Archaeology

Visible Diggers – Part 3

Last week our Visible Diggers research project culminated in our presentation in Doug Rocks-McQueen and Cara Jones’ session ‘the Future of Engagement’ at the CIfA 2015 conference in Cardiff. Fellow students Stephanie McCulloch and Liya Walsh and myself put together a powerpoint presentation and an accompanying narrative of the results of our survey and had been practising for several weeks. The nerves definitely started to kick in when we arrived at the hotel where the conference was being held. One last practice in the hotel room and it was time to join the session in which we were speaking, The session had a range of interesting speakers each giving differing views on the future of public engagement with archaeology. The main point that came from many of the papers was that the archaeological profession is currently divided into several different and often idiosyncratic sectors – commercial, academic, community etc. and the lack of communication between them should be addressed before better and more universal public engagement strategies are to be implemented. However, several speakers such as Viviana Culshaw of Clwyd-Powys Archaeological trust, Angharad Williams and Victoria Reid from Access to Archaeology presented some fun and successful public outreach projects. David Connolly of BAJR gave a concluding presentation about how these boundaries between sectors should be broken down and archaeologists from ifferent backgrounds should work more closely together and tell more stories!

One guy in the audience complained that universities ‘cherry-pick’ the best archaeological sites for untrained students to work. He suggested they should really be getting excavated by members of the commercial sector who have much more knowledge and experience. I think he’d forgotten where archaeologists with experience come from! I was starting to worry how well our paper would go down by the time it came to our slot, to an audience seemingly made up of mostly commercial archaeology management types! I made a point to state before I started that its possible to be a community archaeologist, student, and member of the community at the same time and these ‘labels’ that had been flying around in the session were not necessarily mutually exclusive. Our presentation was well-received and we had some great questions from the crowd. Issues about male and female students receiving information differently and students being unsure whether they had made interpretive acts during their fieldwork were of particular interest to the audience and we had lots of people congratulating us and wanting to know more afterwards which was great!

Our poster on display in the foyer at the conference

Our poster on display in the foyer at the conference

We even managed to secure a slot to display out poster in the foyer, and we made some great new connections with people at the conference. I had a chance to meet Raksha Dave from time team who was telling us about the possibility of archaeologists being able to become individually chartered, in a similar way to many other EU countries and what this might mean for community archaeology and people already working in the commercial sector – interesting stuff! I feel i totally made the right outfit choice too – my blue velvet blazer was a hit!

The experience on a whole was absolutely amazing and I feel a great sense of empowerment that even though the three of us are still undergraduates, we can still make a difference and a contribution to the archaeological community. Having some experience in public speaking has definitely been beneficial too (way to be thrown in at the deep end, right?). We’re now currently trying to organise a short piece for ‘the Archaeologist’ journal, where we’ll publish a more complete version of our results. Stay tuned!

Standard
Art, History

Eastern Exchanges

Last week I attended the preview evening for Eastern Exchanges: East Asian Craft and Design at Manchester Art Gallery. This new, free, temporary exhibition replaces the Sensory War on the Gallery’s second floor and features many cutting edge pieces of Chinese, Japanese and Korean craft and design together with a wide range of historical examples. Many of the older objects are on loan from various public and private collections, including Manchester Museum. The exhibition is well-lit and definitely not short on displays – it features over 1500 objects. Gallery director Maria Balshaw was on-hand to give the opening speech and was particularly exited about the opportunity to display a large 19th century Japanese ‘norimono’, a kind of sedan, which has not been exhibited in 30 years.

A 19th Century Japanese Norimono

A 19th Century Japanese Norimono

I recently read Masao Yamaguchi’s fascinating article ‘The Poetics of Exhibition in Japanese Culture’ published in ‘Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics of Museum Display’ (1991). In it, he discusses the various techniques employed in Japanese exhibition spaces to transmit knowledge about objects. ‘Mitate’, is the Japanese art of citation – that is – the transposition of meaning upon an object through association with a broader and usually mythological context (i.e an accompanying image, sounds, or even another object). Mitate could have been a useful technique to employ at this exhibition, where the approach to displaying objects was one of Western familiarity – the objects were mainly displayed in isolation, in a stark, white environment with an accompanying caption. This, however, may well have been the point – after all, the main focus of the exhibition was to appreciate the aesthetics and design of the objects and many of the older objects had been collected for exactly that reason. The fact that this display is in an art gallery rather than a museum did seem to shift the focus of the ethnographic items onto appreciation of the visual, but this was not necessarily reductive of the object. The modern art and craft pieces were displayed separately, presumably to create a chronological dichotomy between the two spaces, and were impressive and beautiful.

image (28)

Meiji Period Japanese Satsuma Ware water-holder.

Meiji Period Japanese Satsuma Ware water-holder.

A selection of Japanese Tsuba (sword guards)

A selection of Japanese Tsuba (sword guards)

Japanese laquer box with intricate decoration

Japanese laquer box with intricate decoration

Suit of Japanese armour, on loan from Manchester Museum

Suit of Japanese armour, on loan from Manchester Museum

The exhibition is open for a relatively short eight weeks and I would definitely recommend going to have a look. It aspires to take the visitor on a journey through the last 300 years of East Asian arts and crafts, combining old with new, and I would say it very much succeeds in doing so.

Eastern Exchanges is at the Manchester Art Gallery until May 31st.

Karp, I and Lavine, D. (eds.) 1991. Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display. London: Smithsonian Institute Press.

Standard
Uncategorized

Making Monuments on Rapa Nui

This week, I attended the preview evening for the Making Monuments on Rapa Nui: The Statues From Easter Island exhibition at Manchester Museum, which replaced Siberia: At the Edge of the World in the ground floor temporary exhibition space. The exhibition focuses on the famous Moai stone monuments from the island, the centerpiece being the impressive Moai Hava, currently on a five-year loan from the British Museum. Museum director Nick Merriman emphasised in his opening speech just how colossal these Moai statues are – Moai Hava is a relatively small example at just three tonnes but stil took several hours and modern equipment to transport into place in the museum foyer, and also required structural reinforcement of the basement ceiling. There is still much debate about how the much larger statues on the island, which often extend far underground, were quarried, carved and placed in situ by the Rapa Nui islanders,

Chilean Ambassador Sr. Rolando Drago Rodriguez gave more insight into the island and its position as a territory of Chile. This was the first time in Manchester Museum’s long history, in fact, that there has been an exhibition primarily of Chilean artefacts. Prof. Colin Richards of the University of Manchester and the current head of our archaeology department was last to speak, as he and his team have pioneered recent archaeological work on Rapa Nui, which, in collaboration with Merriman and museum archaeologist Brian Sitch, was the catalyst for this exhibition. His speech was witty and anecdotal – in true Colin style- but informative and captivating at the same time!

Reconstructed Moai standing in the exhibition space

Reconstructed Moai standing in the exhibition space

The exhibition itself is fascinating, if a little sparse – two reconstructions of Moai heads dominate the center of the space and there is a wide range of material, from ethnography to pop culture. One criticism that has been raised is that none of the objects on display have dates. This is understandable with certain artefacts on display as there is still debate of the exact dates the Moai were created, but the dates for artefacts with known provenance are also omitted. This could cause confusion due to the exhibition being a mix of ethnography and modern Western objects which emulate the style of the Moai and could give the impression that Rapa Nui islanders still use the more primitive wooden and stone tools on display, whereas the island has undergone modernisation at much the same rate as other Pacific Islands since its ‘discovery’ by westeners on Easter Sunday 1722. Nevertheless, the exhibition is still well worth a visit and stands as a welcome example of collaboration between the University and the Museum.

The exhibition poster

The exhibition poster

Moai Hava, standing in the museum foyer

Moai Hava, standing in the museum foyer

The Whally Bridge brewery rebranded some of their beers especially for the opening event.

The Whally Bridge brewery rebranded some of their beers especially for the opening event.

Making Monuments on Rapa Nui is open at the Manchester Museum until 6 September 2015.

Standard
Archaeology

Visible Diggers – Part 2

So – the results of our survey are in! I’ve been busy with the visible diggers team over the past week crunching number from our survey, which was completed by over 100 students who had undertaken archaeological fieldwork from around the country. In the process of pulling out the main points for our presentation at the Cardiff CiFA conference next month, several main issues have become apparent. The aim of this piece of research was to assess student perceptions of archaeological fieldwork and to find out whether students in general felt that their interpretations were being heard in the field.

Me having a bit of a think with some other students from Dorstone Hill 2014

Me having a bit of a think with some other students from Dorstone Hill 2014

Our survey showed that most students had enjoyed their fieldwork placements, but the few that didn’t were all in their first year – maybe this was just down to the fact that they had no prior experience of archaeology and it simply just wasn’t for them or maybe the reason lay in the amount of instruction and support they received. Interestingly, ten percent less female students surveyed felt that they had received sufficient instruction than male students. Could this be because of gendered differences in communication? Could it be that there is too much ‘mansplaining’ at archaeological excavations? Indeed, most of the figures at the top of the archaeological profession are still white, middle-class males and perhaps greater racial diversity and gender equality will help rectify this problem. Archaeology students are, in general, much more diverse in terms of age and background and can often provide fresh interpretations which approach the archaeological material from a fresh angle.

Perhaps the most poignant issue raised by the survey was that the majority of students surveyed, from first year right through to masters, either said that they weren’t or were not sure that they were contributing to the overall interpretation of the site when they had clearly engaged in interpretive acts such as section and plan drawings, context sheets, photographs and discovering a significant find. This is clearly problematic, as if students are not made aware of the skills they possess, which have been developed by classroom teaching and on-site tuition then they are being failed by their institutions. This also has impacts for the future – if students are not aware that they are making interpretive contributions, how are they going to communicate this with members of the public or with colleagues if they enter the archaeological profession?

Our paper will be presented next month, so I’ll keep you updated with how it is received at the conference!

In other news, two major exhibitions are opening in Manchester next week – Making Monuments on Rapa Nui: The Statues from Easter Island at Manchester Museum, for which a 3.3 ton moai statue has arrived on loan from the British Museum, and Eastern Exchanges: East Asian Craft and Design at Manchester Art Gallery. Of course, not one to miss a preview, I’ll be attending both and will report next week! Until then 🙂

Standard
Archaeology, History

Roman meets Medieval at Cefn Caer

Last weekend I visited Cefn Caer Medieval Hall House and Roman Fort near Machynlleth, on the western Welsh coast. After a tip-off from a local antiques dealer who had a keen interest in archaeology and a lovely antiques shop in Machynlleth, my group sought out the house (a roadside signpost is coming shortly!) after making a telephone appointment for a tour. Arriving without really knowing what to expect, we were blown away by the Medieval house and its inspiring and engaging owner, Elfyn Rowlands, which was built upon the site of a Roman Fort in the 14th century. The building is now grade II* listed and the attached barn grade II, mainly thanks to the tireless restoration work by Elfyn and its links with Owain Glydwr, and it was interesting to hear about the challenges faced when living in such an important historic house.

The Exterior of Cefn Caer house.

The Exterior of Cefn Caer house

The Interior of Cern Caer showing original Medieval features. Potograph: www.cefncaer.com

The Interior of Cern Caer showing original Medieval features. Potograph: http://www.cefncaer.com

Rowlands was enthusiastic and fascinating – and a real character too! It was inspiring to see the work he had put into the restoration of his family home and the energy and wit he injected into his tours. He was keen to show us reconstructions of two beautiful – and intact- roman vases that he had found in the grounds of he house. The originals are now on display at the National Museum in Cardiff, who commissioned the painstakingly scaled and painted reconstructions for Cefn Caer.

A reconstruction of Cefn Caer Roman Fort. Image: Gwynedd Archaeological Trust

A reconstruction of Cefn Caer Roman Fort. Image: Gwynedd Archaeological Trust

The interior of the house is steeped in history in every corner and the smell of the wood and smoke help create an immersive authenticity. The tour was a real delight and well worth a visit if around those parts. The Cefn Caer website with more information and directions can be found here.

Standard
Archaeology

Ancient Ink

At the weekend, I attended the annual ‘Tattoo Tea Party’ convention at Manchester Event City, where hundreds of tattoo artists from across the country convene to showcase their work and advertise their trade. Amongst the many artist practicing using electric needles, there were several using traditional ‘dotwork’ techniques. This method involves a needle which is dipped in ink, mounted on to a wooden shaft with a long handle. The handle is struck lightly which pricks the skin and leaves a dot, which are built up into an image on the bearer’s skin.

a 'dotwork' tattoo in progress at Tattoo Tea Party

a ‘dotwork’ tattoo in progress at Tattoo Tea Party

This traditional method takes much longer to master than using an electric needle, and is still practiced widely in areas such as Thailand, Samoa and parts of South America, as well as seeing a resurgence of popularity in the UK. Watching the tattoo taking shape using this ancient technique, I thought about the tattoos found on Otzi, the 5,300-year-old ice mummy found in 1992. He bore around sixty tattoos on his body, many of which are still plainly visible today. As Maria Pabst et. al. (2009) explain, Otzi’s tattoos were made with soot from the remains of a fire, possible using a mounted thorn or something similar. They were most likely applied by a third party, but the reasons for these tattoos remain uncertain. Possibly a rite of passage or part of a ritual – and interestingly most are covered by his clothing suggested their primary purpose was not overt display.

I couldn’t resist adding to my collection of tattoos myself while there, although I opted for the electric needle! For me, my tattoos form a kind of personal biography and I feel inquisitive about the reasons why other people have theirs. I find prehistoric examples particularly fascinating as we will never truly know the reasons why the markings have been applied or even what they represent, but we can speculate! I like to think that Otzi’s tattoos were a link to his kin which stayed with him while he travelled, and ultimately perished, into the Italian Alps.

Pabst, Maria Anna, et al. 2009. The tattoos of the Tyrolean Iceman: a light microscopical, ultrastructural and element analytical study. Journal of Archaeological Science 36 (10): 2335-2341.

Standard
Archaeology, Art

Visible Diggers – Part 1

This week, we’ve been stepping up the meetings about the visible diggers project. To try and find answers to questions regarding whether students feel they are are valued and heard in the field and also whether their work during excavation is represented in the final report, we have devised a survey. This will be distributed shortly and I’ll share a sample copy with you when finalised. We will be presenting the results of this research, in some form, at the CIfA conference in Cardiff in April. The theme of the conference is ‘the Future of Your Profession,’ and there will be papers given on a wide range of issues regarding the future of the archaeological profession. You can read more about the conference and have a look at the session abstracts here. I’m really excited to be a part of this research and especially to be able to present our results at an academic conference where it could make a difference to the way archaeology is taught in the field.

Myself and other students taking a break at Dorstone Hill, Herefordshire 2014

Myself and other students taking a break at Dorstone Hill, Herefordshire 2014

This is our abstract, if we choose to give a paper, but may look at other ways to present the research at the conference:-

Visible diggers? Engagement and communication: a student perspective.

Matthew Hitchcock, Stephanie McCulloch, Liya Walsh (University of Manchester)

This is a session that is about the future of engagement, and we are the future of engagement! We are a team of students undertaking a piece of research to understand whether students feel valued, and indeed whether they are valued, in the interpretive process. In this paper we will present the findings of our study and we will think about the implications of them for how engagement occurs – can the experiences of students help us think about how we communicate in the field with other audiences who do archaeology?

We’ll also be creating a separate blog with further detail of the project’s progress, which I’ll post a link to on here.

In other news, the opening events at the Whitworth Art Gallery came to a spectacular climax on Saturday evening after a series of performances and lectures in and around the gallery throughout the day. A choir performance with synchronised fireworks over the gallery saw an end to an week that saw an immense amount of visitors to the gallery. You can view some photos of the evening and other events from the week on the gallery’s instagram page here.

Standard