Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Moving On

I started this blog in 2012, just after I left the comforting embrace of a postgraduate study room and disappeared to Devon to write up my thesis.

It has seen me through my first job, my first publications, my first child, and a whole load of other valuable and life changing experiences.

It's been a great space to write and think and share.

But I think I've outgrown it. It feels clunky, it looks dated, and it no longer meets my needs. (The same could sometimes be said of my body, but I'm letting that off the hook after completing a triathlon at the weekend, in spite of my atrocious pelvic floors). God knows, I abandoned the "Pots, Places, Stones, Bones" premise years ago. A new place to talk to the internet is definitely required.

So, I have built it, now I'd like you to come on over there.

My new blog is

I hope you like it. Thanks for all the comments, thoughts, views, engagements we've shared here. I hope we'll keep on sharing them.

PS- I'm leaving this blog live as an archive, a diary, a memory. There'll be a link here from the shiny new site. Some of these posts were too much fun to get rid of.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

A Safe Space

It's been an emotional evening. It's the eve of the EU Referendum, which has unleashed forces of misogyny and xenophobia that have ended in murder. I fully support giving the people the right to decide, but turning over this particular stone has had consequences I (naively) didn't predict. There have also been some particularly awful news stories that have had an impact on me - the murder of children in Syria and right here in the UK. Tonight I've been reading the experiences of women having the most terrible experiences which made me so full of anger and sadness (and confirmed all my feelings about being 100% pro-choice).

And all this sturm und drang has coincided with the beginning of digging season: my social media feeds are flooded with friends returning to the most beautiful Tuscan village where, although bad things certainly happened when I was there, my memory provides a warped vision of golden summers filled with friends and the joy of science and discovery. My friend Theresa just wrote the most lovely piece on the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) caused by not being there.

I wonder if the real reason I grieve for not spending 8 weeks digging in Italy this summer is not the high of excavation, or the high jinks of celebrations/commisserations. I don't think it's the food, wine or views that I'm really missing. I think it's the entirely false impression that in that enchanted place, in this safe space, there are no problems that our wonderful excavation director can't work out, and that can't be forgotten with a little grappa, a hug and a late night conversation with a good friend.

I think that's a testament to the site and its running, and I'm sure that experience was not universal: I certainly saw people battle with homesickness, personal issues, relationships and grief. Nostalgia is a false friend. But those summers were before I really saw Etruscan archaeology with the gloves off at a hostile, sexist conference, before I lost a pregnancy and came damn near losing another one, back when I had a funded PhD position and an engagement ring and was sure that the world would be a feast of opportunities and joys.

Those experiences are the reason it doesn't feel the same when I go back, the reason the FOMO bites me personally so hard.

As with everything in archaeology, the major issue is I can't go back in time.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Teaching Trigger Warnings

Image: wikimedia commons

Trigger warning: this post will contain some upsetting descriptions of other people's life experiences.

That's one sentence- are you going to stop reading? There's been a bit of scrapping on Twitter and elsewhere recently about using trigger warnings in university teaching. One academic I deeply respect argued convincingly that she does not and will not use them in her practice: she sees them as alienating students from the realities of the world, and pointed out that so much of her teaching is centred on disturbing events she would need to issue a trigger warning every week.

However, looking back, I do think I should have used trigger warnings in my teaching. If and when I am lucky enough to get my hands on more innocent undergraduate minds, I will make sure to do this. And this is why.

I taught a course that was designed to blow open those first year undergraduate minds- Social and Cultural Anthropology for Archaeologists. We (my brilliant co-lecturer and I) tried hard to get everyone thinking about their own ethnocentricity- their rootedness in a particular culture - and the way this affects archaeological interpretation. By exploring both the theoretical underpinnings and fascinating case studies of social anthropology, we tried to show the infinite variety and meaning in human behaviour. I hope our students enjoyed the experience.

BUT, one lecture in particular could have been deeply distressing for some students, and I'm ashamed that I never thought of this until recently. For this week of work, we looked at sexuality, and our case study was Gilbert Herdt's work with the Sambia people of Papua New Guinea. Among the Sambia, the only way for a boy to become a man is for him to ingest semen, which he receives orally from older men. The young boys are also toughened up with beatings, and ritual nosebleedings (shown in the picture at the top). Our point (linked to Mary Weismantel's brilliant paper on Moche pots) was that you cannot define easily what is sexual, and what is abuse. From a Sambia perspective, one could argue that Western boys are abused as they can never fully become men. There is also an uncomfortable argument to engage with about abstract concepts of morality, and respecting indigenous practice vs feeling pity for the children involved. The lecture never failed to spark debate and get people questioning themselves, which was our hope.

AND YET. What if someone in the room had been sexually abused as a child? Beaten and forced to perform fellatio? How profoundly distressing and uncomfortable the experience of learning about the Sambia would be, what dreadful memories could have been dredged up, what damage could we have done as lecturers where we had hoped to inspire?

So, in short, we needed to let students know what was coming. We needed a trigger warning. With that session in mind, I think I'll always be more aware of this in my teaching. For the sake of a single sentence, it's better to avoid a lecture with potentially disastrous consequences.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

#MisCourage and telling the whole truth

It's all gone a bit quiet from me recently- not been on Twitter much, been rubbish at replying to emails, not been banging on about archaeology online, not done much writing since coming back from Ireland.

This could just be a natural reaction to the intensity of a Visiting Fellowship, a joyful time which was stuffed to the gunnels with work.

Sadly, that's not what the problem was. The problem was that last Friday I was diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy and have since been going through the process of my body disposing of this poor little misplaced bundle of cells. It's not been much fun. In fact, there was a point on Friday when it looked like I would be in surgery that afternoon. I can't say how thankful I am that this didn't happen and my body has dealt with it without intervention. I'm definitely one of the lucky ones.

I've read other brave posts from scholars writing about how their ongoing conditions have affected their work- what comes across most is their strength to carry on in spite of long term pain. I don't know quite how to explain my own sudden absence except in these brutally honest terms: I've had bigger things to worry about than Etruscans, publications, and even Twitter, like potentially losing a Fallopian tube and leaving my daughter overnight while she is still getting over being separated in Ireland.

Tommy's, a charity that supports families who suffer pregnancy loss and stillbirth, have started a campaign called #MisCourage that encourages people to share their experiences, start a conversation, acknowledge that this happens: it's not all happy endings and cute scan pictures. For some of us, what starts with a joyful little line on a stick ends with tears and tests and ultra towels.

I wanted to join in, to explain, to state what has happened in the last week. But I do feel afraid- is this appropriate, is this too much information, is this really ok for a blog that is deeply tied to my academic identity? But the two things go together- if you've been wondering where I've been, now you know. Is it better to be perceived as an oversharer or a flake?

I'm going with it's better to tell the truth.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Saying stupid stuff on the Internet

Recently I've had a couple of Twitter booboos.

The first one was not too bad, I thought someone was critiqueing someone else in a sarcastic way and tried to join is as I like this person and respect their work. They were being serious. I felt like an utter tool. Luckily this person is as kind and generous as they are a good scholar and was very magnanimous about my idiocy. I resolved not to go on Twitter in the early morning when extremely tired after a night of battling Silvia.

The second time, I had no such excuse. I'd been at work here at NUIG all day, my brain was fully in gear. But I just saw a single retweet and went off like a rocket, soaring into an interpretative universe all my own. It was an RT of someone live tweeting a paper on Roman breast pumps and (having been tortured by the damn things myself) I was instantly going off into a world of experiential archaeology, the significance of being able to effectively relieve your own engorgement pain (it is as bad as it sounds folks), the need for such relief if elite Roman women were giving their babies to wet nurses etc etc. Except that the objects in question weren't breast pumps at all, and that was the whole point of the paper. DOH!

I normally try to be quite careful about what I post online: after all, it's a reflection of me and I like to think that I'm as kind and thoughtful a human being on t'Internet as I try to be in life. When it's clear you've been an idiot, however, how can you respond?

In both cases, I've responded with apologies and corrections, tried to make myself the butt of the joke. I don't know if this is the right response. I'm still worried about both situations, about future possible idiocies. Maybe this is my David Clarke social media moment, Lucy's online archaeology's loss of innocence?

Anyway, let me know if you've got good ways to a) avoid being a fool online b) minimise the effects of that foolishness. Oh, and if you've seen me be an idiot online, tell me please.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The researcher wants a wife...

The researcher wants a wife, the researcher wants a wife, ee ii the adio the researcher wants a wife.

Wife wanted. 1950s style preferred. Satisfaction its own reward, no stipend. You will need to take care of my child full time while I work, be prepared to pick up and move to a new city every 2-3 years for the next 10, keep on top of the lion's share of the housework, do any and all childcare in a strange place while I'm on fieldwork. You certainly won't have time for your own career as I will need all your time to support my own. Oh, and any kids will need to be 100% adaptable to my sudden disappearances and continual new houses and schools.

I'm in Galway, and for the next two weeks I do have a wife (of sorts) as my husband (keep up!) has taken precious annual leave to take care of our daughter while I enjoy the absolute luxury of space to time, think and write here on a Visiting Fellowship.

Our daughter, while coping brilliantly with being with Daddy in the daytime (and my parents for the previous week- thanks Mum and Dad) is clingy and sad at night, and wants to be with me almost continually, waking every two hours. I am, as a result, just a bit tired.

If I had a wife, she would be the primary carer and Silvie would be fine. I wouldn't have to make this wife take Annual Leave. Applying for a post-doc to come back here full time wouldn't be a source of worry and nervousness, it would be an exciting prospect as said wife would just get on with her homely tasks and settle the baby in for me.

Seeing as how no 1950s housewife/free of charge Mary Poppins figure is going to show up and sort this issue out, I'm going to have to keep on juggling, and enjoy the short term time for my own work.

Yet I can't help feeling that the structure of research careers: characterised by prestigious international fellowships, national relocations, and short term contracts, is inherently biased against people with families- men and women.

These posts are underwritten by other people doing the domestic labour - a kind of labour that has traditionally been highly gendered. But in the modern world, your spouse (male or female) is highly unlikely to be a full time domestic god(dess) who can just pack up their hoover and the nappies and move wherever you need to go next.

I don't know what the solution is, but I'm going with just applying for everything and hoping that things fall into place. But if you'd like to be my 1950s wife, get in touch.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

I said it, and I meant it

So I deleted my account.

I've been perturbed by for some time now. I couldn't quite put my finger on what I disliked about the site- but I think it was probably a nagging question of why embrace a series of unforced performance metrics when your life is already filled by the damn things? Sure, it's fun to see how many views a paper gets, and how many your profile gets (wow, someone in Argentina looked at my profile etc) but do you really need to know this? How much is vanity, and how much is career obsession? Are either of those two things healthy?

I still did it though. The old (and deep) fear of your career suffering as a result of not playing the game won out.

But the recent revelations that staff have been contacting scholars and asking them to consider paying for their papers to be promoted by senior staff has revealed a lot about the site, in my eyes at least.

And, in common with lots of other scholars, I'm no longer happy to affiliate with the site. So, I've pulled my profile down.

If you want to read my work, go for it! If you want to get in touch, please do. I'd love to hear from anyone about collaboration or feedback or anything. I just don't want to have those conversations through a medium that seeks to profit from a desperate desire for career progression, and that is willing to swap endorsements for cash.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Grand Challenges Part II: This time, it's personal

Yes, I'll be back, Clonmacnoise.
So, as promised, here is the second half of my little chunk of the wonderful Doug's Archaeology 2016 blogging carnival.

First, some news: I have resigned from my job at Andante Travels- yes, the dream job designing wonderful archaeological holidays. In so many ways it was perfect, supportive company, great colleagues, opening up the past to the general public. But I couldn't make it work with a 10 month old and a 90 minute commute. So, that's that.

What happens now?* Well, I'm delighted to say I've been offered a Moore Institute Visiting Fellowship at National University of Ireland, Galway. I'll be there from late March to mid-April, made possible by my parents and husband taking time out to look after Silvia. I'm excited about it, and about the work I'll be doing, as well as the people I'll be working with. Any suggestions for cool things to do in Galway with a toddler much appreciated.

I hope the weather in Galway is this good again, or husband will suffer with a cooped up Silvia!
Apart from that, 2016 is looking like a blur of writing and childcare, with some conferences and talks thrown in. Sometimes the two go together well, sometimes they don't. So that's one challenge: finish the book (halfway through the second draft people!), get half done articles out of my brain and onto some poor reviewer's desk, and keep a demanding young lady happy.

Her challenge is to walk under the Boccanera Plaques, not crawl. FYI, the Etruscan gallery of the British Museum is an excellent place for your baby- the case arrangements are a perfect crawling speedway.

The day-to-day of this is not a problem, keeping the balls in the air- you just do it. She wouldn't sleep last night, so instead of doing my usual 8-11 writing stint, it was 10-1. Then she woke at 3. And 5. Not great, but fine. I'm awake and alert. Just.

Coming to the point at last, my own grand challenge is to carve out a meaningful space for this new woman-in-archaeology-but-also-in-motherhood self. It would be wonderful to be able to link this with a formal position, but if the applications gods are unkind, I need to find a way to be ok with that. To write, to think, to be an archaeologist. Inside or outside the academy**. And I need to fit that with my family.

Doddle, right?


Disclaimer: I AM INCREDIBLY AWARE OF HOW PRIVILEGED I AM TO BE ABLE TO TAKE THIS TIME AND HAVE THIS SPACE TO THINK AT ALL. Just saying. Also, it's a neat little feminist juxtaposition that embracing total dependence on my husband (and the vast majority of housework/childcare) allows me to think and work, albeit not for pay. Hmmm.

*Well, my first commitment that I'm so pleased to be doing is at the Institute of Classical Studies in London on the 9th February. Come along for some Derrida, some Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, and to hear the results of that survey I've been plugging on Twitter. What's not to like?

**Another post needed here on the new independent scholar, I think. With the current over-production of PhDs, we could be a veritable army.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Blogging Carnival : Grand Challenges

Ominously, this appears when you google image search Etruscan challenge. Ouch. It's Charun, Etruscan death demon, supervising the death of a bound captive. Cheerful stuff.

So, in the past I've taken part in the fab Doug Rocks-Macqueen's Archaeology Blogging Carnival, and I'll be doing it this year too. Two posts on this year's theme are coming right up.

And what a theme it is. Grand Challenges of Archaeology. The question is, what are the Grand Challenges of YOUR archaeology?

Well, to me MY archaeology is my own personal archaeological journey (vomit vomit x-factor language) and Etruscan archaeology (my preciousssssss, in best Gollum voice).

So this post is about the Grand Challenges of Etruscan archaeology, or rather, THE Grand Challenge as I see it.

And (drumroll please), I think the challenge of Etruscan archaeology is....

The production of new archaeological narratives for Etruscan people's lives. 

We really, desperately, need to come up with and share new interpretations of the Etruscan past. Time and again, in the past few years, we have seen remarkable developments in Etruscan archaeology. New discoveries of tombs barely damaged or even untouched by tomb robbers, new data coming out untainted by antiquarian excavation techniques. We also have incredible scientific advances: an intricate and carefully controlled study of Etruscan DNA which, for the first time, has some real answers of where these people came from and who they were. At the Milan Expo, Etruscan scholars shared their work through new digital technologies, bringing the Etruscans to a wider audience through 3D reconstructions.

Yet some very familiar stories are still kicking around, in and among (and in spite of) these new discoveries, methods and opportunities. The idea of the Etruscans as mysterious and unknowable, a frustrating mirage which obscures these wonderful leaps forward. The idea of princely tombs, linked to monarchial systems of government I've critiqued here before, a conception of Etruscan life which is more akin to a child's tale of princes and princesses than it is to a real evaluation of these people's life stories. These are old ideas with a venerable heritage- we can understand where they came from and why they are compelling. They continue to capture the imagination.

In my opinion though, these ideas are no longer an acceptable option for the Etruscological community, and to me it is wrong for us to continue to parrot them to the general public. It is almost ten years since Vedia Izzet (the person responsible for letting me loose on the unsuspecting Etruscans) wrote her seminal text critiquing these interpretative tropes. In that decade, little has changed. Her words remain as cogent now as they were on the day they were written. Perhaps, in the year before the ten year anniversary of its publication, the stories we tell as Etruscan archaeologists might change- we can look again at our data, new and old. We can experiment with ideas from anthropology and philsophy. We can think ourselves a new version of the Etruscan past, using objects and ideas. In this way, we might just be able to catch up with the excavations, the genetics, the technology. That is our grand challenge.

** There are signs that the challenge is being accepted- I'm very excited about a new journal in Italian archaeology, Ex Novo. It's open access and explicitly theoretical- a brave new voice. I have high hopes.**

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Back and bad... and bibliographies

Well, that was a nice break.

Christmas with a small child suddenly has purpose again. Magic, and a little smile on a little face, and trying not to let her pull the Christmas tree over. Watching her scoff down Turkey and her eyes light up at the first taste of chocolate pudding (and last for a while- she's back on fruit for pudding).

Also, and more importantly, Christmas equals husband off work which means lots of time for writing/editing.

And the resulting discovery has been fascinating. Turns out, I couldn't write for toffee in the final stages of pregnancy. I read all the chapters in one day, and was really not happy with the first couple. Then, boom! Chapter three, and back on form.Well, as close to form as I get (insert crippling British sense of self worth here).

How fascinating- I'm not sure why? Maybe the hormones. Maybe the poor sleep. Maybe the worry of impending life change and you know, the whole labour thing. And the whole having responsibility for a tiny human thing.

Yet, once the tiny human was here and napping, my brain suddenly worked again, or at least, so it seems. I'm editing well into chapter 4, and it really isn't as bad as I had feared when I started.

But what the writing gods give, they also take away. Because I'm only now realising how dire the footnote organisation situation is. In a popular archaeology book, what's the best way to reference? Obviously, Harvard is out. Footnotes at the bottom of each page are impractical. The only answer seems to be a series of end-notes, divided by chapter. That's what my favourite authors do. But then the bibliographic information is so divorced from what I'm using it to argue that it feels clandestine, naughty. I guess it's still there. A reader can find it. I suspect my editors will have the final call.

So, any thoughts? On writing-while-pregnant, or on bibliographic behaviour?