who your friends are. The support and companionship of colleagues, the willingness of referees. It's amazing how much people are willing to give of their time and effort to help you earn a crust. To me, at any rate, that's pretty special. Especially when you haven't got any of the posts you apply for after six months and you feel rotten, the people who are there to pick you back up again are those you need in your life. They are wonderful.

If and when the rejection letters come, I'm going to make myself look back at this post. It's full of optimism. I'll probably be grumpy, hurt and frustrated, and the words I wrote will feel stupid and irrelevant. In the meantime, every crossable part of my body is crossed.

How have you approached academic job applications? Any strategies to share? Horror stories to tell? I'd love to hear.

(Apologies for the lack of piccies in this post, but I did NOT want to photocopy my application forms. Look, here's a snapshot of the Acropolis instead. It's made of hard stones put together into something incredible).

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Place: Where archaeology became real..

The title of this post is a little cheeky- archaeology is of course "real" all over the world- in your back garden digging up Victorian pottery and rat skeletons, or at huge and iconic sites like the Acropolis in Athens, or Teotihuacan in Mexico. I have done my fair share of scratching in my home turf and visiting showstopping sites abroad. I'd done enough of both to know, from a pretty early age, that I wanted to be an archaeologist. The problem I had was that I didn't know where the archaeologist I wanted to be belonged. I loved everything about my courses as an undergraduate, read voraciously around the subject, and gradually got more specific- I knew I was interested in later prehistory, but where? Britain? France? Central Europe? I went digging and wrote an undergraduate dissertation. When it came to choosing a topic for the dissertation aspect of the MA I knew I wanted to do, I was stuck. The question of specialism had arrived- what did I really want to do, and where did I want to do it?

The Duomo, Orvieto, Umbria. 

The answer was decided for me in a meeting with Etruscan archaeologist, Dr Vedia Izzet. She had not taught me over my undergraduate degree, but when meeting with her to discuss the MA she co-directed, she skilfully steered me to her own specialism. I went home with five books, and returned the next day burning with questions and more book borrowing requests. I'll blog a little more on the Etruscans in my next post, but it is the place they inhabited which is the focus of this story. I had never been to Italy except on a rugby tour, and had not formed the most favourable impression after three days in Rimini in March. From that meeting with Vedia, travel to this amazing country became one of the most important markers in my life. If you've never been to Italy, I urge you to go. Drop everything. Go tomorrow. It's a perfect time if you're not into hot weather, and the archaeological sites (outside the "big guns" in Rome, Pompeii and Florence) will be all yours to explore. My first trip to Italy with my archaeological eyes open came in April 2009, and I have visited regularly ever since. Excavation in Italy has been one of the highlights of my year since I began working there in 2010. The experience of living in Italy for 6 weeks a year, learning Italian to a level far beyond my A-level French, and of falling in love with Italian culture, both ancient and modern, has been a transformative experience. A huge amount of this blog will be about Italy, Italian culture past and present, my travels and excavations in Italy, so I thought it was only right to explain why, and how I ended up here. As the title of this post suggests, Italy made archaeology real for me, and my life has never been the same since.

 The Foro Romano, Rome.

How about you? Have you ever been somewhere that has crawled inside your soul and wedged itself in? At what moment did archaeology become real for you, rather than a vision in your head? Did you always know what you wanted to specialise in, or did it take a well timed intervention? I'd love to know.

Etruscan tombs at the Crocifisso del Tufo necropolis, Orvieto. 

PS The photos from this post are of my first trip to Italy- can't you tell from their content?

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A beginning

Every blog has a start and a story. They all begin inside someone's head, somewhere. This one brewed inside my brain for a long time before I dragged it out and put it on t'internet. I wanted to write about my work as an archaeologist, the daily happenings of nosing in and out of the lives of people long dead. I also wanted a space to share things that weren't necessarily archaeologically related, but that were important. That's how the title of this blog came about. I noticed that lots of the blogs I love to read (have a look on the sidebar if you're keen) were either about working practice or lifestyle/interiors/whatever. I wanted to write a blog that presents ideas from the archaeological world, alongside the things that make the present world I live in beautiful.

So, here it is. The four words of the title, which I will use to label each post, form the four foundations of this blog. 

Pots are the containers of our lives. They keep us fed and watered, they hold our toothbrushes in the morning and our pens on the desk. When I first began to study archaeology, pots symbolised all that was potentially boring about the discipline. I was an idiot. There is nothing boring about an object that is used so much, turned to so often, that it becomes forgettable. Pot posts on the blog will be for important things that are often forgotten, daily life things that get hidden away beneath the (ahem) glamour of academic life, thinking deep thoughts, and all that nonsense.

Places are wild and tame, soft and harsh, safe and dangerous. There is a whole pile of literature which tries to pin down exactly what transforms space into place (I'll get into it another day). Places we know, places we don't know, places we want to know- they are all-encompassing, all around us, defined by our inhabitation and presence (or lack of). A big assumption that I regularly fall into is thinking that places in the past were as important as places in the present- and personally, they are incredibly important. Place posts here will be focused on ideas about place and landscape, or explorations of single places, whether archaeological sites or modern cities.

Stones seem hard. They make your feet ache when you walk on them barefoot, they gather together in gravel or rear out of the earth as a single mass of rock. You can use stones to make beautiful things: sculptures, handaxes, or just a pile of river-worn pebbles piled in a garden corner. Stones can be eroded easily away by the movement of water or the sea, or can stand unchanged by centuries. They are tough as granite, or fall away at the touch of your fingers like sandstone. Stone posts will be about realities and necessities of archaeological life and practice that are not comfortable at first sight. They will also be about theoretical ideas and philosophies. Some improve on reflection, and provide a tool or a new way to think. Some do not. That's just the way stones are.

Bones are the final part of this set of four. Bones are literally the stuff of life. They are what are holding the flesh on my fingers together as I write this. When I excavate bones, whether animal (most of the time) or human (pretty infrequently), I am always struck by the way they continue to exude life, long after the animating flesh has gone. Dry and fragile, honeycomb insides showing where they have been snapped by roots or a rough life in the soil, bones survive as memories of a thing that was once alive. Bones posts will be about people from the past- giving my thoughts on archaeological discoveries (big and small), media representation (silly and serious) and my own practice.

I'll try and blog as often as it feels right. I hope you enjoy what you read, and what you find.

(P.S. When I get a minute, I'll tart this blog up a bit more. In the meantime, the words are the most important thing, right?)

The Lion Gate at Mycenae- a place for beginnings and a lovely example of what you can do with stone when you try.