This is the question that has been asked recently by Doug’s Archaeology ‘blog, and it has provoked a good deal of discussion on Twitter. There seems to be a general consensus that ‘people should be told’ but which people, and told what, exactly?
My own answer to the question is threefold and begins with the setup of zooarchaeology.co.uk, specifically the ‘news’ page. All answers to the question ‘why do you ‘blog about archaeology’ are necessarily personal and that word ‘news’ is revelatory about my own: it was fundamental to my approach when I first created my website and it remains so today. Some people ‘blog frequently and engagingly about new archaeological research from around the world, others write about debates and paradigms in the subject, often for the interested amateur but also sometimes for the archaeology professional or student. My own approach is somewhat more prosaic, narrow, some might even say self-promotional.
I briefly debated what to call this section of my website before settling on ‘news’ – should I have called it a ‘blog? The internet is littered with ‘blogs that are established with the best of intentions, that have a few well-meaning, sometimes interesting, articles written in a blaze of optimism before the site is abandoned. I know, I have some of them to my credit/shame. zooarchaeology.co.uk was set up as my shop window – the official front of my consultancy activities and the ‘news’ or ‘blog section was, I thought, an important part of this – both in driving traffic to my website and, more importantly demonstrating to anyone who might look that I was actively involved in research, producing ‘grey lit’ reports and presenting my work at conferences as well as publishing papers. I set myself a target at the time of writing a least one new piece of ‘news’ per calendar month and, nearly three years on, I’ve largely managed to keep to that.
In the beginning, these posts were very short; rarely longer than two paragraphs, they merely pointed the reader in the direction of other websites where further details of my latest activities could be found. Sometimes it even functioned as a sort of ‘out of office’ notice. Something strange happened though. People took notice. I acquired followers of my ‘blog. Followers that, for the most part, I didn’t know and who didn’t appear to be archaeologists. Why?
I’ve always believed that it’s an important responsibility of all archaeologists to communicate our research to the widest possible audience. Often, the general public may indirectly fund our research, sometimes they even do so directly. Beyond that though is something more rudimentary – if we don’t tell people the results of our research, then what was the point of doing it in the first place? It’s well known that ‘knowledge is power’ but what’s less often iterated is that scientific knowledge is worthless if it’s not communicated. I’m very lucky to be researching subjects of interest to so many people. I also enjoy writing.
From about this time last year, the form and length of my ‘blog posts here changed dramatically. I no longer wrote for those who might be looking to contract me but for those who were actually visiting my ‘blog. In making this change, I found that I actually enjoyed the process of ‘blogging far more. Longer posts, aimed at ‘the general public’, whatever that might mean, freed me to express ideas I might otherwise hesitate to articulate in academic print output and forced me to condense research points into accessible language – a sort of accessible, longer and more complete abstract. It also sometimes causes me to approach a familiar topic from a different angle and so clarify or alter my thinking on a subject.
So, why do I #blogarch? For three reasons – I still write to demonstrate my research activity, perhaps that is self-promotion but I won’t attempt to deny that motivation to myself or to anyone else. More importantly now though, I do so because I have come to see the platform as a valuable tool for the important job of communicating my research to the wider world . Note ‘my research’ – with one exception, I still confine my writing here, however much I may enjoy it, to my own research and I still usually shy from engaging in wider debates for fear of burning out and letting the ‘blog languish. Finally, as I said, I write because I enjoy the process. Is that as selfish as the first reason?
On the subject of communicating archaeology, I’m duty bound to mention that we’ve just fixed the next dates for the Understanding Zooarchaeology short course at the University of Sheffield. It’s been terrific watching, interacting with, teaching and learning from the various students, lecturers, museum curators, and professional and amateur archaeologists that have attended this course over the last three years or so – now nearly two hundred people – some of whom have returned for more advanced courses. Full details of the course are provided below.
Understanding Zooarchaeology 1
This course, which is now being run for the eighth time, aims to provide an understanding of the basic theory and methods which zooarchaeologists use to understand animal bone evidence. The course will include lectures, discussion and hands on practical classes. Participants will begin to develop the skills necessary to:
- Recognise special/unusual faunal deposits and understand the principles of excavating animal bones.
- Care for and store bones after excavation.
- Identify different species from their bones and teeth.
- Age and sex bones.
- Recognize taphonomy, butchery and pathology.
- Understand how zooarchaeological material is analysed and quantified.
- Interpret site reports and zooarchaeological literature.
There will be ample opportunity during the course to ask questions and discuss the issues raised during each day. However, if you have a particular area of interest that you would like us to cover in more detail, please let us know when you register for the course.
Many people have enjoyed the Zooarchaeology Short Course, including Andrew Lawson who is a Trainee Biological Curator at Manchester Museum. Find out what he thought of the course by reading his blog.
For further information please see: http://www.shef.ac.uk/archaeology/research/zooarchaeology-lab/short-course
You can contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To register please go to: http://onlineshop.shef.ac.uk/browse/extra_info.asp?compid=1&modid=1&deptid=5&catid=40&prodvarid=468
The first gathering of British zooarchaeologists in 2012 takes place this coming Saturday (4th February) in London. The latest Professional Zooarchaeology Group meeting will be held in the Museum of London Archaeology offices with the focus this time placed on “Unusual Deposits”. I’ll be presenting a short case-study there, entitled “When the Unusual is the Normal”, focusing on the zooarchaeology of Mongolian khrigsuur monuments.
January has also seen the firming up of a couple of schedules for some of the bigger conferences to take place in 2012. The 11th biennial SAfA (Society of Africanist Archaeologists) meeting takes place in Toronto from June 20th-23rd. Sadly I’m unable to attend as I’ll be away conducting fieldwork at the time. It’s one of my favourite conferences though as it always has a lovely atmosphere and some interesting sessions and I will be there in spirit as my poster presentation entitled “iCommunication in African Zooarchaeology” (collaborating with Jim Morris) has been accepted for exhibition in absentia. This presentation was previously aired at AARD 2011 and a copy a copy is available on my Academia profile (a copy of the abstract was given in a previous post here entitled Digital Africa).
The other schedule that is being firmed up is that of the 18th Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists (EAA). This year, the conference will take place in Helsinki from 29th August – 1st September. I’m very pleased to be collaborating with Ben Jervis and Idoia Grau Sologestoa to organise a session, I’ve known them both for some years but this is the first time that we’ve worked together in any capacity. The session aims to take a holistic view to the study of urban environments in Mediaveal Europe and will bring material and environmental scientists together for a dialogue that happens all too rarely in archaeology, in order to discuss common research themes and problems. The session is entitled “Life in the City: Environmental and Artefactual Approaches to Urban Europe in the Middle Ages” and should be open for online submission of papers from the 8th February. Anyone who thinks they may be interested in presenting at this session is encouraged contact us as early as possible to discuss their ideas rather than waiting for the online portal to open. A full copy of the session abstract is given below.
Life in the City: Environmental and Artefactual approaches to Urban Europe in the Middle Ages
Traditional approaches to the study of medieval urbanism have focussed upon the reconstruction of town plans and the study of trade and craft activity. The wider potential of environmental and artefactual remains has not been fully realised. The aim of this session is to explore the range of insights that detailed study of these remains can provide in exploring, for example:
• The levels of similarity and difference between urban and rural living. Did a continuum or a dichotomy emerge through everyday life in these different environments? How did engagements with objects and the environment contribute to a uniquely urban existence? Did urbanism foster a worldview which saw similar material and environmental objects have different symbolic meanings?
• How did experiences of urban life vary between individuals and households, based, for example, on their wealth, ethnicity, gender or profession?
• How did experiences of urban life vary between towns, for example, through the exposure of members of their population to international influences?
• The level of mutual dependence between urban and rural communities. How interdependent were towns and their hinterlands and cities and their regions (including smaller towns)?
• How can artefactual and/or environmental evidence help us understand the social structure of towns and cities?
The range of papers in this session will not only allow us to explore these themes using a variety of evidence, but to consider regional and temporal differences in experiences of urban life across Europe. Papers which combine different strands of evidence, to explore the role of artefactual and/or environmental assemblages in answering these questions are particularly encouraged.
By moving beyond the characterisation of urban landscapes, this session will begin to question what it was to be urban in medieval Europe, whether a single conceptualisation of this phenomenon can be reached, or if instead the study of this material leads to an acknowledgement of heterogeneity.
I promised more African related news the other day. This is perhaps a little less exciting than the other, but still showcases an important development in African Zooarchaeology in its own way.
The 8th Annual African Research Day (AARD) takes place at UCL on 25th-26th November. At a number of conferences over the past few years it has become increasingly apparent to me, and to others, that the African zooarchaeology community is extremely disparate and can often feel very isolated. One way to help bridge the geographical gaps between researchers is to make better use of the internet. At AARD, I shall be co-presenting a poster (with Jim Morris) which introduces one such way to do this – the use of a social network for African zooarchaeologists. The poster is entitled “iCommunication in African Zooarchaeology” and I have uploaded a copy to my Academia profile. A copy of the abstract can be found below.
iCommunication in African Zooarchaeology
The zooarchaeology of the later prehistoric periods in Sub-Saharan Africa is an area which has seen renewed focus in recent years, with sessions on the subject organised at major international conferences in 2008 (SAfA – Frankfurt), 2010 (ICAZ – Paris) and 2012 (SAfA – Toronto). This renewed attention by a new generation of scholars, and their meeting at conferences, has led to an awareness of a need for easier information exchange and support frameworks in an often isolated and disparate community. This poster presents a new internet platform for networking and academic support, creating an online home for that community.