Archive | August, 2012

Anthropology & Academia

25 Aug

Whilst having a break during attempted statistical analysis of some data I found this interesting article on Al Jazeera, via the ‘Archaeology’ group on a social networking site.  The author, Sarah Kendzior who is an an Anthropology PhD graduate,  draws attention to the plight of the anthropology postgraduate in academia.  Her article focuses on individuals who are facing tough times in gaining employment, and a living wage, in certain sections of American Academia due to the rise of adjunct professors and unpaid internships.  Added to this are the prohibitive costs of annual conferences that can cost a crippling amount of money to attend and which may not always deliver in content.

Graduates in Silhouette

From an article in the Guardian on networking and flexibility in the academic job market. Photo credit: Paul Barton/CORBIS.

This is similar to the upswing of a larger trend of unpaid internships right across the jobs market, in which competition is tough to gain vital work experience.  This has partly became prevalent due to the ongoing financial crisis, as it’s effects continue to ripple across the world, and various countries and businesses tighten their belts.  Part of this is also probably due to making academic work pay in a world where academic jobs can be scarce and the funding opportunities limited.

The article also rightly highlights the ‘walled garden’ effect of academic research, where access to research articles in respected journals can cost universities and institutions thousands of pounds a year to maintain.  I know that once I finish my MSc course a number of important and interesting journals will be unavailable for my perusal, due to the prohibitive cost of maintaining a subscription.  However, with the rise in the number of anthropology related blogs, such as Bones Don’t Lie and Powered By Osteons and websites such as Past Horizons, amongst many others, research is continuing to be disseminated freely across the internet.  The debate continues as to whether this type of information sharing and writing should be considered an academic publication though.

In other news Iran has recently proscribed a ban on females attending University in over 70 BA and BSc programs in 36 institutions across the country.  Protests have already begun, both internally and internationally, at the decision whilst Shirin Ebadi, a noted human rights campaigner, has called on the UN to investigate the situation.  Meanwhile in England there has been a drop in the number of University applicants this year, especially from mature students.  Although not a damaging percentage, the effects of the increase of tuition fees last year have led to many reconsidering the cost, and essentially the worth, of entering higher education.

If academia seeks to educate the masses, it must in some way help to represent the masses.

Note: Perhaps somewhat relevant to this post is the Editorial from a recent Antiquity issue.  In it Martin Carver denounces the lack of formal training in field archaeology or primary data collection that doctoral candidates are required to do for their award, compared to the amount of time spent in the library.  Also mentioned is the distinction of quality between book publications and research articles, the value of local archaeological groups and volunteers and the news of the recent destruction of Timbuktu’s ancient tombs in Mali.  It is well worth a read.

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A Trip to the Continent

15 Aug

In between bouts of writing for the thesis to bookend my MSc here at Sheffield, I managed to fit in a recent trip to northern France with the family.  As I will not be blogging as regularly as I would like at the moment, until at least the bulk of the thesis is finished, I’d thought I’d share some photographic highlights of the trip.  The smaller photographs can be clicked on to enlarge*.

Intricate masonry of the Amiens catheral.

Amiens 13th century Gothic cathedral, one of the tallest of its kind in France, near the Somme river. Constructed between AD1220-1247, the level of detail is beautiful, and is reminiscent of its more famous sister, Notre Dame, in Paris.

The first stop for the clan was the beautiful city of Amiens, a few hours drive from our crossing point into France.  A deceivingly small city, Amiens has largely preserved some of the finest medieval architecture I have laid my eyes on.  Somehow surviving the two world wars, the Gothic cathedral is a particular jewel in the crown for the city, with such detailed masonry work the likes of which I had not seen before.  Perhaps most impressively is that during the summer months the front of the cathedral is lit as it likely once appeared during the 13th and 14th centuries AD (video).

at night…

This included the clever use of detailed lamps to cast bright colours on the numerous saints, angels and bible scenes portrayed in such vivid and detailed masonry.  The contrast between the dry and dull stonework during the day, and the almost garish colours of the night, is impressive and one wonders what the sights of medieval Europe would have really have been like if they were today as they used to be.  If one were given to hyperbole, one would describe the night show at the cathedral as a piece of heaven on earth.  We sat with the stars shining brightly above whilst the classical music that was played helped to echo the beauty of the stonework.  An occasional gasp slipped from the crowd gathered, as we sat in awe at the beauty lit up before us.

A blissful few days where spent wandering along the riverside paths where Jules Verne once walked, and we admired the hortillonages, those man-made floating gardens among the marshlands of the rivers Somme and Avre.  Soon however it was time to move to Saint Simeon, a small village located in the countryside, just to the west of Paris.

A mock defensive late medieval tower at Provins.

The new accommodation proved a relaxing change of pace, with fresh bread brought daily to the site, and a swimming pool in which we hid to ward off the midday sun.

A day visit to the town of Provins proved worthwhile and delightful, as the town has retained its original medieval fortified wall and buildings.  Even better was the medieval show that a  group of  talented actors put on, much to the delight of the many families present.  Dueling knights, howling wolves, serfs, slaves, romance, and incredibly well trained pigs helped the medieval walls to speak of what they may have once seen (minus the trolls).

The surrounding countryside of northern France held a dark secret that could occasionally be discerned by the bumps in the  landscape.  Too often a sign could be seen for a cemetery, marking the spot where those brave soldiers who had died during World War One lay in permanent rest.  A visit to the Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme proved to be a sombre moment of thanks to those who had gone before us, and to those who still remained missing in action.

The remains of the trench systems are particularly well preserved and evident at the Canadian memorial to the Newfoundlanders who fought in the war.  Even to this day the physical remains of WW1 affect those that farm the land in northern France.  The so called ‘iron harvest‘ can be found dumped at the side of the fields, as the farmers lay aside the metallic debris of the war and the Western Front- the shells, shrapnel, grenades, barbed wire and the bullets that still litter the ground, and are ploughed up year after year.

From war to romance, as we visited the city of love, Paris, for a day.  There is nothing that I can add that hasn’t already been said about the city.  It is safe to say that one day is not enough for Paris, nor is one night.  Amiens sister cathedral, Notre Dame, was spied, entered and admired, whilst I managed to view Paris from her most famous landmark, the Eiffel Tower; that indomitable mistress that keeps watch over the city.  Built as a temporary structure for the 1889 Worlds Fair, she has continued her work as a tourist leader and telecommunications giant ever since.

The Eiffel Tower.

As we waited in the queue for the lift to the main viewing platform, my thoughts wandered to history, and that famous picture of Adolf Hitler standing and admiring his new prize in 1940.  It may seem odd to think such things in the city of love at such a romantic location, but to accompany me on holiday I had brought the sublime ‘In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century‘ travelogue by Geert Mak, and it had reached WW2 and the  ravages it left on the continent.

The Seine, the river that flows so majestically through Paris, accompanied our own walking tour as we spied various famous buildings and admired the artwork of the sellers and stalls which line its banks.  The Champs Elysees was walked along, whilst the Arc de triomphe was spotted whilst its modernist conceptual brother was framed behind it.  The sighting of Cleopatra’s Needle (actually Ramesses II obelisk) was accompanied by Napoleon’s Vendôme column, a few boulevards away.  Almost a copy of Trajan’s column, the Vendôme column celebrates Napoleon’s victory at the battle of Austerlitz in 1805.

A Parisian view: the river Seine in the foreground, and La Defense, the business district, in the background.

The Paris day trip was completed with a meal outside, within view of the Louvre, which houses Leonardo’s classic work, the Mona Lisa.  Unfortunately we did not get chance to enter the Louvre, but we did get chance to visit the Musee d’Orsay, which housed numerous paintings by the Impressionists, including  the artists Monet, Cezanne, and Manet.  My particular highlight was the chance to see Toulouse Lautrec’s paintings, and the Absinthe Drinker by Pablo Picasso.  The medium of art never ceases to surprise and move me.

Our final trip in France involved visiting the Chateau de Vaux Vicomte, a 17th century masterpiece of excess by Nicolas Fouquet, a minister in Louis XIV’s government.  The chateau was the result of Fouquet’s lavish lifestyle, and the work of three exceptional artists- Le Vau, Le Brun and le Notre.

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte, or Fouquet’s Folly.

The opening of the baroque chateau and extensive sculpted gardens was presented in front of the King, Louis XIV.  Such was the King’s fury at the grandeur that Fouquet had spent, or had misspent the country’s money, that after a mere two weeks of officially opening the Chateau Fouquet had began a sentence of life imprisonment, never to be released alive.  King Louis XIV subsequently used the three artists to design, sculpt and construct a large majority of the Palace of Versailles. Our day visit here ended in an eventful ride in one of the golf buggy’s available to visitors, piloted by yours truly.

And so the journey to our nearest continental neighbour withdrew to a close.  We bid farewell to the fine weather and food.  A return journey to France surely beckons, as the osteologist in me regrets not being able to visit the vast underground catacombs of Paris where many skeletons lay…

au revior France!

* All photographs in this entry have been taken by myself.

Guest Post: ‘Grampus Heritage & The EU Leonardo Da Vinci Training Programme’ by Joanne Wilkinson.

8 Aug

Joanne Wilkinson gained an undergraduate degree at the University of Nottingham, and has several years experience in commercial archaeology.  Since joining Grampus she has  been involved in a number of archaeological projects around Cumbria, northern England, as well as involvement in Grampus’s EU projects.  Her interests include Roman archaeology, swimming, and she is a board member of a festival committee.


Grampus Heritage and Training Ltd is a non-profit making organisation based in the North West of England. Since 1997 we have been involved in the management and promotion of European projects concerned with culture, heritage, archaeology and the environment. We are promoters of the EU Leonardo Da Vinci Training Programme and provide funded training opportunities through this programme to UK students, recent graduates and young workers to various European countries.

The placements are a chance for participants to experience how sites are run outside the UK. Although they are a training experience, the participants build in confidence as they use what ever they may know about field work as well as being trained in slightly different methods. The placements are not a transfer of UK methods to an EU country, but are a chance for participants to add other skills to their field work experience.

The placements are also a chance for participants to develop and build on their personal skills, as usually the groups live and work together, usually having only met at the airport on the day of departure from the UK. Although not obvious at first, this is also an important part of the placement, as a lot of field work in the UK may mean close quarter living conditions with people that you may not necessarily know.

Students Learning on the 2011 Magdeburg Placement.

Past participants have kept in touch with us and have let us know how they get on. Some Archaeological, Environmental and Traditional Craft participants have informed us that they have since gone back to work with our partners, have chosen to use the sites they have worked on as part of their studies as they continue their education and others have gone into employment after our placements, with one of participants confident that it was her experience on our placement that helped get her the shortlist for interview. In a competitive job market, they are something else to add to CV’s or help towards university quotas of field work for graduation.

The placements are a great chance for undergraduates and graduates to excavate abroad, especially if previously they have not been in a position to do so. We have a variety of periods across our placements from Neolithic to Medieval, allowing us to offer a diverse range of placement opportunities. The placements allow the group to either work together on research excavations or work on rescue excavations. Some allow the group to work with commercial units, others with university research teams, working both in the field and sometimes in the lab.

Undergraduate archaeological opportunities (EASE)

BulgariaRoman site– Roman Baths near the town of Hissarya, in which the Roman occupation is clearly visible. The group works on the baths, helping the archaeologists learn more about this interesting area.

Finland: Stone Age– Kierikki Stone Age Centre. Located near Oulu, the Centre has built up around the Stone Age settlement site and using the evidence found, there are reconstructed buildings, which sometimes our groups help out with during the placement. The Centre is also the location for a Stone Age fair, which our groups take part in every year.

GermanyMedieval Magdeburg- Medieval and other sites which the Unit and university are working on at the time of the placement. As the group work with a commercial unit as well as university, they experience the commercial side to archaeology as well as the research side.

Iceland: Middle Age Period/Field School – The group work on 2 sites during their placement, exposing them to the different methods used at the very different locations. By moving to 2 different sites, they get to see more of Iceland as well.

Portugal: Copper Age – The group work together with other volunteers, being trained on a Copper Age site that sits atop a hill in an area surrounded by significant local archaeological sites, including Palaeolithic open air engravings of the Côa River Valley UNESCO site.

SlovakiaBronze Age– The group continues working on a site that was found during development work and has revealed lots of Hatvan Culture pottery. 2012 saw the group opening and working on a site that was discovered in 2011 through survey which revealed large ditches, which may be the focus of future work.

EASE Slovakia Placement.

Graduate archaeological opportunities (GrEASE):

Bulgaria: Medieval Fortress– The group help the team continue working in the fortress, the past few years having resulted in the discovery of a church and associated grave yard. With the discovery of a castle, fourteen churches, residential areas, craft shops and street networks, Cherven is one of Bulgaria’s more important archaeological centres.

CyprusChristian Basilica – The group continues with work that has been ongoing for the last few years in the areas of the Basilica. The previous groups have helped to uncover intricate mosaic flooring with as many as 16 mosaics designs showing evidence of having origins from all over Cyprus.

IcelandMonastic – The groups have been focusing on a monastery and associated graves, helping the team through their project and assisting with the yearly aims and objectives. The skeletal remains, botanical remains and surgical instruments suggest strongly that the monastery served elderly and sick people.

Italy: Etruscan – The groups assist in the continued research excavations in to the Etruscan period of the area around Marsiliana. The groups have been working on a possible residential building in the hills as well as nearby necropoli.

Romania: Neolithic – New on offer from Grampus the group works with a university team on a Neolithic site. The most recent focus has been on burials of many individuals, whose remains indicate some unusual burial practices.

EASE Bulgaria Placement.

The outcome of our placements are for participants to practice any skills they do have, learn some new skills and methods they may otherwise not encounter in the UK and to see how sites are run outside the UK.  The EASE placements are training experiences, but the placements are not a transfer of UK practices, so the training is something different for participants to experience. We also want participants to put the placement on their CV to highlight the work they have done. We want people to come away from the placement with more enthusiasm towards their studies/career and to feel that they have contributed to research/rescue excavations.

These Bones of Mine Note:

I participated in the 2011 Magdeburg German placement via Grampus Heritage in the UK, and found it a wonderful experience.  It is highly recommended that undergraduates and graduates across the EU access and use programs such as the Leonardi Da Vinci scheme.  For myself, it has given lifelong memories and long lasting friendships.