Monthly Archives: June 2014

Skulls and flints

Image: BlackChocolateCo.

Image: BlackChocolateCo.

These may look like skulls, and in a way they are, but in a rather macabre way they are edible. The image source under the picture may give it away slightly- they are made of chocolate, and are actually life-size, having been made from a mould of an actual human skull. I don’t know if that makes the whole thing even creepier. However, this also makes for a ridiculously convincing and realistic product, that can be bought for the bargain price… of £68… here:

https://www.etsy.com/listing/115839827/100-chocolate-skulls-anatomically

Also of note in the Archaeology-gifts category are these rather fetching earrings:

I really like these, but sadly don’t have pierced ears- otherwise I’d happily rock about with a pair (sorry for that terrible joke). If you’re interested, you can purchase these here:

http://www.archtools.eu/barbed-and-tanged-arrowhead-earings.html

With both products, each one is completely individual too. Perfect for the archaeologist in your life!

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New Books: June

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Yep- only four this month. I’ve realised that if I keep buying at my previous rate, I’ll run out of room to house them, and I also will never get around to reading them all. So only four.

  • Fyodor Dostoevsky –  Crime and Punishment     £1
  • Rudyard Kipling –  The Jungle Books     50p
  • Colette –  Gigi and The Cat     50p
  • Milan Kundera –  Slowness     99p

I am tempted to go into a long rant about Penguin and their odd way of packaging their classics, but I won’t. Suffice to say that ‘The Jungle Books’ were published in 1894 and 1895, and so shouldn’t qualify as a Modern Classic, and now are published in the black Penguin Classics range. Anyway- it’s a nice edition of it, which I’ve been looking for for a while.

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Vindolanda gold

The remains of the fort being visited my modern tourists. Image: Vindolanda Trust

The remains of the fort being visited my modern tourists. Image: Vindolanda Trust

A nice story to emerge in the past few days- after nearly 50 years of excavation, the first Roman gold coin has been discovered at the fort of Vindolanda, Hadrian’s Wall. This may sound like nothing more than a magpie response, but in fact the presence of such an object can provide us with questions regarding the people who were living and working at the camp. The gold aureus was in circulation for around three centuries, and  dates from A.D. 64-65 , depicting the emperor Nero. The coin would have been worth 6 months pay to a soldier stationed at the fort, and it is the value of the piece that makes the find so unusual. The owner of such a high-denomination coin would be unexpected to lose something so valuable, hence there being no other such examples found at Vindolanda, and it is unlikely that any more will be found.

vindolanda gold coin

The coin. Image: Vindolanda Trust

The coin will go on display at Vindolanda after being intensely studied and analysed, and a last point to make is that it was not discovered by a professional archaeologist, but rather a regular volunteer at site. Now, Vindolanda is an interesting site, as the excavations that take place here are heavily paid-volunteer-based. If you are interested in joining a dig here, or simply want to learn more about the site, click on this link:

http://www.vindolanda.com/

 

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Skulls for sale

I mentioned in my last post that I had recently come across a story regarding the sale of  human remains. Well, at the start of this month, an auction was prevented from taking place in the US town of Hagerstown, Maryland, of the skull of a soldier killed in battle during the Civil War. This skull was uncovered on a farm in Gettysburg in 1949  and was thought to be the first sale of its kind, but was stopped after the hotel carrying out the auction received numerous complaints. Now, the skull has been ‘donated’ to the United States Parks Services in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, who can provide a proper burial.

Now, I don’t really think that I need to explain why I take issue with the thought of selling human remains- the fact that this was a part of a deceased individual’s body make the whole concept of possession and ownership faintly ludicrous. I can’t just go and sell a person, or remove their limb and then sell it, so why should this be okay and permissible once they are dead? The same issue arises for me with human remains in anthropological and museum collections, and even more so with the sickeningly immoral practice of one Gunter Von Hagen, who sells jewellery and framed images containing thin slices of preserved corpses. No thank you. You do not buy or sell the dead. People are people, and people were people, not commodities. I could get into a whole new Anthropology debate here over consumerism and consumption, but I won’t.

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Dulux paints from history: Mummy Brown

'Examination of a Mummy – A priestess of Amman' by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux c 1891. Image: Peter Nahum at The Leicester Gallery, London

‘Examination of a Mummy – A priestess of Amman’ by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux c 1891. Image: Peter Nahum at The Leicester Gallery, London

I don’t often do this, as I’m sure that nobody ever bothers to click on the links I provide, but in case anyone is interested, here is a ridiculously fascinating article about the trade in and use of Egyptian mummies for medicinal purposes and paint pigment up until the early 20th century. I learnt a great deal from this, and was somewhat repulsed and upset by it. Just think of all that history that we have lost due to the plundering of Egypt by Western nations for various reasons, and that blatant economic exploitation of the remains of the dead (which incidentally reminds me of another post I must write shortly, which I meant to get up last week but which totally slipped my mind), with no regard for their status as once-living individuals, and for what they could have told us about the past. How many famous pharaohs were there for the discovery, only to be ground up as cod-scientific medicines thanks to a misunderstanding of Egyptian embalming techniques? As an Archaeologist, it’s truly heartbreaking to think about, but all we can do is make the most of the knowledge and resources that we have now, conserve what we have of the past still to hand, and take these tales from history as both lessons in bad practice, and as interesting chapters in the history of the discipline. Spilt milk, and all that. Anyway- here’s the article. Do take a few minutes out to read it- it is well worth it.

http://www.artinsociety.com/the-life-and-death-of-mummy-brown.html

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Bloomsday

Image: Join Mo Kang/The New York Times

Image: Join Mo Kang/The New York Times

You may or may not have been aware that today was Bloomsday- so named after the character of Leopold Bloom in James Joyce’s epic Modernist wordhaul ‘Ulysses’. The novel is set on the 16th June 1904, the day that Joyce and his future wife went on their first date, and since the book’s publication in 1922, there have been annual celebrations of the work around the streets and pubs of Dublin, with the first such day taking place in 1924. My own personal views and opinions regarding ‘Ulysses’ are rather mixed and I think tainted by the drawn out process that its reading became, so I will reserve comment until I finally get around to reading it again with a slightly more analytical mind on me. However, I cannot deny that the influence of this book has been enormous, and it does have numerous merits from a literary point, but for me the best thing is that the work inspires such an event each year, and in so many countries world-wide, not just in Ireland. Perhaps when I write, I should endeavour for such immortality!

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Damien Hirst and the ignorance of journalists: a Facebook rant from July 2013

This is a bit old but (I thought) worth sharing. As the title suggests, I posted this on Facebook almost a year ago, but the sentiments are the same now. Obviously, when I mention something is ‘current’, I mean current in July 2013.

Here is the original article that I refer to:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2013/jul/17/damien-hirst-photograph-severed-head-censorship

 

This article has irritated me somewhat. Firstly, I hate that the thumbnail for the article has that picture on, but I can’t really comment without putting the article on that I am moaning about, and the picture won’t disappear. I missed this story when it was first in the news, but picked up on it thanks to a cartoon in the current issue of ‘Private Eye.’ Basically, two archaeologists from Leicester Uni have objected to Damien Hirst exhibiting a photo that shows him at the age of 16 posing next to the severed head of a man who donated his body to science. Fine. The picture is in ridiculous bad taste, and they have a point about the family of the dead man and the fact that he probably didn’t give permission for photos to be taken of his corpse (which needs to be given when bodies are donated). But the article irritates me due to the complete ignorance that the writer has. Apparently, it is “academic pomposity” for archaeologists to speak out about something they believe is wrong if it impinges on others. Right. Hmm. Also, “archaeological ethics” needs to be put in quotation marks in the original article, as though it is some sort of alien or laughable concept. It is not. It is an integral part of the practicing of modern archaeology that needs to be taken into account at every turn when excavating and when presenting the past to the public. Next-“Only in dictatorial regimes do university professors decide what does and does not belong in an art gallery.” Erm….nope. Surely many art gallery curators are also able to be lecturers, and academic opinion coupled with the sensitivities of the public are always to be taken into account when presenting art and archaeology. But archaeologists cannot comment on art, can they? I’m sure the writer also thinks that anthropologists can’t, either. Then there’s this bit, which I will quote at length- “Leicester University’s experts say it contravenes guidelines on the ethical treatment of the dead: the poor man whose head is in the picture, they say, would have been recognisable to his relatives. He left his body to science and it was used in a jokey work of art. As archaeologists, they claim expertise in this strange field of postmortem ethics. Perhaps they got carried away by the sentimentality that surrounded Leicester’s rediscovery of the bones of Richard III.” Oh come on. Richard III is not quite the same. And then, the final flourish of ignorance- “Archaeology is the scientific study of the past, and it has no business pronouncing on the ethics of modern art.” Give me strength. Of course archaeology has the right and the position to comment on the present as much as any historian, author, artist or religious leader. It just annoys me that such a woefully ignorant person can comment upon a discipline that they clearly do not understand, and can therefore present it any way they like in the media, biasing those who do not know the subject to think that it is something that it isn’t. Okay. Rant over now.

Image: siliconangle.com

Image: siliconangle.com

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EXCITING NEWS!!!!!

All I can say for now is that I’ve got some VERY exciting news to announce soon in a very special ‘Life Update’, which I should have really put out a few months back, but am going to post over the next few days. WATCH THIS SPACE!!!!!!!

Smile 1

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Bus Reads 2: Thoughts on Joyce’s ‘Dubliners’

Dubliners

The edition of my copy.

I bought this 4 years ago, whilst I was reading ‘Ulysses’, but only read it at the beginning of this year, as after finishing the aforementioned epic last summer (I did take a 3 year break from it- it didn’t take me 4 years to read), I didn’t feel like approaching Joyce for a while. However, I am so glad that I did. So glad, indeed, that I devoured ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ immediately afterwards. But that’s for the next post. Suffice to say, I adore both that work and this one.

Having read ‘Ulysses’ first, I was pleasantly surprised just how readable the ‘Dubliners’ collection is, with the prose style being at turns simple and yet poetic, and actually intelligible. There is such an attention to detail in the stories that the reader is placed within the action (or more often the inaction) to an immersive extent, and the mundane lives of the characters are presented through a microscope. For example, take this line from ‘A Painful Case’:

One evening as he was about to put a morsel of corned beef and cabbage into his mouth his hand stopped. His eyes fixed themselves on a paragraph in the evening paper which he had propped against the water-carafe. He replaced the morsel of food on his plate and read the paragraph attentively. Then he drank a glass of water, pushed his plate to one side, doubled the paper down before him between his elbows and read the paragraph over and over again. The cabbage began to deposit a cold white grease on his plate. The girl came over to him to ask was his dinner not properly cooked. He said it was very good and ate a few mouthfuls of it with difficulty.

This is fairly representative of the collection as a whole, to be honest, but I do not mean this as a negative at all- I like this painfully close attention to detail. However, this attention to the minutiae of everyday Dublin existence does allow Joyce to neglect plot somewhat- or at least create plots that share this mundane and somewhat pedestrian social environment. I didn’t really notice this as I read the text, but have been increasingly aware of the fact while mulling over what I should write on this post. Looking at the plot summaries on Wikipedia, I am still none the wiser as to what I should write regarding the narrative substance of the tales.

This aside, the collection truly bewitched me as I read it, and I will most certainly read it again (partly so as I can attempt a closer understanding of the individual plots). I will also say that I missed some of the messages of the text which are left to the reader due to the unfinished nature of many of the plot strands of the stories, so will make more of an effort to look out for these next time too. To be fair, perhaps a better way of summing the book up would be as a collection of scenes or vignettes, rather than stories. If it is approached like this- with less expectation of narrative completeness- then perhaps the text works on a higher level. Nevertheless- I loved it as it was, with my confusion intact.

To finish off, here is my favourite line from the book, which incidentally is the final line of the closing story (or novella), ‘The Dead’:

His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Pure poetry, and a hint of things to come with regards to Joyce’s next work.

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New Books: May

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Here are my book purchases for May:

  • Penguin Classics Catalogue     £2 (that’s full price)
  • Wilkie Collins –  The Moonstone     25p
  • William Gibson & Bruce Sterling –  The Difference Engine     25p
  • Rebecca Hunt –  Mr Chartwell     25p
  • Jane Austen –  Persuasion     99p
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle –  The Sign of Four     99p
  • Joseph Conrad –  The Secret Agent     99p
  • Ted Hughes –  The Iron Woman     50p
  • George Orwell –  The Road to Wigan Pier     99p
  • Joseph Heller –  Catch-22     50p
  • John Christopher –  The Death of Grass      99p
  • George Orwell –  Animal Farm     99p
  • Barry Hines –  A Kestrel for a Knave     99p

I know I already have a copy of ‘Animal Farm’, but this is one of the wonderful Penguin Modern Classics editions with the big text on the front and the white spine which I truly adore (I prefer these to the black Penguin Classics, personally), which both matches my edition of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and includes introductions, which my previous copy doesn’t.

However, the Ted Hughes book was a bit of a let down, as I didn’t notice until I got it home, but the first page is missing. Ho-hum.

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