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?