Confessional: Bones are Scary

So there’s been a little hoo-ha in the press this week about a trigger warning for archaeology students at UCL. I posted about trigger warnings and why they are important on my old blog- you can read that post here, it’s one of the last ones I did over there and one I’m still proud of. Because one major reason that trigger warnings matter (and this a point that the Spectator article missed) applies whether you choose to act on them or not. They let you know that your feelings are ok, that you are in a place where nobody will laugh or sneer at you for feeling them, unlike oh, I dunno, most of the internet below the comments line for starters. That is so important in an educational environment. So important. People need to feel supported and safe in order to learn. They need to feel free to express their feelings and responses to material culture (in our discipline) without fear of judgement by peers or by staff.

And let me say this here: skeletal material is scary. Can you look into the face of a victim of genocide and not feel saddened, frightened, worried? What if you are someone from a diaspora linked to that community? Are those feelings more intense? Do they mean you are worried about attending a class, nervous about your visible reactions in front of new friends and new mentors? It is essential that you know that those feelings are acceptable, that you can bring them to your lecturer and say: this is what I felt, and why I wasn’t there. Equally, that you know you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. You can walk away and process by yourself what you have seen and how it made you feel.

Looking into the empty eye sockets of a long gone person, touching skeletal remains, gently laying them out on a table, is an emotional experience. Even when you don’t have a connection to the body you are touching or looking at, this aspect of archaeological practice changes you permanently. You cannot go back to who you were before. I know I was apprehensive about doing this. I know I felt uncomfortable, freaked out. I know that I considered not doing archaeology as a teenager as I was so unnerved by the prospect of dealing with human remains. That trigger warning would have reassured me that these feelings were normal, that they were shared, that I was not alone.

I personally feel that these feelings are a mark of respect, in their own way. They come from an awareness that these are not things, they are people. The trigger warning should act as a reminder of the need for that respect: for the remains themselves, and for fellow students. If you don’t think that’s important, I ask if you would be happy for the femur of your relative to have an expletive written on it in biro, something I saw on a specimen in one of my osteoarchaeology classes and was deeply distressed by. Whether reassuring the nervous or ensuring the respect of the brash, trigger warnings are about acceptable behaviour. It is absolutely acceptable to be frightened by skeletal remains. It is absolutely not acceptable to make light of or abuse them.

To end with a Ferranteism: trigger warnings are not just for those who leave, but for those who stay, too.


Living in an Old House

I’m a lucky pup. I live in a house that’s old enough to be protected by law. I love this house, it’s very much part of our family. But there are parts of it that are just… weird. They don’t work well for our needs. We need to change them. So we need to persuade the brilliant Listed Buildings team that these changes are right for the character of the building, as well as for the 3 (soon to be 4.. yes really…) of us living here.

Happily for us, a little research has demonstrated that they are, in fact, hideous 1980s additions to our beautiful 18th century farmhouse. The breeze blocks and rubbish stud walls were clear signs of modernity. Then, when we spoke to neighbours who knew the house, they expressed their shock and surprise at the presence of these “features:” namely, a half timbered ceiling and weird half timbered stud walls, a funky staircase and odd upstairs room at a different level to the rest of the house. Apparently, up until the 1970s turkeys were raised in this room which was then double height, and open to the rafters with raw stonework on display. So the half timbered stuff is a total pastiche.

That was a relief, but other discoveries were far more gratifying. For example, on an 1826 plan of the local church pews, our farm had its own pew in a prominent position, and a few years later the family built two large stone farm buildings. They seemed to be doing well. But the previous owners of the house had left us a record of a property auction. This family who seemed to be so prosperous had to sell their land only a short time after all this development. I’d love to know what happened, what went wrong. This glimpse into the house’s history is fascinating to me, and I’m grateful to that horrible staircase for leading me here.

I spend a lot of time thinking about past lives hundreds of miles from where I live and thousands of years ago. It’s a pleasure to think about those whose experiences mirror my own more closely. Wish us luck as things progress.

Just a few short questions…

Beautiful Bologna

I used to have a truly wonderful job, designing archaeology holidays. It was magic, with great colleagues, liberal amounts of exciting travel and a fascinating merry-go-round of daily tasks. Of course, it was hard work too, but the legacy of the job (as well as the good friends and the seriously transferable skills..) was a deep and passionate interest in the perception of the past in the present by the people who pay for it: the taxpaying masses, the visitors whose entry fees, donations, and gift shop purchases keep heritage sites alive. Naturally, having worked in Italy for a long time, I was particularly interested in the way these things play out in the Italian context: who visits what, and why?

As my previous post explored, I’ve noticed patterns of visitation: obviously, some big sites (or should that be sights, in this context?) are going to get hordes of tourists and lots of attention. But just how enormous is that phenomenon? I don’t think that just reeling off the statistics on how many people visited Pompeii in 2015 (2.5 million, a remarkable proportion of Italy’s approximately 20 million tourists) versus those who visited (say) the Museo Archeologico in Sarteano, is necessarily helpful. What I would like to know- and when I say “know” I mean quantify and get some juicy data on- is to what extent people’s preconceptions and imaginings of the Italian past impact on their holiday choices- where they visit, and what they want from their hols.

I can’t really give more away here without potentially influencing answers, so here’s the plea: I’ve put together a very short survey that I would be very grateful if you would consider taking. I’d be even more grateful if you would share the survey when you are finished. If you see any glitches or issues, I would of course be SUPER grateful if you’d point them out to me.

Thank you very much, and I’ll let you know what the answers come out as.

What you do on your holidays?

Well, what do you do?

We’ve just come back from a wonderful 10 days in Tuscany, celebrating the 50th anniversary of excavations at Poggio Civitate (Murlo). We stayed with great archaeology friends in a beautiful place, witnessed a 3D reconstruction of an Etruscan architectural terracotta made entirely from cheese, ate far too much food and let Silvia stay up too late.

Pyrgi tablets
Pygi tablets, picture by me, (C) Soprintendenza per i Beni Archeologici Etruria Meridionale. Shiny shiny.

We also visited a remarkable exhibition. Etruschi: maestri di scrittura (Etruscans: masters of writing) is currently on at the wonderful Accademia Etrusca at Cortona. It was incredible- iconic Etruscan artefacts all gathered together into a beautiful show. The Pyrgi tablets! The Zagreb text! That image of Charun with hammer and snakes on a pot. Even pots from my PhD thesis were there. Now, you’d think that with objects like this on show the place would be a sellout.

Not so much, actually. In fact, we were the only people in the exhibition when we visited, in the middle of the afternoon on a day on which Cortona was packed, and I mean packed, with tourists. We queued for gelato at the artisanal place for 30 minutes it was so busy. Yet in the entire museum there were two other families that we saw. I mean, it wasn’t a bad thing: Silvia was able to rampage on the access ramps and bash her doll on the hallowed stone floors over which so many esteemed archaeological feet have walked. But this is not good for promoting Etruscan archaeology. Or, let’s be bold, archaeology at all.

S Cortona
Silvia looks pensively around Etruschi: Maestri di Scrittura

Why is this happening? Well, maybe the €20 pp entrance fee had something to do with it. I thought it was well worth it, husband was less sure. Surely, that’s the amount that many of these privileged holidaymakers would spend on a bottle of wine? It’s certainly the equal of what I’d budget for a nice lunch per person, and you get several hours (we spent 2, even with a toddler) of beautiful things and new knowledge for your cash. Is it promotion? I don’t think so: I’ve seen references to the event scattered in the… ah. In the Italian press. Maybe foreign language media outlets aren’t promoting exhibitions like this. But if you were wandering around Cortona, which many tourists were, you would end up in this beautiful square where the Accademia is, see the poster and surely think: yes, I’ll go in. Anecdotally at least, people didn’t. I’ll be keen to see the final visitor stats, and I’d love to know where everyone came from.

The major reason behind this is a concept I’ve been pondering in preparation for an  Accordia Lecture I’m giving at UCL in November (gulp). From my old job in archaeological tourism, and writing my new book (off to expert reviewers this week- double gulp) I’ve been thinking a lot about the way the public encounters the Italian past. I believe there is a real problem with what I’m coming to term period-blindness. Visitors connect a place with a particular moment in its history: Cortona is a medieval hilltown, not an Etruscan citadel in their minds. As such, they are not ready to invest their time and money in exploring alternative pasts for the places they visit. They do not want their narratives to be disturbed by archeological palimpsests.

Further (anecdotal) evidence for the existence of this concept (which will be much tidier and better theorised by the autumn, honest) slapped me in the face just as we were leaving for the airport. We’d stayed in Florence for a single night- my husband had never visited. Our beautiful fancy pants hotel had a helpful list of museum opening hours and locations. Museums of the city, large and small, were included. Except one: the Florence Museo Archeologico, home of the stunning Chimaera of Arezzo, only a stone’s throw from the big showstopper sites in its own lovely square. Not there. I asked why not, and the desk staff had no idea such a museum even existed. I realised as we drove back to the airport that I had seen queues of over 90 minutes for other Florentine hotspots. Every museum we walked past had a line. Except “my” one.

What can we as an archaeological community do about this? Well, if you come to my talk in October I’ll be fishing for ideas and sharing my own.


Dead Research Proposals Episode 1: Investigating Italian Terra Sigillata

Image: wikimedia commons

“Where do vanished objects go?

Into non-being, that is to say, everything.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

How appropriate to start this post on Harry Potter day with a sneaky quote. Is this the same place that failed research proposals go? Some of the projects I’ve put forward in the past have been, let’s face it, a bit pants. Looking back at them for this series has helped me realise that. But some have been ok. And some have, I immodestly think, been quite good. I’m going to share a mix of them here, well, parts of them. The one I’m sharing today was one of the rubbish ones. It’s far too long: it was an early proposal (2014) and I got carried away because (and I still think this) the idea was worthwhile. I would still happily have a go at this project, working on Italian red-slip or Terra Sigillata ware. Have a read, and see what you think, and learn from my (now rather obvious) mistakes. Names and institutional references (including a research synergy section) have been erased to protect the poor sods who had to read this essay.

Investigating Italian Terra Sigillata

This class of pottery, produced in Italy during the late 1st century BC and early 1st century AD, is perhaps the quintessential Roman ceramic type. Its glossy red surface has become an icon of Roman pottery studies, and, adapted and adopted by workshops in Gaul, this style of pottery spread far across the Empire. However, these pots were heavily influenced by previous low-relief wares, adopted and adapted from Hellenistic traditions, and this project analyses their role in the transmission of Greek imagery to Italy and beyond. It approaches the Greek influence on Italian terra sigillata in two different ways – firstly, through the adaptation of Eastern Mediterranean imagery, and secondly through an analysis of the relationship of these vessels to Imperial ideals of the Greek body. Finding their way into the hands of people across the Empire, these pots were a well-placed tool for the promotion of idealised images of the Roman body.  The analysis of this iconography has the potential to be a transformative addition to scholarship, with connections both to the establishment of Imperial ideals and the continued influence on Rome (and beyond) by the Hellenistic and Classical Greek worlds.

Research Questions

This project would analyse the Greek influenced representation of the body in so-called Arretine wares, defined for this study as those Italian terra sigillata vessels produced in the workshops of Etruria in Arezzo, the Val di Chiana, Pisa and the Tiber Valley between 45 BC and AD 50. It would investigate:

  • Overarching patterns in the iconography of human figures – the activities, body positions and accoutrements of individuals shown in pottery decoration. This would incorporate a detailed analysis of the gender, age, and socio-economic status-specific representative tropes visible in ceramic imagery, and an investigation of changes in figure placement over time.


  • The relationship of Italian terra sigillata ware imagery to earlier Hellenistic styles, particularly Megarian bowls, and connections with even earlier forms of Greek pottery popular in Etruria, including Attic wares. This would be accomplished through a comparative analysis of human figures in all three pottery wares, building on my previous research on the reception of Attic pottery in the region (Shipley forthcoming 2014).


  • Patterns of representation specific to individual workshops or makers within Etruria, and the existence of audience preferences based on archaeological provenance. The project would build on previous studies of makers’ stamps (Hartley, Dickinson and Dannell 2008; Fülle 1997), and petrographic analyses (Peacock 1970, 1977; Williams and Dannell 1978) to map the visual economy of Arretine wares (building on work by Woolf (1992)).

At the heart of each of these specific points of investigation is the driving question of what these images were for, and how that purpose changed over time. Each would form the basis of a published research outcome, with questions 1 and 2 intended to be submitted to journals of international significance of a 4* rating, and question 3 intended to be submitted to a more specialised journal with a 3* rating. I would also expect to present the project at national and international conferences, and would hope to organise a session at the American Institute of Archaeology Annual Meeting 2016 focused on the influence of Greece on Roman iconography. Papers presented in this session could then form the basis for a further edited volume. The underlying thread of developing new perspectives on Augustan bodily ideals and the consumption of images during this turbulent period would be a highly relevant topic, while innovative theoretical approaches augmenting previous studies of Roman pottery would contribute to a future for the sub-discipline based on the social context of ceramics.

Research Context

The investigation of the classical body has been a productive research topic, from second-wave feminist-inspired investigations of gender developed from both textual analysis and material culture studies (Allason-Jones 1989; Cameron and Kuhrt (eds.) 1993; Clark 1989; Hawley and Levick 1995; Pomeroy 1975; Rabinowitz and Richlin (eds.) 1993) to more nuanced approaches, including work on masculinity (Foxhall and Salmon (eds.) 1998a, 1998b; Gunderson 2000), and sexuality (Flemming 1999; Hallett and Skinner (eds.) 1997; Williams 1999). While these ideas remain important (as evidenced by Pinheiro, Skinner and Zeitlin (eds.) 2012; Skinner 2005; Vout 2007), over the last decade approaches have shifted to incorporate the multiplicity of features inscribed on classical bodies in literature and imagery (e.g. Chaniotis and Ducrey (eds.) 2013; Isaac 2006; Langlands 2006; McDonnell 2006). While focused on Greece rather than Rome, Osborne (2011) illustrates the potential for analyses of the body, which incorporate these varying aspects, utilising texts and images, including those from Attic vase-painting, to seek out the visual features which classified bodies and people in Classical Athens. His use of ceramic imagery to analyse ideals and divisions marked out on the body is a key influence on this project.

Italian terra sigillata vessels have also been the subject of intense research. From their initial discovery in the medieval period in Arezzo, the town in Etruria from which they were initially named, to the detailed Corpus Vasorum Arretinorum, (Oxé and Comfort 1968), the forms and decoration of these vessels have been scrupulously recorded. In more recent years, an updated catalogue has analysed over 2,500 different artisans’ stamps (Kenrick, Oxé and Comfort 2000), and further analyses have demonstrated that workshops were scattered across Etruria (Ettlinger et al. 1990; Jefferson et al. 1981; Menchelli 1995). The development of this style of ceramics has also been considered (Pedroni 1995), while the working practices of the industry have been an important topic of archaeological debate (Pucci 1973; Wiseman 1963). These studies have all concentrated on the production of vessels, as opposed to their consumption. While studies of the distribution of pots within Etruria (Gliozzo and Turbanti 2004; Kenrick 1993; Kiiskinen 2013) have also been popular, these too have not considered iconography as a factor influencing these distribution patterns. In terms of iconography, Sangriso (1998) has convincingly argued for connections between Augustan ideals and the work of a single workshop in Arezzo or possibly Pisa, that of Gnaeus Ateius, but does not recognise the influence of the Classical Greek tradition.

A larger scale study would allow for both comparisons between workshops and an investigation of the scale of Augustan promotion of the ideal body. This would be an entirely original topic, as ceramic iconography has been almost entirely neglected as a source of information for Augustan socio-cultural reform as influenced by Greek ideals. There has also been very little attention paid to the influence of Greek imagery in the design and use of terra sigillata in Etruria, and this would be a valuable addition to the literature, examining connections of longstanding between Italy and the Eastern Mediterranean. My focus on the body, and the intimate relationship between people on pots and people using pots, would drive this investigation beyond economic or political analysis to the everyday encounter with ceramics, and the experience of viewing images of the human body developed from Greek and Imperial influences.

While this research lies within a strong area of previous scholarship in classical studies, as described above, it is also influenced by my own previous engagement with archaeological and anthropological theory. My doctoral research (Shipley forthcoming 2014c) considered the representation of the body in Etruscan ceramics, developing a phenomenological approach to pottery analysis, which explored the relationship between the users of vessels and the images of bodies moulded or painted on their surfaces. A central part of this project was the application of theories of object agency, primarily developed by Alfred Gell (1993, 1998) in relation to the desired impacts and effects of material culture on those who encounter it. Peacock (1982) has successfully utilised ethno-archaeological approaches to Roman pottery in the past, and my previous work would act as a natural stepping-stone to this project, allowing me to begin this research with the theoretical background of the project already in place, having proven success in reaching original conclusions about ancient ceramics. This study of Italian terra sigillata in Etruria, one that is centred on the effect of pots on consumers, would add an entirely new dimension to Roman ceramic studies, building on previous work and developing new conclusions about the experience of using these iconic vessels.

Historical Context

It is the social context of this study that would make an analysis of Arretine iconography such an arresting research project. Arretine ware began to be produced shortly (around 20 years) before the reign of Augustus (r. 27 BC- AD 14), whose interests in the promotion of an idealised Roman body are well documented (Ando 2000; Bartmann 1999; Clarke 1993, 2003; Zanker 1990), including his marked preference for Greek-influenced imagery (Kleiner 1978). The impact of Augustan social and cultural reforms on Arretine design would be a key facet of the project, tracing whether tropes described in textual sources are reinforced in ceramic imagery. The relationship between both images and texts and the Greek world is central to this analysis. I would argue that, in the same way that the poetry of Vergil adapts and extends Homeric and Hellenistic tropes to fit a Julian narrative, Arretine wares were similarly exploring these ideals through images. Indeed, while Vergil’s work would reach a relatively limited audience of those who were learned and literate, and statues and monuments would have been encountered at a local level, Arretine wares spreading across the expanding Empire would have made an ideal format for the promotion of Augustan values during and after his reign. Yet, in spite of its potential as a source for the relationship between elite ideals and non-elite consumption, as suggested above, Arretine ware has predominantly been studied as an economic unit, as opposed to a rich iconographic canon. By comparing and contrasting ideas of the Roman body as presented in textual sources, the other visual arts, and Arretine wares, this project would examine the construction of idealised bodies in clay, and their impact on the real people who used and interacted with them.


The primary method for this project would be the establishment of a large database of imagery from published examples of Arretine wares, Megarian cups and Attic wares. As part of my doctoral work, I have already established a database of over 1000 Attic red and black-figure wares from Etruria, and would create a dataset of Arretine and Megarian wares on a similar scale. Each would be subject to a detailed compositional analysis, based on gender, age, body position and activity, figure placement, drawing out key patterns in representation. I would also relate these data to makers’ stamps and existing petrographic analyses, mapping patterns of imagery unique to particular workshops, and potentially providing evidence for associations between moulds, patterns and potters. From production to consumption, I would also examine the provenance (where available) for each vessel, searching for and seeking to explain audience preferences based on geographical location. The establishment of this database would entail the first six months of the Fellowship, with the analysis taking up the following six months. For the following year, each research output would take up approximately four months of writing and preparation. These time estimates are deliberately generous, to enable me to devote time to teaching and to outreach activities associated with the project.


This research project has potential for the creation of an outreach scheme modelled upon the University of X’s existing and highly successful Y Project. While that project involved young people in XYZ, I would hope to engage them in discussions of a different, although equally important issue: that of body image. In a world in which images of idealised bodies (usually digitally manipulated) are continually presented through digital, television and print media, many young people feel increasingly uncomfortable about their own bodies, and develop low self-esteem (Bucchianeri et al. 2013; Cash 1994; Featherstone 2010). By using archaeological objects to facilitate discussion of the manipulation of images of bodies, young people engaged on workshops associated with the project could explore the reasons behind the images they encounter daily, while simultaneously discovering the relevance and immediacy of Roman history. This could be expanded to incorporate an exploration of changing fashions in body image more widely, and their relationship with political and cultural leaders past and present. The existing links between the University of X and local schools established by the Y project would be an ideal framework for this scheme to work within, and I would hope to be guided by the experiences of Dr A and Professor B, and to support their ongoing work.

Future Potential

This project has a great deal of potential for future expansion, and could be developed in a number of different ways. To continue the major theme of Greek influence on Roman ceramic design, the same methodologies could be applied to ceramics produced within Greece during this period, to examine any differences in the way in which people in this area of the Empire chose to represent themselves on clay. Similarly, other low-relief Roman ceramic wares could be subject to the analytical scheme, developing a wider understanding of the representation of the body on pottery during this period. This would conceivably have far-reaching interpretative results, linked to debates on “Romanisation”, identity and the maintenance of the body through material culture. To develop the project in a different way, the impact of different Emperors could be assessed iconographically, expanding the database to incorporate a wider range of ceramics and tracking representative changes over time. In particular, expanding the project to the ceramics Flavian period, when ideals of representation in other forms of public iconography acknowledged age and physical imperfections, could also be an area for future investigation. More questions, and future channels of enquiry, would undoubtedly emerge over the course of the project, leading naturally to its potential expansion.


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Woolf, G. 1993. Imperialism, empire and the integration of the Roman economy. World Archaeology 23: 283-293.

Zanker, P. 1990.The Power of Images in the Age of Augustus. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

If you’ve got through all that, well done you. The next one in this series will be shorter. Comments on how rubbish it is welcome*. Kinder remarks also welcome.


*This post (and indeed this proposed series) has been quite scary for me. Be nice in telling me it’s crap. Or polite, at least.

Andy’s Patriarchal Adventure

Image (c) BBC

OK, so as you may know, I have a small child. Said small child enjoys watching CBeebies, the BBC’s channel for little ones- usually in the gremlin hour of 5pm til 6pm when I’ve run out of ideas and need to cook dinner. We recently caught an episode of “Andy’s Prehistoric Adventure” and followed it up with a couple of others. How lovely, I thought: making use of 3D reconstruction and children’s obsession with dinos/Ice Age megafauna in such a creative way.

Then I turned my brain on. Wait, what?

First things, and most trivial things, first. Andy, you don’t work at the National Museum. There’s the British Museum (whose front steps you run down, although TO BE VERY FAIR this could be the National Museum in Cardiff…) and the Natural History Museum (in whose hallowed halls you seem to work). Is this to stop children dashing to a real museum and damaging expensive grandfather clocks (aka Andy’s time machine)? Surely it would be better to link up with an actual museum….

Oh, now I get it. No museum would want to be associated with such a frankly sexist programme. This is a massive issue for me, as the mother of a daughter and a passionate scholar of the past. I fell in love with archaeology through a book on the Ice Age, which transported me back in time: me, a little girl.

Like I’m sure your assistant Jen would love to be transported back in time Andy. Instead of being told to “stay here and tidy up” after every one of your curatorial cock ups. Her simpering confusion each time you mysteriously vanish and return with a missing artefact is deeply troubling to me. What sort of a role model is she to the hundreds of thousands of little girls watching, knowing that while their male supervisor gets to gallivant back in the Plio-Pleistocene, they are there to do the hoovering and mop the floor?

But wait, I hear you cry- the director of the museum is a woman! A real live woman! Mrs Pickles! Not Dr Pickles. Mrs Pickles, mind. Yes, but Mrs Pickles is another repellent patriarchal stereotype: the dominatrix bitch. The camera pans upwards from her killer heels, we hear them tick-tack along the floor as you shudder at her approach. She raises an eyebrow and you cower in an erotic haze. Her only meaningful work seems to be to terrorise her subordinates. Afraid that’s not ok either.

So there we are, Andy and chums. Two shitty sexist role models for my daughter, and a load of dinosaur dung. Sort it out. Please.

Damn you 2016

Image from UC Berkeley Library website

It’s been a year full of famous deaths, Bowie, Prince, Victoria Wood… and now the great Joan Gero has gone. Aged 72, one of the first and most important voices in feminist archaeology has left our discipline’s conversation far too soon.

And her thought, her influence, is still so desperately needed.

Gero directly challenged androcentric interpretations in her own work, demanding that women in the past be recognised as living complex lives, creating change and driving societal shifts. Her 1992 paper on women’s roles at feasting events at the site of Queyash Alto is a perfect piece of feminist archaeology applied to an individual study, demonstrating the way that viewing both male and female agency in the past results in more nuanced, better archaeological understanding.

Fighting the good fight through one’s own personal research area is an important contribution, but Gero went further. In 1985 she took aim at one of the underlying sexist interpretative tropes that IS STILL dogging archaeology today: the concept of the woman-at-home. Gero intuited that archaeological interpretations which assume a social position for women as homemakers are based on modern expectations of female oppression. Such interpretations are ethnocentric, they are biased, they are sexist, and they are just plain inaccurate.

Working in her own specialism, and calling out the big guns of androcentric archaeology still weren’t enough for this incredible scholar, however. Gero collaborated with Meg Conkey to produce an article that is coming up for it’s 20 year anniversary, and that is a remarkable call to arms. From Programme to Practice (1997) picked up the threads of the feminist archaeology of the 1980s and early 1990s and asked why this revolution in archaeological theory had not made a larger impact? Why weren’t feminist approaches being applied more widely, and why had the bastions of sexist archaeology not been toppled? Gero and Conkey demonstrate that second wave feminist style “add women and stir” models were unsatisfying: rather, they demonstrated how to integrate feminist philosophy into every aspect of archaeological practice. They showed the way.

But the discipline is still in dire need of moving from programme to practice. Feminist archaeology has become a subfield, for (largely) female scholars focusing on women’s lives. The main stream of archaeological interpretation keeps on pushing the same androcentric ideas, ideas that, while drenched in trendy theory or drawn from exciting new discoveries, still peddle the concepts that Gero undermined twenty, thirty, years ago.

I reread a book today published in 2011, focused on Greek colonisation in the Archaic period (it was Irad Malkin’s A Small Greek World, if you’re interested). It’s fascinating, well written, fun. But on page 27 the author lists a series of possible change makers, of movers and shakers. Not one is female. At the end, I double checked the index: women appeared on 3 pages, and those were fleeting mentions related to male activities. How many migrants were women? How were local women’s lives affected by this shifting network? Did women have their own network? Or did they just stay home and not fit into this model of male power, their experiences not worth a mention.

This kind of insiduous sexism, the simple leaving out of female experiences, is more pernicious than the big obvious rage-making ughs, although these are still happening too, as I’ve written about in the case of the Tomb of the Hanging Aryballos at Tarquinia. I just happened to read that book today (and it is really good) after finding out about Joan Gero yesterday, but the vast majority of archaeological papers being written in 2015 are at least this androcentric.

Joan Gero is gone, but her work survives. As a new generation of feminist archaeologists, we need to push for a second programme to practice, to fight the battle that Conkey and Gero, Wylie and Spector, Tringham and Whitehouse, Spencer-Wood and Gilchrist, Marshall and Joyce commenced, and are still fighting themselves. We need to hold our discipline to account, burst out of the sub-discipline that feminist approaches have been restrained within. Every sub-discipline, every area of study, every time period, every teaching module, every excavation report, everything.

Let’s reread Gero, and refocus our efforts to transform a still patriarchal discipline.

**This is very much a tiny snapshot of Gero’s work seen through my own lens: please please go and read her other publications (including innovative work in Argentina published in 2015) to appreciate this wonderful thinker. **

Rejection and bath bombs

Receiving an automated job rejection email is a lot like your child pooing in the bath. Bear with me, because the two events happened to me on subsequent days last week, and the similarities really struck me.

Firstly, there is absolutely nothing you can do about either situation. You can beg your toddler to stop, you can reply politely and ask for feedback, but it’s highly unlikely that the muscular reflexes or the appointment committee will change their minds and stop the process. You are totally powerless.

Secondly, you don’t really know how or why this has happened. I mean, technically you do, you know what defecation is and you know that somehow you didn’t meet the criteria of the job. But you’re not sure exactly how, because you have no feedback. And you have no idea why the 10 minute bathtime slot became the magic moment.
Thirdly, you are left with a hell of a clean up operation. Trust me, there’s nothing quite like fishing floating poop out of bathwater, and nothing quite like scooping your self-belief back up off the floor. One’s physically grim, the other emotionally messy. In both cases, you have to just grin and get on with it. At the end of the day, you can’t go around feeling intellectually inferior and totally miserable thanks to one email, and you are going to want to take a bath yourself some time. You have to deal with the fallout, give yourself a shake and tidy up your mind, or scour the bathroom.

Finally, you have to alter your expectations. In one case, those expectations might be about your evening plans, which now involve disinfecting and sterilising about twenty bath toys that were innocent bystanders but are now germ-tastic health hazards. In the other, you have to adapt your expectations about, you know, your actual life. You have to drop the ideas you’ve worked hard on, you have to discard the vision you had of yourself doing this project, and doing it bloody well. You have to accept that those books and articles probably won’t get written.

So there you are, a facetious attempt at being funny in the face of failure- just be grateful there were no pictures. And while you’ll definitely have at least one automated job rejection email if you’re on the hunt for employment in academe, I really hope you never have to deal with a poo in the bath.

A day out with the Durotriges

On Sunday, I took Silvia to an excavation open day an hour up the road from us in Dorset. The landscape is beautiful- vast fields of wheat on rolling hills, which were just starting to turn from green to gold in spite of this wet cold summer. On the way, we passed a number of sites that I’ve been driving by for years: Maiden Castle, a miniature stone circle, long barrows on ridges high above the sea, and a field full of ploughed out round and ring barrows. I drove that road a lot when completing my PhD, moving between Southampton and home in Devon, so it was a pleasure to see these old friends and travel companions.


I had also driven past the turning to Winterbourne Kingston many a time. I knew it mainly as a name on a sign between a Shell garage and a Little Chef. Sorry. But a mile up the road is an incredible site, which the excavators are (half-jokingly) calling Duropolis, after the Durotriges, the Iron Age people who inhabited this landscape. Geophysical exploration exposed a mind-boggling range of different features in this piece of the Dorset landscape, now hidden beneath a commercial farm. Since the excavation began in the late 00s, they have exposed ditches and roundhouses, burials and corn ovens, storage pits and soakaways. This year, two large trenches were open, displaying a variety of these exciting remnants from different periods. Iron Age burials were  cut into an earlier ditch. Roman corn-drying ovens (associated with a villa just up the hill) lay only a few metres away. Storage pits had been filled with rubbish, re-used as middens stuffed with brilliant finds. If you go to the project Twitter account @Durotrigesdig you can see brilliant photos and hear literal excavation at the trowel’s edge: was Ian Hodder predicting archaeotwitter?

It was a completely different excavation to my eyes: so often, I’ve been used to working in relatively small areas, and with only one real period of interest to focus on: both sites I’ve worked at were only occupied at one broad-brush period in time, one a Bronze Age tell with lovely easy layers to work through, the other an Etruscan site with its own chronology and the occasional medieval pottery fragment in the topsoil. It was fascinating to see the archaeological palimpsest I bang on about so often actually there in the huge trench. A local visitor even mentioned Mesolithic microlith finds when field-walking a few hundred metres up the hill. The archaeologist bringing us around (I’m so sorry not to have found out your name, you were great! I blame the toddler…) rightly emphasised that the major early scars on the landscape would still have had a presence in the lives of later occupants, just as the A35 barrows do today (that analogy’s all me though).

Apparently 500 people came through to visit, and I’m sure they enjoyed it as much as we did. Silvia has a penchant for wheelbarrows, whether full or empty, so there was plenty of scope for indulging this:


We were lucky enough to see a burial under excavation too, but I didn’t take pictures of that- pretty sure it’s not ethically ok to pose your child with human remains, from a variety of angles (ethical, not photographic). That was another difference from my own excavation practice- to see burials and intact vessels still in them! So much of what I’ve worked on has been incomplete, damaged, looted in antiquity, or looted more recently. The chalk (very visible in the wheelbarrow picture)  seems to make life simultaneously harder and easier for the excavators: I saw people sitting in trenches, something emphatically forbidden in the soft, fragile soils in which I’ve worked (on one site we couldn’t even wear shoes lest the loess soil be damaged- although the UK director didn’t know and there was a frantic rush to put them back on whenever she came up to site as the local archaeologists laughed their heads off), but also making clearing and cleaning hard. Easy to spot a post-hole in this, mind. And it looks beautiful when tidied up ready for visitors/photographs.


This year’s trenches are being backfilled soon I believe- the spoil heap behind Silvia in this picture is being dismantled. Next year, the team will move on to a new area. Who knows, if I can palm Silvie off on my parents for a fortnight maybe I’ll be able to volunteer and come along? After all, who can resist working on a site with its own brewery at the bottom of the hill- that’s one up even from an Italian wine bar.


#Brexit and Me

If you haven’t been hiding under a big rock, bereft of internet, you will have heard about the recent referendum in the UK, in which a slender majority of people voted for “Brexit,” or to leave the EU. I’m not sure that even your rock shelter hiding place would save you, the news would percolate to you eventually.

Anyway, I was one of the 48% of Brits who voted to stay in. And I was upset at the decision that had been made- indeed, I still am. While I utterly and totally respect democratic principles, this is the first time I have ever actively suffered the consequences of being on the wrong side of public opinion. It’s a great “check your privilege” moment for me, in a way: white, middle-class, cisgender, straight. In terms of intersectionality, there aren’t really that many trucks driving straight at me.

Enter the arena of Brexit politics at your peril…

But this is what Brexit is doing, and has already done: it has rendered a summer of work, and months of making connections prior to that, a soul-destroying enterprise, one that must relentlessly go on in the face of almost certain defeat.

I’m working on an application to go back to Ireland as part of an EU-funded researcher transfer fellowship scheme. It’s a remarkable opportunity as they make provision for people who’ve dropped out of research for one reason or another and want to go back: perhaps the only scheme of its kind. The project is exciting, my Irish supervisors/collaborators are brilliant. Yes, the programme is competitive, but not so much as to be disheartening- there was always a chance. But will this application have any chance at all? What committee would award funding to a British scholar whose country could leave the scheme at any moment?

On Newsnight last night, a university Vice-Chancellor described 1/3 of the European research collaboration bids at his institution falling apart in the wake of the referendum. I’m just one of many watching their research dreams vanish. It’s worse for many others: I have friends who have secured grants already, what happens to them? What about those already working in other countries? How many lives, and how much good work, is going to be damaged or destroyed? Even more worrying are accounts of abuse directed towards people from other EU countries here, and the fear that many of them are facing of being used as bargaining chips to wangle a better deal for the UK’s departure, or worse, of being deported.

I can’t even imagine how those people are feeling right now, and compared to their situation mine is really not a big deal. But you know what? I’m gutted that every time I sit down to work on my application I’m worried by the time it’s due to go in I will be ineligible. I can’t stop envisaging the committee mournfully putting said application to one side because endorsing a British researcher is too risky. But the Brexit summer goes on, and research must too, even without EU funding.

In the meantime, Silvia and I will be speaking Italian in the supermarket as much as we can. Come at us, little England. Noi siamo ancora europeo.