Monday, 25 March 2013

Stone: Some Incoherent Thoughts on Volunteering

Confession: I'm frightened to even post this blog.

It's a week where I should be talking about a "Bones" topic. I was going to post the follow up to the NOT mysterious Etruscans piece. But I'm not doing that.

Instead, I want to talk about something sad, which is dressing up as feel-good fun (in some cases, literally). It's eating away at the subject I love, while simultanously pretending that nothing is wrong, and, in fact, things are better than ever. I am tempted to get all melodramatic and go the whole way with playing as the Titanic sinks metaphors, but I'll spare you the hyperbole.

If this issue is so important, why on earth haven't I mentioned it before? Well, the answer to that is because it's so personal, and so loaded. I didn't want to be accused of negativity, of not wanting to do hard work to get rewards, of being lazy, of being over-priveleged. I wrote a few weeks ago about failure, then dressed it up in pretty words of perseverence and positivity. There's not much to sugar coat this particular topic with, at least for me. The worst part is that I'm complicit in the system- I'm now a part of it.

That system is working for no pay, and looking happy while you do it. Also known as volunteering. Emily Johnson bravely raised the issue on Twitter today, and has blogged about it here. There's a whole discussion going on over at her blog and on Twitter (#FreeArchaeology), and it's given me the courage to post my two cents here.

So, what's not to love about volunteering? Passionate people get to help others, the state saves some cash, and heritage organisations get the help they need? The problem is that those passionate people need to live. They have rent to pay. They have food to buy. They might even (once in a while) want to buy a book to read up on the very areas in which they work. A large number of those passionate people are living with large debts from university qualifications which, while securing them a volunteer position, haven't got them anywhere near a job.

I appreciate that not everyone can work in the industry they want to (even after a long hard slog to get the qualifications they supposedly needed). I know that volunteering provides an opportunity to try new things, and to gain skills (I know this first hand as I'm doing it now). BUT A VOLUNTEER SHOULD NOT BE DOING THE WORK OF A PAID EMPLOYEE FOR NOTHING. I'm lucky with where I volunteer- they are supportive and only ask for one day a week during school holidays. I love the work and the people involved. But they won't be giving me a job at the end of it, even if they write a lovely reference. I know people who have interned or volunteered for extended periods of time- given their labour, for free, to organisations with no intention of employing them. They didn't get permanent positions either.

No matter how much you dress it up in shiny "Big Society, heritage for all" rhetoric, this is work without pay and without prospects. It's open only to those who can afford to take time out from working, supported by parents or partners. (I do mine in the small hours-per-week working quota permitted by my AHRC funding, which I am INCREDIBLY lucky to have).

Working for free isn't just a problem for archaeology (Guido Fawkes has been campaigning for unpaid internships in politics to be banned), or for recent graduates or early career professionals. I don't have a clue what the potential solution is, or what can be done to change the current situation. The problem is that I am too selfish to really battle for change. I am already doing work for free, I don't want to rock the boat. Any protest that limits my chances of eventual paid employment in heritage/archaeology/academe is one that I'm too cowardly to join.

Outside, the sheep in the field are being rounded up to go to slaughter. There's an over-the-top metaphor there but I don't have the heart (or the balls, maybe) to make it.

Please go and post on Emily's blog. Or here. Or Tweet #FreeArchaeology with your thoughts. Maybe things aren't as bad as all that.

PS- there WILL be a Not Mysterious Etruscans post this week. Probably tomorrow or Wednesday.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Place: Moving around the place

It is absolutely gorgeous outside today. Spring is here, even if there will be snow tomorrow. I stopped to chat with our neighbours who own the farm, and they were saying that last year the cows had been out for 2 weeks by this time! No sign of them yet this year- it's all sheep sheep sheep.

One of the best things about the spring is being able to enjoy wandering around the landscape looking at things. I did this a bit in autumn (and blogged about it) but it's right now, now that I've been here a few months, that I'm really starting to know where places are and how they connect up. Running has helped- experimental runs that end up following lanes and being a good 2km out of your comfort zone are great for landscape knowledge!

This got me thinking about building knowledge about the places where we live? How do we do this? How did people do it in the past?

Well, there's maps. Old ones and new ones. There's something really magical about the way maps work- putting down on a piece of paper not only where things are, but also what they look like and what they'll feel like for your body. You know when you see the contour lines scrunch up into an evil cluster that you will be gasping for air if you run up that hill (thanks Kate Bush). OS Maps are a pleasure, a treasure trove- hunting out the gothic writing that suggests there's something old and exciting right on that spot. But maps aren't just simple sheets of paper that you can whack in your pocket and use to find out where the nearest pub is. Maps are made by people- and people have ulterior motivations, passions and beliefs that structure how they draw out the land. OS Maps themselves are the product of the Ordnance Survey, a government sponsored project begun in the 18th century. The Ordnance Survey began as an act of colonial dominion in the aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion- a survey was made in 1747 to ensure that government forces would never be at a disadvantage in terms of knowledge of terrain. The entire country was eventually covered, and the official Ordnance Survey was founded in 1791: just in time for the Napoleonic wars. In the event of an invasion, these intricate maps would provide Britain's defenders with all the knowledge required to fight Boney's evil forces. And that's nothing compared to the politics behind medieval and early modern period maps, especially of the New World- literally carving out nations and ontologies on a piece of paper. Far more important to place Jerusalem at the centre of the world and claim all the unknown lands for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth than to get a river in the right position.

Maps are perhaps the most formal way of noting what's where.  Literally moving around maps the ground into your brain perhaps more effectively. You end up remembering where things are based on experience, rather than an abstract knowledge, although sometimes the two match up. For example, I know if I go to Shore Bottom, I will meet these two and their noisy friends:

So it's really "the place where the loud collies live" in my head. Then there's the top of the hill- where you can see all the way across the valley.

When I get back from my run or walk, I think through the places I've been. The markers I assign them are based on what I feel, what I experience, what I see. So, this is the place where the ford flooded really badly. That is the place where I went to sledge in the snow. All these things are linked to activities or happenings- that's the place where I tripped over into the ditch. The anthropologist Tim Ingold, quite some time ago now, developed the concept of taskscape- the landscape composed not of passive features, but of happenings, of doings (Ingold 1993). Incorporated into this is the idea of time- the taskscape transforming, the world around us changing, as we change the things we do in it. To that, I'd like to incorporate thinking as doing. Thinking though the world and our experiences of it create a series of task like impressions on our inner maps of where we go and what we do. Taskscape yes, but memoryscape more so. If you do the same thing in the same place, create the same memories and pass them on, the land around you becomes imbued with stories, happenings, doings and thoughts. Places become sites of storytelling, accumulating memories. While places in the past may have been caught and bound up and squodged into shape in maps, inside people's heads they were still composed of all the flotsam and jetsam of their lives. That's what makes place from space.

This is where I got stuck in brambles and had to be rescued. It looks so innocent now, but at the time it was NOT funny...

Reference- this is very easy to read and a real eye opener. I love it as much as I did the first time I read it in the first year of undergraduate study.

Ingold, T. 1993. The temporality of the landscape. World Archaeology 25: 152-174.

If you'd like to read more about the social context of maps, this volume is pretty good.

Klein, B. 2001. Maps and the writing of space in Early Modern England. London, Palgrave Macmillan. 

Monday, 11 March 2013

Pots: On Telly- Stonehenge and the Etruscans

Stonehenge- Image English Heritage.

As you might have guessed from the Richard III post I wrote a few weeks ago, I do spend a fair bit of my off time watching archaeological TV. When archaeology hits the screen, I'm usually to be found gurning and growling or glued and gibbering in front of whatever programme is featuring what is officially my "work." The thing with research in a topic that you love is that it will seep into every second of your daily life- so that a documentary with seemingly very different archaeologial strands to your own specialism will suddenly strike a big fat chord. That phenomenon happened to me last night- Sunday post-roast doze interrupted by some fantastic archaeology on TV and then the sudden ZING of ideas into my brain.

Because, you see, the Etruscans are connected to Stonehenge. Honest. This isn't just a tagline to lure in the crazies that think that both were influenced by aliens or possessed a secret occult knowledge. All will be revealed, I promise, just bear with me...

So, "Secret of the Stonehenge Skeletons" aired last night on Channel 4, a channel making up for its recent production sins with a fantastic example of how TV archaeology should be done. It was presented by the genuinely lovely Mike Parker Pearson (he was a warm and gentle interviewer to me as an 18 year old so it's not just a screen persona). MPP is one of the leading experts (if not THE leading expert) on Stonehenge- he's used all sorts of innovative ways to transform the way we think about the monument and other Neolithic megalith sites- my favourite is his work collaborating with Malagasy archaeologist R. Ramilisonina to consider associations between ancestor worship, stone and wood (published in Antiquity, which means you can't read it without a library subscription sadly- it's here anyway. You can get the scoop on the latest results of MPP's work in his new book, here). The programme used some of the latest scientific tests on burials from Stonehenge and faunal remains from the neighbouring site of Durrington Walls (and EXPLAINED the methods properly showing the charts- hurrah!*) to argue that Stonehenge served as a communal place of celebration and festivity for groups coming from as far away as Orkney to venerate a group of elite ancestors buried there in the earliest phases of the monument. So far, no Etruscans.

The Amesbury Archer- Image Salisbury Museum

Having put forward this interpretation, MPP turned to change. Why did Stonehenge stop being important? Why was Durrington Walls abandoned around 2500 BCE? He suggested that in addition to new individuals coming into Britain from Europe, new ideas about identity came too. People stopped caring about communal ancestors- they wanted recognition for their individual, living selves. MPP suggested that the introduction of inhumation (burial of the entire corpse, as happened to the Amesbury Archer, above) with grave goods indicated an increased concern with recognising the individual in death, which co-incided neatly with the importation of new material culture from Europe- particularly "Beaker" pots and metal daggers.This emphasis on the self, rather than the whole, lead to the construction of smaller barrows, celebrating the recently dead, rather than to huge megaliths as monuments to groups of shared ancestors. Quite a few people (especially vocal last night on Twitter) weren't fans of this interpretation of social change in the Neolithic/Early Bronze Age. They suggested that it's a narrative born from modern events- particularly the negative reaction to Thatcherian selfishness. Essentially, greed is good supposedly destroyed the happy hedonism of the 70s... just like imported egos resulted in the decline in monument building.

Biconical urn- Image Musei Vaticani.
I think that's an unfair and unfounded critique. And here's where the Etruscans come in. I wrote briefly in my first post on the Etruscans about chronology and change in Etruria over the 8th and early 7th centuries. This period, known in Italian as the Seconda Eta del Ferro (Second Iron Age) is often called the "Orientalising" phase in English, a term I don't like and won't use**.  Prior to this point, Etruscan burials, just like those from the earlier phases at Stonehenge, are in the main cremations. One of the key changes of the Seconda Eta del Ferro is the switch to inhumation, which, while not universal, does suggest a transformation in mortuary practice in Italy during this period. In a recent book chapter, which will be out soon, I unknowingly made a very similar argument about the origins of this change in Italy to the suggestions of MPP about change at Stonehenge. In the Etruscan case, we are fortunate to have what I see as a transitory phase between cremation and inhumation- personalised cremation with grave goods. Through an analysis of two cremation cemeteries dating to the late Villanovan period, I argued that the addition of grave goods to cremation burials formed the first step to inhumation. The traditional form of burial in Etruria throughout the Villanovan period was cremation and placement in a biconical urn. These urns are decorated with geometric designs, which have been linked to geographical origin (DeAngelis 2001). Over time, urns become more personalised- they are topped with helmets of bronze or pottery, decorated by the addition of jewellery around the urn neck, and, at Chiusi, given human features and eventually placed on seats and given arms like human bodies (a phenomenon known as ziro burial). The emphasis seems to be squarely on the urn as a reformed version of the dead person's body, as suggested by Anthony Tuck (2012).

Canopic urn on throne. Image: Trustees of the British Museum

So, thinking things through, what we have is a practice of reconstructing the dead body into a shared, universal form. In spite of the high level of resources needed to produce a pyre, the result is the removal of all individual identity from the deceased- they become fragments of bone, rather than a whole, dressed corpse. The re-dressing and re-building of these parts into a new body does not recreate the specificity of that individual's living body: it puts them together in an urn marked with decorations declaring communal identity. The dead person is not represented as a single unique person, but rather as the amalgam of their geographical and familial connections. What happened to change this? I think increased trade did. Central Italy has huge iron deposits, providing a bank of wealth with which to trade and acquire other prestigious objects once the resource began to be exploited. The explosion of trade that we can see in the Seconda Eta del Ferro gave Etruscan elites the opportunity to convert their wealth into material objects, but it also did something else. It placed the responsibility for wealth creation squarely on the present generation- on the individual, not on the ancestors. The sharing of identity in death, the melding of individuals into identical urn bodies full of burned bone, was no longer relevant for people whose self-identity was tied up in their own wealth creation and possessions. This change didn't happen overnight- it started with the dressing and personalisation of urns and the addition of a few pots, weapons and ornaments, before becoming individual burial mounds filled with objects. Tumuli and these so-called princely burials full of imported goods eventually developed into the elaborate and highly personal tombs of the Archaic period. Even where cremation continues, like at Chiusi, urns become more and more the seat of the individual- expressions of self, rather than of community.As wealth spreads to more individuals, single tumuli become multiple tombs.

MUCH later cremation urn from Chiusi. Image: wikimedia commons/Metropolitan Museum New York
So, if we are seeing a very similar phenomenon in terms of changes in the material culture of death, and the increase in trading opportunities in both Neolithic Britain and Late Iron Age Etruria, can we infer a similar interpretation? That these changes are symptom and cause of a transformation in the way people in the past conceived of themselves in life and in death? I don't think it's an anti-Thatcher, neo-Marxist hypothesis harking back to a Golden Age in my case, and I doubt it is in MPPs- the sort of value judgements associated with good Stonehenge and bad Bronze Age in that model just don't apply. I think it's rather a considered narrative to explain dramatic change without falling back on invasion theories. The agency for change is not with incoming know-it-alls ordering locals about: the power to make changes is  linked to the desires and wishes of Etruscans, or Neolithic Britons. Yes, people are moving around, like the Amesbury archer (whose isotopes suggest he came from Europe) and (perhaps) immigrants to Etruria from Greece, Lydia and the Levant. But these movements should be taken as a sign of travel, of increased access to trade, of fluidity and relocation in prehistory. MPP's conclusions about Stonehenge and the organic dismantling of traditional society are not ideas I'd considered about Etruria- I'd only thought about changes in death, not in life. But, after a very fruitful Sunday night TV session, I'll probably give them some more thought.

What do you think? Did you watch it?

*The programme wasn't perfect though- it drives me CRAZY when people refer to the Neolithic as the Stone Age. I know it's technically correct, but public perception of the Stone Age is of the Paleolithic- you hear Stone Age, you think "caveman." Nobody thinks of the Neolithic, and less than nobody thinks of the awkward middle child of prehistory, the Mesolithic, unless it's to talk about Star Carr and leaping around with antlers on your head (slightly unfair). Even if this gap between perception and archaeology didn't exist, the "Stone Age" is a bloody long time to slop together into one term (Sorry Thomsen, sorry 3 age system). Let's have less lazy terminology and more clarity please. Nitpicky mean rant over.

** I think the phrase, in addition to having some very unpleasant colonial baggage (see Edward Said's "Orientalism"),  places the Etruscans as passive receptors of exotic Eastern wonders. Yes, new types of material culture inspired by contact with the Eastern Mediterranean were arriving in Etruria- but how were they getting there? Who was choosing to incorporate them? Why? I like "Seconda Eta del Ferro" as it neatly dullifies the period (is dullify even a word?). You can't attach origins hypotheses or post-colonial critique to something as boringly, safely prosaic as Seconda Eta del Ferro- it just won't let you.


DeAngelis, D. 2001. La ceramica decorata di stile “villanoviano” in Etruria meridionale. Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino.

Said, E. 1978. Orientalism. London: Penguin.

Tuck, A. 2012. The Performance of Death. Monumentality, burial practice and community identity in central Italy's urbanizing period. In M. Thomas, I. Edlund-Berry, and G. Meyers (eds.) Monumentality in Etruscan and Early Roman Architecture: Ideology and Innovation. Austin: University of Texas Press, 41-60.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Stone: Failure Festival

Last week I read a fantastic post by the brilliant Matt Law, on his blog. You can read it here if you'd like- and I recommend that you do! He wrote about what he called a carnival of failure- people being honest about things that have gone wrong for them in digital scholarship and public engagement. Matt talks about failure as a positive, learning experience and then bravely goes on to analyse a sticky patch in his own work. A wonderful friend and teacher, Sara Perry, has also been incredibly brave in talking on her blog about the ups and downs of her first year in academe- a real inspiration of honesty.

Matt points out that, as academics, we don't often talk about failure. I think you could extend that to most jobs. Our professional personae do not have room for messing up, for things going wrong, for the days when you just want to hide under the bed curled in a ball crying. My twitter feed and this blog are always relentlessly positive: even when I'm grumpy, they are (or try to be) constructive and analytical rather than down and sad and whinging. You just can't fail publicly and get away with it, it seems. Failing is one thing, but fail behind closed doors- perhaps this is why people are negative on Facebook, where only "friends" will see us.

Stormy weather
But what is failure? What does it mean to you? Failure for me is a thousand different things. At the moment, I'm about to finish writing up the first draft of my PhD thesis (last but one chapter in process). My AHRC funding runs out in September. Then I'm on my own. Every day is dogged by fear of a different type of failure: that my supervisor will hate my work (I know she doesn't and would NEVER make me feel like that), that my viva will be a disaster (I had a nightmare that I had to walk into my own viva party and tell them I'd been recommended for an MPhil). Those are just the thesis related failures! I'm scared I will never get anything from the thesis past peer review, and fail to get my research out there. I'm scared stiff of what will happen to me in September- or what I make happen to me. All those academic job apps that I posted about so chirpily a few months ago? Great learning experience, but they were rejections, every one of them. What if I have to leave the academy? Is that failure? What if I can't get a job in archaeology at all? Will I have failed in a dream I had since the age of 3? What if I can't transfer my skills to the non-academic workplace? What if I have no skills? What if I can't get any job, any job at all?

Those are just the job failure fears. And they are ugly. They do not make for good CV material. They do not make for good Lucy PR. But they are real, and they are honest. I suppose they tell you that at least I care about these things. Or do I? Looking at that list of potential failures with a hard eye, they are ridiculous. Why? I'm sure each of those things would make me sad, and very downtrodden for a while. But they would pass. I have failed before, although not on such a grand scale. I would cry, I would hide, I would probably cancel this blog for a while and put my face away from the world. But, in the end, as long as I get to be happy again, I won't have failed. There is never only one path to happiness and to success. The negativity of failure cannot win unless we let it.

How can I be afraid to fail? There are lambs in the world, for goodness sake.

I bloody hope that all the silly failures above don't happen, but what are they compared with, say, losing someone you love? Making the right decisions for a terminally ill child? Battling cancer? At the end of the day, those are all things that are too sad and too deep for the word failure to be anywhere near them. Failure can be turned to success, or at least to a new chance and a learning experience. Painful, gut wrenchingly awful circumstances cannot be anything but lived through. Yes, lets be open and honest about our petty day to day failures, our fears and troubles. Let's celebrate them, share them, laugh at them. It takes the fear away. Most of all, I will try to remember that these little failures will pass and that I am fortunate to be able to fuss about them at all. Compared to the real tragedies of life, they are nothing.

Everything's going to be alright?