Tag Archives: Academic Archaeology

Round-up of Doug’s Disability In Archaeology Posts

15 Sep

Back in mid August Doug (of Doug’s Archaeology) posted a series of blog entries focusing on disability in the archaeology sector, with five posts discussing different aspects and implications for those with disabilities or long-term illnesses with accessing and/or working in the archaeology profession.  These are fascinating posts detailing issues that have long been bubbling in the archaeology sector.  With Doug’s permission I’d just like to highlight the series of posts here as he has done some fantastic research and initial questioning of the data.  As always I’d recommend you go on to the Doug’s site to read the posts fully.

1Professional Archaeology – Disabled Friendly?

The opening post in the series quickly profiles the meaning and population effect of having a disability in the UK, where Doug considers the national statistics of employment vs disability employment statistics:

In 2012, 46.3% of working-age disabled people were employed compared to 76.4% of  non-disabled people. But, that makes sense right? The definition of a disability, in the UK at least, is-

‘if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities.’

Working is a normal daily activity and so we should not be surprised that people with disabilities might not be able to work. Still, if all things were proportionate we would expect to see about 11% of working professional archaeologists to have some sort of disability, but we don’t.” (Doug Macqueen-Rocks 2014).

This is contrasted against the number of individuals working in archaeology who identified as disabled in a 2005, where it is evident that the categories of unseen disabilities is by far the most prevalent category.  Unseen disabilities include asthma, diabetes, agoraphobia, arthritis and heart conditions etc., rather than such visually obvious disabilities such as physical impairment (think wheelchair or the use of walking aides).  The next part of the post highlights the fact that profession archaeological work is often physical and can be carried out in remote places, and that stigma (or stigmata) can play a deciding factor on employment in archaeology (either by reporting or not-reporting disability, which can lead to negative consequences dependent on the context).

Archaeology can also be bad for mental health, as field work in particular can lead to extrinsic and intrinsic pressures on the quality of life for the disabled and non-disabled field archaeologist.  Issues such as constantly moving for work, strained relationships through long working hours, and sheer physical exertion and potential injury, can play a deciding and significant part in the change of mental health of field archaeologists (see Stuart Rathbone’s exceptional post on the strains of field work here on Robert M. Chapple’s site).  This could potentially compound an existing disability in making field life untenable.  Doug wraps the first post by stating that access to university level education for disabled students could also be in danger due to the proposed cuts in funding for the Disabled Student Allowance in the UK (see my post here).  Doug concludes with this statement, wondering if disability in the archaeology profession under-reported, or is it the nature of the sector that has produced these figures?

2Archaeology – The Dyslexic Profession or the Profession of Dyslexics?

The second post focuses on dyslexia, as a high number of both field archaeologists and archaeology students have been indicated to have dyslexia (See this 2005 Archaeology and Disability Survey for further information).  Doug compares the general university wide population in 2004 that registered with a disability at 6.5% compared to almost double that figure for archaeological students (although the data is pulled from two different sets of data).  This is then compared to dyslexia specifically and Doug finds that archaeology is firmly over half for students with dyslexia (8.6%) compared to just 3% of university students as a whole.  This post is open-ended as there are no firm reasons why students with dyslexia are to be found in archaeological courses in a higher proportion compared to the general university level, especially considering that archaeology often involves a lot of reading (site reports, articles, technical manuals, monographs, edited books, theses) and mathematical formulation (statistical analysis, chemical analysis).

In this post the comments are quite interesting to read and highlight a number of possibilities.  It may be the case that many students are attracted to the physical side of archaeology and that university in the modern era offer a good amount of student support.  However it should be noted that dyslexia can affect people in different ways (see also related conditions), that some individuals may not even be diagnosed until they are at the university and that some may never be diagnosed due to a variety of extrinsic/intrinsic factors.  As Doug notes in his conclusion to this post a staggering 47% of UK archaeologists have at least Masters degree or a PhD (data for 2012-13 here), so it appears that dyslexia does not hold back archaeological students academically.  I’d be interested to see this data broken down further by archaeology specialism, to see if there was any trend regarding the scientific fields against the more humanities driven fields in academic archaeology.  As an unrelated aside to this it has been noted that bioarchaeological cohorts at Masters level are often skewed at around 70/30  female/male ratio, yet no single or general reason has yet been deduced to explain this split.  I’d expect further research into the demographic breakdown of archaeological courses to appear over the next few years or so.

3My Disabilities, My Archaeology

A personal post by Doug here as he highlights his own battles with dyslexia, slurred speech and trouble reading, and how he has managed them throughout his fantastic archaeological career.  This is a great post that details Doug’s own views and experiences, and I think it’s best if you read him in his own words.  I do want to point out quickly this point that Doug makes here:

“…I am one of those 1 in 10 archaeology students that has a disability. I am also one of those 1 in 50 professional archaeologists that has a disability. Though, I am in ‘that group‘ of archaeologists who does not considered my problems as disabilities.” (Doug Macqueen-Rocks 2014).

This is an extremely interesting point as people with long-term illness and/or a disability are not a indistinguishable lumpen mass.  Personally I have been largely open about my own disease on this site (although I do understand that could possibly harm my archaeological career), having highlighted the many orthopaedic surgeries that I have been through.  I am state registered disabled and accept that my condition means that I am physically impaired to a certain degree, however I think people can be surprised by what individuals can and cannot do.  I am always personally happy to discuss any aspect of my own disease, but this should not be a generalization of disabled people at large.  A main thrust of this blog is in fact to highlight my own experiences because, until I started this site, I knew or had not met any one individual with the same bone disease.  This site has opened up the opportunities to meet individuals who have been through similar procedures or know what it is like living with McCune Albright Syndrome.  Regardless of this though, it does not detract from my being an archaeologist or a bioarchaeologist although it may limit my opportunities.

4Disclosing Disability: Employment in Archaeology

In the penultimate post Doug tackles the question of disclosing disability on an archaeological employment application.  This is a deeply personal choice as disability can come in all sorts of forms (both seen and unseen), which can affect the performance of the employee and have impacts on the employer.  Again this is quite a personal and insightful post, discussing the problems of special treatment at work and what may, or may not, be a disability that has an impact on archaeological work.  This post definitely hit home.  I’ve been for a few archaeological job interviews now and although I’ve never quite got the job, I have had praise from the interview panel.  At the back of my mind I always wonder if my physical disability has played a deciding factor in the outcome or not.  As Doug concludes, the decision to disclose a disability or not must be undertaken with the view that health and safety takes overall precedence, in consideration of both the employee and employer.  Issues can be worked around and situations can be resolved, however you do not want to put yourself, or somebody else, in harms way.  If you are open and honest about your limitations and abilities this will help both yourself and your potential employer to enable and enact adjustments that work for the benefit of you both.

5Disabilities in Public Archaeology

The final post in Doug’s series highlights the trends present across public archaeology and disability issues in the UK (where the data is taken from – as Doug points out it is likely that this can be extrapolated to other populations in general).  Using various public surveys for the data, the age groups who visit historic places of attraction is discussed and contrasted to age groups with disabilities or long-term illness, graphically showing the relatively strong correlation between age and disability, as perhaps is expected.  Further points in the post  include the need to understand the different types of disability (such as vision, mobility, hearing, mental health etc.) that can affect individuals of different ages, alongside the differences in gender by age groups.  This post is particularly valuable for anyone that works in public archaeology and the heritage sector as it highlights the differing issues that will directly affect your target audiences.

I highly recommend reading the highlighted posts in full as Doug has produced a fantastic series of posts, even as he continues to expertly profile the archaeology profession and sector more generally on his site.

Further Information

Philips, T. & Gilchrist, R. 2005. Disability and Archaeological Fieldwork: Phase 1 – Summary of a Report Based on a Questionnaire Survey of Archaeology Subject Providers, Disability Support Services in HEIs and Archaeological Employers. University of Reading. Archaeology Data Service. (Open Access).

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.