When the going gets tough

… the tough roast chickens and giggle at tumblr all afternoon?


… This week has not gone so well, in terms of the ‘there is no try’ motto.

So, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and go for it, right?

There were some good bits this week- the write-and-skype with my Dad was productive and I have something to actually take to my writing group this week. I bit the bullet and went to a gig on my own on Thursday night, danced for 2 hours and reminded myself of that tribal bit of my soul that loves getting lost in a crowd all responding to the same rhythm. I took some nice pictures yesterday of the snow in the park before it all started to thaw today, and reassured myself that the blackbirds, tits and nuthatches were doing OK in the cold.

Always winter, but never Christmas

Always winter, but never Christmas

The sudden thaw has made me think of Narnia, in the first (OK, technically second) book when the White Witch is losing her grasp, and Father Christmas comes, then on his heels the thaw. While the snow has been pretty, it has been quite bleak too. I’m looking forward to green grass, and perhaps some snowdrops or crocuses to tell me spring is on the way. I had my first appraisal this week and things are apparently going well, and we had some positive discussions about this last year of my work on the project, and what happens afterwards, but nothing is concrete and it won’t be for ages. So. Next week will be better. I am off to cheer myself up by taking over the world and drinking tea.


Digital Archaeology?

#project52 week3 Upwards


I’m feeling a bit like the above today. Like I need to be up there somewhere and I don’t have a ladder.

I’m going to start this post with a bunch of disclaimers: I’m not an expert in any of the following things: public archaeology, 3D reconstructions, museums or heritage management. Anything I say here is strictly my own thoughts and has nothing to do with any of the places I’ve worked or studied. I might have a lot of this wrong.

I went to an excellent conference this week, in Gent. It was the ’rounding up’ of a very cool project, the RadioPasts project which brought together research institutions and companies from all over Europe and beyond to try to figure out ways to understand complex archaeological sites without destroying them by excavation. I am full of admiration for the overall project and the work that was done within its purview. Some truly excellent things have been accomplished, as the colloquium clearly demonstrated…

.. but it has left me with some worries (though to be fair, the colloquium just brought them into focus- we talked about some of this at CAA last year, and ISAP the year before). First of all, in the realms of just how far we should go with elaborate reconstructions that are based on one source of information; for example, a magnetic survey. Having studied alongside the virtual pasts people during my MSc at Southampton, I am aware of just how careful a balancing act is needed between producing something that looks good, and is palatable to the public and funding bodies, and staying true to the inherent complexities and uncertainties of archaeology.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the work presented at the symposium was done with a high degree of integrity and authenticity, but I know the software tools exist that mean that I (or someone even less trained) could put something together that was visually indistinguishable but totally ‘incorrect’ on the basis of a poorly conducted and over-interpreted geophysical survey. And if I can’t tell the difference, what about the member of the public, or the council funding officer? I worry about this on two levels: firstly, that it is easy to do it badly, and secondly, that projects that aren’t going to produce these spectacular films are going to find it harder and harder to attract funding, either because the project doesn’t feel a reconstruction is needed, or the type of archaeology does not lend itself to this sort of visualisation. How many more gorgeous Roman cities do we really need? What about projects studying medieval farms, or ephemeral sites that don’t make pretty pictures? Surely that research is just as important?

I understand the analytical benefits of making reconstructions- they are an important test-bed for the impossible in our interpretations, but to have these models as the only end-goal? I worry…

I also worry, in a more complicated way, about the truth-value that is being increasingly assigned to digitally captured archaeological information, for example, in terrestrial laser scanning and geophysics. Take the scanning of upstanding archaeology; walls and so forth. Yes, it is true that in the past the plans and sketches and scale drawings made by a trained expert will necessarily contain an interpretation, decisions made about what detail to record, how to describe something. Reading the material as text and translating it. But I think this is part of the inherent value of such drawings: without interpretation then it isn’t archaeology. The raw stones don’t contain any particularly privileged truth. They’re just rocks until we read them. Yes, scanning captures detail quickly and without pre-judgement, and yes, it means that several people can have a look at that wall, even if it is subsequently destroyed, and come to different interpretations. But don’t imbue the digital record with some sort of ‘truthiness’ because it has been captured by high tech wizardry. The same goes for geophysics. We are now able to capture huge swathes of the landscape, seemingly in their entirety, in one continuum of digital data. But I know that each technique has it’s limitations; the visibility of certain anomalies might vary seasonally, or there might be a whole monument or village that is invisible to your chosen technique. I worry that we are moving into a place where the survey is seen as the end product, not the interpretation and the understanding of blank spots and limitations. I worry that we are making the picture so big we’ve forgotten we still don’t really understand the smallest of the details, but have decided not to worry about it, because if you stand back and squint, it looks like a map…..

So, I worry. And I wonder if I will ever feel like I know enough about epistemology and philosophy and truth values and knowledge creation, and physics and chemistry and maths to put this together in a better way. I’m staring at the tower wondering how the hell I am ever supposed to amass enough knowledge and experience to feel like I get to stand at the top and demand answers to my concerns.

I am really hoping that smarter people than me are worrying about this too. Perhaps we can talk about it at UK CAA in February? But lets all be nice to each other, eh? At the end of the day, we’re all wanting the same things: better interpretations of the past, and better ways to protect it and get people to know about it.

(In other news, I had a good week, great weekend last weekend and got a lot of PhD writing done 🙂 )


Last week on twitter I asked whether I should try to do a 365 project this year, or not… I started one when I moved to the Netherlands in 2011 and I made it to more than 250 and then it went a bit wrong. I like taking pictures but Ido feel like I want a bit of structure or a goal to aim for with them. But a picture every day just didn’t work for me; it’s very tough to find something I’m happy posting every single day, and on some days it’s equally impossible to pick just one picture to sum it all up.

Thankfully two different friends (@adammanning, and the awesome Rebecca Bennett) separately suggested making a ‘one picture a week’ project, which I think will work nicely. Bex had the great idea of writing a short blog about each picture, which I really like as well- it’ll give more context, and encourage me to blog. Thus #project52!

I’ll make a flickr album for #project52 shots and each should get their own blog post (except for perhaps fieldwork, when you might get a few at once when I get back), so I’ll set up  tags and categories here too.

I’m claiming last weeks’ Yoda quote as week one, and this week has a Star Wars theme too…

Red Leader #project52 week2

Red Leader #project52 week2

You might have gathered that Matt was here for a few weeks, and that we played a lot of boardgames… One of the games he got me was a neat space skirmish game set in the Star Wars universe; we had great fun chasing our respective X-Wings and Tie Fighters round my dining table. We also played a lot of Smallworld and Race for the Galaxy, and naturally, Civilisation. It made me realise how much I love gaming, in its many forms. Since I moved I’ve not really done any role-playing, except what I can fit in on trips back to the UK. I’ve made few half-hearted attempts to locate the local gaming community, but I’ve not joined any groups yet; too shy (!), and very aware of the effort I am asking people to make to play in english. As part of the ‘do or do not’ mentality I’m thinking about trying to organise a table-top game (that I would run), or some sort of regular board games night of my own, on slightly more familiar territory. Rather than having to walk into a pub-night full of strangers, and hope there is a game I can join… Pretty much my entire non-archaeological life in the UK revolved around gaming and other ‘geek’ pursuits; it is how I met Matt, and almost all of my friends. Part of the idea of coming here was not to treat it as a temporary life (which I feel I did a bit in Bournemouth during the PhD), but to embrace that for now, life is here. And gaming has always been part of my life. So now I need to get on and do it!

No Promises

… Last year I made some resolutions and really struggled to live up to them. The year before, I only made one promise, and that was to try harder… I think the latter worked better for me: rather than setting targets and getting upset and demoralised when I don’t meet them, deciding to push myself out of the comfort zone was good. I’m going to take it a step further this year, and stop trying, and DO. My Dad and I have had a lot of useful conversations about just getting on with it. No matter how terrifying, boring, unpleasant. Get rid of the paralysis and just get on with it. Running, writing, big things and little things. This, for me, means a lot of staring the scary things in life down rather than hiding from them.

The scariest thing I have to do this year is sort out what my life will look like next year. My current role runs out at the end of February in 2014, and given the lead-times on developing and funding research projects, that really isn’t very far away. This isn’t something I can ignore until next September, and it isn’t as simple as applying for jobs.

It means:

getting some stuff published…

..which in turn entails writing some stuff, which has been an issue in this last year.

It means getting serious about a load of ideas I have and being brave enough to share them with people and try to turn them into working projects that can keep me gainfully employed.

It means trying to be less outwardly unsure of myself, and projecting the other side of me that apparently knows what she is doing.

It means supporting Matt too, either finding a way for him to move here (including a job) or perhaps making the decision to go back to the UK. This one is tough. I miss my friends, the ready availability of bacon and cheddar, and being near my parents. But I don’t miss the government, a lot of the culture or the mess that is Higher Education at the moment. prospects for a job are a heck of a lot stronger in Europe than they will be at ‘home’ for quite a while. And living somewhere else appeals to my innate curiosity. But I think we’ve agreed, that if at all possible, 2013 should be our last year of living apart. It’s just that the how of together hasn’t been decided yet, and can’t be for a while.

I also think it means I need to get serious about learning Dutch rather than cobbling along as I have been.

So, pretty big task then. I am trying hard not to be daunted and to think of all the amazing things I get to do on the way. I’ll be in Italy at least twice next year, in Belgium in a few weeks, in Vienna at the end of May. Hopefully this will be the year M finally gets to visit Italy. With any luck he’ll love it as much as I do.

Looking back, 2012 was fast- as I said in my previous post. A hell of a lot happened- babies were born, people got married, we said goodbye to my Granddad Thom in the beautiful western highlands of Scotland. In the last few months, some pretty awful things have happened too. A friend found out before Christmas that her cancer has come back and this time it is terminal. She is my age, and has two little boys and an amazing husband. This is one of those things that makes me want to punch the universe in the face. The much loved big brother of an old friend from home is missing, and has been since the end of November. His family are also heartbroken. These things all remind me that it really is the little things that matter. Time with the people you love is always time well spent, if you recognise it. Don’t be complacent. I think that is my ‘lesson’ from 2012.

The Year of Yoda

The Year of Yoda

It has been a very Star Wars Christmas for us, so my motto for next year is ‘Do. Or do not. There is no try’.