Archive | January, 2014

Coursera MOOCs blocked in Sudan, Cuba and Iran

29 Jan

I have to say I am loving the Human Evolution: Past and Future MOOC (massive open online course) as it continues into the 2nd week.  I am not currently at university or in a position to access journal articles easily so I really value the fact that the team behind the MOOC and Coursera have put together such an informative and up to date course.  Could you imagine if you were taking part in that course, or any of the hundreds of other free online courses offered by Coursera, and woke up one day to find that your access to the course had been shut off?  Unfortunately that is now the reality for any one taking a Coursera MOOC in Iran, Cuba or Sudan.

In a blog entry dated to the 28th of January 2014 at 8.22pm Coursera declared that the US government had enacted a sanction on the US based course provider effectively blocking any access to courses in the above three countries.  Syria was also blocked but that has since been lifted.

Here is part of the transcript:

Providing access to education for everyone has always been at the core of Coursera’s mission, and it is with deep regret that we have had to make a change to our accessibility in some countries.

Certain United States export control regulations prohibit U.S. businesses, such as MOOC providers like Coursera, from offering services to users in sanctioned countries, including Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria. Under the law, certain aspects of Coursera’s course offerings are considered services and are therefore subject to restrictions in sanctioned countries, with the exception of Syria (see below).

Our global community is incredibly valuable to us and we remain committed to providing quality to education to all. During this time, we empathize with the frustrations of students who are affected by this change and we have made it a top priority to make rapid progress toward a solution” (Read the full entry here).

There are also worries that people living along the borders of these countries will also be affected by the ban.  Although Coursera is based in America there are a high number of its academic staff and organisation partners based all over the world.  This has affected many academic institutions and individuals.

I dearly hope this is temporary.  To my mind it seems a bit of a step backwards to limit the accessibility of free online academic courses.  I have blogged on related topics before about the value of MOOCs, of Iran’s often restrictive attitude to education, and I’ve also highlighted just how little a proportion of the world’s population have access to the internet itself.  I have also blogged before about my worries for net neutrality in a quickly changing world.

It has to be said that there are sadly a number of countries that ban or severely limit access to the world wide web, with China having a particularly strict firewall.  Some countries have a very limited internet capability while others simply have a very mobile population.

There are a number of programs and software installations that can be used to circumvent the IP address ban.  These can include VPN (Virtual Private Networks) or use of the free Tor software (see comments below though), a program which allows anonymity and censorship resistance and is widely used by the public, clandestine humanitarian centers and undercover agents.  There are a number of other methods that can be used as well – see here.  Be aware that the above methods of internet anonymity may be illegal in certain countries and is no way encouraged.

I will try to keep abreast of this development in the accessibility of Coursera MOOCs and I will update this entry as necessary and appropriate.

Advertisements

Blogging Archaeology: Best & Worst Posts

24 Jan

This is the third entry in a blogging carnival that Doug, of Doug’s Archaeology, started back in November last year.  Just another quick recap: the whole idea of this blog carnival was started by Doug after he saw that the Society for American Archaeology are having their 79th annual conference in Austin, Texas, in April 2014.  Doug specifically noticed that they are including a session on the rise of blogging in archaeology and, since he cannot be there himself, he thought it was pertinent to start a blogging carnival online to get the archaeology blogosphere alive with monthly questions.  The questions are posted at his site in the first week of each month.

blogging-archaeology1111

The best and worst, readers may notice the slow evolution of this banner! I spent more time on this than I care to admit (Image credit, remixed with MS Paint).

Last month a total of 58 amazing bloggers joined in answering the December topic of the Good, Bad and Ugly of blogging archaeology.  This is an awesome number of people involved in spreading the word about the joy and sorrows of blogging about archaeology.  My entry for December can be read here.  Remember that if you are a blogger writing and posting about archaeology and you want to take part then go right ahead!  Feel free to join at any point, answering the past questions is also encouraged.  The previous past few months questions can be found here, please do jump in and join us!

January’s topic is the best and worst posts.  The topic is actually quite diverse and allows the blogger to approach it from whichever angle they want, either by looking at blog statistics or by talking qualitatively about the posts.  I think it would be pertinent of me to discuss the posts in both ways.  As much as I babble on about the blog here I rarely mention the site in person.  Regardless I’ve always tried to be open about the blog’s visitor statistics, topics discussed and sources used on the blog itself.

Defining Best & Worst

I really think only the audience can decide whether posts are good or bad.  I know, this is a very lazy way of getting out of the question!  But seriously I enjoy writing the majority of the posts here and I am happy to have produced a few that question politics in archaeology/forensic anthropology.  Another bench mark that seems to be pretty popular for measuring good and worst amongst the blogging carnival goers is a statistical breakdown of the blog entry hits.  For this blog it is undoubtedly the skeletal series posts that provide the big hits with the most views.  As I’ve stated in an earlier carnival post the skeletal series was, to me, my unique selling point.  It is a series of, as of yet, unfinished posts breaking down the constitute parts of the human skeleton (I will honestly finish them soonish).  This naturally has cross over value for the medical fields and natural sciences, as well as to the aimed audience of the archaeology, human osteology, physical anthropology and bioarchaeology fields.  I must say though that some of my best, or favourite, entries are ones I haven’t even wrote myself.  The are of course the interviews or guest posts.

As for worst? Hmm that is tricky one.  I have a few posts that don’t really say anything at all, but they are a part of how the user uses the blog and how this develops naturally I’d say.  I think I have changed in some way from how I originally used it to how I do now, but this is just a natural progression of what works and what doesn’t.  For instance I once just posted a song (a smashing song though!) that wouldn’t really be of much archaeological value to viewers of the site, but it does have an integral meaning to me as to how I think about cultures and the processes that play behind the veil of archaeology (plus Gogol Bordello are amazing).

Statistics: An Addictive Evil

There is no getting away from the fact that it is a small to mild thrill to check how many visits your site gets each day or so, and it is equally interesting to see the inevitable slumps and to hypothesize why they appear.  The weekly stats are also vaguely reminiscent of medieval ridge and furrow landscape features, reminders of a past long gone.  Although WordPress go out of their way to tell you how to optimize blog visits (I, for one, never knew about slugs before!), it really is up to the blogger how much they advertise the site.  I also include a large categories list and blog roll so the interested audience can click on whatever takes their fancy.  In fact, apart from sometimes posting a blog entry on Facebook, I almost never advertise the site.  To many this is probably a good way to kick yourself in the face but I do try interact with other bloggers and the folk that kindly email me.  This is important in my view as blogging is a community: you talk to each other and learn from each other.  Who knows, you may make a few good friends as well.  The one other important rule that should be kept in mind for all bloggers seeking a bigger audience is to simply keep writing and producing posts!

So because I’ve always been open and transparent about the site, let’s now have a look at the statistics and try to see if we can see any trends.

The first thing to notice is the overall views for the blog, which is currently standing around 937,913 views from February 2011 to the current day (it is probably just me refreshing the page!).  This is a good figure I believe, especially for a specialist blog such as this.  There are 257 subscribers to the blog, a low number in relation to the views (maybe because I keep the email button on the bottom left?).  Around 453 comments, half of which are me replying I believe, but is none-the-less a good turnout for the books.  The best ever one day for views was 4354 views back in 2012, which was pretty sweet and surprising.  As far as I can ascertain, or guess, I believe the blog views are fairly consist throughout a 24hr period, with no obvious peak viewing time noticed so far.

Okay, so moving to the badly done cut and paste paint graphs below we can see some fairly obvious and repetitive trends occurring.  In graph A, which shows individual days, we can see a pattern whereby the blog is more popular for views during the weekday, that is Monday to Friday, as oppose to the weekends.  Not particularly surprising as people will be learning or reading online at this point if they are at work or studying.  Furthermore in graph A we can see some movement towards higher viewers from late December until today’s date.  Not unexpected as we are moving away from a holiday period to one where work and study returns to a normal pace.

Moving to graph B, and the number of views per week, we see a fairly consistent fall of views during the holiday weeks as suggested by the day graph.  The summer period is noticeably quiet whilst the September/October/November periods are visibly quite busy.  My initial theory is based purely on academic timetables and the fact that the first semester tends to be a heavy onslaught, especially at the Masters level where in most UK universities the teaching of human osteology and anatomy is most hands on at this point.  However, as Doug has pointed out in the comments below, it could also reflect an archaeologists yearly working pattern.

Blogstatssss

My statistics for the These Bones of Mine blog and yes, I used MS Paint.  Initial thoughts on a) days: ah it is going up, b) weeks: aw it is all over the place but mostly down compared to a few months ago, c) months: ah it is really down compared to 2012!  The differing blue bars highlight the fact that the site gets more views than actual visitors, but also note that this only came into effect around November/December 2012.  The date for the stats go up to today, the 23rd of January 2014.  (Click to enlarge).

In graph C we can see some longer month-long trends of the blog.  Perhaps most interesting is the peak of 80,000 plus views in October 2012, a distinct outlier, although a sudden and vaguely sustained peak is also noted for December 2011.  Then we can see the great fall (I am holding back the tears!) starting around February/March of 2013.  I am curious as this leads in with the change that WordPress made with the viewer stats, from lumping them all together as views to separating them to views and visitors in December 2013.  Either way I am not too sure that would make that much of a difference looking at the views altogether.  Sometimes Google just degrades you!  What we can say is that we see the October trend, or what I am calling the First Semester Panic, is still distinct in each year of the blog.  Summer also tends to be a dead time, likely due to extensive fieldwork being carried out.  All in all I think the viewing stats back up my lazy assumption of academia having a fairly strong exertion or influence on when the blog is viewed (1, but also check comments).

From the counter stats of the countries the viewers come from it is evident to see that the majority of the visitors are American, but the majority of net traffic is routed through America plus the country runs a lot of forensic anthropology and physical anthropology courses with often great internet access for the population.  As such it is naturally a fairly big market.  Second is the United Kingdom with Canada coming in at a distant third,  the top three being all predominantly English-speaking countries (please note the country stats only go back to February 25th 2012).  After this it is kind of free for all, with countries such as France, Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand, Germany and South Africa all having fair hits in the low thousands.  There are only a few countries that I’ve had no hits from whatsoever, unsurprisingly including North Korea as well as some sub-Saharan African countries.

Moving onto the individual blog entry views can see that there is no real surprise in which posts are the highest viewed.  People seem to like their bones!  There isn’t too much to say in area either, although I am always curious as to what the outcomes would be if I changed the appearance or menus of the blog outlay.

Blogstatsjan23alltime

Statistics for the number of hits per blog entry, although I have cut them off as there are now around 150 separate blog entries. Note the very high number visiting the home page/archives of the site, probably due in some part to the large categories menu. Unsurprisingly the skeletal series posts are the most popular, with functional posts appearing higher on the list than reflective posts, guest posts or link posts. From the beginning of the blog until January 23rd 2014 (Click to enlarge, yes I used MS Paint again!).

For some reason that beats me the post about the ribs is particularly popular, although by far and away the most popular post is the biological basis of bone and the anatomical terminology with a quite staggering 33,240 individual views.  Thus I am sure you can imagine my horror when I went back to it recently and realised it severely needed a grammar and spelling miracle work-over.  All top individual posts (discounting home page/archives) are to do with human osteology and not strictly archaeology at all, which is pretty interesting in itself.

Qualitative Reasoning: A Thoughtful Devil

By far and away the best posts are the ones where I have had active feedback.  However some of my personal favourite posts are the two interviews I have conducted so far.  The first interview with Lorna Tilley on the new 2011 Bioarchaeology of Care methodology for investigating care-giving in the archaeological record has led to some fruitful discussion on research ideas and proposals.  Also the opportunity has given me the lovely experience of being able to share my osteoarchaeological passion and photographic interests with a lovely person.  The second interview, with Stuart Rathbone on field archaeology, has provided me with a great opportunity to learn more about commercial archaeology in Ireland and Britain.  It was really interesting to his views about the field as a whole, the impact of the economic climate and what the archaeology excavations can do to the body.

Also I don’t think it would be right to highlight some of my best posts without mentioning the wonderful guest bloggers, each and every one who have taken their time to read my ridiculous blog briefs and have written interesting and varied entries.  Further to this I see it as almost a prerequisite of blogging that, where you can, you highlight the work and value of other bloggers, particularly of course those that are in a similar field.  I have tried to do this, to highlight the vast shared wonder of the archaeological and osteological fields through the vast many blogs out there, but it may be a quixotic ideal for this blog alone.

Conclusion

I should probably spend a bit less time staring at the screen and open that door to the great wide world!  Joking aside, I am happy with the blog and the audience it has managed to reach.  At the end of the day it all comes down to the viewing audience, the feedback on the site and the fantastic interviews and guest posts.  So in a nutshell, my best posts aren’t my best posts at all, they are your posts.

The next blogging carnival question will be up at Doug’s Archaeology in early February so please do jump in and join!  The summation of the January blogging carnival topic of best and worst blog posts will also be up at the same time.

Notes

(1). I’d love to hear other archaeology bloggers feedback of this, whether I am just seeing patterns and making wild hypothesise or you are also getting the same patterns as my statistics likely demonstrate.  Feel free to comment or email me.

Palaeo Updates: Call for Palaeoanthropologists to Study Rising Star Hominin Remains and Start of John Hawks Human Evolution MOOC

22 Jan

Another quick post here but one that highlights a project that is pretty impressive in its implications for palaeoanthropology.  Also noted here is the start of a MOOC (Massively open online course) on human evolution that may interest the readers of this blog.

The Rising Star Expedition in South Africa has uncovered around 1200 skeletal elements from around 12 individual hominins in the first season of excavation, an unparalleled find in the excavation of palaeoanthropological sites.  Now the project is advertising openly for early career scientists to examine and describe the skeletal remains found in the cave (my favourite quote: “Palaeoheaven has arrived, it’s just solid fossils”).  This is a unique opportunity in the field of paelaeoanthropology.  Typically fossil hominin sites are kept secret with only a lucky few allowed access to prepare, study and describe the fossils once they have been carefully excavated on site and taken to a palaeo laboratory to be looked at in more detail.  This is usually a process that can take years of careful work by a small team.

But the Rising Star Expedition has been different from the very beginning, with key members of the team tweeting and blogging every incredible scene of the South African cave site and openly advertising for participants.  Now the team have advertised for early career scientists to apply for the chance to study the hominin fossils.  As stated on John Hawks blog entry on the advertisement, the Rising Star team want to recruit a large group of scientists to come together for a five-week long workshop in May/June of this year to study the remains and produce the first high quality and high impact research papers on this batch of fossil hominins.

Here is Rising Star director Lee Berger’s open invitation to study the hominin remains gathered from the Rising Star Expedition project in South Africa:

risingstarr2014

The announcement by Lee Berger, professor at the university of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and describer of Australopithecus sediba, found at the Malapa site.

Graduate students who have finished their data collection, and have the support of their supervisors, will also be considered for the opportunity.  As John Hawks states in his blog post the applicant for the workshop should be very clear in stating their experience and the datasets that they can bring to the project, be clear about your own skills, knowledge and value and do not be afraid to apply.  This is a fantastic opportunity to be involved in the study of human evolution, at the very cutting edge of the research.  I wish all the applicants the best of luck and I look forward to the dissemination of the research itself.

In other news today marks the beginning of the 8 week free MOOC course on Human Evolution: Past and Future produced by the aforementioned palaeoanthropologist John Hawks.  The MOOC, provided by Coursera, takes a in-depth look at human evolution detailing not just the complexity of the fossil record but also of the genetic record.  The course includes all the exciting news from the Rising Star Expedition and exciting footage and interviews with palaeoanthropologists at sites from around the world (including the Dmanisi site in Georgia, Malapa in South Africa and others).

I am particularly looking forward to the discussion of human evolution within the past 10,000 years and the stunning advancements made with extracting ancient DNA from fossil hominins.  I joined this course a few months ago when I first mentioned the course on this blog but you can still join up now.  Just remember that the course is split up into weekly topics so you may not want to miss one.  I have so far watched the majority of the interesting and well presented videos for the first week, the focus of which is our place among the primates.  I cannot wait to join in and participate in the course fully, hope to see you there!

Find Out More

Open Access Button & r/Scholar

20 Jan

A friend (1) has just informed me of the fantastic Open Access Button plugin tool, a scheme started by medical students who were frustrated by research pay walls online.

All you have to do is install the link on your toolbar and each time you come across a paper or article you cannot access you simply click the link.  A side panel appears where you fill the boxes with the article URL, the digital object identifier (DOI), add a quick article description and add a reason why you need to access the research and then submit it.  This then lets users, the public and professionals, know where research is being pay wall blocked and adds the link to a geographic map of the world informing other users of problems.  It is hoped that the button will show the impact of academic pay walls on research dissemination and produce data on the worldwide distribution of access to research papers.

OAB

The Open Access Button logo (Image credit: David Carroll & Joseph McArthur/OAB).

Also available is the fantastic Reddit scholar thread where you can request any article needed that is pay walled and another Reddit user will provide you with the article, usually within a very small time frame.  This is a fantastic use of the combination of supply and demand for academic access to research articles by individuals who are dedicated to sharing resources.

I’ve installed the open access plugin and it shall be used when I cannot access pay wall blocked articles to learn about the latest updates in human osteology and bioarchaeology.  At the current moment I am finding a lot of articles I try to read are often blocked by pay walls, leaving only the abstract to tantalize me with the forbidden fruits of academic research.  This is frustrating as I am trying to find articles relating to physical impairment in the past and I am finding that the knowledge is out there but it is locked beyond my means to access it.

Update 20/01/14

I have just used the button to report an article I could not access and, quite wonderfully, the plugin suggested several other articles to consider and other sites where I may find the article that I was originally looking for.

Notes

(1.) My friend is one of three authors of the fantastic Scatterfeed blog, a site dedicated to science and nature.  It is well worth checking the site.

Further Information

  • Open Access Button blog site can be found here.
  • The Open Access Button main site can be found here.
  • The r/Scholar Reddit forum can be found here.

‘A Field In England’: A Trip Into The Psychotropic 17th Century

16 Jan

“I’d give anything for a good stew and a belly full of beer” announces one character shortly into the 2013 feature film A Field In England.  So may the audience at the closing credits of this delightfully dark, thoughtful and surreal film, having endured a turbulent 91 minutes in mid 17th century England wracked by an off-screen civil war.

Directed by Ben Wheatley, with a script by Amy Jump, A Field in England depicts the short journey of a ramshackle group of four men (Whitehead, Friend, Cutler and Jacob) who, having been traumatized and disillusioned by blood shed in civil war riven England (1642-1651 AD), desert the battlefield and seek solace searching for a fabled ale-house instead.  Only to their displeasure do they find that, during their desperate ramble, they come under the somewhat demonic spell of O’Neil, a man hellbent on finding treasure in a field who subsequently forces the four deserters to prospect and dig for suspected gold.  This is a necessarily brief synopsis because the film simply has to be seen to be understood although repeated viewings are recommended, if not required, for this slab of a historical film that potently mixes psychedelia and surrealism.

fieldineng2

A poster for the film, which was released in 2013. The feature draws obvious creative parallels with the Hammer Horror productions, although influences can also be detected from such classic films as the Witchfinder General (1968) and The Wicker Man (1973) (Image credit: Mr&MrsWheatly).

Somewhat uniquely in British movie history the film was released simultaneously to the general audience at theaters, screened on Film 4, and made available both on video-on-demand and to purchase on DVD, all on the same day.  A Field In England was filmed entirely in monochrome and relies heavily on the dialogue to help drive the momentum of the action forward.

Having said that it is the film’s kaleidoscopic use of visual and sound effects that propel it into the surreal genre, with effective use of disorienting shots of the main characters helping to enforce the viewer to become uncomfortably close to all of them, whatever the audiences feelings on the characters motivations.  As the Guardian review of the film points out, it is the distinctive use of the films tableaux shots, long shots and often unexplained scenes that help to highlight and intensify the rare violent viscosity of the characters actions in the film itself (Bradshaw 2013).

Throughout the film there is a great earthly humour present in the dialogue throughout the film, which is richly veined with flashes of Shakespearean wit and character exposition.  Though it must be noted that the audience is never entirely sure on which side of the civil war that the characters each sit on.  Allusions to the fracturing of the fabric of society are noted throughout the film, both through the dialogue and through the monochrome visual effects used.  This is perhaps most notable during the breakdown of one the characters who has been indulging in magic mushrooms.  It has to be said that monochrome psychedelic images can be quite unsettling, but they are also extremely mesmerizing and effective, perhaps non more so than during Whitefield’s mushroom influenced experience.

fieldinengland

A still from A Field in England depicting the disturbing use of the magic O’Neil uses on one of the main characters.  In particular it is the use of sound during this tableaux scene that really lifts it as a whole, making it both distinctly uncomfortable but also unnervingly rather watchable.

As stated above the film does contain rare instances of fairly graphic violence, but it is largely in the form of interpersonal violence conducted between the small group of relative strangers that form the core of the characters in the film (minus the introductory scene).  Interestingly, for me at least, there were occurrences of firearm injuries that demonstrated the rather horrible effect of neat entry wounds and the large exit wounds that projectiles can inflict if they exit the body (Aufderheide & Martin-Rodriquez 2006: 28).  I’ve tried not to give any spoilers in this quick review but, archaeologically speaking, the skeletal remains and funerary context of the individuals who perish in this film would certainly give the archaeologists some interesting theories to debate.  Although it would not be the first time that human burials from the English civil war have intrigued archaeologists as the mass grave site found at All Saints church in York demonstrates (McIntyre & Bruce 2010: 36).

A Field in England also combines the characters doubts of the existence of God with discussions of the occult as O’Neil displays a distinct attachment to magic and charms, professing himself to be almost a necromancer.  In one particularly entrancing scene he manages to wrap ropes around Whitehead and use him as a human divining tool to locate his buried treasure.  In another scene he is seen clasping a black ceramic dish that has a significant and deep meaning for him and he implies it can see into the past, present and future.  Merrifield (1987) and Brück (1999) have highlighted the significant wealth in the material archaeological record that can, on occasion, lead to valid interpretations of the importance of ritual functionality and the role of magic in historic and prehistoric societies.  This is worth keeping in mind, particularly with A Field In England, as the film demonstrates the intermingling of the Christian faith with pagan practices, a probably common feature of medieval and late medieval England (Gilchrist 2008: 153).

In a variety of ways the film also reminded me vividly of Andrey Platonov’s novel The Foundation Pit.  This was particularly evident during the last third of the movie where the nature of the treasure is revealed for, as in both Wheatley’s film and Platonov’s book, the pit is never simply just a hole in the ground but a striking metaphor for society, in this case one that seemingly subsumes the bodies of those that question it (Platonov 2010: 224).  The Foundation Pit also dealt deftly with the symbolism of the vying individual and the collectivist state and the struggle between the two, similar in tone to the backdrop role that the civil war plays in this film that so sparks the characters to openly question society, death and the absence of God throughout the feature.    

Although I thoroughly enjoyed watching A Field In England, it is clearly not a film for everyone.  There is no doubt that the non-linear nature of the film will confuse many (and leave unanswered questions proposed by the viewer), but the film openly welcomes repeated viewings.  Regardless of this, I would recommend the film highly as it challenges the convention that historical films have to abide by strict cinematic convention.  Indeed this film actively calls for open interpretation and reflective thinking.  This is a playful and subversive film, one that is not afraid to stray into experimental territory to expose the flaws of the characters and to highlight the fundamental changes in the English civil war era.

Bibliography

Aufderheide, A. C. & Rodriquez-Martin, C. 2006. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Palaeopathology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

A Field In England. 2013. Film. Directed by Ben Wheatley. United Kingdom: Rook Films.

Bradshaw, P. 2013. A Field In England – Review. The Guardian. 4th July 2013. Accessed 16/01/13.

Brück, J. 1999. Archaeology Ritual and Rationality: Some Problems of Interpretation in European Archaeology. European Journal of Archaeology2: 313-343. (Abstract).

Gilchrist, R. 2008. Magic for the Dead? The Archaeology of Magic in Later Medieval BurialsMedieval Archaeology. 52: 119-159. (Full article).

McIntyre, L. & Bruce, G. 2010. Excavating All Saints: A Medieval Church Rediscovered. Current Archaeology. 245: 30-37. (Full article).

Merrifield, R. 1987. The Archaeology of Ritual and Magic. London: B.T. Batsford.

Platonov, A. 2010. The Foundation Pit. London: Vintage.

‘Bioarchaeology: Interpreting Behaviour from the Human Skeleton’ by Clark Spencer Larsen

13 Jan

For me there are two key books that are needed in the human osteologist’s  personal library for reference that highlight the value of the trade (1).  The first one, perhaps unsurprisingly, is White & Folkens 2005 book The Human Bone Manual.  It is a book that I’ve mentioned plenty of times here, and it is one that remains the combined field/laboratory bible for identifying fragments and individual bones of the human skeletal system.  Although the authors, along with Michael T. Black, released a 3rd edition of the Human Osteology book in 2011 (a heavier reverential tome with input on palaeontology and forensics), the human bone manual itself remains the best easy-to-transport identification book on the market today – a beautifully realised manual which is hardy and ready for the field and the lab, for the under-graduates and the professionals alike.

The second book for me however highlights the true wealth that knowledge of human osteology can unlock in the archaeological record, especially when interpreting past human behaviour from a number of different cultures in an international context.  It is, of course, Clark Spencer Larsen’s 1997 book Bioarchaeology: Interpreting Behaviour from the Human Skeleton (2) (published as part of the Cambridge Studies in Biological and Evolutionary Anthropology series).  Illuminating in its archaeological scope and international context, the book is itself a marvel and a testament to the great breadth and depth of the bioarchaeological work that has been carried out as a whole in the discipline.  If there is a single book that I could recommend to an audience who is interested in learning about bioarchaeology work and the value of interpreting the skeletal record that it would be this comprehensive book.

Larsennnnnn

Weighing in at 461 pages, Larsen’s book will ground the reader in the scientific approaches used to ascertain behaviour from the human skeleton in the archaeological record (Image credit: source).

Clark Spencer Larsen is incredibly well positioned to have produced such a tome as he has with this book.  Currently a Distinguished Professor of Social and Behaviour Sciences at the department of anthropology at the Ohio State University, Larsen has focused his diverse skills as a researcher in producing a very fine synthesis of the value of bioarchaeology.  In particular by focusing on human behaviour, as can be inferred from human skeletal material, Larsen highlights the very real and integral worth of the study of human osteology and bioarchaeology in the wider historical context.

The book is therefore split into discrete chapters that deal with specific clusters in the osteological record, each with their own introduction, over 461 pages.  Topics include but are not limited to: injury or violent death, activity patterns, stress and deprivation markers during growth, infectious pathogens, isotope and chemical signatures in bone.  There is also extensive discussions on skeletal variations in populations.  It is, to put it simply, an invigorating, engaging and a wide-ranging read.  Larsen confidently sets out his view that skeletal remains have so much to offer in understanding the past lifestyles and behaviours of cultures, populations and individuals from the archaeological record.  The diagrams are often clean and easy to read, although some of the black and white photographs suffer from a loss of clarity in my paperback version of the 1999 reprint.

Larsen includes a reflective final chapter on the changes and challenges in bioarchaeology, noting the differences used in data recording standards, highlighting problems of sample representation and raising issues involved in cultural patrimony.  In particular he highlights the osteological paradox in the inference of health and lifestyle, noting that continued advances in bioarchaeology must always go hand in hand with diligence on a part of the researcher in understanding the very real and necessary limitations of the data set (Larsen 1999: 337).  He ends, somewhat emphatically, with the statement that “the chance is now at hand for sharing this information widely, especially regarding the large and crucial part that human biology and bioarchaeology play in understanding the history of the human condition” (Larsen 1999: 342).

There are however a few caveats I would add to anyone reading this rather wonderful book.

It should be noted here that the book itself is a synthesis of the bioarchaeological record as it stood in 1997, and as such it is assumed that the reader is already relatively cognizant of the terminology used when discussing the human skeletal system and the wider application of human osteology in archaeological remains.  Having said that Larsen does provide a straightforward introduction to both the book and human skeletal biology in the first chapter.  Personally I approached this book after first reading the White and Folkens (2005) human bone manual and Mays (1999) book on the use of human remains in archaeology when I realised during my undergraduate degree that I wanted to specialise in this area of research.

For those that are unused to reading academic textbooks there could also be a jarring issue with the sheer amount of references used throughout the text.  The referencing system used here (as in most archaeological departments, journals and books) is the Harvard system, where the author(s) and year of publication are stated within the sentence itself.  As such this can lead to fragmented and broken sentences that can potentially be tough to digest on a first read.  The upshot of this, and I would argue that it is a big one, is that half of the page is not taken up with footnotes.  Further to this there is an incredible bibliography at the end of the book detailing each of the articles cited within the main text – it is a veritable goldmine for researchers and interested readers who went to delve further into the techniques used in bioarchaeology.

Larsen’s book is still a first edition that has not been updated since the original publication date of 1997, thus the reader should be aware that there have been marked advances in certain fields in bioarchaeology.  This is perhaps most deftly illustrated in the discussion of chemical and genetic markers, which are commonly used in bioarchaeology, specifically the changes in the way stable light isotopes are used and the quite incredible advances in understanding and sequencing ancient DNA from archaeological bone (Killgrove 2013).  There will likely be other instances where the information provided may now be out of date within the purview of the current scientific literature.  I have heard that Larsen is producing a second up to date edition of ‘Bioarchaeology’ (I would readily buy a second edition as soon as it was published), but I have heard no firm knowledge of this as of yet.  I have also had the pleasure of watching Larsen talk at a conference in Wales that I attended a few years ago on the topic of the Neolithic period and the lifestyle change from hunter-gathering to farming, and I remain upbeat to read more of his prestigious work.

Although I have highlighted a few caveats to be aware of when reading this book I would recommend it without doubt; it is only one of the few bioarchaeological books out there that attempts to take in the whole glorious sweep of bioarchaeological knowledge for a general and interested audience, detailing where the field is heading and why we, as practitioners, must insist on the importance of studying the human skeleton in the archaeological record.

Notes

(1) It should also be noted here that there are human osteological standards available (Schwartz 2006, Buikstra & Ubelaker 1994) but they are not discussed here.

(2) Please note that this book is not a standard for interpreting and studying skeletal material first hand, but rather a book that demonstrates the breadth of bioarchaeological knowledge and discusses some of the approaches used.

Bibliography

Larsen, C. S. 1997. Bioarchaeology: Interpreting Behaviour from the Human Skeleton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Killgrove K. 2013. Bioarchaeology. In Oxford Bibliographies Online – Anthropology. (ed.) Jackson, J.L. Jr. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mays, S. 1999. The Archaeology of Human Bones. Glasgow: Bell & Bain Ltd.

Schwartz, J. H. 2007. Skeleton Keys: An Introduction to Human Skeletal Morphology. New York: Oxford University Press.

White, T. & Folkens, P. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. London: Elsevier Academic Press.

Questions to Remember when Considering a Human Osteology Postgraduate Course

8 Jan

This post is a follow-up the now-updated Human Osteology Postgraduate Courses In The UK post that I produced last year (which is kept up to date, so please leave a comment below or email me if you know of any courses that should be added).  Whereas that post dealt with the cold hard facts of which universities in the UK offer human osteology courses this post will deal with you, the student.  The post is aimed at those who are interested in pursing a master’s degree in human osteology, either as a Masters of Science or a Masters of Art, as it is at this level that the course goes into the depth of detail needed to either go into research or into commercial archaeology.  I believe that it is vital that you know the course that you want to go on but that you also know the reputation of the department, what the course offered entails and what your prospects are job-wise after you have completed the course.  As this post is aimed at universities within the UK bare in mind that travel distances are fairly minimal compared to continental Europe or elsewhere, however the pound is a fairly strong currency and, as such, it can be expensive to live here.

So without further ado I present here a quick list of thoughts* to think about before you apply for a course in human osteology.  Please bare in mind that although this post has been produced with the UK in mind it can, or could, be applicable for any other country where the student is considering applying for a master’s degree in human osteology.

skull-saxon

1) Think Carefully Before Committing

Pursing a masters course in human osteology is not a course to be taken lightly as it will incur a significant financial commitment, both for the course itself and for the accommodation and living costs whilst studying for the degree.  It pays to think carefully about your interest in a specific specialist course in archaeology and whether you could make a career from it or not, therefore it is worth seeking advice out whilst at the undergraduate stage.  Further to this it is wise to remember that many universities will want to see a 2.1 Upper Second Class degree attained at the undergraduate level whilst some courses do preferably ask for 1st class degrees before being considered for a Master’s program.

However, stating that, experience and knowledge can count for an awful lot, especially demonstrable knowledge and experience (i.e. volunteering or working for an archaeological unit).  By taking the time and effort to gain excavation and post-excavation experience (especially bone processing) it will show determination and a willing effort to learn on your behalf.  A final piece of advice for this part is to be honest with yourself regarding what your options are.  The majority of human osteology courses in the UK are available as a full-time course only, although a select few have been known to offer them as part-time courses.  It is always worth asking the course director for further information.

2) Know The Courses On Offer

It always pays to be informed of archaeology departments that offer human osteology as a taught or research Master’s.  There will be certain criteria which will impose limits on the options of courses available to you, whether they are imposed by outside factors or factors of your own choosing.  Necessarily the list will often include financial cost, travel times and extent of knowledge of academic universities.  I would heavily advise that you spend time reading through departmental literature to get a feeling for each academic course under consideration, and to make a note of the facilities that each department has.  A great way for feeling what the strengths of a department are is by looking at past research topics (in the form of dissertations) and by looking carefully at the modular choices on offer.  Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, isolate what you most want out of such a degree, what your research interests are and what department can best serve you.  Different courses have different focuses, for example the University of Durham’s MSc in Palaeopathology course specifically focuses on trauma and pathology in the human skeleton, whilst the University of Exeter’s MSc in Bioarchaeology course focuses on a range of topics in biological archaeology, including plant and animal remains.

Remember to also consider the course director and associated teaching staff research interests as they may correlate with yours, which would be beneficial.  Pertinent questions to consider are:

Does the department have the technical expertise or the right equipment on hand or on site?

Does the department have a fully kitted out human osteology lab or will you be cramped for space?

Would you have access to the human osteology lab at all hours or only during week days?

What modules does the course offer and what modules are core or free selective choices?

What scholarships or funds are available for you to apply for?

When this has been considered I would email the course director with a few basic questions pertaining to how successful the course is, success rate of employment afterwards, and by directly asking what the strengths of the course are.  You will need to be careful in keeping the email concise, polite and straight-forward as course directors are usually busy people!  Further to this I heavily advise emailing a current student of the course or a PhD research student, politely asking questions directly on what their views are of the masters course and of the department as a whole.  This will bring you a generally much more honest answer from someone who is not tied down to the department directly.  You can also get in touch with people from the British Archaeological Jobs and Resources group at their forums or the Facebook group and as k the great British archaeological hive mind for advice and experience.

3) Attend Open Days

Be aware that when emailing staff members and research students it may take some time for a response, be patient as they are often very busy people dealing with a wide range of pressures and deadlines.  Once you have narrowed down the course wish list I would advise attending a departmental open day to see for yourself what the atmosphere is like.  Are the staff friendly?  Ask the staff questions and do not be afraid to mention your interests and any considerations you are having.  If you can attend open days try to see each university that interests you, and even some that don’t quite offer the course you want but offer interesting alternatives.  You never know what actually attending a university open day will quite be like, and it could lead you down a research alley or area of interest that you had not considered before.

4) Decision Time

Having isolated the university courses of interest, emailed course directors and current student,s and having toured various university departments and campuses, you are now in a good position to be able to select at human osteology course that you want to pursue.  This is the period where you get to sell yourself to the department by highlighting how attractive you are as a future student for their department.  Also be aware that you are paying money to attend a course and to receive tuition.  The majority of human osteology courses in the UK are taught at internationally recognised institutions, some of which have set the bar for how the courses should be taught.  Remember however that times change, get views now on what is happening in the department, what changes are expected to come and what resources will be available for the foreseeable future.

It also pays to remember that it does not have to one university specifically, pick a range of 3 or 4 ideal universities that offer courses that you are interested, maybe even pick 3 different ones that offer different aspects of the topic that the others do not.  I personally picked the University of Sheffield for my choice of human osteology courses specifically because it was the only program that offered human dissection in a separate human anatomy module, whilst also offering 3 modules on human osteology and biological anthropology.  However I also liked the look of the University of Exeter’s bioarchaeology course because it offered modules in palaeobotany and zooarchaeology (which I thought could have been beneficial on the job market), whilst still offering the chance to specialise in human osteology.

5) Application Time

It is easy to get carried away with the personal statement during the application process and, in truth, it is not really a personal statement at all.  Be concise and professional, try not mention the course director too much (I cringe when I recall my personal statement!), and be confident to mention your previous experience but also your future research ideas and academic strengths.  If you can add something that will stand out amongst the competition then do it.  It is worth mentioning here that it is probably best to apply for more than one course, even if you already have a place at another university.  Be aware that you may receive a conditional or a none-conditional offer, conditional offers are normally given to those students that have yet to finish their undergraduate degrees.  Remember that if you are dead set on pursuing a masters in human osteology and have yet to finish your undergraduate degree aim for a 2.1 or a 1st.  However try not to pressure yourself too much as you can always apply at a later date, when you have more experience.  Completing a masters now is no shortcut to a job and, in fact, in archaeology it is becoming almost the norm for many graduate to go on to complete a masters in an archaeological topic before working in the field.

Note

*This is just a quickly compiled guide to how to approach the best choice masters based on what I went through, feel free to mix it up!

Further Information

  • My blog entry on all known human osteology MSc and MA courses and short courses available in the UK.  Please contact me at thesebonesofmine at hotmail.com if you would like a course added to the list.

The Value of CARA & Scholars At Risk Network

7 Jan

In the December entry for the blogging carnival (the good, bad and ugly of archaeology blogging) I mentioned the Scholars At Risk Network, after learning about the network from Sam Hardy over at [Un]Free Archaeology.  As a direct result of my mention of them in my blog post another great blogger, Loretta Kilroe, brought to my attention CARA, the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics.

I think it is time to dig a bit deeper to highlight these two fantastic organisations in the work that they do and why they are needed.  Too often in the online blogging community we espouse the knowledge of others and thank the wonders of the internet for bringing everyone together when only an estimated 34-39% of the earth’s population have access to the internet.  We have to realize that many academics today still face being severely curtailed in pursing their research topics or face other consequences (imprisonment/torture) because of political oppression, rife censorship or imposed sanctions in variety of countries world wide.

CARA

CARA’s underlining approach and mission statement is simple:

“Academic Freedom is the principle which underpins and informs CARA’s work defending the right of individuals to explore the world of ideas, literature and science unfettered by political, social or religious oppression, censorship, or sanction” (Source).

Cara

The banner of the CARA site highlighting one issue that often stops refugees (Image credit: source).

The council was originally founded in 1933 by William Beveridge to assist other scholars after he learnt of the displacement of academics from Nazi Germany on racial and/or political grounds and subsequently launched a rescue operation.  The organisation continued to grow throughout the next 70 years, helping out academics not just during the Second World War but also during the repressive Stalinist period in Russia, the unrest in the Middle East and throughout the South African Apartheid period.  Today it’s focus has shifted towards the Middle East, with a particular focus on Iraq, and to certain areas of the African continent.  Although not initially called CARA, the organisation changed it’s name in 1999 to it’s present name as a reflection of it’s world wide operational basis.

CARA are currently running three programmes at the moment in the UK, the Middle East and Zimbabwe.  The United Kingdom program offers, and provides, assistance to “enable persecuted academics  many of whom are refugees and asylum seekers, to return to academia or an allied profession in the UK at a level commensurate with their skills and experience” (source).  The Middle East program is centered on Iraq and Syria, helping academics that have either settled in the UK as a result of conflict or those that are still living in Syria or Iraq.  The Iraq program was launched in 2006 as a direct result of the rise in kidnappings of academics in the country and the continued killings of civilians in the country.  The Syria program was founded as a result of the grim situation that has developed in the country over the past two years.

CARA is helping academics both in Syria, and those that have fled to the surrounding countries and the UK, by providing practical advice on survival and academic help.  The Zimbabwe program was set up in 2009 in response to the flood of academics feeling the country.  Importantly the program also aims to stifle the dramatic decline in quality of the higher education in the country, where it can.  A number of reports on these programs, and others conducted by the organisation, can be found on the CARA site.

Scholars At Risk Network

Scholars at Risk Network (SAR) hold much the same values as CARA in the belief that their work is grounded in the principle of academic freedom, that is the freedom to pursue academic research without fear of censorship, intimidation, fear of violence or of discrimination.  The network organisation has its initial roots in the Human Rights program at the University of Chicago in 1999, and it quickly grew to join other international education and academic advocacy groups within a few short years of its founding.

In particular the SAR network has joined forces with the Institute for International Education in helping to offer an endowed rescue fund to help scholars and academics who are in perilous situations.  Moving it’s base to New York University in 2003, SAR has continued to provide funds for scholars as well as participating in a broad range of advocacy work in centers across the world.  This has been reinforced by SAR developing partner networks across Europe, the Middle East and Africa during the last decade or so.  Further information on SAR’s history can be found here.

rng

Personal freedom is often underrated until you realise what it is like being able to freely express yourself (Image credit: source).

SAR’s first and foremost task is protecting scholars by arranging positions of sanctuary and safety, often offered as one semester or one year long positions as academic posts at host universities.  Further to this, the network also runs a Scholars-In-Prison project designed to protect scholars who are unable to leave their home countries, as well as keeping an active up -to-date record on attacks and widespread threats to individuals, departments and institutions.  Secondly, the SAR network runs workshops and training sessions as a part of its active outreach work, as well as circulating monitor reports highlighting the recent developments in the root causes of intellectual repression.  Find out more here.

Why Is It Important?

It is vitally important to always resist the powers that seek to limit the intellectual and individual freedom.  Knowledge, invention and imagination are the three crucial foundations for thought that are expressed in higher education and the academic environment.  The persecution, suppression or imprisonment of academics happens for a variety of reasons and I must point out here that I do no ignore the general population at the expense of the academic.  Rather it is due to my passion and experience of higher education that I have wrote about CARA and the SAR network, that this blog is, for me, the ideal venue to help raise awareness of these two fantastic organisations.  Sadly these organisations are necessary in the modern world, very necessary.

The world of higher education is a wonderfully mixed and diverse one where no two people are ever the same and may have strong views and opinions.  It is, like archaeology itself, a very fluid environment in which individuals come and go.  Universities have the strong focused economic base in the areas where they are situated but they operate in a myriad of professional and social entanglements, often crossing borders around the world with research projects, societies and professional links.  If one scholar cannot offer a hand to another in need then that is a very sad world indeed, especially when the binding force of academia is co-operation.

…And Introducing Médecins Sans Frontiéres

Further to the above two organisations that support academics in need I would also heartily recommend supporting Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF, otherwise known as Doctors Without Borders).  Established in 1971 and currently working in over 60 countries worldwide, Médecins Sans Frontiéres has provided medical aid to millions of people during its history whilst remaining an independent organisation which is run and and owned by staff both present and past.  With over 90% of its income coming from individual donors MSF maintains the ability to be an neutral and independent organisation, able to help sick and injured people worldwide independent of national boundaries, institutions or governments regardless of gender, race or religion.  It is also a transparent worldwide organisation, which is split into a number of associations and sections.

The organisation works in a variety of crisis environments (including armed conflicts, epidemics and disease outbreaks, environmental disasters, exodus of refugees or helping people who are excluded from healthcare) by helping to establish centers of treatment.  In a number of cases they have to be clandestine operations to protect the patients and MSF staff from harm and violence in unstable environments, such as in Syria currently for example.

Further to this MSF also carry out medical research to help produce the best results for helping their patients and to help future humanitarian missions.  As a part of this they allow the research produced to be freely accessible to anyone.  I personally have supported this charity in the past (and continue to when I can) because I cannot imagine what my life would be like if the medical facilities for treating my previous fractures were non-existent: I realise I am lucky to have access to such good healthcare.  In short it is also my way of saying thank you.  You can also donate or apply to join MSF during operations if you have a medical background.  You can support MSF here!

Thoughts on Academic Archaeology

5 Jan

There have been many excellent blog lists highlighting the incredible archaeological and palaeoanthropological finds from 2013.  Off the top of my head here are four blogs (and one site) that are fantastic at summing up the advances that 2013 have brought:

  • John Hawks reviews his year in Human Evolution, and may I just say what a year it has been in the study of human evolution (for some reason very hard to link to the specific blog entry, just scroll two down or so or look at the whole amazing site!).
  • Katie Wong looks at the fantastic list of human evolutionary finds and studies at Scientific American, with links to the articles for your further perusal.
  • Katy looks at the year’s most interesting and important mortuary archaeological finds at Bones Don’t Lie.
  • Paige, at Imponderabilia, highlights some remarkable archaeological finds from the past 12 months.
  • …and of course Past Horizons is the site where you can keep up to date on all manner of archaeological and palaeoanthropological finds throughout the upcoming year and previous years!

So in highlighting the finds of 2013 I think it would be dreary of me to create my own list because so many great bloggers got there ahead of me (and I wouldn’t know when to stop).  Instead I am going to do something slightly different.

I am going to highlight what I would like to see change in academia regarding my own past experiences  of academia itself and those that I have heard from friends.  Now hear me out – I am aware that this will be a quite personal list relating to human osteology and funerary archaeology but I also think some of the categories stretch over the whole subject of how archaeology is taught at the university level education, where there could be improvements and what I believe could enhance the under-taking of an archaeological degree.  In a way it is also wish list for what I (looking back on my undergraduate and masters education) wish I had been taught.

So without further ado I introduce to you my thoughts on what could improve the academic experience for the bioarchaeologists and archaeologists at university level education:

1) Human Evolution

I highlight human evolution first because there is often a human origins module in most undergraduate archaeology programs.  The past few years have seen tremendous change in how much our knowledge has grown and it continues to grow with the application of new techniques and discovering new remains.  My main worry is that many universities may teach outdated theories or not teach human evolution at all.  For me human evolution contains the best combination of archaeology: science, anatomy and fieldwork.  Granted not every student who takes archaeology may be interested in human evolution or palaeolithic archaeology (and very rarely have the chance to dig at a palaeoanthropological site), but just to give that basic bedrock knowledge of who we are would be one worth keeping as a core module.  In my eyes it is a vital basic module, one that can be hard to keep on top of agreed but surely one fundamental to archaeology and the study of our origins as we are today.   Further to this it helps to contextualise archaeology as a subject itself, the importance of evolutionary biology and the continuing role of the historical context of science.

2) Genetics

Genetics is mentioned primarily due my background because when I was studying for my MSc in Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology degree, I felt that having a basic introductory module in genetics would have been fundamentally beneficial to understanding the scientific literature.  Of course a student of archaeology at the university level may have already attained a college level knowledge of biology (how I wish I had chosen it now!), but a tailored course on the importance of genetics and the understanding of molecular biology would reap benefits for the modern zooarchaeologists, palaeobotanists and human osteologists.  My view is based on the belief that although macro study and recognition of skeletal material is fundamental to the bioarchaeological sciences (and to the maintenance of a job), a paradigm shift is possibly underway (1) in the way in the fact that genetic studies have fundamentally opened up a new and developing understanding of human evolution and the continued evolutionary adaption of organisms to their environment (see Hawks et al. 2011).  Although there will always be a need for human osteologists etc in the archaeological and academic sector, an understanding of genetics and an ability to study the results of such studies and original examinations would provide the bioarchaeologist with a much more informed toolkit to assess archaeological remains and their context, either in a commercial environment or in a research post.

3) Media Relations

Kristina Killgrove has an illuminating short series on her blog entitled Presenting Anthropology.  This is invigorating, dynamic teaching of archaeology as a social media outreach.  It also makes the students think of how they are presenting archaeology to the public.  We all know of the repeated failures of presenting the skeletal system properly in shows such as Bones etc (definitely check out Kristina’s Powered By Osteons if you haven’t!).  Blogging is fantastic and I’d heartily recommend any student of archaeology to give it a go, but I also realise it is not the be all and end all of outreach and media relations.  Sometimes you have to actively engage with the very people who misrepresent you.  I’d quite like to see the extension of the teaching of social media and active outreach to the majority of archaeology courses if it was possible, especially to highlight the value of those avenues of outreach.  Archaeology is easily cast aside by the people that lead us but that need only be the case if we let them.  Therefore I would actively encourage each and every person who identifies as an archaeologist to promote the value and worth of heritage to as wide of an audience as you can!  Again, at a university level, I think a simple guest lecture on this topic would hopefully sum up the current state of play whilst lecturers and course leaders could actively encourage their students to get out there, both in person and online.

4) Reviewing Each Other In Class, Writing Articles & How to Apply for Funding

Reviewing each other in class is not an especially new idea as many academic modules across all distinctions include active seminars and student participation.  However I believe that, as an marked component of a module, individual and group marking of a student’s paper could encourage active and valuable feedback that reflects the peer-review process and academic publishing.  I asked a few of my friends whether they think they would value such an idea, of scoring an essay a student in the class has wrote individually and then discussing it in a group, and many said they would feel uncomfortable with the idea.  I can understand that but I also think it could be a valuable exercise in understanding the different approaches and viewpoints that a university level class facilitates.  There is a variation of this when, often in seminar setting, a published article is handed out and the individual students have to discuss it and then the group discuss the article’s merits together, but it is my belief that comments on your own writing would be more helpful or the approach could be combined to provide a comparison of the literature and approaches used.

This naturally leads into another facet of this idea that under-graduate and master level students are, in my experience, not given advice on how to write an article for a journal.  I do not just mean content alone but style, diagram placing and referencing as well.  Many academic journals have strict guidelines on what particular format or program the article should have been wrote in before acceptance or the peer review process takes place (if you get that far!).  A class or two could help inform the students of such basic knowledge.  As a part of this idea I also think it would helpful be to be told on what to look out for in an academic journal.  We all know there are predatory journals out there in the academic publishing world, waiting to snap up an article to boost the publishing houses qualifications or ‘seriousness’.  (Two fantastic sites to check out are Retraction Watch and Scholarly Open Access).  Another natural extension of this is (for those who are either looking at MA or MSc courses, PhD or post-doc funding) for students to be given advice on how to apply for funding, to be informed on what bodies fund what research depending on the applicants research area, and how to write a funding form or grant efficiently and effectively.  I am aware that this already happens for PhD students but this is normally at an individual level, wouldn’t a concise one off lecture be helpful to all?

5) Guest Speakers

A relatively simple wish, for archaeology departments to regularly hold guest speaker events either at the department or at the Student Union.  The University of Sheffield’s archaeology department is very active in bringing in a wide range of guest speakers for the weekly Tuesday Lunchtime Lecture and I was grateful for seeing some invigorating and inspiring guest speakers.  This may be a wish that is already largely fulfilled but it is one worth highlighting anyway.  Guest lectures can be relatively easy to organize, with social media definitely making it easier to make contact with a variety of archaeologists both in the commercial sector or in the academic sector.  Guest speakers are also a great way to introduce the great variety of strands in archaeology to an already dedicated and largely interested audience.  I think there could be great scope in grading the guest speakers for a variety of audiences, from introductory talks to the various aspects that make up archaeology a a whole right up to the cutting edge specialist researchers whose knowledge would be beneficial to a select audience.

6) Active Science

Sometimes in academia it can be difficult to think that you are actually contributing anything to the great font of knowledge, especially at the masters level were you are not entirely sure your work will have any impact.  It should be stated here that the majority of universities that offer archaeology also have an active on-going field archaeology project with the undergraduate courses especially stating that fieldwork must be completed before beginning the 2nd year of study.  However I think that there is the opportunity for university students to participate at a deeper level, particularly if the university department runs specialist and technical equipment.  In my own experience there was limited opportunity, outside of the normal fieldwork sessions, to join in with scientific research opportunities.  This may have been a consequence due to the nature of the archaeology departments of where I studied (and the lack of technical equipment) but I cannot help but feel that a greater integration of student and lecturer would provide numerous benefits to both, including gaining all important technical and research experience.

7) Improve Field/Commercial Skills

From informal chats with David Connolly (BAJR leader), reading Doug’s Archaeology and carefully reading the Institute For Archaeology‘s quarterly magazine a common gripe from commercial archaeological units is the fact that many students require training for commercial fieldwork after they have joined an archaeological unit.  As stated above many universities that offer archaeology as an undergraduate degree course state that 2-3 weeks (sometimes more) of fieldwork during the 1st year must be completed before the student can proceed onto the 2nd year of the course.  However this is generally conducted at a research excavation which is quite unlike a commercial excavation.  After the 1st year many students will take modules that they are particularly interested in, thus the opportunity to excavate may not be taken up again before job seeking starts.

I would argue that commercial excavation is very different from university led research excavation and that time and monetary constraints are major factors involved in the excavation ahead of building work (as if so often the case at commercial sites).  Further to this the skills needed often need to be quickly learnt and applied to help record the archaeology effectively and efficiently.  You only ever get the chance to dig and excavate once.  It is also well known that the environment of commercial digging is fundamentally different to research led excavations.  Therefore I propose that, at some stage and preferably at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, guest talks or lectures are given on the differences between excavation types.  Ideally the skills needed to excavate on commercial sites should also be taught and maintained (I do realise not everyone wants to dig though!).

8) Contact Time

It has been noted that many non-EU students who come to study archaeology at the post-graduate level can be put off at first by the lack of contact time, either in scheduled tuition meetings, lectures, practical/lab classes and/or seminars.  This is generally the way with British academia, it is normally standard that the student must allocate his or her time carefully to allow the full maximum use of the university’s resources for their needs.  Modules often have a stated hour learning limit (ie 50hrs reading time, 24hrs lecture time) in the modular handbooks over the semester or year, given out at the start of each term.  However some students have started to question the amount of active contact time in consideration of, and relation to, the hike in university fees in the UK.  This is a tricky situation as students should receive quality education but also accept that the lecturer has other research needs and a whole raft of students and colleagues to work with and projects to proceed on with.  Archaeology, as a discipline, places varying pressures across the department and as such there is no easy answer to this one.  I wish I had more contact time but I also wish I had made slightly better use of the time I was given to access the human osteology lab.

Notes

(1) This may be hyperbole!  The importance of genetics in understanding the relationships between hominin species in the Homo genus however is helping to suggest relationships and interbreeding that could not be conclusively evidenced from the fossil anatomical record alone.  The picture is far from clear but recent DNA studies of the Altai Neandertal suggest that genetic drift and interbreeding are distinctly important mechanism in understanding the evolution of of the Homo species (if indeed they are different species or sub-species).
 
Bibliography

Hawks, J., Wang, E. T., Cochran, G. M., Harpending, H. C. & Moyzis, R. K. 2007. Recent Acceleration of Human Adaptive EvolutionProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences104 (52): 20753-20758.