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.

Lost Civilisations: The Etruscans

My new book is out today! You can order your copy here.

Or it’s at various online repositories. Or your local bookshop can order a copy in for you. I would love to hear your thoughts on reading it. Here are some of mine on writing it.

I have wanted for a long time to write a book for a general audience on the Etruscans. There’s a bit of a gap between enormous coffee table books/ academic volumes and the (I imagine excellent- I haven’t read it as I didn’t want to be too influenced by its probably brilliance) Very Short Introduction book by Christopher Smith, Director of the British School at Rome and all round Italian archaeology superhero. When people asked me what they should read about the Etruscans, I pointed them towards the latter volume, or if I thought they were really keen, to Vedia Izzet’s Archaeology of Etruscan Society.

But I wanted something in the middle. Something that was accessible but meaty. Something that put the Etruscans into more of their modern context, something that analysed not only the ancient remains, but the way they have been used, imagined and reimagined over the interceding centuries. I really wanted to explore the relevance of Etruscan stories and things to our world today.

I hope this middle way works for you, the readers. I hope it challenges you. I hope it gets you thinking. I hope you have fun.

And I hope to hear from you. Again, do get in touch if you want to share your thoughts.

**The book retails at £15.00 or $25.00. I think this is pretty reasonable for a hardback. It was VERY important to me that the pricing be as accessible as the prose.**

**Huge thank yous to Anthony Tuck for his very kind words that appear on the jacket, and his support over the years, as well as to a huge number of other people who get shout-outs in the acknowledgements.**



9 months later

I cannot believe it has been 9 months since I last blogged here. I really took one hell of an extended maternity leave there. In the spring, it got to the point that I was so tired from toddler parenting and the 3rd trimester that I had to focus my last remaining brain cells on a few academic commitments instead of my own little corner of the tinterweb. I deleted Twitter off my phone as I just couldn’t hack it. All my old online cubbyholes just didn’t seem to fit me, so I’ve bowed out. Maybe they will fit again, like my pre-preggo jeans. Maybe not. Either way is ok.

Then, on 22 March, a young gentleman arrived in rather a hurry, and I’m only just lifting my head out of the wondering haze that is having a newborn. Oh, and a 2 year old. And a building project. I did pull myself together to blog on another platform about my experience of labour this time. It was truly prehistoric- I woke up, and an hour later had a baby at home, with no healthcare professionals and no time for even a paracetamol. Not an experience to be recommended, but nonetheless interesting and much better for me than my first outing. If you’d like to read that, it’s here:

I’m at a bit of a Janus moment archaeologically at the moment. I cancelled my CIfA membership yesterday, which felt symbolic. And today I attended an open day for a possible new career (!!). But on Sunday, my second book, “The Etruscans,” is due to come out. I have advance copies sat on the table looking at me. I have impostor syndrome exploding through my synapses. But I also have another general audience archaeology book floating around in my thoughts, and I’d like to have a stab at putting a proposal together when I’ve finished a couple of other bits and bobs, squashed in between preschool drop offs and baby naps. I’ll whiz up another post over the weekend explaining some of my thoughts in writing the “Etruscans” book, in case readers pop over to say hello.

See you soon. Here’s a baby under a tree.


Preggo with Pliny: Part II

Staring down the barrel of the 3rd trimester, I thought it was a good time to revisit Pliny’s advice to pregnant women. I’m feeling pretty good, and felt like a total fraud at TAG when packed sessions would ripple in order to give me a seat. Really, I’m probably more comfortable on the floor.

Anyway, what does Pliny say about the latter part of pregnancy? Well, he identifies the 8th month as the second of his most dangerous points in the pregnancy. A reminder: Pliny means what we would describe as 7 months pregnant: incidentally, exactly how pregnant I am right now. So why would Pliny observe a spike in maternal deaths at this point? The language he uses is interesting here, (Natural History 7: 4), in that it is made clear that both mother and child do not survive in these cases: “abortion during this period is fatal.”

I wondered if this was a reflection of pre-eclampsia. This nasty condition is characterised by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, swelling of the body especially the feet, problems with vision, headaches and pain below the ribs. It progresses, without effective treatment, to full-blown eclampsia: seizures that end in death. Every midwife appointment I have includes checks on my urine and blood pressure, to ensure any problems are spotted early. The only cure is for the pregnancy to end, with the expulsion of the foetus: a foetus unlikely to survive in Pliny’s 8th month, but with better prospects closer to full term delivery. He lists examples of rare babies that did survive premature delivery at this point, but they are very much the exception. The death of the mother during full-term birth, and the death of a premature infant were presumably more common occurrences.

Of course, this is all HIGHLY speculative stuff. But considering that pre-eclampsia is diagnosed in 5% of modern pregnancies*, and that Hippocrates centuries earlier had observed the occurrence of headache and fatal convulsions in late pregnancy, I wonder if this condition is partly responsible for the danger zone that Pliny observed.

Very cheerful. I’ll hopefully be back with more helpful pointers from Pliny in the run-up to labour. Spoiler: it involves hyena feet as pain relief. And I thought natal hypnotherapy was alternative.

PS. I have a midwife appointment this week, fingers crossed for a good urine test and low blood pressure.

*Abalos, E; Cuesta, C; Grosso, AL; Chou, D; Say, L (September 2013). “Global and regional estimates of preeclampsia and eclampsia: a systematic review.”. European journal of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology. 170 (1): 1–7.

Matteo Renzi, Messed up DNA, and Mansplaining

Oh, what a week it’s been. And it’s only bloody Wednesday. 2016’s latest political drama has been the results of a referendum in Italy, which took place on Sunday. The motion for the referendum, focused on political reform, was firmly rejected by the voting public, and as a result the Italian technocrat Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, has resigned. Then this enjoyable little article popped up on Monday, exposing a company which presents people with neat little stories about their ancestors based on their DNA. Except the stories are total crap, or so general as to be pretty crappily related to the customers involved. And then, Brexiteer Arron Banks mansplained to Professor Mary Beard about the Fall of Rome on the basis that he’d seen Gladiator and done Romans at school. (here’s her take on it)

So what links these three little items together, and what are they doing here? Well, I’d argue that all three incidents are little flashpoints at which self-identification and the past collide.And guess what, I can even drag the Etruscans into this. I did promise in my last post the next one would include my favourite pre-Roman Italians (sorry Samnium- it was close).

Let’s start with Renzi. One of the major issues in the Italian referendum was the centralisation of power, and the reduction of regional control over decision making and spending. Renzi argued that this was essential to taming the country’s finances and untangling the political process to enable fast and effective change. The problem is that despite delighted celebrations in 2014 for the 150th anniversary of the modern Italian state, regionalism remains central to modern Italian identity. Indeed, often the city or town is the unit of belonging, the first allegiance of citizens. 150 years is nothing, compared to the centuries of city-states, shifting allegiances and close-knit relationships that have origins that pre-date the Roman conquest of Italia, that continued through the tumult of the early medieval period and configured the Renaissance. This is a gross simplification (hey, it’s a blog and to really understand you need an explanation from a real Italian not just an interested observer) and I’m not going to argue that the Etruscan League is responsible for a 2016 referendum result, but I suspect that the idea of alienating locally held powers was anathema to a large section of the population who still identify with the places where they live ahead of a modern nation state.Add in the disturbing results of central power during the Fascist period and you can perfectly well see why the result went the way it did. History and self-identity did for Renzi.

Now to DNA. I must admit, I rather enjoyed the stereotypical illustrations and tired ideas that accompanied the DNA reports described by Buzzfeed. Then I gave myself a mental slap. The Germanic warriors represented were not so funny when they ended up co-opted into Nazi archaeology, via the writings of Gustav Kossina. Genetics and archaeology both have a dangerous edge here. What the DNA company are doing is selling a personalised version of the past that people want to believe in. They want to be able to identify with particular kinds of ancestors. This is something I’ve encountered in Etruscan archaeology too. It started long before DNA analysis, at the same time as Kossina was working. The idea that the Etruscans were Italians, not immigrants as described by Herodotus, fitted far better with the narrative of a glorious past promoted by the Fascist state. The Etruscan origins argument is recast to fit the political mood, a phenomenon I trace in the second chapter of my new book.

Adding DNA to the mix has only made things more explosive: in one study, samples were taken from the inhabitants of 3 towns: Volterra, Casentino, and Murlo (where I dug and still return to). The idea was that these towns might preserve Etruscan DNA, and the residents were (based on talking to people, predominantly older people, in Murlo) DELIGHTED at this idea. They were hugely excited to be potentially descended from Etruscans, and incorporated this into their sense of self-identity. A later study returned to the results and compared them with remains of actual dead Etruscans*- and found no links between the inhabitants of Murlo and the skeletal remains they worked on. But by then, the links were made, the imaginations had been fired, people were deeply pleased by the idea of their Etruscan ancestors. To use an in-vogue phrase, the real results of the study were “post-factual.” People believed they were descended from the Etruscans already, and their being asked for DNA testing confirmed this, regardless of any links with archaeological material.

So now we end up with Arron Banks and mansplaining to a Roman historian, indeed, perhaps the best known Roman historian. Post factual has been the word of the year, thrown around with fake news and slagging off experts. The Etruscan DNA example was light-hearted (ish), the Italian referendum result far more serious. The idea that immigration caused the Roman Empire to fall and should be taken as a warning from history is poisonous on a whole other level, reminiscent of the warped archaeology of Kossina and its eventual role in genocide. But the point is, like the recipients of the DNA “bollocks”, like the people who were told they might be descended from Etruscans, and to some extent like the Italians who voted “no,” Banks has incorporated this interpretation of the past into his identity. He doesn’t care about evidence or nuance: it’s become part of who he is and how he defines himself. He couldn’t do anything else in the face of Professor Beard’s knowledge, he couldn’t undo the weaving of this factoid into his sense of self.

History, archaeology, and self-identity. A dangerous cocktail in a post-factual world. What the hell will happen next year?

*Please do read this later restudy. It’s S. Ghirotto et al, Origins and evolution of the Etruscans’ mtDNA. PloS One, 8l (2013). It’s open access and excellent.

For Future Reference, Conference Organisers

I’ve been trying not to write this blog post for about a month, but sod it. I’m doing it. Because this morning folks on Twitter were happily retweeting one of archaeology’s biggest conferences stating that childcare was available on site during the conference. Hurrah for inclusivity, let the parents roar, was the tone of the approving RTs.

But actually, for future reference, conference organisers:

  1. Childcare on a different campus (this event is being held at my alma mater, so I know- I would be amazed if the conference isn’t on one campus where the archaeology building is, at least a 10-15 minute walk from the nursery) isn’t on site. This is not a 2 minute nip out of my session, breastfeed or check in with my child and go back. That’s fine, but don’t say it is on site when it’s not. You will have stressed out parents to deal with in the long run.
  2. Childcare that we can only organise less than a month before due to your late deadlines and correspondingly late session details isn’t exactly reassuring. If you were attending all three days (and hence spending your ££s on accomodation, meals and the full whack of childcare) then you could book early. But if you were thinking of one day, it was impossible to book in until almost the last minute. This leads me to…
  3. How much spare capacity do the Early Years care providers have? This conference is over three weekdays, not the weekend when many conferences run and extra provision is available. So a last minute rush a month prior to the conference, with a wide range of age groups (all with different staff ratio requirements) is not helpful to your childcare team either. Do they put on extra staff? They have to. So my child is with new staff in a new place, if I can get them in. Super.
  4. Surprise surprise, that’s not a hugely appealing option. So my husband has booked a day off work on the middle day, and he’s having our girl. I believe they are going to the zoo. I wanted to submit abstracts for a couple of sessions, but knowing this was the scenario, I felt I could not do this and then pull out. Either way, my career loses. LUCKILY one session I really wanted to go to on the final day is going to be live streamed. This, more than anything else, really helps conference-going parents. Because…
  5. IT ALL COSTS MONEY. And unnecessary money at that. There’s no One Day Rate this year, so me going to this conference means paying full whack. As an unwaged person, I get a lower rate, but it’s still pretty substantial for a single day. It’s more than said zoo’s annual pass. And I think its substantial- me, a very middle class relatively well off woman. Checking my mofo’ing privilege here, if I’m moaning about this, there will be other people who simply cannot afford it. They cannot go. And they certainly cannot afford to go for 3 days, get their partner to have the kid(s) or pay for childcare ON TOP, and pay out for a B and B, let alone a hotel. At least with livestreaming you can watch it back later for free.

So please, while I have the utmost sympathy for the person running the TAG Twitter, and the poor souls running around organising the thing (been there…) can we keep fighting for improvements in access for parents rather than celebrating the bare minimum of provision? Here are some straightforward solutions:

  1. Be upfront about the distance parents will be from their child.
  2. Early deadlines, early announcements, early booking.

Not difficult.

Normal Etruscan services will resume shortly.



are strange beasts.


In many ways, they are an absolute staple of history and archaeology writing, from the very first time you start to scrawl about the past in primary school. They grace rulers and classroom walls, depicting the linear march of events. They are the bald, raw, aspect of things-that-happened-long ago.

In my old position in archaeological travel, we provided guests with sets of “field notes,” each with a timeline for the relevant periods explored or countries visited on the tour. Yet before that, I used up good PhD space criticising periodisation, and arguing that putting labels on chunks of the past was unhelpful.

Now, I’ve come to the point of compiling my own timeline for my new popular book on the Etruscans (publication date tentatively next October; Etruscan death demon themed launch party planning commenced). The full text has been sorted for a while, but the publishers have asked for a timeline for clarity as part of the front matter. Fair enough.

The exercise, however, has made me realise just how subjective timelines are. What do you include, and what do you leave out? It’s made me confront my conflicted views on textual sources and their application to the Etruscan world: do I want to put in the date that Herodotus thought his exiled Lydians showed up in Italy? What does that say about what I believe?

While I wrestle with this, you might enjoy a more lighthearted approach. With tumultuous events happening in the world, what funny or unusual things would you put on a timeline of the historical period you are interested in? I mean, I’d like to put in “most poorly executed Etruscan red-figure vase made.” And maybe, “Ranuccio Bianchi Bandinelli stops for a spot of lunch at Murlo.”

Go on. It’s better than reading the news.

Wooooh… scary

Charun looks happy at least. Image by me, object belongs to the Soprintendenza per i beni cultural Etruria Meridionale.

I was going to write a post about the variety of cool Etruscan death demons and provide some snappy fancy dress advice for each one. Charun: wander around with a huge inflatable hammer. Vanth: channel Jodie Marsh with the belt bra look. That snake dude from the Tomb of the Blue Demons- get some serpents and a blue morph suit.

But instead, I’m going to blog about something that I think is much more frightening. Last week I gave a lecture at the Accordia Research Institute, part of UCL. I wanted to talk about the public archaeology of pre-Roman Italy, and I hope I managed to keep things structured and reasoned and not too rant-like. The rant risk factor arose from how worried, angry and afraid I am of a certain political mood, and a certain academic complacency.

In the week before I gave the talk, A-level archaeology, art history and classical civilisation were scrapped in the UK by the exam board, due to (in large part) lack of interest. Anthropology got the boot last year. How long can it be until these subjects, particularly archaeology with its horrendously low starting wages, begin to be phased out from universities too? Now, a lot of people were inclined to put the blame for this on ex-education minister Michael Gove, who had emphasised the importance of “real, hard” subjects. Gove himself (give the man his due) said he never meant THESE subjects, but guess what, unintended consequences bite like an Etruscan wolf demon.

Actually, it’s another Gove thing that has me more worried. He’s given voice to something I do feel is a wider problem- the general disenchantment with people that know stuff. His disdain for “experts” in the lead up to the Brexit vote should be regarded as a warning to anyone who has worked their tits off to acquire specialist knowledge. It’s not just a British thing, either. I identified in my lecture the parallels between Brexiteer philosophy and the Movimento 5 Stelle, the anti-establishment Italian political party to which the mayors of Rome and Turin belong. How long, I asked, would it be before these anti-expert views began to undermine people working in cultural heritage?

Erm, about a week. I don’t like to say I told you so, but the resignation* of the director of the Turin Museum Foundation, Patrizia Asproni, after a sustained campaign for her to quit led by the city’s 5*M mayor, makes me say I told you so. The Museum staff wanted to focus on big exhibitions that would bring new visitors to the city- the mayor’s office wanted more for local citizens. When a major sponsor dropped out of one of those planned major exhibitions, the mayor leapt gleefully upon a chance to get rid of a pesky cultural expert. Who was working for free- not even costing the museum money. How much more vulnerable will paid “experts” be to dismissal and bullying? In Italy and in the UK. Let alone in a Trump-led US, Uni forbid.

I don’t know, but predicting this particular aspect of the archaeological future is a lot more disturbing than the remains of the past. Happy freaking Halloween.

*Sexist reporting shout out to the Guardian here, referring to what happened as a “spat” between 2 female politicians. Would you say that about two blokes? Nice.

Lost tri….NO. Just no.

I just finished watching BBC 2’s Horizon with Prof. Alice Roberts. And from the get-go, I knew it was going to make me cross, although there was a roll call of the great and good of Palaeolithic archaeology and genetics popping up to share great research. Chris Stringer, Svante Paabo and others- pretty big time.

So why was I angry? The title was just so inappropriate. I blogged earlier this week about it being Baby Loss Awareness week. It’s also the week in which Columbus Day falls, a week in which indigenous communities and their supporters have called to be recognised as a time to remember the genocide inflicted on these people in the Americas and elsewhere.

So, really really not a good time for a show using the words “Lost Tribe” in the title to be on telly. And for those words to be repeated at regular infuriating intervals throughout the show. And used in sentences like “bred with Neanderthal tribes,” which stink of eugenics and dehumanisation.

The word “tribe” is problematic as it was used to denigrate indigenous communities consistently and systematically for a very long time. It was part of a colonial discourse which refused to recognise these people as fellow human beings, but saw them as evolutionary back-alleys, ready to be absorbed into whiteness, one way or another: through murder, epidemic, aggressive acculturation, sterilisation or intermarriage (which veiled a good deal of rape).

The idea of a “lost tribe” is even more tied to this discourse. The vision of a Victorian explorer encountering an uncontacted community is wrapped up in these words, and every time uncontacted people in the Amazon are intrusively photographed from the air it pops up again. It is the language of lazy tabloids, of sneering colonial officials, of dehumanisation and the degradation of human beings. It is not the language that should be used on a scientific television programme.

And don’t give me that crap about accessibility and capturing interest with familiar tropes. The end does not justify the means. Words have power, as you on the tellybox know. You should know better.



Preggo with Pliny Part 1


TW: this post incorporates discussion of pregnancy loss.

Yep, I’m pregnant. Baby #2 is due in March of this year, all being well. Last time around I was at work, coming in at 7pm and leaving the house at 6am. This time, things are more laid back- I mean, there’s more heavy lifting (how can a toddler weigh so much? Is she made of concrete?), but also a bit more brain left at the end of the day. There’s only so much of my brain that gets used up by multiple readings of “Ready Steady Mo” and howling like a toy wolf (her favourite activities). Another difference is this time I’ve more or less ditched the pregnancy manuals I so zealously read last time around.

The upshot of more time and less manuals is this, a little look at  pregnancy advice from Gaius Plinius Secundus. Unsurprisingly, Pliny’s Natural History is written and designed to inform a largely elite male audience. In a basic and biased synopsis: Chapter 4 is centred on when a child can be expected to be born, policing women’s sexual behaviour by birth date. Chapter 5 focuses on how soon you can start to aspire to that longed for male child by microanalysis of pregnancy symptoms. Chapter 9 reminds you of why it’s not a good idea to have sex with your pregnant wife, Chapter 13 that if a woman doesn’t menstruate, she can’t give you a child, but if you impregnate your wife while she’s breastfeeding, you won’t affect her milk supply- as long as the first baby was yours too. But still, if you’re the actually pregnant person, you might find the following interesting:

First off, don’t catch a cold while you’re trying to conceive. Pliny writes that if you sneeze after having sex then you will automatically expel any potential child from your womb and abort a pregnancy before it starts. If you manage to keep the sneezes in, you can expect a headache and the beginnings of nausea to arrive about 10 days after conception- the first signs that you’ve conceived. Never mind weeing on a stick, that headache you thought was dehydration was the first sign*.

Throughout the first trimester, you might feel sick- I spent many an unhappy late afternoon on the bathroom floor this time around, in contrast to last time where apart from one incident in John Lewis (never knowingly undervomited) I had only light nausea. According to Pliny, that means we can expect another little girl: anything bad in pregnancy and labour points to a female child, and that includes morning sickness. Interestingly, this sexist nonsense survives in numerous old wives tales that were unhelpfully recounted to me in recent weeks*.

Also, I really should have been watching out for movement earlier too. Pliny says that a male child will be felt moving in the womb (presumably because men are, y’know, more vigorous and that) 40 days after conception, while a weak little woman in waiting will be felt 90 days later. I take my hat off to the sensitivity of your abdominal muscles if you can feel fetal movement at approximately 8 weeks gestation. I’ve felt movement quite early this time around, but not until 14 weeks*.

I’m also lucky to have got through the first of the dangerous periods Pliny identifies as most likely points for miscarriage. He pinpoints the 4th month (around 12 weeks pregnant) as one of these flashpoints*. While much of the advice I’ve related to so far is downright dodgy, this strikes me as interesting, for two reasons. Firstly, reporting: at what point would a Roman woman have put her bleeding down as a late period? Having missed at least 2 periods, I suspect most would have recognised they were pregnant and therefore diagnose miscarriage if bleeding set in. Secondly, miscarriages at or around 12 weeks are often those we now identify as a “missed” miscarriage, where the body has not realised the pregnancy has ended, due to an issue with the ovum’s development or the cessation of the foetal heartbeat. This is usually identified (heartbreakingly) at the 12 week scan in the UK medical system, and a decision is made whether to wait for a natural end to the pregnancy or intervene with pessaries or surgery. The NHS advice is that if no bleeding has begun within 14 days of the scan, intervention should take place. This is the period covered by Pliny’s “fourth month,” and with the risk of associated risk of haemorrhage for the mother, it is dangerous indeed.

As someone who has experienced the highly unpleasant and potentially life-threatening situation of an ectopic pregnancy (indeed, the symptoms began while I was helping organise a conference and I completely missed all the danger signs), I wonder how many women died in the first trimester of pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancy, maternal haemorrhage, hyperemesis gravidarium (severe morning sickness resulting in dehydration and starvation- it killed Charlotte Bronte in more recent times): even the early days are a dangerous time.I wonder if when we consider maternal mortality rates in the past we discount the less visible deaths in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

It’s Baby Loss Awareness week this week, 9-15th October. A good time to stop and pause and think of those affected.

*Natural History, Book 7, Ch 5

*7, 5

*7, 5