Contemporary Military Archaelogy, Landscapes, Research, Outreach & Blogging



Any and all diversions about squid, science fiction, landscapes and popular culture archaeology – I like to ramble sometimes! Enter at your own risk.

Re-inspired! #CHAT2016 and #MCA2016

So I got back from the CHAT 2016 conference in Orkney last night (a nice LONG drive back down to Yorkshire!) and realised it’s been a couple of months since I updated this blog regularly.

I wish there was some way I could do a PhD by portfolio – a portfolio of conference papers and practical reports, as they’re the way I seem to think the best. It’s really helpful for me to render ideas down into 15-20 minute presentations and then thoughtful questions from other conference attendees help to put things in a new light for me.

I’ve had 2 great conferences in as many weeks and they’ve inspired me to get more active on this blog again as a way of Thinking Out Loud.

(we’ll see how well this fits in with the rest of PhD life…)

Watch this space for conference reviews and research updates as I work through the ongoing synthesis and analysis of my fieldwork data and try to get the rest of my archival and interview data collection done by February!


Writer, academic…


“The Archaeology of No Theory”…

Many moons ago (in 2004), I spent a year in Japan and wrote a Japanese-language research paper on the presentation of archaeology in Japanese media and pop culture.

I was reminded of this the other day, when I borrowed Cornelius Holtorf‘s book Archaeology is a Brand, and found my name in the acknowledgements (!!). I had corresponded with him during my research year, as I’d come across his work on archaeology in the media, but I had no idea I’d made it into print.

This nice little surprise somehow reminded me of this article, the Archaeology of No Theory by Leo Aoi Hosoya. Memories of it had been bubbling to the surface anyway as part of (re-)thinking over my literature review – it seems archaeological resource management here shares at least some of the same pressures mentioned by Hosoya in the mid 1990s- pressures of time, funding, management responsibilities, a common ‘rescue excavation’ context, and sometimes not-so-explicit decisions on what to record and what not to. The recent news coverage of possible implications for archaeology and the HS2 and house building projects also brought it to mind.

These decades in Japan, the word ‘excavation’ is almost a synonym of a rescue excavation, as more than enough mentioned in Japanese archaeologists’ conference papers or articles. According to Akira Teshigawara’s “Proceedings of Japanese Archaeology” (1995; p.229), because of the rapid increase of constructions for the economic growth of Japan, the number of rescue excavations increased as remarkably as from 3400 to 8500 for 10 years between 1980 and 1990.

In this situation, research or academic excavations had to be very un-welcomed, because they are supposed to be not in urgent and not worth to spend time, money or people. As the result, not only the number of academic excavations never increases, but also most of archaeologists need to get a job in administrative bodies rather than academic institutions. …

In this background, namely most of excavations are administrative ones and most of archaeologists are administrative ones, the main direction of Japanese archaeology cannot help following administrative policy of the Cultural Property Protection rather than academic criteria.

In my stint as a commercial digger I definitely felt I was at the trowel end of an archaeology of no theory (not to say that the units I worked with weren’t meeting regional research goals with their fieldwork research designs, but rather than as a subcontrator I was not exposed to this part of the process, which was quite frustrating sometimes). I love finding works which draw on the ‘grey’ literature of archaeological resource management to inspire, test, challenge and develop theoretical approaches to the past and as part of this have really enjoyed Craig Cessford’s presentations at CHAT2015 and PMAC2016.

PS The link to Figure 1 in the English language version of Hosoya’s article seems to be broken – here it is from the Japanese  version.


This is a variant on the “3 blind men investigating an elephant” story…

The banner reads: “Japanese Archaeology. Who am I?”

The annoyed man with the Japanese flag is saying something like “This is why they don’t understand anything!” or “they don’t know anything!”

From left to right, the three people are saying “It’s definitely a rhinoceros”, “This is a hippopotamus!”, and “a cow….?”


Petitions against the #NPIB #ArchaeologyForEveryone

Some quick thoughts on the petitions currently circulating regarding the proposed new Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill.

The worrying part of the Bill is this aim, “To ensure that pre-commencement planning conditions are only imposed by local planning authorities where they are absolutely necessary”

When a cost incentive is attached to determine whether something is “necessary”, somehow it almost always ends up being “unnecessary”.

A funny thing about archaeology is that you don’t know if it’s there until you go and look for it.

Another funny thing about archaeology in Britain is that it, as part of the more nebulous concept of “heritage”, is a growing resource (IF you find it, record it, preserve it and promote it!!) and one of the few things Britain still “manufactures” that is both:

  • a desirable export – images, academic material, popular culture, travelling exhibitions, and I’ve read somewhere (but can’t find the reference!) that more people study British history and archaeology in English-speaking countries abroad than there are in Britain
  • a serious pull factor for tourists and students, both of whom spend a lot of money for the privelige of being involved with archaeology here – even determinedly non-academic visitors will probably pop into a museum or consider a bus tour to Stonehenge, Stirling Castle, etc,  and of the PhD community in my own archaeology department, the non-Brits vastly outnumber the Brits (and the non-EUs are pretty close to outnumbering the EUs as well)

Lorna Richardson has written about this much better than I ever could:

There is a tendency to think that archaeology, museums and heritage sites are a luxury when allocating ever-diminishing funds at local authority level. But there is plenty of data demonstrating the economic benefits of heritage and archaeology; recent research suggests the heritage-based tourism economy alone directly accounts for at least £5 billion in GDP and 134,000 jobs.

Anyway, sign the petitions!

This one: if you live in the UK,

This one: if you live abroad.


Quote of the Day: OGS Crawford

Field archaeology is an essentially English form of sport.

O. G. S. Crawford (1953, 208).

Crawford, O. G. S. (1953) Archaeology in the Field, Phoenix House, London.

Vintage archaeosnark

“There is little, if any, evidence in Thomas’s data that these Archaic folk occupied these sites in the winter or, more importantly, that they were there primarily to procure pinyon nuts. They may have been there at that season for that reason, but site location data do not tell us that. They may have been there to hunt or to gather grass seeds or to chase each other’s spouses through the trees or all of the above. Given the data marshalled by Thomas, we have no way of telling. ” (Madsen, 1981: 638)

MADSEN, D. B. 1981. The Emperor’s New Clothes. American Antiquity, 46, 637-640.

Ruin Memories by Bjørnar Olsen and Þóra Pétursdóttir

Photo on 4-09-2015 at 11.36 am
Look what just arrived!

In other news, this was on my desk when I came in today!

Ruin Memories: Materialities, Aesthetics and the Archaeology of the Recent Past, edited by Bjørnar Olsen and Þóra Pétursdóttir.

I’ll be reviewing it over the next three months for the Sheffield archaeology journal Assemblage. Having just had a quick look over the contents I’m really, really looking forward to Palliative Curation: art and entropy on Orford Ness by Caitlin De Silvey, and Which ruins do we valorize? a visual calibration curve for the Balkan Past by Douglass Bailey, but I think the whole thing is going to be a very good read.

What is public archaeology…?

Moshenska Community Archaeology Poster
Some common types of Public Archaeology, by Gabe Moshenska

The God of the Gaps – Diagramming my Literature Review

Yes. There is a gap. Several in fact.

This lit review process is frustrating (I want to do fieldwork, NOW) but it will make my fieldwork and archival research so much better.

Presenting things visually always works very well for me. I’m also finding the Binder View in Scrivener to be very helpful as it allows me to see the outline of my document developing, even though it is a little weird to be clicking through all of the tabs rather than just scrolling down through a single document.

Themes I've identified in my literature review
Themes I’ve identified in my literature review

Huh, also, I have failed at SF nerdery… I thought the God of the Gaps referred to a trilogy by Steven R Donaldson, but instead it is a “term used to describe observations of theological perspectives in which gaps in scientific knowledge are taken to be evidence or proof of God’s existence.”. The trilogy I was thinking of is in fact The Gap Cycle, comprising The Real Story, Forbidden Knowledge, A Dark and Hungry God Arises, Chaos and Order and This Day All Gods Die. I think I read the first book or two when I was about 11, as well as part of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and have never fully recovered.

Anyway, we now return you to your regularly scheduling programming.

Words to live (and die – and live again) by…

Words to live (and die – and live again) by….

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