Goddess Pots

I found these beautiful pots online last week :

goddess pots

And they immediately set off a train of thoughts about ceramics and bodies, and how archaeologists interpret ceramics and bodies. But first, aren’t they stunning? I love how some of the breasts are asymmetric, how the aureolae vary in shape and colour, how the nipples are flat and erect, how some of the bodies are straight and some curvy, some with the hint of a belly (a reference to pregnancy?), some with a nipped in waist. Some have handles, some don’t. Some look like they would be perfect for your morning cuppa, some look like they definitely would work better as containers for your Instagram perfect succulent.

Iris Young, a feminist philosopher who I’ve found incredibly useful, writes about “Breasted Experience.” She describes what it is like to live in a breasted body, the impact of breasts on our day to day experiences of the world. This is something anyone with mammary tissue instantly appreciates: walking down the stairs without a bra on if you have larger breasts, the freedom of a backless top, that wonderful moment when you take your bra off at the end of the day. There are more specific feelings too, unique to particular experiences: that unique tingly aching, the prickling pain when your baby cries and the let-down reflex gets going, the looking down and seeing a wet patch on your t-shirt, the blood, pus, and pain of breastfeeding going wrong- and these are only my own more recent experiences. Breasts aren’t static, they change through the life course, adapting to weight, pregnancy, hormones, bringing different feelings and sensations as they shift, grow and shrink. Like clay, they can be shaped and formed through things happening around and to them: puberty, pregnancy, ageing. But these vessels catch this experience at a moment in time and freeze it in clay.

I’ve used Young’s work to argue that past bodies are shaped by the objects around them, as well as by social expectations and norms. Using her most famous example, that of a little girl throwing a stone into the sea, I argued that the shape, size, weight and her relationship to the stone all affect the girl’s throw as much as embodied sexist expectations for female behaviour. Objects are complicit in the way we use our bodies, and have their own agendas for getting us to act a certain way- a cup with a handle has a very clear implication for your interaction with it. These goddess cups are fascinating- where do you place your hand, how do you interact with the body of the vessel, literally. What do these objects want from us? Do they want us to consider our own bodies and think about the power of touch and representation? Is it about texture? Are some of them bought and sold as jokes, or risque talking points? These pots are the site of myriad interactions, some of which they can structure and others which are beyond their agency.

And how about pots in the past? As soon as I saw these I thought about this, and other examples like it:Figure 7.9

This being the handle of a cup from Poggio Civitate (image (c) Poggio Civitate Archaeological Project) , one of many examples of Etruscan ceramics where a woman’s body is moulded in clay and placed where anyone interacting with the vessel will not only see but almost certainly touch it. These women have been interpreted as goddesses, as they are often represented (as here) with wings, or a pair of cats. I took this interpretation and ran with it in my PhD, arguing that the divine nature of these figures is connected to the experience of drinking alcohol, and the sense of liminality that comes with intoxication. I also argued that it may be linked to sexuality, and fertility- making use of the rush of desire that comes from drinking to get a move on making the next generation of elite Etruscan babies. Wrapped up in all of this is the need to touch, to physically feel with the hand the curves and contours of these sacred bodies. These pots require touch. The magic demands tactile interaction in order to work.

The goddess pots also made me think (inevitably) about other vessels, with supposedly erotic images like this one:

fIGURE 7.20
Image (c) Trustees of the British Museum

These vessels, imported pots made in Athens that ended up in Etruscan tombs, have fascinated me for years now, and the sexualised images really caught my attention right at the start of my PhD and shaped the whole thing. Seeing these goddess pots, and the wide variety of uses and interactions users were having with them, made me think of these vessels too. Are they jokes? Apotrophaic talismans to ward off evil? Are they designed to create desire? Are they pornographic? I argued that they formed part of an idealised set of primarily masculine identities, imported from Athens to Etruria, that shoved out the old tactile vessels. Visual imagery that needed to be interpreted by knowing the “correct” response, demonstrating that the user of a vessel belonged in elite company, replaced the tactile vessels and their goddess handles. It’s more satisfying to imagine yourself in control of your body, not some divine winged female with feline sidekicks.

If these lovely pots survive in the archaeological record, I wonder what sort of stories the archaeologists of the future will weave about and around them. Jokes? Powerful fertility talismans? Feminist icons? All of the above.

***Bodies. Pots. Touching. Magic. Uh oh. I’m back on this stuff, and it’s a heady brew. Over the last few months, I realised that I rushed out my thesis in a book, and actually there are more articles in there than just the appendix that I published as a standalone. I have some revisions to a different article that MUST BE THE PRIORITY but watch this space for some more formal discussion of these ideas. With less mention of pus. Thanks for the kick up the backside, Sonia Rose and your goddess pots.***


Is Time Really Up, Academia?

I bloody hope so. Things have edged agonisingly slowly, closer and closer towards actual consequences for perpetrators of (sexual) harassment and bullying in the academy. With a brilliant journalist pushing the story beyond the hand-wringing nonpologies we have previously seen, there has been a renewed surge of voices sharing experiences and standing together to say that this behaviour is totally unacceptable- and we will not accept it. Some colleagues and I have been working on various small projects chipping away at this enormous iceberg of a problem: writing consequences for harassment (i.e. removal and barring- can you tell I was a bouncer for 4 years?) into rules for conference attendees, and trying to develop ways to gather more data on the scale of harassment in archaeology as a discipline.

However, there’s something I want to add here: harassment has been with us a long time, as our colleagues tell us, as I demonstrated in that blog post a few months ago. But harassment and bullying in the academy now are wrapped up in the current academic precariat- a poisonous concoction of short term employment (recent survey estimated 1/3 of academic staff in the UK are on a short term contract), high mobility and turnover of staff, oversupply of qualified candidates and intense competition for few positions.

Harassment and precarity are bound together, feeding off one another.

In the current situation of academic precarity and exploitative labour practices, the stakes are even higher, the risks are more extreme: for exactly the wrong people. When targets are harassed and bullied, their self-confidence is damaged, trauma inflicted, bodies are violated and mental health suffers. If they snap back and fight back, they know they are risking everything they have worked for. In a job market where the tiniest of margins may separate candidates, a single comment from a senior scholar (furious and frightened at being called out, derisive and sneering if they got away with it) remembered by an interviewer or panel reading an application can be career ending. A single blog post, perceived as threatening, can mark you as “difficult” and to be avoided at all costs. Tears in the toilets after a grotesque leer can mark you out as not “tough enough” to make it. Vulnerability and toughness alike will be punished, while the perpetrator strolls up to the lectern and oozes their opening slides.

I keep hearing about the danger of possible damage to perpetrators’ careers, but in this shitshow of a job market why on earth shouldn’t that be a consideration? If you harass and bully, you will damage your career. It should not be the exact opposite, as it is now: if you stand up to perpetrators, if you get a name for being a “difficult woman,” you should not be at risk.

There is also no good time to stand up and shout out for early career scholars- any 9 month, 2 year, 3 year contract is going to end, and you will be back on the job market not knowing if you have a black mark against your name in the whisper network.

If you are in a new position, miles away from your support systems, you are isolated and alone- where will you go when the inappropriate behaviour begins, and the institution charged with a duty to care for you closes its eyes and covers its ears, preferring to protect their own? Can you go back to your supervisor and ask for help, take your chances with HR, or will you just try desperately to pretend it never happened, to undermine and gaslight yourself into getting through this contract and getting the hell out of there? If it’s a permanent position, will you risk alienating yourself from your new colleagues (who probably already know all about the behaviour you are experiencing- you will almost never be the first target)?

I really hope that harassment and multiple serial perpetrators find that #TimesUpAcademia. But until we tear down the precarious academy with all its enabling structures, I worry that this is going to keep on happening.

**As I think I have written before somewhere, I am (currently? permanently? who knows?) out of the game as regards academic jobs, so I feel I can write this, thanks to the enormous privilege that lets me write and work after the kids are asleep. When you have nothing to lose, you are free to say what you think. **

T’aint what you do… IWD 2018

Hurrah, it’s International Women’s Day tomorrow. I feel like a lot of things have changed, or at least started to maybe edge towards the slightest bit of change, since last year. One massive change has been at the wonderful Museo dei Balzi Rossi, a great museum that I first encountered designing a tour for my previous employers, and which I recently returned to digitally while putting together the proposal for book number 3.

The caves and rock shelters of the “Red Cliffs” the museum is named for contained a number of Palaeolithic human remains, mostly discovered in the 19th and early 20th century. One of the most famous, excavated in 1872, was the remains of what was thought to be a man, wearing a beautiful headpiece made of shells and deer teeth, and covered in red ochre, dated to around 30-24,000 years BP. As it turns out, the 19th century assumption that this burial was male was incorrect. In a special event for International Women’s Day, the Museum has revealed the results of new analysis which demonstrates that “Mentone Man” was actually a woman. Entry is free for women tomorrow, and you can explore all the fabulous finds from these caves and rejoice at an androcentric interpretation being proved wrong.

Or, you could go further south, where you don’t have to challenge any assumptions about women in the past, and women’s lives in the present…

I feel horrible writing this as I love this museum and used their collections extensively in my PhD thesis, but the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Chiusi has got it terribly wrong in its IWD celebrations. They are hosting a special event called “L’arte della seduzione nel Mondo Antico,” a title which made me worry: Valentine’s Day was a few weeks back team. The event is focused on perfume use and that’s great: there is important work to be done on perfume: its actual contents, the trade in it, how its ingredients travelled and moved around, its role in gender interaction, structuring masculinity and femininity and the role of scent in curating identity. I’ve done bits and bobs with this myself, drawn from the bodies we see on perfume vessels, and need to sort my act out and write it out properly. But oh, the language used to promote this event. Oh.

The poster distributed on facebook for the event at the Museo Nazionale Etrusco Chiusi- their copyright.

First off, the “Art of Seduction.” Is this really all that Etruscan women were interested in and for? The follow up is “Etruscan women remember…” remember what? Remember the same endless being objectified and reduced to a body for sex that is so familiar from the present day, and that IWD is supposed to be fighting against?

Then we have a more detailed promo text, including:

La donna etrusca è celebrata dalle fonti antiche per la sua straordinaria bellezza, esaltata grazie all’uso sapiente di profumi…”

“Etruscan women are renowned in the ancient sources for their extraordinary beauty, heightened thanks to their knowledgeable use of perfumes…” (my translation).

Hmmm… that’s not quite my understanding. The texts cited are Galen writing about perfume in general and our old chum Theopompus of Chios’ massively problematic fantasy piece about Etruscan women being naked at banquets, sexually available and therefore all Etruscans being illegitimate (so decent Greek colonists can totally steal their trade routes and generally look down their noses at them). Putting these two texts together this way is creative, sure, but it doesn’t tell us anything about the actual perfumes Etruscan women might have used, and why they might have used them, unless your answer is TO BE SEXY, BECAUSE THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS. This essentialist sexist interpretation is inappropriate any day of the year, but on International Women’s Day? Ouch.

I’m hoping this is just a misjudged bit of PR, but it really does matter, because this is engaging the public with the past. Entry to the event is free for women, so if you’re around and you fancy seeing whether this is just a messy attempt to get bums on seats (“I know- wimmin like smellies! Let’s do smellies!”) or whether the objectification continues through the talk, it won’t cost you anything. You could even ask about the promo, if you felt like it.

Again, I feel horrible saying this. Chiusi is a small regional museum that is fighting for funding, visitors and local attention, and it deserves support. I also feel hypocritical for criticising Italian museums for their events when actually my local museums are doing naff all for IWD and even some of the big national museums in the UK are rather lukewarm about doing more than some token social media stuff. I suppose the point I want to make is that when it comes to special events for International Women’s Day, it really “ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it. That’s what gets results.”

**Special thanks to Christopher Smith for his great tweets about Balzi Rossi earlier and flagging up with me that it’s for IWD. **

Galentines and Mentors

Well, that last post hit a nerve didn’t it?

One of the points in there was about mentors- and a particular mentor who didn’t do the Batman slap thing when I wanged on about being post-feminist in 2008, when it was royally deserved by 20 year old me. So, seeing as it’s Galentines, and I didn’t manage to catch her today when I stopped in at Southampton (my usual routes home were a total traffic shitshow), I wanted to write about my PhD supervsior, Yvonne Marshall.

I first met Yvonne when she led the first year module from hell “Emergence of Civilization.” This was basically the archaeology of the entire world squashed into semester two- essential to do but hard work. And with Yvonne in charge it absolutely was the entire world- not Europe or Near East centric but with great attention paid to the Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa, South America, everywhere. It was a whirlwind tour with great projects- 1500 words on the domestication of a plant or animal of your choice and the archaeological evidence for this (I did llamas). I think I came to her attention through being a total pain in the arse- I would miss lectures to play rugby then try and be a smartarse in seminars. Yeuch. Still, Yvonne was warm and friendly and funny and didn’t tell me off and as I grew up a bit (a bit) I took more modules with her- Object Matters (materiality to the max) and then Feminism and Archaeology (third year course of dreams). Then I did my MA Social Archaeology, a programme she co-led with another lecturer, Etruscan specialist Vedia Izzet. Vedia and I had only met when I applied for funding for that MA, and sparks flew. We quickly plotted and executed a plan for a PhD in Etruscan archaeology that she would supervise. I would have a year of “Skills Acquisition” learning Italian, German, Latin and to read Etruscan while she was on research leave.

The problem was, life intervened, and Vedia didn’t come back. I had a funded PhD position and no Etruscan specialist supervisor. I panicked. The whole thing could have gone tits up, but Yvonne saved me. She persuaded a wonderful Roman archaeologist to be my adviser, introduced me to a brilliant prehistorian and Italy specialist (another fab mentor) and took me under her wing, telling me that while she didn’t know much about the Etruscans, she knew about good arguments and how to supervise a PhD. My god, she was right. Over the next three years she slowly and carefully helped me create a thesis totally unlike the original funding application but far braver, bolder, and more original. She spent hours (often at a local garden centre cafe) with me chiselling my prose to make it stronger, untangling overly complicated sentences, turning what she called “broccoli” into pointy “carrot” arguments. I still find reading my work a bit icky, but I’m proud of that first book/thesis and she is the only reason it exists and is any good.

She always encouraged and supported me, sharing her own experiences of the vagaries of academe. When I submitted two articles, one of which was accepted without corrections and the other returned without reviewing with a cruel email, she helped me focus on the positive by sharing her own rejection letter. That article was accepted with no corrections in a different journal, because it’s brilliant- the journal wasn’t. When I wrote an absolutely stinking pile of rubbish she gently said “well, it isn’t very good.” When I wrote strong arguments her smile and “we’re getting there” filled me with pride.

As I think I implied in that last post, I’m one of the “lucky” ones who has never been sexually harassed by another archaeologist (briefly stalked for a while by another postgrad who did that awful thing of stopping his horrible behaviour when he met my boyfriend, because obviously he can respect another man’s property but not a woman’s wishes, he was a philosopher though), so Yvonne never had to try and support me through that crap. But I know she was a pillar of support for so many, doing that typical female academic emotional labour that gets unpaid and unrecognised. On some days her office would be filled by people (usually women) in tears, sharing their problems of all kinds and getting the help they needed. Problem with your supervisor? Talk to Yvonne. Problem with your undergrad teaching? Talk to Yvonne. Feeling your mental health under strain? Talk to Yvonne.

I was so lucky to be able to talk to Yvonne so often through my PhD. I’m gutted I missed her today, even if I did see a different and also fabulous mentor. I owe her for every word I’ve ever written. Especially if it makes sense.

Thanks Yvonne. Happy Galentines.

Let me just google that for you: a shout into the void

TW: sexual assault, sexual harassment.

I am going to let out a feeling that I’ve had for the last few months, since #metoo broke. People keep saying “is this archaeology’s #metoo moment?” And this is irritating to me. Firstly, no it isn’t, because very few names are being named. That culture of silence and fear is nowhere near being broken.

And secondly, why would you even think it was? Do you really think that targets of assault, harassment and discrimination in archaeology are only just now speaking out and speaking up? Because, I can tell you, and really, a quick Google would tell you, that we have been speaking out about sexism, harassment, inequality, assault, for a long time. A really long time. Quick incomplete subjective catch up:

Joan Gero, 1985. Socio-Politics and the Woman-at-Home Ideology. American Antiquity, 50(2), 342-350.

Gero identifies the harmful stereotype of woman-at-home at work in archaeology as a discipline, with women systematically and deliberately restricted to indoor roles as finds analysts (for example) away from the glory of excavation: “she will have to do the archaeological housework.” Gero had data too- on who was doing what research over long periods of time, and who was getting funding. No prizes for guessing who did what and who got the cash: females daring to apply to dig got funded 15% of the time, compared to 28% of those applying for support with more traditional indoor projects.

Roberta Gilchrist, 1991. Women’s archaeology? Political feminism, gender theory and historical revision. Antiquity, 65(248), 495-501.

Gilchrist revisits and updates this problem, identifying the precarious nature of employment in (British) field archaeology as problematic for women, and exposing the small numbers of women in managerial positions.

Steph Moser, 1996. Science, stratigraphy and the deep sequence: Excavation vs regional survey and the question of gendered practice in archaeology. Antiquity, 70(270), 813-823.

A biographical approach exposing archaeological divisions of labour once again. Steph does it fantastically.

OK, up to this point, things are subtle. The signs are there, but you could miss them if you were just googling. There are problems. Unspoken but looming over all these examinations of gendered labour is the spectre of sexual assault and victim blaming- if you go out into the big bad male dominated field, you are putting yourself at risk. Better stay indoors and wash those pots.

Things get a little more explicit in the 00s. People are getting angrier.

Rita Wright. 2003. Gender matters – A question of Ethics. In Zimmerman et al (eds.) Ethical Issues in Archaeology. Rowman Altamira, 225-238.

Wright actually names the problem. She references the protection given by law to targets of sexual harassment, and she goes through the ethical codes of the profession, concluding that the SAA at that time did not address harassment or assault adequately. She lays out hypothetical situations, and argues forcefully that pushing the responsibility for protecting targets of sexual harassment onto the law (something I have seen time and again since the autumn- nothing changes, huh) is not an acceptable cop out for the discipline. Wright even suggests some solutions, which are familiar from recent discourse too, but they are not acceptable (to me) either: her suggestion that “individuals involved in sexual harassment may achieve a better long-term understanding of the rewards of changes in their behaviour” (p.234) privileges the research harassers publish over the horrific damage they cause and belies the serial nature of these predators. She also casually shoves responsibility for avoiding this crap onto targets: “women may still experience sexual harassment, [but] they may be more able to avoid being victimized by it.” (ibid). Ummmm, NO. This is basically the “toughen up, grow a thicker skin” approach that I know targets have been handed down by senior female mentors, women they asked for help only to get nothing.

Jane Eva Baxter et al, 2008. Mentoring Strategies for Women in Archaeology: a report of the 2008 COSWA working group. SAA Archaeological Record,

Oh, speaking of mentors! Here’s a bit of a pragmatic response to Wright’s paper, and harassment has made it onto this team of women’s top ten “qualities of a good mentor.” It’s explicitly addressed “8) Is aware of and actively counters subtle and not so subtle sexual discrimination and harassment” and more subtly (yet emphatically) referenced “6) Speaks out on behalf of mentees.” There’s a hint here: this problem is so widespread that EVERY mentor needs to be aware of it, on the look out for it, and protecting mentees from it. Hell of a statement.

And by the early/mid-teens, we are yelling academically. YELLING. WITH DATA folks.

Rachel Pope. 2011. Processual archaeology and gender politics. The loss of innocence. Archaeological Dialogues, 18(1), 59-86.

Such a powerful paper. Such a piece of writing. Personal, political, polemic. She describes the loneliness of being the only woman in the room, the vicious and deliberate sexist bullying of female speakers at conferences, the silencing of women with questions, the welcoming of new “chaps” into the club. So important too is Pope’s recognition that it may take time to recognise the problems in the discipline (I too remember telling a mentor that I felt we were “post-feminist,” and how she didn’t do a massive eye roll I do not know), including harassment, bullying and assault, and time to recognise that these things are wrong and are NOT the fault of targets. Also relevant to the current situation is the figure of the “good man,” the one male who calls out “where are the women?” and basks in satisfaction, lapping up the gratitude. Seen lots of those around lately- indeed, this post was partly inspired by one.

Kate Clancy, Robin Nelson, Julienne Rutherford, Katie Hinde. 2014. Survey of Academic Field Experiences (SAFE): Trainees Report Harassment and Assault. PLOS 1.

This is the really big one, the one I thought might split things open. Clancy and her team have data, they have social media, they are spreading the word. Things are awful. Assault is happening, there is evidence, our discipline is full of this toxic behaviour. There’s a Scientific American blog. Archaeologists retweet this, everyone is shocked. Then everyone seems to go back to sleep. Clancy and her team don’t, though, they keep gathering evidence and come back for more in 2017 with a devastating analysis of the intersection of race and gender and its implications for harassment and assault.

We didn’t either. We being Sara Perry, Jim Osborne, and yours truly. Digital Media, Power and (In)Equality in Archaeology and Heritage.  Internet Archaeology 38:4

Sara had identified a new field of harassment and abuse: the digital realm. Jim and I were research assistants, helping gather data and write this article. We not only documented abuse (and the high likelihood that men were suffering too) but we sought out solutions- pragmatic ones, ones that would have an impact on harassers and predators: universities working together instead of separately to deal with incidents, for example. We argued that it is the duty of care of institutions to protect staff and students from harassment- however it comes. We were excited. So was our corner of the Twittersphere. Nobody took our recommendations on (to my knowledge). Cue lots of people recently wondering about solutions to digital abuse in academe and me hitting my head with my phone a lot.

Phew. There we are. From subtle to scream, digging to the digital. We told you. We told you this was happening.

We suggested solutions that have been ignored.

We ran events and workshops to try and eradicate biases (part of this post was inspired by seeing an institution ask if anyone had done any wiki-editathons- the Women’s Classical Caucus has for YEARS done what I thought were well publicized events like this but they obviously went unseen).

We asked mentors for help and tried to show them how they could help.

We gathered data to prove the nature and extent of these problems.

We shared experiences, which disappeared into the ether of concerned absentmindedness. We did this formally and informally- through blogs and papers- I literally gave a paper on harassment, gendered bullying and androcentric interpretation (all interlinked phenomena) in my subdiscipline in MARCH 2016!

And I am left sitting here, typing this, feeling the same old frustration that I’m wired to look inward, to victim blame. Did we not shout loud enough?

NO. I’m not having that. I think there’s quite a lot of evidence, some of which I’ve referenced here, that we were shouting and shouting loudly. Archaeology just didn’t want to listen. And honestly, in spite of all the earnestness and good intentions I’ve seen voiced online, I still don’t think the discipline wants to listen, still less to change, even to extending the tiny generosity of googling (or, to be very fair, google scholaring) an issue before pronouncing on it. I hope I’m wrong. I’ll wait and see.

**I’ve used first names if I have met you, surnames if I haven’t. I hope that’s ok**

Dead Research Proposals: Marie Curie

Tis the season. People are finding out how they got on with their Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions applications. I applied for this last year, and thought I would share my proposal on here as part of my “dead research proposals” series. Two confessions first, though:

1- I only looked at the feedback for mine from the last round a few weeks ago. I struggle with peri- and post-natal anxiety, and didn’t want to read the feedback when I was feeling vulnerable. I’m really glad I did in the end, as it was positive, reassuring, encouraging and helpful.

2- I  would still love to collaborate with NUIG and my amazing colleagues there, I stand by large parts of the theoretical background of this project, and still love the idea of working with regional museums on material with vague provenance. BUT I learnt when I was writing this proposal that there were issues with the methodology and study design. At heart, I wasn’t happy with it. I would have been very surprised if it had been funded, and think it would have been a big ask to follow through if it had. In the process of writing it, I actually thought of an alternative project that I would really like to do, again at NUIG- maybe in a couple of years, if scholars marooned by bloody Brexit are allowed to apply. This is in contrast to another project I’ve posted as part of this series which I still wish I could do, on representations of the body in Italian terra sigillata ware. Please shout if you’d like to supervise or support this!

I’m only going to post part of the proposal here as it is LONG. But I am happy to share the rest with you, especially if you are applying yourself. Just contact me here or on Twitter and it’s yours. Here we go, deep breath:

1. Excellence

1.1 Quality and Credibility of the Research Action

Introduction: Context is central in archaeological analysis: relating objects to one another, to the places they were found, and to the ancient people who interacted with them. Unfortunately, many museum ceramics, excavated in response to the raging trend for painted pottery during the late 18th and early 19th century, are almost entirely decontextualized. The ITABIO project will develop new approaches to such pre-Roman Italian ceramics held in regional museums in Britain and Ireland. Through combining cutting edge x-ray fluorescence technology, experimental geological analysis and archival study, ITABIO will answer two straightforward but deeply important questions about this group of vessels: where did these vessels come from? And how did they come to be in British and Irish collections?

The ceramics in question are categorised as Etruscan, Apulian, Lucanian, Paestan, Campanian and Sicilian wares.[1]  Examples of all six classes of vessel are frequently to be found in the museum collections of Ireland and the UK. They were predominantly placed in wealthy burials, with the greatest number deposited during the 5th and 4th centuries BCE. This phenomenon is largely associated with central and southern Italy, albeit with occasional manifestations further north, as at Spina. The ascribed value of these painted vases made them intensely vulnerable to poor excavation practices, poor recording, and professional looting, resulting in the weak provenances that so many examples are tarnished by.

The unique combination of hard science and archival research, involving scientific analysis and the exploration of unexplored historical sources will seek to resolve these issues. It will simultaneously pioneer new methods for ceramic study and explore the potential of newly developed geological sourcing techniques. While studies of individual archives and figures have been undertaken in the past,[2] ITABIO is the first project to deliberately set out to trace individual object biographies and rehabilitate decontextualized ceramics through a two-pronged archival and scientific approach.  The researcher will present her results in a series of 5 important research publications: a monograph, three journal articles and an edited volume, in addition to 2 popular articles and a series of events and micro-exhibitions.

State of the art: Within museum studies, ITABIO is influenced by exceptional pieces of innovative work which seek to creatively reconstruct the journeys of museum objects, many of which use the concept of object biography to drive their research.[3]This approach is not limited to national collections: biography is a central theme in gallery texts, a bridging concept for visitors that translates well in public dissemination.[4] However, traditional publishing formats continue to dominate ceramic research. The work of individual collectors, such as Giampietro Campana[5] or William Hamilton,[6] are often the topic of intense archival study. Larger collections may be incorporated within wider catalogues such as the Corpus Vasorum Antiquorum, but these have highly formalised structures and provide a very particular viewpoint, in addition to being costly to produce. In the case of smaller, regional collections, a lone stand-out artefact may be the subject of in-depth stylistic and archival analysis, but less imposing objects remain in the background.[7]

Stylistic analyses provide a rough idea of where certain ceramics originate: for example, there are clear patterns of manufacture visible in Etruscan bucchero pottery that allow the ascription of a vessel to a specific town or city.[8] In addition, many vessels were purchased by their current institutional owners with a named provenance, although in many cases this is vague, in that a pot is “said to be from” a particular city or site. This situation is profoundly unsatisfying archaeologically. New technologies are being developed that allow for the reconstruction of these long-lost contexts through scientific analysis. Portable X-Ray Fluorescence (hereafter pXRF) is a non-destructive technique which uses x-rays to obtain a record of the chemical composition of an object.[9] Archaeologically, pXRF can be used to establish the mixture of chemicals present in a particular clay source, and therefore identify the area from which the raw material of a vessel was obtained. The results from preliminary pXRF from pre-Roman Italian contexts have showed promising levels of detail.[10] While the data exposed the ancient exploitation of particular groups of local clays, in one case they also revealed connections with the distant site of Cerveteri, giving a new insight into trade patterns and the movement of luxury goods in Etruria.

Research methodology and approach: For this study, the researcher will perform pXRF analysis on a group of 300 Italian ceramics in museum collections in Ireland and the United Kingdom, made between 500 and 300 BCE. In order to limit the field of possible objects, the project will concentrate on vessels with a recorded provenance, however hypothetical or vague. These artefacts are located in the National Museum of Ireland, National Museum of Scotland, Royal Albert Memorial Museum Exeter, Cork Public Museum, the Great North Museum in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. The focus on regional museums is entirely deliberate: their valuable collections are too often underrepresented in archaeological analyses, and in the current funding climate they will benefit inordinately from the research dissemination associated with ITABIO. Initial positive contact has been made with all six institutions, many of which are excited at the prospect of being involved.

This project will make use of existing pXRF technology to undertake research. The researcher will also undertake an experimental study on the feasibility of making use of emerging geological techniques for the analysis of archaeological ceramics. pXRF is an ideal technology to use: it is relatively inexpensive, entirely non-destructive and comparatively quick and straightforward to perform. It also provides detailed results, with the potential to expose individual clay sources and pinpoint shared origins. A pXRF unit will be hired from Oxford Instruments, a highly respected company, for the period of initial data collection. A pilot project will run concurrently with the analysis of museum artefacts, involving material from the site of Poggio Civitate (Murlo). Developed from the work of NUIG’s Dr XX, the researcher will test the potential of lead isotope analysis and single-grain isotopic microanalysis in the field of archaeological ceramics. These techniques were originally devised for use in geology,[11] for the analysis of sandstones and feldspars. In this case they would be applied to a group of 100 coarse-ware ceramic fragments, to establish whether these methodologies can work for archaeological materials. They could form an alternative sourcing methodology for ceramics, requiring only a very small fragment of clay for analysis and acting as the least-destructive destructive method. If the pilot project is successful, it will potentially open a completely new avenue of petrographic research. These twin analyses expose the origins and production places of each object, the start of their journey across Europe, and develop a new technique to acquire this information.

The pXRF results, potentially showing distinct groupings of particular clays, will be contextualised and informed by archival study. This phase of ITABIO will begin with work in the archives of the six museums, utilising their initial acquisition and donation records to identify the individuals who acquired and donated them. The personal stories of collectors and objects expose the complexity of the intellectual networks joining the Mediterranean with Britain and Ireland, and the pan-European links created by shared interests in the material culture of the ancient world. The historical phenomenon of trade in Italian ceramics is deeply relevant in a world in which intellectual channels and patterns are shifting and moving: the study of earlier systems of knowledge-transfer greatly informs our understanding of modern research outreach. From maps, letters, and surviving excavation records, distinctive individual vessels may be reconnected with their original places of excavation, and potential burial assemblages recognised. Modern pan-European links will also be established between institutions in Italy, Ireland and the UK, as ITABIO facilitates knowledge transfer between museums at point of origin and at point of display. The pXRF study will potentially reconfirm or question the veracity of these often patchy and problematic records, exposing the relationships between different vessels transported together, and possibly allowing the reconstruction of lost burial assemblages. If the study is successful, the methodology can be reapplied elsewhere as a cost-effective and non-destructive strategy for the investigation of pre-Roman Italian material in other collections.

Originality and innovation: This project is the first ever application of pXRF to a large dataset of pre-Roman Italian ceramics in museums in Britain and Ireland. It will expose hitherto unknown connections between different objects: it could illuminate entirely novel networks of exchange in pre-Roman Italy, and feed back into stylistic analyses, greatly expanding our knowledge about these artefacts. This is deeply important: the analysis of trade and exchange in pre-Roman Italy is still dominated by colonialist narratives focused on the aesthetic dominance of Greece and Greek settlers over indigenous communities.[12] More objective data on the origin of vessels is required to assess, and potentially challenge, these ideas. The discipline of classical archaeology cannot move forward and develop without integrating both new theoretical approaches and scientific techniques: this project is ground-breaking in its adoption and incorporation of both these drivers of positive change.

The unique research framework of the project is heavily informed by the concept of object biography. Developed from the work of Appadurai (1986) and Kopytoff (1986) on the ascription of value to objects and the process of their definition as commodities, this idea holds that things acquire meaning through the relationships they forge with the people who own, make, mend, encounter, and dispose of them. Tracing these relationships through an object’s life course, from its creation (birth) to deposition (death), exposes layers of significance that may be missed in conventional approaches based on functionality or aesthetics. Gosden and Marshall pioneered the use of object biography in archaeology in 1999, but a decade later their work was reinvigorated by Joy (2009), who demonstrated that archaeological uses of object biography have tended to focus upon the beginning and end of object lives, at the expense of their more complicated use-lives. ITABIO strengthens this approach by focusing the pXRF analysis and lead isotope experimentation on the production of vessels, and the archival investigation aiming to uncover the circumstances of their disposal. However, this is a misconception: by using scientific analysis to investigate vessel origins, and archival research to uncover their depositional contexts the researcher will develop nuanced and entirely novel interpretations of these ceramic lives, and their journeys from kiln to tomb to rebirth in the museum cabinet.

Interdisciplinarity: The publications to be produced during this fellowship (see Section 2.2) reflect the fundamentally inter-disciplinary nature of ITABIO as a project. The research methodology is a unique combination of historical archival research, archaeological science, and experimental geology. It is a prime example of the kind of joined-up research that can and will revolutionise archaeological practice, combining theoretical complexity with first class scientific investigation. It will also serve as an ideal training project, providing the researcher with an unparalleled opportunity to expand her skills in ceramic analysis. She will build upon her past experience with pXRF and gain important publications in this area, and will also develop her credibility as a scientist through her work on new methods for ceramic sourcing. She will also develop her archival research skills, gaining valuable experience that will increase her future employability.

Career development: Opportunities to develop skills in both hard science and historical research, will provide the researcher with a broad scope of employment opportunities. She will be able to develop a future career in either sub-field. In terms of re-starting the researcher’s academic career after time in the commercial sector and maternity leave, this prestigious project, involving wide collaborations with different institutions, the opportunity to present nationally and internationally, the curation of a major conference and the production of high impact publications, will demonstrate her great potential to become a major player in the archaeology of pre-Roman Italy, ceramic studies and the integration of archaeological theory into practice. More specifically, the researcher will be in a strong position to lead a specific collaborative EC project proposal in conjunction with colleagues in Italy, Sweden, the UK, and Ireland focused on excavation and ceramic analysis at the Etruscan site of San Giovenale, Lazio; or an individual project centred on an investigation of women’s experiences of Greek colonisation, two projects she is already developing. 

Collaboration opportunities: The project will also open up a host of new collaborative opportunities for the host institution: the Moore Institute and NUIG. There will be the potential to establish a working group of new generation Irish classical archaeologists, making connections that will last throughout the careers of the individuals involved. There will also be potential for major collaborations with all the institutions connected with the project, linking NUIG to some of them most highly esteemed European museums and collections. International links will be established between Galway and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, through involvement with the Poggio Civitate project as a source of material for lead isotope experimentation, providing a new collaborative opportunity for geologists and archaeologists to work together in future. Following up on the hosting of the Seventh Conference in Italian Archaeology at NUIG in 2016, this project will boost the University’s reputation as a centre for excellence in Italian Archaeology, and encourage other scholars from throughout Europe to come to Ireland to develop their theoretical and scientific skills further.

[1] Vessels made in Italy are often found in these contexts: however, they are excluded from this study as their place of production can be securely ascribed stylistically.

[2] E.g. Elia (2001); Williams (1992).

[3] Hicks and Stevenson (2012) is a particularly successful and pertinent example, the topic is theorised by Alberti (2005).

[4] See, for example, the new galleries of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter (Kocamaz 2012).

[5] Sarti (2001).

[6] Jenkins and Sloan (1996); Ramage (1990).

[7] See, for example, Waite (2008, 2015).

[8] See Acconcia (2004), Naso (2004), and Rasmussen (2006) for examples of these ascriptions.

[9] For a review of the use of pXRF technology in ceramic analysis see Forster et al. (2011), and Frahm and Doonan (2012).

[10] E.g. Bonnizzoni et al. (2010); Jones and Garrigos (2004); Tuck et al (2015).

[11] Tyrrell et al (2007, 2009; 2010; 2012).

[12] For this argument in relation to ceramics see Bérard (1983, 1989); Boardman (1986), Spivey (1991a, 2006); Osborne (2001, 2007); Reusser (2002). Rasmussen (2014: 673-4) provides the most up-to-date and nuanced review of the evidence and the arguments.



Isn’t it lovely when…

From my trip to Mongolia, ten years ago this coming summer. Atmospheric but a long way from where I’m writing about. You know how this works. It’s basically a Shipley stock image for “steppes”.

Someone else has the same problem as you. Perhaps this is the real meaning of a problem shared is a problem halved? Oh, your 9 month old bites your shoulders with the enthusiasm of a hungry Great White, while giggling uncontrollably at your cries of pain? Great, maybe he won’t grow up to be a cannibal. Or if he does, he won’t be alone.

Same thing with sub-disciplines. Etruscan archaeology has a real problem with terminology. Thanks to clinging on to some 19th century heritage, we still use the word “princely/ principesche” in relation to very rich elite burials- I mean, I get that it’s a bit more slick, and it has a certain zing to it. But we do not know what those people were. We do not know they were princes, or princesses. We do not have good enough evidence to conjure up all these visions of monarchial rule and/or Disney characters. And when spectacular finds like this go (relatively- I mean it’s not a cat playing the piano or anything) viral, this language ends up translated from “princely tomb” into actual “tomb of a prince/princess.” As both University press release writers and bloggers know, the Disney thing makes for better clickbait, screw any ideas of complexity in the archaeological record.

I have critiqued this at length- in an Antiquity article, and again (with UPDATES) in a new piece coming out next year in an edited volume. I’ve blogged about it, I’ve tweeted about it. But to be honest, I’m not expecting much change- nobody seems to think this is a problem, that the majority of non-specialists are fed this crappy version of a simplified past that links in to fairytale and fantasy more than it does the fascinating complexity of actual people’s lives. People will go on using this terminology because it’s what is used, journalists will go on shifting it and it will proliferate into 10 or more similar articles all with near-identical headlines because that is what online science journalism is at the moment.

But oh, it’s so good to see someone else having this problem. And they are, here:


Potentially fabulous burial mound identified from satellite data, near to where excavations revealed another elite burial with a ginormous gold necklace among 1000 other shiny shiny golden things- gotta be a prince?

Ahhh. A problem shared really is a problem halved.

**Bonus points to the reports for their clickbait tagline completely erasing the 3 Russian co-authors “Swiss archaeologist discovers…”. Neatly followed up with a fawning love-in for the lead scientist. How refreshing to see that shitty colonialist erasure is still doing so well, even if we hadn’t had the Donald’s odious comments yesterday. Obviously this is all wrapped up in some very tired models of archaeological practice involving lone white dude saving the world and finding shiny stuff at the same time (cough, Indiana Jones, cough).

I see you, Timur Sadykov, Jegor Blochin, Irka Hajdas, co-authors not forgotten.**

Happy New Year- a Reading Challenge

Happy New Year everyone. As ’tis the season, I’ve decided on a couple of things to help me spend my time well this year.

I can be quite good at this- in 2013 I determined that I would learn to run. It changed my life. Last year, I liked the idea of a “word for the year” – I chose “embrace.” I had spent so many years fighting and crying (inside and y’know, actual hot tears that make your eyes sore) about archaeology and my place within it and the academy and failure and on and on and on. I was tired of that. Done. I needed to embrace the changes in my life and who I was- stop making comparisons to others and just be. Write. Be a parent. Run around. Love the landscape I live in.  It kind of helped. When I got sucked into comparing myself to others I gave myself a metaphorical kick up the arse and reminded myself to embrace my own life. I’m definitely in a better place. And I can be a bit tougher on myself. My word for this year is “FINISH.” I cannot tell you how many half done projects are sat on my computer. Let alone that damned barn conversion lurking outside the window. I’m going to get shit finished and let go of in 2018.

And, because that’s all a bit businesslike and severe, I also want to challenge myself to read 52 new books this year. Archaeology and not. But books I haven’t read before, otherwise I will be wasting all this breastfeeding reading time reconsuming the same old crime novels and regency romances my mushy brain requires at 2am.

I have a bit of a list already growing, but would like suggestions too. I have already read this year:

Mary Beard’s Women and Power

Naomi Alderman’s The Power

Robert MacFarlane’s The Wild Places, The Lost Words and Mountains of the Mind.

On the absoultely have to-read list:

Whitney Battle Baptiste’s Black Feminist Archaeology

Josephine Quinn’s In Search of the Phoenicians

And my parents got me the Booker nominees, so there’s those.

But yes please, send me your suggestions, particularly early career scholar books, books by women and authors of colour, books you’ve loved and books you want someone to rant about with.

Speaking of which, I feel some reviews might be coming on of the first five. But for now, back to editing this everlasting Ferrante paper second draft. It has a second draft! Now… FINISH!

Happy 2018.

#badassetruscanwomen Tullia Minor

tweet tullia

I really enjoyed the many responses to this meme/tweet- furious pirates, Resistance heroines and many others featured. My own effort focused on a figure I’ve been fascinated by for a long time- Tullia Minor.

Tullia, as presented by Livy, is a nightmare. She murders her sister and her husband, and then conspires to murder her own father. These are the most horrific of crimes- Livy describes them as “foul and unnatural,” actions against the social order, wiping out those to whom a patriarchal society demands deference and respect. And it seems like Tullia Minor (the murdered older sister is Tullia Prima) gets away with it for many years- she and her new squeeze, Lucius, do take power in Rome. Of course, for Livy, writing centuries later, it is essential that Tullia gets her comeuppance- when her sons lose power in Rome, it is presented as the natural result of her behaviour- she has corrupted them by her bad example. She is cursed wherever she goes, reminded of her cruelty and viciousness. But at least she doesn’t end up in a sack in the Tiber fending off a variety of creatures, including but not restricted to a dog, viper, cockerel and monkey- the later punishment for patricide.

It’s hard and probably inappropriate to try and rehabilitate Tullia, as presented by Livy. But for an intelligent and strong minded woman, trapped in an arranged marriage to a total drip (as her first husband Arruns comes across…) and in love with someone else, someone who could help her grab and maintain power from the father who put her in this terrible situation in the first place… well, maybe we can see how those actions might not seem quite so extreme. A historical novel might be a fun punt, to explore all these goings on in glorious fiction.

Livy’s presentation, too, deserves a closer look. Tullia, and her mother-in-law Tanaquil (who deserves her own post- although I have poor track record with blog series…) are exceptional characters- they are women who not only wield power, but who create it for their male relatives. Tullia is a key player in the coup that brings her second husband Lucius to power. She then *literally* creates power by giving birth to children- sons who present a clear and secure line of succession and a daughter who brings a powerful ally on board through a dynastic marriage. But in Livy’s version this power, given to men by women, is fundamentally weakened by its gendered origin. Tullia is incapable of raising moral, virtuous children- and so their actions lose the dynasty everything. The point that Livy’s account makes is that such a strong position for women can only end in trouble- unnatural murder, alienation from the gods, and exile and death.

Well, that’s cheerful. More #badassetruscanwomen, and more Roman misogyny (boo hiss) another day.

There’s a whole chapter on Etruscan women in the book, by the way- including a more detailed rundown of the Tarquinii wives (can’t you just see that coming to ITV Be next year?) You can still get it in time for Christmas.

Thank You

cwa review.jpg

Thank you very much to everyone who has bought my new book!

But a special thank you- I’m so delighted to read this review in Current World Archaeology. This magazine got me through the senior school years, when I couldn’t wait to escape to university and study archaeology for real (well, that and an annual summer holiday cover-to-cover tryst with the good old brick Renfrew and Bahn, which I never read again when I finally got there…). It felt surreal to write an article for CWA, let alone be featured in the book reviews.

If you don’t already have a copy, might I suggest that this “splendid little book” (blush blush, worries about blowing-own-trumpet) makes an excellent Christmas gift?

And please, do consider leaving a review on Amazon to help other readers or potential readers.