Tuesday, November 18, 2008

An appeal for KOTUS

Dear readers, if you have not yet signed the appeal for KOTUS (Research Institute for the Languages of Finland), please do it now. The institute is going to be hit hard by the so-called governmental productivity program I was ranting about in an earlier post. With the new additions to the program, they will lose 34 offices - about a third of the total they have.

The state has the policy for giving at least BA level education to 60% of each age group. At the same time they are heavily cutting down the number of civil servants - the governemental sector has traditionally been a large employer for those with education in humanities or social science. Young people, don't do like I did and train for something you will never get a job in. Go to vocational training and learn to be plumbers and electricians! At least those jobs cannot be outsourced to China.

Friday, November 14, 2008

More ranting about university policy

Today's Helsingin Sanomat again made me choke on my morning coffee. University of Helsinki is going to cut the number of different departments from the current 80 down to 40. The aim is to get departments with at least 10 professors each. (Here a link to the news at the University internet site, in Finnish only. I tried to find it in English but apparently this is not something the University wants to make internationally known.)

This massive amalgamation of departments is ostensibly related to the change of the legislation concerning universities. After the new law comes into force the departments will become financial units, which is argued to justify this shake-up. The people responsible for the decision also claim that it will enable more flexible resources for teaching and research and improve the possibilities for departmental co-operation with external partners. Bulls*t.

Let us take an example from real life. Several years ago now, the departments of archaeology, ethnology and folklore were incorporated into the Institute of Cultural Studies, and to this cocktail were added the fields of museology and marine history, which have no professorships. This statistically raised the number of professors within one department from one to three. However, because the three fields are rather different from each other, it did not in any way influence the resources available for teaching. Each field continued to teach and research as before. It did not become easier for students to do minors in the other subjects within the same department. I have understood that the fight about who gets the money did intensify, though.

What I would see as a reform beneficial for teaching and research would be getting more teaching and research staff in a particular field. I can't help turning black* with envy every time I recall the number of staff at the University of Leicester School of Archaeology and Ancient History.

*According to a friend of mine, being green with envy means just feeling envious. Black with envy embodies also feeling murderous.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Virtual teaching

or: If a tree falls in a forest but there is no-one to hear it, will it still make a sound falling?

I am not convinced by my experience in virtual teaching so far. For one thing, it is a really dreary monologue for the teacher, who has no means of judging how the audience is responding. If it is as dull for the students, they are probably half-asleep, or else most of them have left and gone home. All potential for interaction is lost by the fact that the students are sitting in a classroom and each group has only one computer for communicating back to me and to the other groups, with no microphone, so the only means of asking questions is by typing them. Finnish students are not famous for being communicative anyway, quite on the contrary, but in comparison with this virtual course the discussion on the other one I have been teaching is lively. Despite all the technology involved, I feel this is going backwards in time, to the good old days when a professor would enter the classroom, give his lecture and leave, without any interruption from the students intent on absorbing his words of wisdom.

However, in the light of recent discussion revolving around Finnish university policies , I fear I am really witnessing the future. The government is also planning to cut down thousands of governmental jobs in the name of a productivity program - as if e.g. social security or educational sector is a company operating by the laws of quartal capitalism*. That is so absurd it would make you laugh if it was not real. So, I can see how alluring the idea must be for the decision-makers: By employing one teacher only you can teach (in a very broad sense of the word, but who cares as long as the statistics look nice?) students anywhere in the country with negligible material costs. Lo and behold, we have invented the next best thing after the duck laying gold eggs.

*And see where that principle has led us... It never fails to confound me how these companies can make more and more money by constantly closing factories and kicking out workers. In the past having to close down factories would have been a sign of impending disaster for the company but now it just causes their share price to soar. I confess my utter and absolute bafflement.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Brain drain

I recently read in Helsingin Sanomat (the leading Finnish newspaper) that Finland is one of the few OECD countries to suffer from brain drain. After reading the article, I have had a couple of discussions with colleagues, and they have confirmed my initial reaction to the news. It is no wonder that educated young Finns pack their suitcases and leave the country, when there is so little chance for a person with a doctoral degree to find a decent job!

Finnish free education system is held in high regard. Our schoolchildren get top results in PISA, although I dare say the same quality is not quite met in the higher education where the emphasis seems to be mainly on quantity rather than quality - maximum number of degrees for minimum input in terms teaching staff and facilities. (In fact, considering the ridiculously low numbers of teaching staff in universities we are not doing THAT badly...) What I find incredible that we have this free education system with good-quality schooling up to the doctoral level and then we just WASTE it.

My own experience comes from archaeology, of course, but I have understood the situation is much the same regardless the field. As long as you are a wanna-be researcher doing your PhD, you may get funding through grants or a PhD school (if you are lucky and in a suitable field likely to get that kind of funding). But when you emerge from the university, a fledgeling researcher, you will find out that nobody will fund your research. The reason is that while there are quite a few grants for PhD students, there a significantly fewer of those for young researchers - to get post-doctoral research funding you have to be at first established in your field, but how to achieve that in the first place? Moreover, no employer wants you. You are considered over-educated, too theoretical and alienated from "real" work. Besides, heavens forbid, you might want to have a bigger salary because of your higher education! If your background is in humanities, there is the additional problem of being a specialist in a non-productive field. Here in Finland we have a firm belief in education also in that sense that you are not fit to do anything else than what you were educated for - unless, of course, that "else" is working in an institutional cleaning company.

No wonder there have not been any Nobel prizes in science coming to Finland since A.I.Virtanen in 1945. Those bright enough to do so leave the country and do not come back. In fact, even if they wanted to return, they will find it very hard because the experience and skills they have gained abroad is not valued - not in the sense of money nor in the sense of job opportunities. (This insular attitude is, of course, even more pronounced when it comes to foreigners, but that is another story.)

Somebody tell me, how can we afford this?!

PS. Btw, I've been considering trying to get a post-doc post abroad when my doctoral thesis is finally finished... Specializing in any field in archaeology in Finland seems to be a career suicide. Well... you might actually say that studying archaeology is a career suicide. :)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

You can't choose your ancestors, or can you?

Besides the virtual lectures, I'm also teaching on another course with live audience. The subject is general archaeology, and the course is basically supposed to include no less than the prehistory of the whole world, although by the dept. of archaeology tradition and by restrictions set by limited time, the view tends to be centered on prehistoric Europe. Yes, you might ask like my dissertation's supervisor, how and why a person supposedly specializing on the Late Classical Near East is doing this. Well, you see, I still need to eat even after I ran out of my research grant, and in fact I rather like teaching (I can hear the teen-age me howling in terror and despair, as one of the reasons I started studying something as useless as ethnology was my firm intention never to end up as a teacher).

Anyway, on last Tuesday I got to start the course by introducing our ancestors to the students. Having to go through more than 20 million years of human evolution in three hours I barely had the time to present the bare bones of the subject (quite literally). I tried to put on a lively show, but by the end of the session the group of students seemed slightly stunned and more than a little glassy-eyed. I honestly think I got more out of the subject myself, while preparing the lecture.

I'm sure I'm not the first to notice these things, but because this was something of an interesting notion to me, I'd like to share it. It is about Lucy, the fossil Australopithecus afarensis. When Lucy was found, she was quickly dubbed our ancestral mother, as it was thought at the time that we are descended from the Australopithecini. However, recently the human family tree has been extensively pruned and grafted, and now it seems that the Australopithecini were a branch separate from us. This heavy-handed gardening stripped Lucy of the status of our esteemed great-grandmother, a change which I think is reflected in these two reconstructions which I happened to find in the Internet when browsing for illustrations for my lecture.

In the first one, which is said to be from a French museum, Lucy is portrayed as remarkably human. The second one I found on BBC's site. It is a recent reconstruction and probably closer to the reality - Australopithecini were quite chimp-like in body, with the one remarkable difference: they walked on two feet. But it would not do to portray our grandmother as an ape, would it now? However, after Lucy lost her post-humously acquired touch of humanity, it is quite acceptable to do so, and by doing, to distance ourselves from these less-successful relatives.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Virtually there

I have become a virtual teacher. I am teaching the rudiments of archaeology on an internet course in the open university. In practice this means that the students follow the lectures at three different locations over the country. What is sort of silly is that the students sit in a classroom and listen. So they don't have their own computers and microphones and the interaction part of the lecture is nearly non-existent. The only way to communicate is using the chat function of Connect Pro, the program we use for broadcasting the lectures.For the students, I am a talking head on a screen. For me they are even more unreal. Because they have no microphones, I'm talking into a complete silence which feels very weird. Luckily I can at least see a few of them in a webcam picture, so I know there is somebody out there, but I can't really see their reactions - whether they seem to be interested or bored out of their minds.

Am I witnessing the future of teaching in universities?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


My article has been accepted for publication!

Of course I will have to do some editing, but still, this feels like a small victory. And it gives me some hope that maybe, after all, I will get my PhD one day, although not necessarily as soon as I would have wished (if you read my profile carefully you may notice a small but significant change). Oh well, as a past Finnish president said, one has to acknowledge realities.

Friday, August 29, 2008

End of season

The field season is over. I am currently in Amman, trying to get used to the idea of returning home in a couple of days. A month of fieldwork in Jordan is such an intensive experience that I find it hard to orientate myself to the normal life. I am often feeling strangely detached and a little bit blue. Helsinki looks alien and simple tasks like shopping groceries or taking a tram are confusing experiences, not the least because I can't decide what language I should speak.

To sum up the season in Jarash, I met many nice people I hope to keep in some contact with in the future, I learned lots of new things - although not necessarily those things I expected to learn, and I found out that being an archaeologist is still my dream job. In short, I enjoyed this season in Jarash enormously. Thank you everyone who were there with me. Tusen, tusen tack.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Home abroad

It is very good to be in Petra again. This is only a three days holiday in the middle of the excavation season, but it has been nice to see old friends and acquintances. And to move on my own - in Jarash we ladies are not allowed to go to the town without being accompanied by a male member of the team, due to some incident a couple of years back. Also, after spending altogether closer to a year here (in bits and pieces), this place has a certain feeling of being a home abroad. When I left in 2005 I had no idea when, if ever, I'm coming back. I did not quite fall to my knees and kiss the ground, but... yes, it is nice to be here.

After we come back from Petra, the students (and I) are being rotated to new squares. I might even get to do a little sounding of my own. I'm very excited about that! My previous fieldwork experience in Jordan has been almost exclusively survey, so this has all been new to me. Although of course most excavation skills are transferable to almost any environment. Speaking of which, I got to do my first Harris matrix since my own fieldschool in 1995 yesterday. Heh.

Monday, August 4, 2008

See Jarash and fry

Back in Jordan for the first time in almost three years. For those who haven't read the previous entries, or just forgot, I volunteered in a Danish-Jordanian excavation project. We are digging the remains of an early Islamic mosque, a Byzantine bath house and various other buildings just in the crossroads of the Cardo and the South Decumanus, so drop to visit if you happen to be walking past.

To tell about the conditions here in just a few words because the connection is really slow: The people are nice and the food is excellent - I have developed a taste for Near Eastern cooking over the years, provided there is some variation from the chicken&rice theme. The accommodation is not bad, by excavation standards - we have showers and toilets although of course water is scarce and the toilets do not flush but that is not really a problem. So far in the square I'm working in we have been just removing mixed layers of recent topsoil. The work is hot, dirty and backbreaking and far from glorious, which seems to come as a bit of a disillusionment for the field school students on their first dig. :)

So I am alive.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Indiana Jones' retirement

Warning, there be spoilers.

Let's start with a disclaimer: with a slight embarrassment I confess to being a fan of the Indiana Jones movies, so everything I write here should be seen in relation to that. Besides, I've always had a soft spot for Indy and Han Solo. OK, so now you know my dark secrets, let's continue.

Due to spending most of the summer either abroad or in our summer home away from the silver screens it took me this long to go watch the last Indiana Jones. After waiting for at least a decade and after all the disparaging comments I had heard about the movie from those who had already seen it, my hopes were not high. Therefore it was maybe easy to be pleasantly surprised. Not by the twists and turns in the movie, which could be foreseen easily enough, and combined every trick ever seen in the previous three movies put all together - catacombs, waterfalls, pits, skeletons, snakes and other creepy-crawlies, not to mention lots of very bad shooting by the bad guys.

While watching the movie I got the feeling that old friends had just gathered together to have some fun. But in my opinion the movie was quite entertaining, and when you get to the bottom of it, that is what Indiana Jones movies are about (although in the beginning they had managed to put in a few jibes at the present rule of the US). And honestly, folks, if you want to watch a French art film, you don't go to watch Indy, do you?

The best joke of the movie was probably unintentional. :)

The young guy says to Indy : - So you're a teacher?
And Indy replies: - Part time.
So even if you are Indiana Jones, you only get a part time job!

Btw, it was somehow very disturbing that the commie doctor spoke in the voice of Lady Galadriel. Cate Blanchett seems to have certain mannerisms.

I also noticed that there will be a new Mummy, starring Brendan Fraser (who is not half as sexy as Harrison Ford) and Jet Li, coming later this year. Apparently the terracotta army comes alive! This is a must!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rafting on the river of Hades

Time flies, one week has already gone past. We work from the break of the day until the sunset, except for a four hours break for siesta in the afternoon. My job here is pretty boring to be honest, just augering to get soil samples. When I tried to show more interest, immediately after we came here, I was told (not quite in these exact words, but the message was this) that it is not my work here to think. Oh, great. Can you hear my motivation soaring?

So, instead of thinking, I went rafting on River Acheron today with some people from our field team. As you may or may not know, Acheron is the river of Hades. We managed to avoid the three-headed dog (well, actually he only had one head and looked pretty lame) and were safely back on the shore when I realized Kharon had extracted a payment for the trip, after all: my phone in its presumably water-tight plastic bag was dripping wet. I hope the ferryman will enjoy it as much as I did, in case it does not miraculously return to life.

But in case you try to text me, here is the explanation to why your messages are not getting through.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Long time, no see.

I was in London on a strictly non-archaeological trip with the choir I sing in, and then travelled to Bristol to see an old friend from the time I studied in Leicester (we shared a house; she became a teacher). Well, we did go to Bath to see the Roman baths, so there was some archaeology included, but I was there as a tourist. And I had extremely good time!

The last week I spent with my family in our summer place (see earlier post about significant landscape). There is something very relaxing about starting the day by lighting a fire in the oven and working slowly through the day, whether in the garden or inside the house, without ever looking at the watch. A purifying experience, I'd say.

Needless to say, these activities have not been actually beneficial to my dissertation, although I am a great believer in the theory that human mind needs times when it is not doing anything much to be productive. However, I'm still waiting for that productive mode to set in. Meanwhile, I'm just feeling I'm a hopeless looser because I did not manage to write four articles within a year after all.

Next Saturday I'm off to Greece and fieldwork.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Back at the office

After two weeks of fieldwork it is a strange experience to be back at the office. Neither has my right hand fully recovered from the experience - digging clayey soil is hard work, even with a spade. But the weather was fine (almost too fine, as fieldwalking would probably have been more fruitful after a little bit of rain), the company was good, and it was great to be outdoors. For me it was also a useful re-training course of doing archaeological work in Finland. And as a result, this is going to be a brief spell at the computer before one more week of fieldwork!

Needless to say, all this means that my dissertation is sadly neglected...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I spent the last week in Joensuu, at SciFest, a science and technology fair aimed at school kids. We were there exhibiting the work done in our research project. The idea of SciFest is to give hands-on experience to the children, so the archaeological part of our stand included a sand box complete with "archaeological finds". It was a big hit. Looking at the enthusiastic way the kids were digging at the sand box I could not help feeling a little bit guilty. Considering the bad career possibilities in this field, is it not irresponsible to get children interested in archaeology?

Speaking of work, I have enlisted to work at excavations for the next couple of weeks. The work will involve digging at some Stone age dwelling site not far from Helsinki. This is the first time in a decade I'm doing archaeological fieldwork in Finland, and the first time ever I have the luxury of sleeping at home while doing it. Two weeks away from the office do not sound that bad. I just hope the weather stays nice!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Probably the worst movie I've ever seen

I went to see "10 000 BC" with a couple of my archaeologist friends. It was a must, of course, since it is set in the past. Having seen the earlier films by the same director my hopes were not high. Even so, it was worse than I expected.

The story itself is a bundle of clich├ęs. The main character belong to a tribe of Palaeolithic mammoth hunters. A man who is not especially bright or brave falls in love with a woman. She is robbed by the bad guys and of course he sets out to rescue her with a couple of helpers - a young boy, a brave soldier and a wise old man. On the road (a journe through a most unlikely geography which might or might not be Europe and Africa...) they meet other people (Neolithic tribes) who help them to overcome the bad guys. The only way the scriptwriter has found to motivate the people to act seems to be the fulfilling of some prophecy, which abound. Finally it is revealed that the bad guys are actually the people of the lost Atlantis, ruled by some alien! By this time, at the latest, you realize that 10 000 BC is not a movie set in the past, it is pure fantasy, or some kind of paleo-scifi.

The dialogue is almost non-existent, being replaced by a most annoying narrator. The characters are so thin that you could not care less whether they live or die. Through the two hours of suffering (in part of the audience) the movie seems to try to build towards an epic climax which never comes. In short, the movie did not touch anything in me.

Archaeologically, there were some nice details, like the care with which the material culture of the mammoth hunters and the farmers was portrayed. But if this much money is wasted on producing a film, could not someone have paid the scriptwriter a little more to get a proper plot?

Summer away from home

It seems that besides excavating in Jordan in August I will be working in Greece for a couple of weeks in July. This is a familiar project I have been working for before, so no big excitement in the air. I just hope it is not going to be as hot as it was last time I was there a couple of years ago. You would think that Jordan in August is hot, but that is dry heat, which is much more tolerable than the sweltering Northern Greece.

On the bright side, the impending financial catastrophe of June and July is avoided. And nobody certainly told me to concentrate on Mediterranean archaeology. In a sense it has actually been a professional suicide, because with a history of working in the Eastern Mediterranean for the last decade I am never going to get a post in archaeology here in Finland.

Oh well, I have already decided that when my career in archaeology ends I will go over to real estate business.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Reason to celebrate!

For a background, I have volunteered and accepted for a Danish/Jordanian excavation project taking place in Jerash next August, but have been uncertain whether my finances will stretch to that. Finally I was informed that I got the travel grant I had applied for! Yay! All praise the FIME!

I know, I know, last time I was in Jordan doing fieldwork in August I swore never again shall I do fieldwork in Jordan in August. Well, never say never it seems... I've never been to Jerash, so it is going to be very interesting, and once again I have managed to avoid the necessity of getting a proper job.

Monday, March 17, 2008

My significant landscape, or what I do on my holidays

The landscape I am going to tell about is the island and fishing village of Tammio. The island of Tammio is located in the archipelago of the eastern Gulf of Finland. Typical of the archipelago are small, wooded islands. The shores are granite cliffs, smoothed by the Ice Age and the sea.

The island of Tammio has been inhabited since the 16th century, although there are traces of much earlier inhabitants in the area: there is a Bronze Age burial cairn in Tammio and two Viking Age cairns in one of the nearby islands. The present-day fishing village has its origins in the late 18th century. It has not been settled year-round since the 1950s, but many people, descendants of the former fishers, spend their summer holidays there.

The village shoreline is filled with boathouses. Behind them, on higher ground not flooded even during the worst storms of early winter, are the dwelling houses. There are around fifty one-storey wooden houses with their adjacent gardens and outbuildings. The houses are usually painted yellow or ochre, while the outbuildings and boathouses are painted red. Most of the buildings date to the 19th – early 20th century, which was the heyday of the village. They are concentrated in the western and eastern part of the island, forming a relatively densely built village. Footpaths lead from the shore up to the houses. The rest of the island is mostly forested, with some modern summer cottages on the shores further away from the village.

The village of Tammio is considered a rare and beautiful example of the fishing villages the eastern Gulf of Finland, surviving in almost its original 19th century appearance. The village has been protected by the NBA, and was nominated as a candidate to the UNESCO World Heritage List a few years ago.

The reasons why this landscape is very special for me have little to do with its importance as a cultural monument, however, and indeed nothing to do with detached academic observation. For me Tammio is a very personal landscape. It was the home of my grandfather, and a few more generations of grandparents lived there. I have spent part of my summers there since childhood. The atmosphere of the island is somehow tranquil and unhurried. In a world where most places I used to know have changed so much in the last decade or two that I can hardly recognize them, Tammio represents for me comforting stability and continuity, and a rare feeling of belonging to somewhere.

Everyday nuisances and annoyances

Guess what had happened when I came to work today. Windows had somehow reset its settings over the weekend and all my email settings and bookmarks had miraculously disappeared. Again. The last time this happened was after the Christmas vacation. After that I installed a handy add-on to Firefox for copying my bookmarks to the internet. Naturally that was also gone, and guess if I remember where to find those bookmarks now. Annoyance would be a mild term to describe my state of mind. After all, the internet is a major tool these days, and my bookmarks did actually contain relevant stuff for my research. Having to set up my email account again was a minor nuisance compared to the loss of bookmarks. It seems that I'll just have to start copying my bookmark file to a safe place at least once a week to avoid this happening every couple of months.

On the subject of the state of my dissertation: After receiving a note telling they had got my article, I have not heard anything from the journal. I hope that it is a good sign and means they have decided to give it to the referees.

I am working on the next article, one dealing with - not surprisingly - landscapes. Soon I should brace myself and hand it to my supervisor for comments. Btw, I heard that a very early and incoherent version of it, which I had subjected to peer-critique at the post-grad seminar, had been circulating at the NBA. Am very embarrassed. Now I begin to see why others only hand out almost finished articles.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

From creating a national past towards sharing it

Yesterday evening I was eating out with friends from the Jordan project. After a couple of glasses of wine I launched into one of my favourite rants concerning Finnish archaeology, namely, why do we not publish our research in international journals?!

While studying in England some years ago I, for the first time, realized that although we do not have here in Finland things that would really capture the imagination of the public, like Roman villas or Egyptian pyramids, we have something that might capture the attention of other archaeologists: very well-preserved hunter-gatherer dwelling sites dating to the Mesolithic and the Neolithic and even later periods. I understand that in Central Europe and in the Mediterranean these are rare because of intense cultivation, erosion and such. Dozens if not hundreds of these sites have been excavated and documented with care in Finland. The information available from those excavations might be very interesting and useful for archaeologists interested in prehistoric hunter-gatherers worldwide. So why the hell do we not publish our research more widely?

Why are we happy to write about our research just to each other? The Finnish community of archaeologists is not big, let me tell you - even by the little I have told about myself in my blog I'd say most archaeologists in Finland who have ever met me already know who I am. If they don't, they know somebody who can tell them.

But back to the business: In my opinion (you may disagree) this disinterest towards reaching an international audience is largely due to the historical background of archaeology in Finland. Archaeology of Finland was started as a part of the nation-building program in the 19th century. It was aimed at creating a past for the Finns, and at present day it still carries that ballast. I dare argue that most Finnish archaeologists doing archaeology in Finland have the underlying idea that they are studying the past of the Finns (or, in some cases, the past of the Sami) although they might not even be conscious about having it. And that, I would claim, is why we do not see that resarch on our Mesolithic and Neolithic hunter-gatherer sites might actually have something to give to a larger, international audience, who don't give a damn about whose prehistory it is, but would dearly love to achieve a better understanding about hunter-gatherer sites. It is just a matter of viewpoint.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Archaeology is imagination

Within the field of archaeology there have been, and still are, strong research traditions which emphasize on the accuracy of the collection of data and the use of scientific techniques. The underlying conception is that by the use of rigorous and preferably scientific techniques we can produce more accurate interpretations of the past - in less fancy words, do better archaeology.

I have experienced something of a loss of innocence in my relationship with scientific archaeology. I would not go as far as to claim it has no use whatsoever - scientific methods can certainly serve to answer some questions, as long as those questions are suited to be answered by those methods. However, it is only our interpretation that makes them archaeology.

However, there is a part in the process which leads from archaeological finds or scientific results to archaeological interpretation, which I am sorely tempted to call a leap of imagination. It may be well-informed and persuasively argued imagination, and based on a sound theory, and if we want to move beyond the mere description of material things, it is necessary, but still, it has more to do with fantasy than with science.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Article angst I

Gaah, I've offered an article for publication - the first ever I hope to get published in an international refereed journal and now I am waiting for the decision of the editors. It's SCARY folks, it's scary. I read the names of the editors and those of the editorial board and ran across several BIG names. And I am aspiring to publish in the company of those people? I feel so inadequate. Well, the rejection will be easier to bear because I'm expecting it, I suppose.

I think the whole business of my dissertation would have taken a lot less of time had I not this tendency to lapse into extreme self-deprecation which may lead to total lack of initiative and even complete apathy from time to time. To tell the truth, more than once I've considered giving up altogether and forgetting all dreams of a career in archaeology because I feel I am not intelligent enough to do this, and only been pushed to go on by the fact that research funding has been my only source of income. Why can't I be a happy-go-lucky person who believes in their own abilities for more than a few hours in a go?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Shaping landscapes

I have had the privilege of doing archaeological fieldwork in Jordan since almost a decade ago now, in excellent company. I miss the camaraderie of our team, which I again and again mistakenly took as missing the actual fieldwork. This error resulted in spending five seasons - invariably in late summer which in the Near East tends to be hot - intensively surveying a very small area around a certain mountain. I can claim to have experienced that specific landscape very closely, and in a more embodied way than I would even care (btw, did you know that you can sweat from your eye sockets too?) .

If anything, this experience has made me more doubtful of our capability to understand the perceptions people in the past attached to certain landscapes or places; to put ourselves to the skins of a 1st century Nabataean or a 5th century Christian pilgrim, even less a Neolithic farmer-herder-hunter-gatherer (the last two having apparently been what the Neolithic people were doing in our survey area since they left little traces of themselves). In fact, I think we would be hard pressed even to imagine ourselves as the present-day locals, who can associate every place with a piece of family or clan history - even if we knew that history.

It is a widely accepted view in archaeology that places get meaning through human use and that meaning is deeply rooted in culture and dependent on the group, even the individual. When we went to our survey area for the first time, for us there were no places, only space. The landscape was alien to us before we categorized and labelled it in our own terms: sandstone, limestone, fault line, alluvium, barrage, terrace wall, lithic scatter... Some of the locations in that landscape later became places for us, but they are places of our own making. Such as the places we used to have our tea-breaks in, or the rock that we dubbed "the Indian head" because, from a certain angle, it looks like the profile of a face with stereotypized "Indian" features.

I think this example aptly illustrates that we are 21st century western academics with a scientific mindset and what we are, we are thoroughly. We cannot be anything else. We may learn to walk the paths and we may see the same landforms and monuments or try to reconstruct them in our mind's eye or through the use of our sophisticated technologies. We may try to empathize with the perceptions of past individuals like actors would to a role. And still they will not mean the same things to us. We may get a tantalizing glimpse of meaning through archaeological remains, but our constructions of what past people would have thought rest on our ideas of what they were like and what they should have been feeling and thinking when they perceived something that we, from our own cultural background, consider impressive or important, which probably tells us more about ourselves than them.

(Well, this was supposed to be a rant but ended up more as a musing...)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I never intended to start a blog about what I think - thinking being something I rarely seem to have time to get involved with. However, occasionally in the process of writing something else I end up with something that can hardly be offered for publication, but fall in love with my own words so much that I wish to share them with somebody. This will be a place to vent those unpublished thoughts. Now you have been warned.

Things on the to-do -list:
a rant about embodied archaeological experience