Tuesday, 23 December 2014

The Best Christmas Gift

Is not being in hospital.

I've never really been (touch wood) a person with extensive experience of hospitals, sickness or ill health. Oh sure, I've done stupid things and got mended and sent away again, or toddled off to get jabbed and poked as required (travel injections, smear tests etc). But I've never actually been properly unwell.

Until I ended up in A and E, six months pregnant with a pulse of 154 bpm at 1am, a long way from home after a work event, freaked out and frightened and feeling terrible/terrified in equal measure. The lovely staff wanted to admit me, I wanted to go home. We compromised- I saw my equally brilliant GP later in the day and spent a week in bed with what I can only describe as the most god awful achy flu. The next time someone with a cough and sore throat tells me they have flu I'll flip. Getting out of bed to get a drink of water left me exhausted and in pain, it was that ridiculous. I had more blood tests later in the week, and noises were made about other more serious underlying problems. The tests for the serious scary things were clear, and the accompanying threat of being admitted to hospital was lifted, and I'm feeling better all round.

The whole experience has underlined something I've blogged about before, a pet hate of being an archaeologist. When people say, oh, don't you wish you lived in the Etruscan period? The answer is no. Not for a moment. Not for a second. I live in a country with a stretched but at heart strong health care service, which can whip up an x-ray, ECG, heart trace, white blood cell count in the middle of the night. Which can tell me that my galloping heart won't hurt the adored little parasite that is living in my lower abdomen. Thank Tinia, Menrva and the rest of the Etruscan pantheon for that.

And Merry Christmas to you too. More archaeology and less moaning in 2015. Promise.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Things they don't tell you about being pregnant (and an archaeologist)

Foetal skeleton from Culture 24. Poor little scooch.

 1) That everyone will have an opinion on the size of your stomach. "Ooooh, you're so tiny! You don't even look pregnant." "Oh my GOD, you look so fat today." All these people mean well, so you have to smile along. I can't help but think though, is there any other point when it's ok to screech about someone's abdomen to their face? Or any other part of their anatomy? "Look at that spot! Wow, it's so red and bulgy today, you look like pus is going to leap out of your chin." "Oh, love, you should really lay off the biscuits if you want to wear those shorts." You just wouldn't, would you.

2) People will try and touch your stomach unless your f*** off face is strong enough to repel them. Practice in the mirror, so that it comes naturally.

3) You will suddenly have a terrifyingly clear sense of perspective about archaeology and its place in the world, which is distinctly inferior to the small person growing inside you, and who is seemingly having a rave that involves doing "bigfish-littlefish-cardboard box" against your bladder. Dead people and their stuff are cool and all, but they can't enforce 50 toilet visits per day.

4) You also have a terrifying sense of your own utter normality- thousands, millions of women have felt those wriggles, and faced up to the fact that this thing is really going to have to come out of there. Most of them without any pain relief at all. You're not special, you're just another piece of human reproduction. Yeah!

5) That said, I do wonder about Etruscan childbirth. I'm guessing that those ladies had some trippy breathing exercises going down. Or shrooms. Seriously, though, that bit of pot from Poggio Colla has new meaning for the newly rotund me.

6) Apparently it's weird to cheerily announce to your midwife that you fancy squatting through labour, because you've regularly done 8 hour stints in that position before and nothing bad happened.And to then tell her that baby has already done a day of work on site in Italy, just at the point it was implanting and most vulnerable (whoops), in spite of your husband's pained expression.

7) You will suddenly post on your blog again, after an absence of almost six months. SIX chuffing months. Apologies, anyone who still checks in and reads this mass of ramblings. Apparently 40 of you did on the 23rd November. I suspect maternity leave (from end of January) may be good for blog output. But not necessarily for blog content and/or quality. You've been warned.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Intimate Worlds

Warning- big fat swear coming up at the end.

When I was a young, idealistic archaeologist in training (i.e. when I was doing my MA), I was obsessed with sex. Well, who wouldn't be, at 21, filled with all the hormones of youth, right? Except the sex I was interested in was sex that had taken place thousands of years ago. It was sex that, unlike the kind that you could actually have, was not being scrutinised in glossy magazines or talked about by everyone having or not having it. It was a kind of sex that had been forgotten, fleeting yet important moments from lives long lived and over, that archaeologists preferred to pretend hadn't happened and go back to more important things like, you know, trade and politics and arguing over theories of "Romanisation." To be fair, there were some scholars who were working on this material- people like Barb Voss, Marilyn Skinner and others- but I wanted more.

Young and self-righteous as I was, I wrote several in depth papers on this topic- arguing that risqué films of the Roman world, such as "Gladiator: Uncut" and "Caligula" were more honest about Roman sexuality than most archaeologists, in that at least they acknowledged that sex happened. The paper that was writing sample for my PhD used three case studies to construct an argument that an archaeology of sex was possible- and it was important. When I started work on the PhD, it was largely inspired by my interest in erotic vase painting how these images had ended up in Etruria, and how they connected with hammed up later Greek writings about Etruscan sexuality. By the end of the PhD, the dataset had expanded vastly- and the evidence forced me to look at the erotic scenes in context with other pottery images. So, the thesis ended up being more about alcohol and the construction of the self than sex. Trade and politics got in there too- I guess I sold out, moving from sex to booze and egotism. Maybe that's maturity for you. 

ANYWAY, last weekend I had an opportunity to get back into ancient sex. And it was brilliant. You might have seen or read some of the press surrounding the Sex and History project at the University of Exeter- it's pure genius. I wish I'd thought of it myself. By using objects connected with sex, a team of three brilliant scholars are bringing archaeology into the classroom for sex education, encouraging young people to talk about the objects, then moving on to expectations and wider ideas surrounding sex in our own society. It's a fantastic illustration of just how bloody relevant things from the past can be to some of the deepest issues modern young people are grappling with. If this fab programme wasn't enough, there's also an exhibition at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, bringing together ethnographic and archaeological material to create a thought provoking gallery filled with interesting, intimate things, often so meaningful they take your breath away. Small but perfectly formed, a group of us were guided around the exhibition by Tony Eccles, the curator, who told us of the struggle to get the objects on show, and the unique nature of many of them. My favourite was a small votive vulva- a carved vagina left at a Roman temple, either in thankfulness or in hope, part of a tradition of leaving representations of afflicted body parts for the gods to sort out. Whoever made it may have suffered from a variety of different problems- but the desperation and discomfort they went through was wound up in this emotional little carving. I hope they got the cure they were looking for.

Prior to the gallery tour, we had two great talks from members of the Sex and History project. Dr Jen Groves (who I think just completed the coolest PhD ever- major thesis envy going on here) told of the wonder of entering the Wellcome collection's stores, and seeing the vast scale of the collection of erotic material. The deliberate decision to collect and curate this material by Wellcome was obvious in the diaries and letters she presented from her archival research- his requests to missionaries for anything "phallic" made me grin. Then Dr Rebecca Langlands spoke about Roman sexuality- electrifying the room with her discussion of the disquieting mixture of aggression, violence, playfulness and pleasure that infuses so many Roman texts dealing with sex. She ended with what I think may be my new favourite Martial epigram:

"Rumour tells, Chiona, that you are a virgin,
That there's nothing purer than your cunt.
Nevertheless, you don't bathe with the right part covered,
If you have the decency, move your knickers to your face."

You really can't beat that for a sign off. But seriously, if you're in Exeter, you should go down to the RAMM and see this great free exhibition. And start thinking about sex- as archaeologists, we're still far too reticent about something that was happening every day, involving thousands of people in the past. 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014


Augustus rocking a highly decorated muscle cuirass- no man boobs in sight!

There's been a kerfuffle over the last few days over whether or not the showing of certain body parts on a certain social media image sharing app is appropriate. Sparked by a pop star closing her account after topless images she'd posted were removed, Instagram's founders have been robust in their responses- they are not going to show (female) nipples, and that's that. Cue growls and grumbles (I don't think it's big enough to be outrage) on one side about the censorship of the female body- running along the lines that male topless images are fine, and sexualised images not showing nipples are fine- but an "empowering" self-portrait is not? Other observers have smugly agreed with Instagram, employing the good old "won't somebody think of the children" strategy, arguing that the internet is too sexualised as it is, and that younger users should not be exposed to nipples, among other things. 

This argument popped up at a time when I've been thinking a lot about the power of images, particularly images of human bodies. While that's a theme I've worked on for a long time, it still absolutely fascinates me how we access, control, shape and distribute images of bodies, and what we use those images for. They can be admired, idealised, fantastic visions to one person, and degrading, humiliating filth to another- with hundreds of different viewpoints on the same image between those two extremes. Nudity in particular has been a cause of trouble for millennia- when is it acceptable to show a naked male or female body, and what are the socially appropriate responses to that image? 

Rome forms a fascinating case study for these issues, and (in developing a new research project), it's a period I've been thinking about more and more. Public nudity amongst members of the same sex, within the curatorial context of bathing, was more or less acceptable (there is some concern about the exposure of mature male bodies to young men), but the display of images of the naked body during the Republican period remained a social taboo. Yet as Rome became increasingly influenced by Greece, where athletic, heroic nudity was a central part of representative practice, a problem arose that mirrors the current Instagram issue, although the issue was not sexualisation per se, but rather a lack of dignity in the naked person. The question remains the same, however- which is more important, public morality or fashion? 

Steadily, high profile Roman images of the body began to adopt the nudity of Greek style- coyly, by the use of the muscle cuirass, a moulded piece of armour designed to give the impression of nude perfection while keeping the underlying body hidden (handy for man boobs) or more boldly, with nude or partially nude statues produced and purchased by the elite. Women's nudity, however, caused more problems. While across pre-Roman Italy, images of nursing mothers had been entirely acceptable, and Greek inspired visions of a nude Venus were happily adopted, the two traditions could not merge into one coherent representative style- Greek taboos on the depiction of breast feeding were too strong, as Larissa Bonfante notes. As a result, while images of bare-breasted idealised motherhood remained popular, as on the Ara Pacis monument, representations of suckling fell out of favour in officially sanctioned contexts. That’s reminiscent of another social media row over representation- whether breastfeeding breaks Facebook’s rules on the sharing of appropriate images.

This has been a speedy, oversimplified post, skimming over a lot of far more complicated issues past and present. But the Instagram nipple spat brings up deeper questions about the way we show our bodies to the world- what is and isn’t acceptable to arbiters of social morality and to each other, and how those standards are not set, but fluid and continuously changing. Looking at the change in representation of the nude Roman body, I can’t help but wonder if we’ll be looking back and asking what all the fuss was about over a topless selfie.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Bad Boyfriend

I want you to know. I'm having an affair. My husband, innocently cutting up wood in his man shed (read cave) is aware of the situation, but there's nothing he can do. But before you text him, if you know him, or start giving us weird looks, stop. Because the affair is probably going to be lifelong, and it's with an academic discipline.

Crap metaphor? Maybe. Yet the more I think about it, the more this kind of archaeology seems like a bad boy lover, sometimes treating me like dirt (no pun intended), occasionally making me feel absolutely rubbish, yet still thrilling enough to keep me coming back for more. It's like a terrible, anti-feminist R and B song- I just keep on coming back to it. Of course, there's more to archaeology than just the world of universities- indeed, I have a great job outside of that world. Yet it's like the safe, funny, handsome alternative boyfriend who just can't compete with the dark glamour of the bad boy. I feel valued, appreciated for what I am, not just my research outputs, and I am (I guess) in a committed relationship with this kind of archaeology. Yet what am I doing, in my weekends and evenings, but working on publications, and thinking up new research projects? I'm playing away with that demanding, soul-destroying discipline, and I just can't seem to quit.

I've read a lot of blogs about being "post-ac" with people who are loud and proud about leaving academia behind. I don't feel like that at all- I just can't kick the habit. I would love to work in research in the future, and I'm full of energy and excitement for a new project that I'm developing- that first flush of love is in full flow all over again. Yes, I know it will result in heartache, agonising over applications, working my balls off to get a paper just right, worrying about datasets when normal, rational people are in bed sleeping the sleep of the just. Let alone the sodding referencing.

I know the risks- that so many get dumped for losing their academic figure after having children, or get left behind when the discipline moves on to something sexier and forgets about how exciting your specialism once was, no matter how much work you put in to get the spark back. The metaphor works right on to the end. And if a friend was in a relationship like this, I'd tell them to end it. They'd go "oooh but I looooove him" and I'd think they were wet. But I do love it, and I can't stop it now- I'm just not ready for the end of the affair.

Does anyone else feel like this? Husband just came in from the shed, read the first line of this blog post, went pale, then read the rest and looked at me like I was a crazy person. I really hope I'm not the only one still holding a torch for a discipline that I'm not sure loves us back.

PS- I actually don't want to post this now. I needed to write it but am very tempted to wuss out. Feeling brave, so fingers crossed, and on to the old publish button.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Place: West of Ireland Part 1

I've just got back from an amazing business trip to Ireland. It still feels a bit weird saying that I've even been on a business trip- especially when you consider I spent most of that time driving between and wandering around amazing archaeological sites. Business or pleasure? Definitely both. 

The trip started well with a chance to present my PhD research to a great audience of students at NUI Galway, thanks to the good graces of my colleague and friend Dr Eoin O'Donoghue (who has the most incredible office with views out over the Corrib. Lucky bastard). It was great fun to be able to talk about those ideas, talk about pots, jump around the little stage in the lecture theatre and remember exactly why I was so excited and passionate about my PhD results. To be taken out for dinner afterwards (epic seafood washed down with a tasty margarita) was a real bonus.

Earlier in the day though, I'd been here. Clonmacnoise Monastery. It's ridiculously beautiful, even without the fluffy clouds and the high waters of the Shannon lapping at the edge of the field.


Then here: Clonfert Cathedral. It looks like a tiny nondescript village church from outside the gates, which were adorned with these welcoming signs (a couple of high crosses were looking wobbly, hence the danger)

Then you go in, and there's this:

The most amazing Romanesque doorway, crowned by these glorious heads of saints. And the highlight?

Just the bloody grave of St Brendan. Casually laid out in front of the church door, distinctive for its "cat fooprints." As the product of generations of steadily lapsing Catholics, this was rather exciting- and such a contrast from Italian saintly tombs, all gilding and glass and grimly blackened relics. Just an ancient slab, surrounded by lush green grass. Beautiful. 

So, after carvings and cocktails, the natural thing to do was get out on a boat- to Inis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands. We of course went up to Dun Aengus, a famous massive hillfort that looks amazing from the air (Google it and gasp). From the ground it looks a bit like this:

It's still an incredible site, but it was largely reconstructed during the 19th century, and there are some very suspicious looking bastions. Yes, it's dramatically situated on the edge of a cliff, and yes, it's well worth a visit. But if you head across the island, you can go somewhere a lot more impressive- and there won't be any exhausted yet noisy tourists lugging their bodies up the hill. Dun Duchathair, another Iron Age fortress on the edge of a cliff, takes a bit more effort- at least 30 minutes walk over slippery limestone pavement. Then when you get there, you have to edge around this:

 It's about a 2m gap, with a near vertical drop on one side down to the sea, which pounds in from the Atlantic. Yeech. However, well worth it, because when you do wibble your way around the wall, clinging to the dry stone and taking tiny tiny steps, you get these:

Yeah, internal structrures. Ok, there has probably been some restoration here too, but the fact of their survival at all is pretty exciting. Circular structures with what seem to be elongated entranceways. Well worth a wobbly at the thought of the cliff edge.

I thought when I started this post I would pop up loads of pictures from the whole trip, but that is NOT looking feasible- will stop by and add another post another day. Time to get to work- back in the office, this time, fortified by looking again at the awesomeness of Iron Age Ireland.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Current Affairs

I've spent quite a bit of time of late writing depressing blog posts about the fate of archaeological sites in the wake of conflict. From Syria, where Google Earth lets you track looting and a beautiful mosaic was blown up in the most recent fit of iconoclasm, to the Apollo of Gaza, smuggled in to a deeply troubled region and itself highly suspicious, I've been chasing objects and sites and getting steadily more miserable. I don't know how people like Dr Donna Yates and her colleagues do their valuable work on trafficking antiquities and destruction, but I bloody well admire them for doing it.

I spent a good chunk of the week before last researching the archaeology of the Crimea, in preparation for a potential new Andante tour on the "Empires of the Black Sea." Hours on Google Earth, scanning for burial mounds. Translating fractured GoogleTranslate into actual English to try and read the work of dedicated archaeologists who had mapped as many sites as they could, and shared the locations so the world could find them online. Delving into the depths of the Naval Museum at Balaklava, which looks like the ultimate James Bond villain lair. Even then, everyone at work had one eye on the news, and suspected that the tour might not be a viable idea. Now that the regime of Yanukovych has fallen at last, it seems as though it will be entirely impossible for years to come, while the latent tensions created in the wake of World War II bubble and curdle, leaving violence in their wake. Who knows what will happen to the archaeology itself, or to the people who so diligently created those digital records?

There are high points in all this doom and gloom, individual stories that catch the eye. My favourite is from Mali, a place that I have been fascinated by since childhood as a result of my dad's musical tastes. I had an interview to do a PhD focused on Ethnoarchaeology around Jenne, which I decided against in the end. This turned out to be a good decision, as I would have been smack in the middle of fieldwork when the Arab Spring set loose a vast supply of arms, sending them straight into the hands of the jihadists there. These extremists, after taking over Timbuktu, in addition to inflicting horrible sanctions on the inhabitants, posed a threat to the ancient manuscripts held in the city's venerable library. Through the actions of many brave people, including a band of fishermen and the library staff, the manuscripts were smuggled down the river to safety. The story is told far better here than I could tell it, but it's definitely a glimmer of positivity and hope.

I do wonder though, if it's wrong to care about artefacts- the pots and mosaics, the bits and bobs, the writings and mounds- when people are dying. The fate of the children of Syria is far more important than that of tesserae. That sounds horridly preachy, but it's the voice of guilt in the back of my head. Every time I'm upset about archaeology, that klaxon goes off. People, not pots, are the most important thing. But by that logic, looting and selling archaeological material to survive, to make money, to get on- isn't this just a way to feed families in a terrifying situation? How many looters are really doing it through desperation, and how can the middle-men and marketeers who make vast profits from their labour be brought to account? How can you implement community archaeology projects in the most vulnerable places, helping people and the past in one go, when the risks are so extreme?

There isn't really an answer, and this is a tangled, sad, mess of a blog post, for which I'm sorry. Still, any thoughts or comments very much welcomed.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

#FreeArchaeology and the University

This is a post that takes up a topic that I’ve blogged about before in a different context. #FreeArchaeology was a discussion of internships, work experience and the exploitation of willing (read desperate) junior professionals in search of financially and personally rewarding labour. Today, though, I spotted a new take on the debate, written by the fabolus Doug over at Doug’s Archaeology. With terrifyingly good self-produced statistics on just how productive one could be with access to a good library, and some assessment on time spent on field projects, his conclusions were that University archaeology is at least a variant of #FreeArchaeology- if not worse, as you’re actually paying for the pleasure, or for the bit of paper at the end.

After 8 years in one institution (it wasn’t an HMP, I promise), and heading out of academia with (for now, anyway) no regrets about sliding away into a different industry, I was feeling pretty reflective about the place of universities anyway. I’ve taught a lot of (mostly lovely) undergraduates, I’ve been part of the system, I’ve taught on field schools, I’ve got some pretty strong feelings about Higher Education and its role in archaeology. So I thought I might air them in response to the University #UnfreeArchaeology issue. They’re still pretty tangled, so I beg your patience.

Much of what Doug said I agree with. You can learn at least as much (factually, at least) on your own than you would at University- probably more, because you won’t be distracted by friends wanting you to have fun, taking up dumb new sports and hurting yourself, and carefully stalking and trapping your future life partner. His point about libraries is a particularly important one- the decline of the University of Southampton library is one of the great tragedies I saw unfold over my time there. Real books were shunted to one side, new books were ignored in favour of paying for giant screens, food and drink were allowed everywhere except the reserve collection, and slowly but surely even online journal subscriptions that you’d think were pretty essential (e.g. “Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory”) were dropped. The library steadily became, not a place for learning, but a nursery for people on the edge of adulthood, where the base textbooks lived, some funky specialist examples hung on, but mostly where people went to revise from their own scribbled notes and fanny around on Facebook. So, if you want a library, don’t bother with your average University one. I spent more time just driving to Oxford to use their library than I did in Southampton library.

Fieldwork training, too, was sketchy at best. The university approved field school began with me being assigned a 1x1 square in an open trench and left to get on with it. When I compare that with the careful training and monitoring that the field school I now work on it makes me shudder. You would probably be better off doing an unpaid internship for a year in a commercial archaeology firm than floundering in a world of strange pottery forms of which you knew nothing at the age of 18. It certainly doesn't prepare you for a career in actual archaeology, as several people have pointed out. The same is true of the field schools abroad that I've worked on- they are not the same as consistent, day in day out work in rainy Britain, learning the skills that are relevant to the actual place where you’ll be working.

However, what a good university should give you is the most important facet in being a good archaeologist- the ability to question yourself. The ability to change your opinion in the face of evidence. Seminars, discussion, (enforced) peer-to-peer debate. A good university should give you the chance to find out what you believed about the past was flawed, maybe that what you still believe is flawed- and why you continue to believe it anyway. Not developing single-mindedly, trawling in dogmatic fashion through only the authors you like or agree with, but reading those you don’t, understanding why, respecting their beliefs. Learning to be a reasoning adult, not a troll or a teenager trapped in perpetual sulks. That’s the most valuable thing that came out of University for me. And I don’t think (very sadly) most people can get it for free.

Friday, 10 January 2014

An Open Letter to Dan Snow...

Dear Dan Snow,

I hope you are well, and had a restorative Christmas with your family. I'm really sorry to be writing what may seem like a snarky open letter to you, particularly so soon after the season of goodwill has ended. I'm especially sorry to be doing so after so many years of watching and enjoying many of your programmes. I can remember loving them as a teenager, so it is with a heavy heart that I'm writing this blog post.

What’s happened to spark this off? Well, on Wednesday night my husband decided he wanted to watch a programme presented by you- Rome’s Lost Empire. I was working on one side of the room, he was enthroned on the sofa. I was happily cracking on with my work, blathering on about Etruscan pots and checking a bibliography, when I heard these words come out of your mouth. They may not be 100% verbatim, but I feel that the below is an accurate account of your meaning:

That’s what they do in archaeology school for 3 years.”

You were referring to your disbelief that an archaeologist could pick up a pottery fragment, and reliably date it on site. While I appreciate that you were trying to relate how impressed you were, this really got me going. That’s not what we do in archaeology school for 3 years. Most archaeological experts have gained their knowledge over at least 7 years at university, and many more years of continuing practitioner development. Most university courses, too, are not just focused on pottery identification skills- it’s about putting the objects you’ve learned to identify in context in the lives of the people who used them. So, in one sentence, you brilliantly downplayed the hard work, training and years of dedication that most archaeologists put in to get to where they are, de-valuing their skills effortlessly. As President of the CBA, you should know better.

I was mollified shortly afterwards by the appearance on the programme of archaeologists for whom I have the greatest respect, my doctoral adviser, Simon Keay, among them. My head went back to chasing down that pesky Studi Etruschi article. Then I heard you say this to one of your co-presenters, the very woman whose work on remote sensing had led you to many of the sites in the programme and revealed so many new features:

“Take your head out of your computer… this is what it’s all about.”

Wow. So all those hours spent researching, poring over data, pulling it together, working her arse off to find new sites, and then her generosity in sharing that data with you, to say nothing of her time- it’s not important. What’s important is to wander around in the desert gazing into the middle distance, crashing through the dunes in a 4x4. Obviously, archaeology is all about pretending to be a great adventurer, and not about the long hours of research and analysis that all of us put in before sticking a trowel in the ground. Again, you effortlessly sidelined the reality of archaeological research, and once again, you should know better.

 I know lots of people on Twitter and elsewhere were unhappy with the production values of the programme, but I don’t think that’s down to you at the end of the day. What you say to camera is. So, I’d be really grateful if you could think about the effect your comments have on public perceptions of archaeology, and how they make us archaeologists feel.

Thank you. 

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Blogging Carnival: the Good the Bad and the Nobody Loves You

Bloody ugly. That's me, if you didn't know. Photo by the fabolus Alessia Carapelli

Phew, I am getting in here by the skin of my teeth!! Very late for the Doug's Archaeology Blogging Festival post for December, and I suspect that this is going to be a bit of a naughty quickie (now now, calm down).

So, Happy New Year to you all, and what was the question again? It was to riff on a theme of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly about blogging. While I'm not sure what could be uglier (well, more disturbing) than my own mind when I thought up that joke from my Christmas post, there are a couple of points about blogging that I want to talk about based on Doug's theme.

Well, what's good? I get to talk to people I've never met, I get to share my interests with people I want to meet, and that's just the social side/PR. I think the most important benefit of blogging for me has been having the space to write about what I love (Etruscans, obviously, and Devon, and archaeology in general), and what I'm passionate about (CRAP archaeological tv, stopping sexism) in an informal and fun way. It makes my serious academic writing better by giving me the freedom to let rip, let loose and let it all hang out. So thank you for reading my probably rather repetitive drivel- it really does make a difference to how I feel about writing in everyday life, and I love being able to discuss things with y'all.

Bad- sometimes that discussion feels pretty one sided. When I started blogging, I would ask these little questions at the end of a post, trying to get people to comment and talk to me, tweet at me, anything. I love and appreciate everyone who comments on a post (maybe not the very occasional spammers/slaggers off), so it's a bit pants when nobody replies. It makes me feel like I do in the pub after a night on the gin- a little bit self-pitying and unloved, cue the phony tears and "nobody loves me" wails as my friends laugh.

And ugly? Moving on from Robin Thicke at Christmas, I want to get serious for a minute here. I am increasingly concerned about people using blogs as a medium for what my Nannie would have called plain old boasting. Yes, showcase your skills, Yes, it's great that you can do x or y, or have x or y. But that's not what a conversation should be about. Imagine how sick of you your friends would be if all you did was blather on about your publications, or how great your viva went, or how fantastic your new research project is. That shouldn't mean doom and gloom- genuine joy is a real part of life, and it's great to share. But after I wrote about my new job, in the interview for which the blog was mentioned, I had a little smug guilt trip. That's not what I'm about, showing off and being self-centred and boasty. At least, I hope it's not. Either way, I don't think blogging works without honesty- about our profession, about archaeology, about the past, about ourselves.

I really hope that doesn't come across as unkind or bitter- or worse, preachy (UGH)- as I say, I did it myself, unthinkingly. But the balance between self promotion and over exposure on social media (including blogging) really needs to be questioned, to avoid alienating peers- temporarily or permanently.