Tag Archives: Doug’s Archaeology

Doug’s Blogging Carnival: The Grand Challenges for Your Archaeology

1 Feb

Doug Rocks-Macqueen (of Doug’s Archaeology) is running another awesome blogging carnival following the success of his 2013-2014 Blogging Archaeology carnival.  Check out the Open Access volume that the original Blogging Archaeology carnival spawned, with the dedicated work of Doug and Chris Webster as the editors.  You can also read my review of it here, which was recently published in the AP Journal of Public Archaeology.  Both are available for free for your perusal.

This time around the theme is kept to one question: What are the grand challenges facing your archaeology? Anyone can take part, so please feel free to join in and write an entry (or draw, film and dance an entry in) about what your grand challenges are that you are facing in archaeology.  It is a one-off event for January, and Doug will post the replies to his call out by February 1st 2016 (but I’m hoping there will be further editions of the blogging carnival as it is so good to see the archaeology bloggers communicate with each other).  So without further ado, let me crack on with my entry for the carnival…

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Probably one of my favorite memorial statues which can be found in a cemetery near to where I currently live. Check out Howard Williams Archaeodeath blog entry on the defense of photography in graveyards and cemeteries to learn more about the value of the recorded image. Image credit: A detail of one of my own photographs taken using a Pentax S1a camera on black and white Ilford film, if reproduced please credit as appropriate.

Grand Challenges Facing My Archaeology

Last night I drove up the coast to a nearby city to watch a Pearl Jam cover band with a few friends.  At the gig itself I was deeply moved by the band’s vitality, by the intense connection between a band the audience loved and a band the tribute act so clearly adored as well, but it was in the act itself, of how the cover band so carefully and energetically replicated Pearl Jam, that so impressed me (it isn’t easy capturing Vedder’s powerful voice, but kudos to the singer!).  The energy of a live act is hard to catch on tape, certainly a few live albums have managed to bottle this magic, but not the physical intimacy, the energy that re-bounds between the audience and the act when they give a great performance.

Having had the pleasure of seeing the real Pearl Jam play in a much larger venue in Manchester half a decade ago or so, watching this tribute act in a much smaller venue felt more raw, almost more real.  It was, or so I imagine, what it must have been like seeing Pearl Jam play live before they released Ten, the crowd of a few hundred bodies moving in time to invisible beat and roaring their appreciation between songs.  There is something about live music, when it is plucked from the air in front of you, that moves me so intensely.  It is also something that I have pursued much more actively in viewing since the loss of a beloved friend last year.

As I write this the song State of Love and Trust blares out of my CD player (I know, quaint in this streaming age) and I can feel my feet tapping and my fingers itching to blast something out on the guitar.  Scenes of last night are popping into my head – the rhythm guitarist bouncing around on stage, the singer clasping his hands around the microphone, the adoration of the crowd after Black is played and the personal joy of hearing The Fixer live.

It is this idea of distance, in a temporal-geographic sense, that I suppose is one of my grand challenges facing my own archaeology.  Writing in front of a screen offers precious little human connectivity as the tips of my fingers press into the plastic keys and dance across the keyboard.  I have thought more than once of stopping this blog, to focus perhaps on something more creative instead.  Although the blog post rate has slowed down remarkably after the first initial year, the content of the posts now dip into a more varied and eclectic range of topics and voices.  (Honestly readers, the Skeletal Series will eventually be complete one day!).  I feel that these posts help form the core of the identity of the blog, whilst the standard upcoming short courses or conference posts keep readers (and me) linked into the discipline itself.

One of the challenges, for me then, is knowing when to disconnect and when to reconnect.  There will always be an audience of some kind out there, but there is a need (at least for me) to take time off and to rejuvenate and to think about why I blog in the first place.  I want to help capture that feeling of vitality, of spotting the links between the everyday and the bioarchaeological (something that many bioarchaeology and mortuary archaeology blogs do exceptionally well).  I first started blogging to consolidate my own information and to capture how I was slowly learning the nuts and bolts of human osteology as it applied to the archaeological record.  I also wanted to offer a framework of what it is that human osteologists and bioarchaeologists do and why.  As stated above, this has changed somewhat as I came to understand that I wouldn’t necessary ever have a career in this field and that it would (likely) remain a passion of mine.  (This could be another blog post entirely, but it is down to a few different reasons that are not insurmountable in-and-of themselves).

Holding Your Head Up High

The blog is however but one facet of my identity, but it is one I have fleshed out over the past few years.  To change direction suddenly or to not blog for a while can feel like I am, in some sense, betraying those who would most like me to write.  As such I feel a duty to sometimes produce content, without which I sometimes don’t have either the heart or the time (which is also why there are currently 12 posts lingering in draft hell…).  It is wise to clarify here that those are pressures solely forced on myself – I know I take a long time to produce a post, but bear with me.

This site has afforded me a multitude of adventures and opportunities I never would have had if I’d not taken the dive and started writing for the fun of it.  I’ve been asked to contribute a book chapter to a new and exciting volume, I’ve been asked to speak in a country on a different continent, and I’ve been asked to contribute reviews to new and upcoming journals.  However, as much as I’d love bioarchaeology to be my breadwinner it is not.  I work in a completely different sector to my passion (and it is my passion that has burned the coals for the ability to continue down this path).  The day job gives me that monetary security to pursue the writing of reviews or chapters, to take part in open days, to watch and learn at conferences, and to conduct my own osteological analyses and research.  There is, I hope, a positive takeaway point from this – you too can join in as I have.

There is one constant at These Bones of Mine and that is the trying to champion the voice of others on the site, either by guest posts, interviews or point-of-view style entries.  I see this site as one continuous conversation between my writings (and the various winding alleys that these thoughts slowly percolate into) and the readers who take the time and the effort to read the words.  But I also see it as an opportunity to give a platform to other researchers and part-time bioarchaeologists.  This shall hopefully continue and please do not hesitate to contact me, or to look over previous guest posts (and the guest post guidelines) for further information.

On a personal note I have noticed that, when I am able to fit the time in, I am much happier to be actually carrying out human osteological analysis, to collect the data and to produce the report, that I personally feel I am doing something constructive and worthwhile.  Perhaps it was a feeling I experienced recently precisely because I did not have the time to assign to it and when I did, it felt special and unique.

Moving Forward By Going Backwards

Before the Pearl Jam tribute act I had the pleasure of attending the Little Lives day-long conference at Durham University, catching up with friends and learning about the great new research in the study of human non-adults in bioarchaeology.  A great deal of thanks must really go to the organizing committee of the conference, PhD researchers Clare Hodson, Sophie Newman and Lauren Walther, for putting together a varied, vital and exciting program of speakers.  One of the most mentioned topics of research within the study of non-adults were the implications in bioarchaeology for the DOHaD concept (Developmental Origin of Health and Disease, as an outgrowth of Barker’s Hypothesis, based on work conducted 25 years ago which investigated fetal origins for adult diseases, particularly cardiac and metabolic disorders).  It gave me food for thought as I’m currently analysing a collection of Iron Age and Romano-British individuals which runs almost the full gamut of age-at-death, from likely neonates to old adults.

In a way the analysis has a lovely circular notion to it, as the individuals I’m analyzing are from one of the first archaeological sites that I had the pleasure of excavating at.  Perhaps my challenge isn’t so much geographic as temporal – I have stayed close to where I have lived a large portion of my life, but my mind flits with eager ease through the changes that this place has seen.  Sometimes that is enough.

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Seeing from the other side, live grows anew. Image credit: Photograph by the author using a Pentax S1a camera and Ilford black and white film. If reproduced please credit as appropriate.

Learn More

  • Check out Doug’s Archaeology, an awesome site that cuts through the sections of archaeology entry by entry.  Read the rather lovely 2014 Blogging Archaeology edited volume, for free, here.  Follow the links on Doug’s site to join in this blogging archaeology challenge.  Remember no entry is too short or too long, nor any entry too discursive in its topic or content.
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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).

Blogging Archaeology: Future Goals of Blogging

14 Apr

This is the fifth and final entry in a blogging carnival that Doug Rocks-Macqueen, 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, this month (in fact only a week or two away).  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 were posted on his site in the first week of each month, and can still be viewed for anybody interested in taking part still.

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Are all blogs the same? The beauty of blogging lies in both versatility and the independence of the format. (Image credit, remixed with MS Paint).

Last month a total of 13 wonderful bloggers took part in February’s entry for the carnival.  The question was actually open-ended and as Doug’s states he thought he had almost killed the carnival!  But I think we can all say that February was a pretty busy month all round for most people.  My entry, which can be read here, tackled the meaning of the blog, and blogging in general, because I’d largely felt that this whole carnival has been a wonderful exercise in self-reflection.  And I have to admit I do enjoy writing about the ecology of blogging, it really is a wonderful world of diversity in the archaeology blogging area with all manner of topics tackled and approaches used. Remember that if you are an archaeology blogger (in any way whatsoever) then feel free to jump right in and join.  Answering the past blogging questions is very much welcomed at any time.  The previous months questions can be found here, jump in and join – I highly recommend it!

For this month’s topic Doug has asked about the future of blogging, of goals and aims we’d like to achieve or changes we’d like to see implemented.  45 fantastic archaeology bloggers have already replied so far and Doug has done a very nice little round-up of the final entries.  I finish as I started, as once again I am pretty late with my entry!  So let’s get this final blog arch carnival entry on the go…

Blogging the Future

This blog has recently passed 1 million views, which is pretty cool I think for something that I started in my bedroom whilst thinking about the forthcoming Masters degree, and more specifically about what I could do to try to improve my knowledge before I started the degree.  Now I am post-Masters, looking towards a few possible futures on the horizon.  My email inbox for this blog has started to ping a bit more than usual recently, with various different requests or offers starting to arrive.  Everything from students wanting to know more about the human skeleton and asking questions on essays and research, publishing houses informing me of their latest open access journals, to offers of review books for exhibitions or novels.  It is pretty interesting and I am very much enjoying helping out where I can, especially in being able to help share knowledge and advice, or to inform a reader on what collections or museums to check out for human osteological collections.  This is something that I should probably write a post about, now I come to think about it.

But I think the future for the blog is pretty obvious at the moment.  I want to do more, where and if I can.  I repeat my clarion call for guest blog entries.  I want to interview more archaeologists and bioarchaeologists, so if you are interested get in touch.  I also need to revisit a fundamental pillar of the blog and finish the Skeletal Series blog entries.  Those entries in the draft folder that don’t extend beyond a half-finished bibliography and a choice selection of key words?  I should finish those!  One of my recent previous posts, Future Steps, preempted last month’s blogging archaeology carnival question and highlights some thoughts on the future of this blog, including trying to gather together the skeletal series posts in a PDF or a printout form, and the possible use of photoessays for some future blog entries.

Other bloggers have mentioned that they see the future of blogging utilizing the integration of video blogging and podcasts into primarily written word blogs.  Whilst I can definitely see the future potential and audience for this, it is not something that I am currently considering or pursuing for a variety of reasons just yet.  What I do think is important is to approach the topic of archaeology in a variety of ways, interacting with an audience using various formats.  Bloggers, as a rule of thumb, are quite individual and diverse in their use of style, presentation and technology.  This is their strength in maintaining both their independence and in their means of communication to a diverse and open audience.

Standing Alone

Bioarchaeology and human osteology are generally well represented within the ecology of archaeology blogging, offering as it does an often intimate portrait of the human being within archaeology itself.  This, though, is a fairly recent trend, but it is certainly a trend on an upward surge at the moment.  It can be pretty hard to get noticed if you are blogging about archaeology and a specialism within archaeology, therefore I would always suggest that you try to pin point a unique selling point if possible.  Something slightly different that other bloggers have not tackled or have only briefly touched upon.

Bloggers are also essentially stand alone operations, where the blog is often tied to that one individual.  Plenty of bloggers use their real names and include photographs of themselves, while some just use their blog name as their identity.  For a long time I withheld my full name on the blog as I wanted it to truly stand alone, to be attached only to itself.  Partly this was due to just outright curiosity as to how it would be received, if at all, and to the fact that I had some privacy concerns.  Personal thoughts aside, there has been real strides with regards to the acceptance and value of blogging.  But I don’t think funding bodies or academic institutions value the blog format enough as a form of education outreach, and I hope that this is something that changes in the future.

Brief Thoughts

I’m currently re-reading The Rebel by the French philosopher Albert Camus, and in his 1951 essay Camus touches upon a point that I think is pertinent to blogging as a whole:

“In our daily trials, rebellion plays the same role as does the cogito in the category of thought: it is the first clue.  But this clue lures the individual from his solitude.  Rebellion is the common ground on which every man bases his first values.  I rebel – therefore we exist.”

Blogging archaeology is a form of the  individual freedom of expression, one that is not typically constricted or gagged by contract or institution.  As such it is both an addition to the individual’s expression of educational outreach, but importantly it is also a subversion of the normal mode of delivery for such information and news.  Perhaps especially so when blogging bioarchaeology as many of the most widely read bloggers are affiliated with academic institutions.  Bloggers can talk to the audience directly – they bypass the formal apparatus normally associated with academia and often reach a far wider audience by doing so.  It is mass communication, although it is purely up to the blogger themselves as to how they promote their blogs and interact with their audience.

It is also acknowledgement of the sharing of information of which only a few are privy, or have the access to.  In this way it the rebellion of the individual.  Jess Beck, over at Bone Broke, highlights the fact that blogging allows her to maintain her interest in bioarchaeology and provide content to others who are interested in osteology and palaeopathology.  In a way blogging validates our passion and cements the feeling that we exist, our passion exist and the audience for the information exists.  As such by blogging we are offering first hand accounts from specialists to an interested audience.  Especially at a time when public outreach and engagement is a foundation that is fundamentally needed to provide the validation of the value and worth of our fields in the face of ongoing cuts and funding issues.

Bioarchaeology and human osteology blogs differ in their approach to topics, but all largely adhere in discussing the latest research published in pay-walled journals, often offering summaries or alternative sources to access the information.  By the very vitality of the format, blogging can also challenge the very structure and foundation of formalised academic institutions.  However, there must be careful considerations of how far we either stray or maintain the relationships between the two forms of information dispersal.  As Doug himself notes it is the very freedom of blogging that makes it so special, that if it were mainstreamed to fit the academic mould then the magic from blogging would probably be gone.  It is an analysis that I can definitely agree with, but I do also think that there is some wiggle room for communication between the two.  Speaking of blogging generally, I do believe that there must be dialogue, there must be critical analysis, there must be a frankness and an openness in the way we (the bloggers) produce content.  But this does not mean that we can not be funny or make jokes, as many bloggers do to great effect.

This also leads me onto my next brief point, the demography of bloggers themselves.  In the online bioarchaeological world the bloggers themselves are largely western, English-speaking individuals that dominate the discussion and the main attention of the audience.  In the future I’d like to see further diversity in the representation of bioarchaeology bloggers worldwide (1).  Language is of course a problem – English is the lingua franca of the world, but there is immense scope for the views of the many bioarchaeologists and human osteologists worldwide.  Blogging is, after all, largely a free format in which to produce content.  Identity is also an important topic to discuss when considering the future of blogging as a majority of bioarchaeology bloggers tie the blog name and identity to their own name, twitter account and/or professional career.  Whilst this is to be expected in a particularly competitive field, I am wary of doing this myself.  This blog, after all, is just one facet of my personal being- it is not the whole.

Although I have raised the idea that blogging is rebellion, it is also trapped within a conditioning of legitimacy.  Particularly in that of academic institution affiliation offered as a proxy for the legitimacy of the information presented and discussed.  As far as I am aware I am one of the few bioarchaeological bloggers not currently a doctoral student, a researcher attached to or teaching at a university, or a commercial unit employee.  I do, of course, have the academic background, experience and knowledge to understand the technical terminology within bioarchaeology, and I am actively applying for archaeological jobs and looking at further research.

But I think it may also actively discourage amateur archaeologists or interested members of the public from engaging with blogs or make them think twice on starting a blog themselves.  So I think we have a slight disconnect here between what we think we represent, to what we are and to how others may perceive us.  Market saturation and the dominance of fields are definitely things that should be considered and discussed when trying to understand blogging ecology.  Diversity, for me, is the key to a healthy and developing blogosphere and I encourage debate and critical analysis.

Archaeology is a powerful tool in helping to understand both the human past and to engage critically with our own cultural perceptions (Joyce 2008, Pluciennik 2005).  As such I will continue to blog about archaeology and bioarchaeology as they are subjects that are close to my heart both professionally and personally.  Blogging can (and has) made a difference both inside and outside of academia and, as an active blogger, I would encourage others from around the world to start their own archaeology blogging journey to see where it takes you.

A Fond Farewell

And so it is with a heavy that I bid farewell to the blogging archaeology carnival as hosted by the fantastic digital curator Doug Rocks-Macqueen.  I shall certainly miss the monthly chances to write an introspective post on blogging from the perspective of an archaeology blogger, but I shall miss more the opportunity afforded by the carnival to meet new archaeology bloggers online, to hear views and opinions I had not thought of or considered.  This, for me, has been the true beauty of the blogging archaeology carnival and I for one hope it returns, in some form, in the near future.  So thank you to all the bloggers who have taken part – it has been a joy to read your entries and to be able to focus some thoughts of my own in my entries.

The final review for the blogging archaeology carnival can be found here on Doug’s fantastic website, as can all the bloggers who have taken part in the last session of the carnival.

Notes

(1).  Of course there may well be a wide range of foreign bioarchaeology blogs that I am simply unaware of and cannot read because of the language used.  If you know any, please leave a comment below as I’d be interested to hear about them!

Bibliography

Camus, A. 2013. The Rebel. London: Penguin Modern Classics.

Joyce, R. A. 2008. Ancient Bodies, Ancient Lives: Sex, Gender and Archaeology. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Pluciennik, M. 2005. Social Evolution, Duckworth Debates in Archaeology Series. London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd.

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

 

Blogging Archaeology: What Does It All Mean To Me?

15 Mar

This is the fourth entry in a blogging carnival that Doug Rocks-Macqueen, 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, next month (just shy of the SXSW festival).  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 on his site in the first week of each month.

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Displaying the slightly softer anatomy of the human body with the skeletal tissue in this months blog banner. (Image credit, remixed with MS Paint).

Last month a total of over 50 amazing bloggers joined in answering the December topic of the Best and Worst of blogging archaeology.  This is an awesome number of people involved in spreading the word about the joys and sorrows of blogging about archaeology.  My entry for January 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 very much encouraged.  The previous past few months questions can be found here, please do jump in and join us!

This month (although I realise it is already March and not quite February any more) Doug has decided to do something a little bit different.  This time it is up to us bloggers to choose our own topic to discuss.  As I have cunningly already missed the deadline for this entry you can also go ahead and read other peoples entries here.

What Does It All Mean?

Well first let me define that for you.  What does it all mean is a question I often find myself asking when I look at my blog, when I think about the hours I have spent researching and writing posts.  But let’s take a minute to think how we got here in the first place.

I am writing this now on a free service that is hosting words and images that I post, and you are now reading this for free.  I do not get paid in any way to produce this content (although I could in a small way I don’t think I will), and I do it of my own free volition.  You decide in roughly ten seconds or so whether you will stay and read any articles that I have produced, or if you will click off the site and go on to search for something else instead.  We often have multiple browsing windows open at once: currently I am watching an episode of the Flight of the Conchords as I type this post, while open in other windows I am logged into a social networking site, one of my email accounts and I also have open a few news articles ready to digest.  For good measure I further have a program lined up and ready to watch on the BBC Iplayer as well.

The world-wide web, as we know it, is a grand 25 years old this year.  There is a pretty astounding 2.3 billion pages on the surface web at the current time, although no one really knows how many pages or sites there are on the web as a whole, or are on the deep web in total (Naughton 2014).  The deep web is, largely, only accessible when using certain pieces of software to access it (Tor, for example) and it is full of sites that are not indexed by any search engine.  It is also often, but not always, used for nefarious practices.  By far the biggest engine browser is Google, a powerful broker in how the internet is interacted with, and how it is indexed and searched.  Every once in a while it re-configures its search algorithms to disrupt any sites that try to play the search engine optimisation game (by setting up dummy sites with links towards a selling site, for example).  This can sometimes permanently disrupt a normally regular flow of visitors to online businesses and entrepreneurs (and, dare I say it, blogs as well) (Naughton 2014).

The blogging platform that this site uses is called WordPress, a self hosting blogging site which was created in 2003.  Wordpress is a free open source blogging tool which supports and boasts some 60 million+ sites on the web today and is host to a very active community (read more here).  It is a peer supported and fully customize-able platform where help is often provided by other users.  Alongside this there is the wordpress.org site, which acts as a primary support network.  Wordpress can, if it feels it necessary, shut down your blog instantly with little to no warning (largely due to backlinks, so be careful of this).  This though, to the best of my knowledge, rarely happens although all users of WordPress or other such hosting sites should read carefully the terms and conditions of the service that they are signing up for.  (And also make copies of posts if you want to have them stored safely elsewhere).  It has been stated that WordPress is perhaps vulnerable to SQL injection attacks, though security is regularly updated .

The quick figures above are a snapshot of the current time and a very short chronology of how young this technology is.  Although I have raised my concerns about the long-term staying power of blogs before, there are plenty of efforts ongoing that are helping to actively archive the websites that litter the internet.  The maxim ‘blog often’ also seems to hold weight for long term bloggers.  The utterly beguiling Wayback Machine has managed to archive an incredible 398 billion web pages over the current period of the webs life.  Quite wonderfully this has included 20 ‘snapshots’ of this blog.  Much like WordPress itself with its active community, the internet archive site mentioned above works with a large volunteer community to help store and archive digital cultural artefacts from across the web in a repository of knowledge.

At this point all of this somewhat randomly asserted bits of information may seem trivial, but I hope to show that the internet is, largely, a community of like-minded people who seek to strive to learn from each other.  As such the interface between the internet, knowledge and academia (particularly archaeology blogging) is something that I think about fairly often.  Also as a blogger I know that we (that is, in this instance, archaeology bloggers) are all vying for the attention of an audience that has the broadest possible range of distractions at their fingertips.  A key thing to remember here of course is the fact that the majority of bloggers write because they want to write.

Digital Witnesses

But the question remains: what does it all mean to me?  I have partly answered this question on a personal level before (here), but I think this question can be approached again from a different angle with help from a few friends.

This blog first took digital form in 2011 and has since been regularly updated with short and some not so short posts (to a degree).  What was the urge to start publicly writing (for it is deeply public, no matter if you get 1 view or 1 million)?  In part, and at large still, it was to improve my own knowledge.  To make myself sit down and take stock of what I know, what I thought I knew and what I definitely didn’t know but thought I maybe knew (to paraphrase Rumsfeld).  Of course it soon became more than that, primarily because I became part of an active online community.  This, I believe, is vital as a part of blogging generally, a dynamic that can vitalise the blogger to change, adapt and evolve during the course of their own work.  Related to this is Tim Berners-Lee’s original and sustained idea that to have a great open online expanse where it is not who shouts the loudest that counts but having the freedom to shout at all that really matters, to have that utter online freedom to take part in something.

“What’s the point of even sleeping, if  I can’t show it if you can’t see me, What’s the point of doing anything?”

Digital Witness, by St. Vincent.

As such shouldn’t we take this opportunity to present our own voices, our own knowledge and our own experiences of who we are, what we do and why we do it?  Could we, in effect, ignore the call of public interaction when it could offer so much?

In my own view now is the time that will test for future generations what direction the world-wide web will ultimately head in and in what direction.  Will it retain its original liberty, freedom and privacy?  Or will it be slowly squeezed of its freedom of use?  Yet this is perhaps too simple a view of a very complex and amorphous question, after all you can have different webs, different connections and different servers (or you know, send a letter).  There are always ways and there are always means to communicate.  The web just happens to be able to reach a lot of people awfully fast.

Personal Academia

By personal academia I mean an ongoing independent interaction with education and interaction in a field of study, specifically in this case in the realms of archaeology, human osteology and human evolution.  Because at the end of the day that is what this is, for both you and me.  However I think it is also pertinent to take a brief look at the context of this blog, because context in archaeology plays a decidedly vital part of our interpretation of the material evidence.  (As a side note it is always worth remembering that although a blog isn’t a physical object that one can handle it does rely on servers, which eat up both physical space and energy).

So lets take a quick case study to highlight just how blogging and academia can fit together.

Recently my blog was mentioned by name in an article by Stojanowski & Duncan (2014) who examined public engagement in bioarchaeology in the American Journal of Human Biology.  The authors briefly examined the rise and history of bioarchaeology as a field, and then moved onto discussing popular topics discussed in the public outreach of bioarchaeology.  Importantly they highlight that bioarchaeology is, like blogging, a young and developing field.  However blogging itself came in from some criticism as the authors believed that bioarchaeology bloggers represented the “perspectives of insiders writing largely (we would argue) for other specialists and students”  (Stojanowski & Duncan 2014: 5).  Stojanowski & Duncan also asserted that “despite this professional vibrancy, it is clear that bioarchaeologists are (to some degree) marginalizing themselves from public discourse because popular presentations of their work are not representative of the field as a whole” (2014: 6).

The first instance that I had heard that my blog had been mentioned in the article was through a message from Alison Atken, of Deathsplanation, on a social media site.  There was a second when I logged onto Kristina Killgrove’s site, Powered By Osteons, and read her article on the value in response to Stojanowski & Duncan.  This discussed detailed examples that her blog had on the public’s perception of bioarchaeology and examples of her own outreach, whilst lambasting the article authors about their negation of the effects of blogging archaeology.  At this point you could consider me intrigued and amazed that my blog had been mentioned by name in an academic article (although annoyed it was negatively framed).

I couldn’t personally access the article at the time though, which was published in the American Journal of Human Biology, because it is pay-walled as the majority of academic journal articles tend to be.  (Although the list of open access publishers in archaeology is growing).  So I emailed Kristina Killgrove to see if I could get a copy of the article.  Wonderfully she duly replied and I managed to read an article referencing my own site, but which failed to actually name the people behind the blogging sites despite being a fairly prolific.

At this point I wrote my own quick reply (here).  At this junction the wonderful Bodies and Academia blog highlighted to me in the comment section that the second author, Duncan, had made the article publicly available on academia.  I also became aware of the recently released Meyers & Killgrove’s (2014) article in the Society for Archaeological Sciences Bulletin on bioarchaeology outreach.  Although not directly in response to Stojanowski & Duncan’s article, Meyers & Killgrove (2014) highlighted the value of blogging and possible future directions, which included the greater use of video and audio resources.  The article was similar to Rakita’s (2011) article in the same publication, espousing the use of social media and blogging as an educational force of outreach for good.

Alexandra Ion, over at Bodies and Academia, in response to Doug’s question of the month for February discussed the gap between academic and blog writing in regards to the above mentioned Human Biology article and the various blogging responses to it.  

As the Bodies and Academia post by Ion highlights:

This also highlighted the gap that exists, in most cases, between those involved in ‘real academic’ work and the ones doing the popular science stuff, often through blogging. More precisely,’real’ science is still associated with the classic means of communication journal articles, intended for one’s peers, while ‘popular’ science is associated with the more modern means of communication, like blogging, media etc” (from here).

This is an interesting comment and one that has riled the academic community for some time.  Many academic bloggers used either hide their blogs or do not mention to their supervisors or departments their blogs.  It has been well documented that some bloggers in the commercial archaeological sector have even lost their job over blogging exploits.  The tide though, I feel at least with academic blogging (if we must label ourselves as such), is turning.

Kristina Killgrove will be arguing in her tenure case that her expansive blog provides an important means of education outreach, as will Katy Meyers, of the ever popular Bones Don’t Lie, during the course of her PhD studies.  Scott Haddow, of A Bone to Pick, has some fantastic posts on what it is like to work in the (bioarch) field, and highlights some very interesting burials at the legendary prehistoric site of Çatalhöyük in Turkey.  Scott is also a great photographer and his shots of field life make me itch to get back in a trench (though I’ve no idea when that will be).  Jess Beck, over at Bone Broke, has an excellent blog discussing various anatomical and physiological aspects involved in bioarchaeology research.  In particular I enjoy reading her summaries of the Evolution and Human Adaptation lectures that she has attended, and her posts on human physiological adaptation.

Jamie Kendrick, a recent graduate of the MSc in Palaeoanthropology at the University of Sheffield, has a blog called The Human Story which discusses various aspects of human evolution.  He asks some of the bigger questions that archaeology and palaeoanthropology can offer such as who are we?  Where did we come from?  What changes happened along the way?  We round off this part with two other Sheffield bloggers, namely Alison Atkin of Deathsplanation and Alexandra Ion of Bodies and Academia, who share a similar focus in discussing the attitudes to the human body, archaeology and death.  Both tackle subjects that surround the periphery of academia and mainstream topics.

If the above examples are not examples of public digital outreach, then I am not entirely sure what is.

Is This Social?

Navigating my post post-graduate life (before a fabled PhD, if that is the path I am to tread) I quite often feel like a ship without a rudder, nor destination in mind.  Simply put I am my own and online I am this, in this guise (this is an important caveat).  Through this blog then I am anchored to a greater whole, partly though my own choosing and partly through lumping.  I’ve positioned this blog as a starter, a prompt into the world of human osteology and bioarchaeology.  It is still a journey I am travelling and I am happy to have you along for the ride if you care to join.  Could this, then, be considered social anthropology as well?  Possibly a social anthropology of me, a reflection of the self?  Before we get to metaphysical here let me just say that if this is a blog detailing my own dalliance in bioarchaeology, the core underpinning must always be how I position myself to those around me and how I interact with them.  I recognise that I manage to get a fair few views (although not every blog is open to discussing statistics) as such I feel that I should highlight other blogs of note.  This is just a personal view.

“Cause we’re all sons of someone’s, we’re all sons of someone’s, I wanna mean more than I mean to you”

Prince Johnny, by St. Vincent.

 Another aspect should probably be mentioned here.  Blogging, or any social media interaction, is profoundly personal yet it is also a two-way mirror.  What you think you may get out of it, the reader may get something else out of it.  Generally the blogger is in control of the personal information that they write and distribute online.  It is up to the writer themselves then how much, or to what scale, that they do this.  It can be easy to get carried away.  Many of my blog entries mention the fact that I have a bone disease, I do this because the disease is little known outside of the medical world or of people who are diagnosed with it.  Thus my blog, as well as the more academia archaeology/osteology, has a profoundly personal aspect to it yet I am inherently aware of the danger of exposing myself too much online.  For a long time I did not have my name displayed on the blog and it is only recently that I added it again to assert ownership of the content of this blog (via Creative Commons).  As for contact it is again only recently that I set up a dedicated email contact.  The blog isn’t linked to a social media account in any way nor it is linked to an academic profile.  Far too many social media sites are advertisements, I do not want to become an advert.

The drawbacks of this are the fact that the blog may, or may not, have been overlooked by researchers looking to critically assess the ‘health’ of academic archaeology blogging.  The flipside of this is that this may mean it appeals to a broader audience, an audience which is not immediately intimidated by the academic overtone on first view.  This is an assumption however and should be treated as such.  I also hope that it invigorates a person to email me and think about what they are going to say (1) – there isn’t the instant backlash of social media.

In effect then the site becomes my own personal academic environment, the above blogs often highlighting to me new research, studies and popular pieces.  The refrain that bounces around my head becomes not ‘what does it all mean?’ but ‘this is what it means’, that I belong to an online community where I know that my work (or at least some bits of it) are appreciated by both my peers and by a lay audience, especially in an arena where (for now) I know I lack a voice.  To become a part of the vanguard of the online bioarchaeological world.  To make others appreciate the great, good and real value of archaeology and the stories that are oft hidden in bone.  To know the value of your own body.

The final blogging carnival question is already up at Doug’s Archaeology for April 2014 and it is about the future of blogging, so please do jump aboard and join in!  The summary of this month’s questions are available at Doug’s site together with links to all the wonderful bloggers who took part.

Notes

(1).  Please note that although I am not active on certain social media sites I always happy to answer any and all questions, and I am happy to take part in questionnaires, interviews or offer views on archaeology and human osteology.  Contact thesebonesofmine at hotmail.com.

P.S. If you have made it this far, congratulations!

Bibliography

Meyers, K. & Killgrove, K. 2014. Bioarchaeology. Society for Archaeological Sciences Bulletin37 (1):  23-25. (Open access).

Naughton, J. 2014. 25 things you might not know about the web on its 25th birthday.  The Guardian. Accessed 09/03/14.

Rakita, G. 2011. Bioarchaeology. Society for Archaeological Sciences Bulletin. 34 (4): 27-28. (Open Access).

Stojanowski, C. & Duncan, W. 2014. Engaging Bodies in the Public Imagination: Bioarchaeology as Social Science, Science, and HumanitiesAmerican Journal of Human Biology. In Press. (Open access on Academia.edu).

St. Vincent. 2014. Produced by John Congleton.  St. Vincent. Republic Records. [Music CD].

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.

Blogging Archaeology: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

24 Dec

This is the second entry in a blogging carnival that Doug, of Doug’s Archaeology, started back in November.  Just to 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, which are posted at his site.

Image Credit.

Mixed image (with judicious use of ClipArt and Paint).

It turns out there are an awful lot of interesting archaeological blogs out there on the great wide web and a fantastic 72 separate blogs took part in the first round back in November.  My November entry, which dealt with the issues of why I started blogging in the first place and what keeps me blogging, can be found here.  In his November round-up of each and every blog that took part Doug also posted the December questions that focuses on the good, the bad and the ugly of blogging archaeology.  A further recap: to take part all you have to be doing is discussing and talking about archaeology on your own blog site: you can be an individual, part of a group, a professional archaeologist, an academic or just interested in archaeology to take part.  Please do!  I have thoroughly enjoyed reading my favourite blogs reply to Doug’s questions but, importantly, I have also discovered some new sites.  That is the joy of a blogging carnival!

So without further ado let us crack on to this month’s question: the good, the bad and the ugly of blogging archaeology online.

The Good

Clearly this is a simple answer because it is you.  If you are reading these words then that is why I am writing this.  This blog has found a bigger audience than I ever could have dreamed of, even with my almost non-existent advertising of the site.  It is the active feedback, the emails that ping into my inbox asking for information on McCune Albright Syndrome or Fibrous Dysplasia or the comments on my about page, that remind me why I continue to write this blog.  This, to me, is the great side of blogging, the active feedback that lets you know that people are actually reading your blog or discussing points that you have raised in posts.  As a bonus I hopefully get to improve my writing and I get to blog about the subject that I am most passionate about.

Further to this the blog has remained a major way in which I interact with academia, especially now that I have finished my Masters degree and currently search for a job.  I am locked out of a lot of the important archaeological and osteological journals but bloggers provide article overviews, disseminate their views for a popular audience and provide direct ways in which to discuss and implement research ideas.  This, to me, is the most important part of blogging, the helping of building up a network of trusted bloggers who are informative, interesting and imaginative.

The Bad

There are very few bad things about blogging, especially blogging about archaeology and human osteology.  The fact that this blog takes up a fair amount of time to maintain, to update and to edit could be a bad thing I guess, but I do not consider a minute of this wasted time.  There is one thing that I do worry about and it is one thing that I think most academically minded bloggers worry about, that of original work being lifted word for word and not being properly credited.  Although there is little work of truly original research on this site, I have had ideas I have wanted to share for future projects and research avenues that I want to pursue but I have been put off from writing about because of two things in particular.

I am currently not in academia although I am considering a return if I can polish a research idea I have had.  For me this next step would be to apply for a doctoral research position (ie apply for a PhD) but of course I cannot share the idea as I risk it being read by others and pursued by those who are in a position to study.  I have discussed the idea with other academics and they seem to think that the avenue of research could be viable, but do I want to go further down the academic route?  Of course nothing may ever come of the idea itself.  We shall see!

The second point is that on a blog you are writing openly and publicly to the world.  Wayward Women  have a particularly enlightening post on the bad side of blogging, namely of when your hard work gets lifted, fully and completely, and is subsequently attributed to some other reporter in the press.  Further to this point I think the blogger has to be aware that any content on their site could have been lifted at any time without their knowledge.  To the extent of my own I do not think that this has happened on mine, but I do remain fearful of it happening.  I am happy if my blog is shared, if I have been recognised as the writer of the posts here.  I heartily encourage use of Creative Commons when discussing other people’s work and to reference articles and blogs accordingly.

The Ugly

Surely the ugly goes hand in hand with the above bad side of blogging, in the form of the rise of the green monster.  Although please do not mistake me for some big green giant hellbent on revenge for a non-existent slight!  No, this is of a personal monster, of only the mild jealously of seeing such fantastic and informative bloggers and blog entries on bioarchaeological and archaeological research pursing their passion with such intellectual rigour and vigour.  Academia can be insular, not for nothing is the quote of academics sitting in their ivory towers often mentioned.  However this does academia, especially archaeology, a great disservice.  One only needs to see the tremendous amount of archaeological blogs online, the rise of community archaeology and the passion in which many fight for Open Access to understand that archaeology is deeply involved with disseminating archaeological knowledge to a wide and varied audience.

I also want to pick up another point here.  Unemployment is rarely mentioned or discussed in archaeology blogs online but it is an often inherent feature of archaeological fieldwork (and, increasingly, in academia) that at some point you may (or will) find yourself out of a job.  [Un]Free Archaeology, a site ran by Sam Hardy, does a phenomenal job documenting the changing conditions of work in the current economic climate (read: austerity, plus other factors affecting academia).  I am highlighting this because this is the ugly side of the profession.  Sam has a post in particular that details in gut wrenching detail the fate that can befall many scholars on short-term contracts: unemployment.  In a recent post he has highlighted the work of Scholars at Risk Network, an organisation that until this point I had not heard of.  Scholars at Risk Network do an amazing job of detailing scholars around the world who have been imprisoned because of their academic research.  As an international organisation of individuals and institutions they are “dedicated to protecting threatened scholars, preventing attacks on higher education communities and promoting academic freedom worldwide”.  The site is well worth a look and it is worth remembering that we who blog are lucky to be able to actually do so, to have that freedom.

The next blogging carnival question will be up at Doug’s Archaeology in early January 2014 so please do jump in and join!  The summation of the December questions are available here at Doug’s site together with the topic of January’s post.

Blogging Archaeology: Why I Blog

3 Dec

I was recently kindly asked to participate in a blogging carnival started by Doug over at Doug’s Archaeology (a fantastic site) although, as always, I may be late to the party.  So why this ‘blogging carnival’ then?  Well the Society for American Archaeology has decided to host a ‘Blogging in Archaeology’ session at its next annual conference in Austin, Texas, in 2014 but Doug cannot attend it (and neither can I) so he thought he’d contribute by extending it into the online community to widen the participation.  An excellent idea!

jonnytwopac

Image credit, with judicious use of ClipArt.

This is a great opportunity for a wealth of archaeology blogs to become united by the shared passion over our past.  You also don’t have to be American to partake in the carnival nor to be going to the SAA ‘Blogging in Archaeology’ session to join in the online fun.  As Doug states this is open to all archaeology blogs and each month in the run up to the conference (slated for April 2014) Doug’s Archaeology blog will host the carnival and ask different questions.  Join in whenever you want, you do not have to take part each month and each entry that you do will be linked back to Doug’s so it promises to be a great place to find new archaeology blogs and exciting topics amongst the wealth of questions and answers.

So for the month of November there are two questions that Doug has asked of the archaeology blogging community, these are highlighted in bold and my response follows each question.

Why blogging? – Why did you, or if it was a group- the group, start a blog?

I started this blog back in the midst of internet time that was early 2011 for a few reasons.  I had finished my undergraduate degree the year before and had started volunteering for a local archaeology unit but I wanted somewhere where I could start to document my burgeoning interests in human bones in archaeology.  I had also been thinking for quite a while about applying for a Master’s degree in human osteology during and after the undergraduate degree and I wanted to know what sort of blogs out there discussed human osteology/bioarchaeology and its uses after such programs.  I came across two straight away (Powered By Osteons and Bones Don’t Lie) that provided excellent resources of knowledge on the human skeleton from researchers in academic positions.  These two blogs and a multitude of others helped to support and consolidate my own independent studying and, together in conjunction with the core textbooks such as Mays (1999), Larsen (1997) and White & Folkens (2005), helped by discussing up-to-date methods and approaches used in human osteology and bioarchaeology.

The idea of starting a blog was both intriguing and intimidating as I was worried that I could be unintentionally misleading people if I made mistakes and that no-one would read the site.  I had also worried that my site could bring nothing new to the table, that if I wanted to start blogging I’d have to find a way to make my site slightly different.  However I thought the benefits of starting a blog outweighed the negatives and that it would be a chance to improve my own writing (spelling and grammar), provide an opportunity to connect with a wide group of people outside of academia, and it would also prove a testing ground for my own passion for all things bone related.

There was also a personal side to the story- I know first hand what it is like to hear your tibia and fibula snap, to hear the crunch of the femoral neck as it buckles, to have undergone some fairly extensive surgery to re-align and re-enforce the bones themselves.  I was worried that this could bias some of the things I wrote (and still do worry) but I thought that the blog would open up an opportunity to talk about my own bone disease (polyostotic fibrous dysplasia) in a way in which I have had trouble finding online.  Maybe if I could provide some sort of resource other sufferers could see that they were not alone?  (although this sounds perhaps a bit too grandiose when typed onto the screen).

‘Ah ha!’ I thought, no-one has gone through each of the bone elements in turn and described them and detailed their key anatomical landmarks.  This was the first idea of how I could make my blog both stand out and improve my own knowledge at the same time thus the Skeletal Series was born.  I had found my hook and I thought the blog was something that I could at least attempt.

I didn’t really know it at the time that the site would still be up now nor did I think I would still be blogging nearly 3 years later, but there you go.  You never really know the outcome before you actually commit and do something and see what happens.

Why are you still blogging?

I have answered this, in part, in a blog reflection after the latest surgery in a post called Future Steps that details the evolution of this blog.

Why do I still blog?  It is a tough question.  Every post you write you ask yourself whether anyone is going to read it, to want to read it, and you ask yourself why are you writing it?  The passion that fuels such endeavors is invariably lifelong if you have kept it up for a number of years but I don’t think blogs run on passion alone.  You need dedication, time and perseverance.  I think you must have a variety of content on the site, to be willing to expand or to risk change.  The blogosphere is big, immense even, and many blogs don’t last that long altogether.  It is a short form, it is not built for the marathon race or the long haul.  They can disappear easily, can be deleted or altered beyond recognition.

Yet there is something that keeps dragging me back to post each time I think I may watch TV instead.  It is seeing the world map lit up each day with hits from countries that I have only dreamed of visiting, of reading the rewarding comments from people who have found the site useful, of meeting friends and researchers from around the world and swapping emails and information.  As such I have altered my blog a little, started to include interviews with archaeologists or human osteologists to gain new insights into what the world of archaeology is really like.  I want readers of my site to be able to think about how big a topic archaeology and human osteology are, to be able to help learn by offering a variety of content, but also to be able to provide a series of links to other wonderful blogs or sites to learn more.

The Guest Posts are still going strong with a rich and varied content.  I want this blog to have an international reach, topics that will reach out to a wide and interested audience, not just the struggling student or tired researcher but the passionate school pupil and the intrigued father.  I thought (and still think) that if I can provide a free service for people to help learn about the human skeleton and the value of archaeology, that if just a handful of people have learnt something from my site, then the hours of typing, updating or correcting posts and finding articles has been time well spent.

Since completing my Masters program in 2012 blogging has, for me, provided one of the best ways of keeping up to date with the archaeological literature.  This is through the efforts of other bloggers who have either posted summaries of new articles (articles that are often unfortunately locked behind a paywall) or that have discussed the merits of articles or approaches when reviewing or highlighting their own original research.  Another key feature is the rise of the Open Access movement which has called for the free distribution of scientific articles.

A number of academic journals do offer articles for free online view, either as samples or as short timed pieces, and there are a number of publishing organisations that publish online peer-reviewed free access journals or articles (PLoS for example).  Blogging also opens the door to connect with researchers directly and this, for me, has led to the development of the first interview for this blog and it has also opened up new research corridors.  Put simply, I would not be as plugged in and as engaged with human osteology/archaeology/bioarchaeology/human evolution as much as I am if it were not for this blog, the people who read it and the people who have taken the time to correspond with me.

But it is also in reading other peoples blogs, their research and work, that really inspires me personally.  I love browsing the archaeology and bioarchaeology blog sites after being away from the computer for a few days or a few weeks, to see what people have been inspired to write about themselves.  To learning about a person’s idiosyncrasies of how to side a medial cuneiform; to read how accurate Bones really is; to hear the latest about an exciting hominin haul; to wonder about the Mesolithic on my doorstep; to learn about the latest methodological approach in bioarchaeology.  Blogging is all of these things and more.  It is a world of knowledge in which I am learning all the time – I think blogs bounce off each other, you can find your own niche but you can also learn together from each other.  Blogging is also fun and creative, it is a space away from the seriousness of academia, a zone in which you can explore ideas freely and communicate with a world-wide audience quickly and efficiently.

The next blogging carnival question will be up at Doug’s Archaeology shortly, jump in and join!  The summation of the November round is available to read here with December’s question.