Tag Archives: Arch & Anth

Resolutions 2015

Image: facebook.com/lego

Image: facebook.com/lego

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!

I suppose these should really be made on New Year’s Day, but they’re not too late.

  1. Get more blog posts up on here! I’ve got about 12 book reviews to get written, so I’d better get cracking!
  2. Bite the bullet and submit my book of poetry to publishers. That’s the one I finished editing in January 2014.
  3. Finish writing the book of short stories and random prose pieces that I begun in early 2014.
  4. Begin writing the novel I have planned.
  5. Return to archaeology in my spare time- it’s become a bit neglected of late. It may help that we’re planning on moving to a different (nicer) part of the city soon, which should enable me to actually get all of my Arch & Anth texts (and my uni notes and essays) in some sort of usable order and actually on SHELVES, which they are still without at the moment.
  6. Get my ear pierced and have a tattoo. Okay, maybe I’m joking with that one…
Tagged , ,

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!

Tagged , , , ,

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

Tagged , , , , ,

A new low for TV and a slap in the face to proper archaeology

I’ve only heard about this programme recently, and so am aware that much has already been said about it, but National Geographic are planning on 13th May to air in the UK a ‘documentary’ entitled ‘Nazi War Diggers’. The clips of this show already released were quickly taken off the internet after the negative comments started, and to be honest, it is easy to see why. The programme sees a group of individuals (I can’t call them archaeologists, for the simple reason that they aren’t) digging up remains of fallen Second World War soldiers in Latvia, with the proposed intentions of  ‘sav[ing] this history from being looted or lost’.

However, the only ‘looting’ that seems to be taking place is that by the presenters of this programme. I have seen several television documentaries where battlefield archaeologists excavate French trenches and battlefields from WWI in order to return the bodies of loved ones to their families for proper reinterment. These excavations are carried out with sensitivity, for a legitimate reason, and by professionally trained archaeologists and osteologists using correct archaeological excavation procedures. I do not have an issue with this, and if this is what ‘Nazi War Diggers’ was about, then there would be no issue. The footage, however, that was released and the images abounding on the ‘net that have been taken from the programme or used to publicise it show a group of inept amateurs digging away with no regard for archaeological techniques or contexts (for example, using sharp tools close to bones, not recording the material found in any way, and pulling bones out of the ground using brute force, rather than carefully and slowly excavating around them), and much less regard for the individuals whose remains they are removing.

Dr Tony Pollard, the Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at Glasgow University, has said this about the programme:

I’m appalled that a major broadcaster has sunk to the levels of exploitation television. I’ve been at the forefront of battlefield archaeology for fifteen years, and I have spent much time getting the subject taken seriously.

This just looks like they’ve gone around digging up bodies, because TV likes a dead body.

This shows no evidence of even the most basic archaeological principles – this is treasure hunting not archaeology.

I have seen human remains brandished like trophies before but in dodgy YouTube videos. The fact that this comes from a commissioned TV series is quite beyond belief.

The trailer on the internet was absolutely shocking, and very damaging for National Geographic.

Whether these bodies are those of Allied soldiers, German soldiers, or soldiers of any other nation, they should not be handled and removed in such a way that shows such basic disregard for common decency, human morality, the ethics of the past, or for people who were someone’s son, friend, father or brother. A pile of human bones is not just a collection of objects (it is indeed that, but not just that)- it is the physical presence of a person who is no longer alive and who is no longer in the world to defend and protect themself. There is no reason why these remains should be treated with any less respect than those buried in cemeteries or those held in museums, and the trivialisation of their removal and handling is lamentable. Not only do the diggers (I can’t call them excavators, because this suggests some sort of archaeological methodology has been adhered to) pull bones out of the ground, but they blatantly show scant knowledge of osteology or human anatomy, and worryingly little evidence of what they do with the bodies once they have removed them.

Not only is this programme a new low for television and its need to broadcast crap catering to the lowest common denominator, but it is also a shot in the foot for the once-respectable National Geographic, and a body-blow to the good name of archaeology, and battlefield archaeology in particular (which has a bad enough time of it as it is, with many people against such excavation, and which often finds itself having to defend itself way too much). I shall not be watching this programme for fear of throwing something through my screen whilst it is on, and have decided against posting any images to illustrate this rant, as I do not want to condone what those idiots have done in any way. As an archaeologist, I see the historic, scientific, practical and moral need to excavate human remains, and in recent years massive steps have been made in this field when it comes to repatriation of bones and body parts to those of other cultures, and in the general handling and study of such material. This, though, does not mean that I condone the gratuitous unearthing of individuals when there is no motive other than selfish self-publicity and the need to increase television viewing figures. Will the production team carry out tests on the bodies in order to return them to the families for reburial? Will they rebury them in a manner befitting a dead soldier? I think not, and it is truly shameful.

One last thought: I wonder if such a programme would be permissable were it Allied soldiers being excavated in France or Belgium in such a way? Is it because these individuals were ‘Nazis’ that such ill treatment is possible? Are we still to retain such pointless and ridiculous prejudices?

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Strange Case of the Spontaneously Combusting Mummy

I haven’t posted on here for a few days, and am planning to get up a grand total of 4 ‘Thoughts on…’ posts (I’ve been reading quite a bit recently), but this caught my attention.

I have harboured an interest in the ancient Egyptians since I was 10, and before having children, I had intended this to be my chosen area of study, and later employment. Life intervened, however, and since then I have now realised that my real love in archaeology is the landscape and the Early Medieval period in England and Europe. Despite this change in focus, I have still held an interest and fascination in Egypt, and it was with great joy that I travelled several years ago with a very good friend of mine to the O2 in London to see the exhibition of treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun.

tutankhamun-exhibition-london1

I cannot adequately describe my amazement at the grave-goods on display- “Wonderful things” indeed- in part due to the sheer quality and the beauty of the craftsmanship, and also because of the fame of some of the items that I was able to see in the flesh, as it were. However, since then I think any further discovery surrounding the boy pharaoh has paled in comparison, and I have paid these new finds about the cause of death or his life less and less attention. Until now, that is.

Egyptologist Dr Chris Naunton has re-examined some of the notes made by Howard Carter back in 1922 and analysed a fragment of flesh that was removed from the mummy to reveal that a chemical reaction caused by the embalming oils used led the body to burn within the inner-most coffin once it had been sealed. I don’t know the ins and outs of this research, as I can’t find a lot of information regarding it, but there is a programme on Channel 4 later in the week, and so I hope to be able to say slightly more on this once I’ve watched it.

Personally, I think that this sounds an interesting idea, and when you look at some parts of the body, it does perhaps look as though it may have been burnt, but… I don’t know. I’m not entirely convinced, to be honest. Surely there would have been some sort of heat damage to the inner-most coffin and the bandages, and Carter does record some sort of burn damage, but- I need to find out more to make any proper comment. Expect a follow-up post to this one!

 

Tagged , , , ,

The jewelled saints of 16th century Europe, and other beautifications of the dead

The hand of St. Valentin. Image:  Paul Koudounaris

The hand of St. Valentin. Image: Paul Koudounaris

It has been a well-known fact in Christianity for much of its history that the presence of a saint’s body at a religious site makes it a much more enticing prospect for pilgrims, and by extension a very lucrative form of income. As such, there are numerous examples of monasteries and cathedrals throughout Europe that claim to hold saints remains- either entire bodies, particular body parts or items that belonged to a person or had touched a body- and in many cases several sites profess to possess the same relic. Some saints can quite comfortably be said to be where they are thought to be, such as St. Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral, whose elevation at Lindisfarne and subsequent removal to Durham was well documented. However, many others, such as the remains of John the Baptist, or pieces of the ‘True Cross’ are more suspect. Often, this dubious nature is down to enterprising, exploiting and morally corrupt clergy, who created false relics using randomly-discovered or disinterred bones to knowingly hoodwink unsuspecting and gullible pilgrims. However, sometimes this is down to simple confusion or misplaced assumption. It seems that both could be the case here.

In 1578, rumour spread that there had been found catacombs below Rome containing the bodies of thousands of early Christian martyrs. Many of these skeletons were removed from their resting places and transported to religious houses around Europe to replace relics that had been lost under the Reformation that had swept the Continent earlier that century. Whether or not these were actually the remains of the saints that they were believed to be will probably never be known, but I can see that misattributions may in many cases have been accidental and down to simple confusion. However, there is also the rather large possibility that some unscrupulous individuals did probably attribute remains to people that they may not have belonged to, and personally I think that many of the complete skeletons sent about the Continent may actually be composed of the bones of several individuals due to the often fragmented and jumbled nature of remains in catacombs.

This aside, the new relics were graciously received, and once they had been reassembled, they were often enshrined and decorated in costumes, wigs, jewels, crowns, gold lace, and armour as a physical reminder of the heavenly treasures that awaited in the afterlife. Many of these bodies have never been seen by the wider world outside of the religious institutions they are housed in, and have been recently photographed for the first time by the photographer Paul Koudounaris.

St. Albertus. Image: P.K.

St. Albertus. Image: P.K.

St. Benedictus. Image: P.K.

St. Benedictus. Image: P.K.

St. Deodatus

St. Deodatus. Image: P.K.

St. Friedrich. Image: P.K.

St. Friedrich. Image: P.K.

St. Getreu. Image: P.K.

St. Getreu. Image: P.K.

St. Valentius. Image: P.K.

St. Valentius. Image: P.K.

St. Valerius. Image: P.K.

St. Valerius. Image: P.K.

The whole enterprise may look somewhat bizarre and macabre to us now, but this is by no means the only time that such ornamentation has been employed, or the only culture in which it has been carried out. For example, that last image of St. Valerius has had jewelled eyes inserted into the orbits which is reminiscent of the cowrie shells inserted into the skulls of the Neolithic dead in Jericho around 6000-7000 BC.

JerichoSkullsLater, we see similar practices amongst the Aztecs:

A skull partially covered in jade, from Monte Alban Tomb 7. Interestingly, this skull was heald for a time at a convent.

A skull partially covered in jade, from Monte Alban Tomb 7. Interestingly, this skull was held for a time at a convent.

A mask made from a human skull with the back removed and lined with dear skin to be worn as a mask. This is meant to represent Tezcatlipoca, or ‘Smoking Mirror’, one of the four Aztec creator deities.

A mask made from a human skull with the back removed and lined with deer skin to be worn as a mask. This is meant to represent Tezcatlipoca, or ‘Smoking Mirror’, one of the four Aztec creator deities. Image: The British Museum.

Indeed, the Aztecs and other Meso- and South American cultures had a tradition of adorning corpses of ancestors and royalty when displaying them around the inside of their temples, and anthropological cases exist of extant tribes around the world carrying out such elaborate rituals of adorning the dead for display purposes. We could even include this famous piece of ‘art’:

'For the love of God' by Damian Hirst. image: Getty Images.

‘For the love of God’ by Damian Hirst. image: Getty Images.

All very interesting, and all very macabre!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A new theory on why civilisation dawned

That’s an interesting image to be at the top of a post about the dawn of civilisation. It would be assumed that it would be more apt for a post about the end of civilisation, but no. The idea that all life on Earth came from outer space via an asteroid has recently gained credence, with scientists expressive the belief that said asteroid could have come from Mars and brought primitive life from there, and I for one find the arguments in favour highly compelling. However, I came across an article earlier today on ‘The Times’ website that suggests a meteor may also have had something to do with man’s (and woman’s) move to sedentary living and life within urban centres (I won’t call them ‘cities’, as I don’t want to get onto that debate…).

The idea is that a meteor struck in Quebec, Canada, around 12,900 years ago, and caused the onset of the colder, drier period known as the Younger Dryas. Previously, it was thought that this change in climate came about due to the rupturing of an ice dam that let a vast quantity of fresh water into the Atlantic and subsequently stopped currents carrying warm tropical waters towards Europe. Small droplets of molten rock known as spherules have been discovered in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that match chemical fingerprints of rocks in Quebec, and which suggest that they were formed under the high pressures and heat of a meteor impact in Canada. No crater has been found yet, but it suggests that the shift to agriculture as a more reliable source of food and thus eventually sedentary living that came about due to the change in climate may have been a fluke brought about by events that begun many millions of miles away from Earth. Also, this is one of the more rare occasions where two of my loves- namely archaeology and space- can come together in the same article! I am very intrigued to see whether this is definitively proved (or at least proved as much as is possible).

Tagged , , , , ,

A brief Arch & Anth disclaimer

As the ‘About’ page says, I have completed a degree in Archaeology and Anthropology, but I do not profess to be an expert on these- far from it. I know many experts, but any things I say here are my own opinion or my own interpretation of research out there. Do not take me as an authority, or quote me in academic texts (well, not until I have published a few journal articles and books, anyway…)

Tagged ,
The Matilda Project

Bookish Adventures

Penguin Blog

Thoughts and ideas from the world of Penguin

Women of Mongolia

New Media Research Expedition Through Altai and Ulaanbaatar, Summer 2015

Triumph Of The Now

"lefty cuck buzzwords"

Pretty Books

One girl's adventures in books, food and travel

A Medley Of Extemporanea

Books, books and more books (and libraries too)

Great Writers Inspire

Learning from the Past

Deathsplanation

n. 1. The act or process of explaining about death 2. Something that explains about death 3. A mutual clarification of misunderstandings about death; a reconciliation.

A Bone to Pick

by Scott D. Haddow

Asylum

John Self's Shelves

Anthropology.net

Beyond bones & stones

Tales From the Landing Book Shelves

The TBR Pile: Stories, Poems, Arts and Culture

bloodfromstones

A great WordPress.com site

SARA PERRY

The Archaeological Eye

Prehistories

Adventures in Time and Place

Don't Bend, Ascend

Something Different

These Bones Of Mine

A blog focusing on Human Osteology & Archaeology

History Echoes

History, Archaeology, Anthropology, Technology, and Mythology

archaeologyntwales

archaeology in wales cared for by the national trust

The Feast Bowl

The Wordpress blog for the National Museums of Scotland

History Undusted

The dusty bits of history undusted and presented to the unsuspecting public.

Stephanie Huesler

My ponderings, research, tidbits & the nuts and bolts of good writing.

Stoke Minster

the historic & Civic Church of Stoke-on-Trent

Interesting Literature

A Library of Literary Interestingness

The World according to Dina

Notes on Seeing, Reading & Writing, Living & Loving in The North

Museum Postcard

Reviews and thoughts on museums explored

Bones Don't Lie

Current News in Mortuary Archaeology and Bioarchaeology

Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives

How can we use material traces of past lives to understand sex and gender in the past?

A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

Early medievalist's thoughts and ponderings, by Jonathan Jarrett

%d bloggers like this: