I wonder what I want to know when looking back in time
I wonder if I hope to see a life that’s strange to mine
Is it the lure of Otherness that makes me tread this course?
Or do I hope to find within myself and Them a source
of similarity, a link to hands I cannot hold
yet have those same hands though my mind is changed, I’m told.
I cannot think the same thoughts for my World has shaped my Being
And the things of Theirs I see are not the same when *I* am seeing
What do I hope to capture then, when back I look at Them?
A thread of continuity reaching back to way back then?
Or just an understanding that my ways are not all ways
There are other ways of Being, far beyond the common gaze
That our answers are not finite but are bounded by what’s known
By looking back at how we thought of this, I see we’ve grown
to recognise our biases and watch ourselves at work
to question what we’re saying and where deep assumptions lurk
This can only be a good thing for humanity today
but I’m not sure it gets me closer, all that Time gets in the way…

Written on November 1st, 2012 , Musings

I’m supposed to be writing an essay on the role of the individual in processual and post-processual archaeologies, but instead I’m sitting here musing on the point of archaeology at all. I’ve enthused before that for me it’s the one true multi-disciplinary study as you are required to dip a toe into all sorts of intellectual waters, but that idea is really starting to hit home. Why do we study archaeology, what do we think we can know? It seems to me that what we think we can know is expanding all the time, based on what we think we can know about what it’s like to be a human NOW.

Technically, these advances in knowing are happening in disciplines that are studying what it’s like to be a human in the recent past, but the insights gained there are applied by archaeologists engaged in thinking about the deep past. There is an underlying assumption there that because we are human, both now and in the past, the ways of knowing about humanity are applied universally.

I’m currently reading about semiotics and structuralism, and yes, I can see the point of thinking about such things, BUT, do people really think about these things all the time? Surely the point is that most of this symbolic stuff happens below the level of consciousness. Therefore is it appropriate to imbue these meanings to the conscious level of prehistoric people? Granted, not having iPhones, they probably had a lot more time for sitting and thinking, and yes, the past was probably a lot more present to them than it is to my peers, but at the same time, I doubt looking at a toothpick and thinking of all the possible symbolic meanings that the toothpick might have to them, was a daily occurrence. These symbolic meanings need ‘pointing out’ to bring them to the attention of the conscious thought. That’s me airing my ignorance again, but there’s just this nagging feeling with all the ‘interpretative archaeology’ I’m reading, that we’re putting thoughts into people’s heads, and thinking a bit too much about this ourselves. Because we can.

This brings me back to the idea of the point of studying archaeology: are we really doing this to learn more about what people in the past might have thought and experienced, or are we doing this as a kind of applied sociology/philosophy – testing out these ideas on our ancestors? I’m writing about the role of the individual in this essay, but it seems to me that the individual most involved in the archaeology, is the archaeologist.

Written on October 29th, 2012 , Musings

I’ve finally got round to looking at the July 2012 issue of Past (available low-res http://www.prehistoricsociety.org/files/PAST_71_LowRes.pdf)

During my research on the Stonehenge Environs for last year’s field notebook, I had become a bit obsessed with Stukely’s description of the Avenue:
“..For at the bottom of the valley, it divides into two brances. The eastern branch goes a long way hence, directly east pointing to an ancient ford of the river Avon, called Radfin, and beyond the visto of it bears directly to Harradon hill beyond the river. The western branch, from this termination at the bottom of the hill 1000 cubits from the work at Stonehenge, as we said goes off with a similar sweep at first but then it does not throw itself into a strait line immediately, as the former, but continues curving along the bottom of the hill, till it meets, what I call, the cursus.”

Now this fascinated me, and as I look at the geophys on p14 of Past, I fancy I can see a continuation of the straight section of the Avenue, running up as far as the Cursus. As the authors so obligingly point out on p16, this is on a solar alignment. I can’t help but wonder if the original path was straight, and the diversion off to the river was an alteration. I was also fascinated by the idea that the avenue continued *beyond* the river crossing, as this would mean that the idea of the connection from Durrington to Stonehenge via the means of the river and Avenue wasn’t necessarily correct, if the avenue had other plans. I’m not sure I believe the idea of there being a direct use-connection between the monuments, and such can never be proven. I would go as far as saying both monument have a pathway down to a river (and the same may be true at Marden, so perhaps this is a henge thing rather than a Stonehenge thing).

I haven’t got very far pursuing this yet, as although I can see a linear feature heading towards Harradon hill, this doesn’t look terribly convincing. I would have to potter around and have an actual look I think.

Written on August 18th, 2012 , Musings Tags:

I am troubled by the use of the concept of fashion to explain change. Fashion relies on communication, not only of the idea of the new thing, but surely also how it is to be reproduced. Fashions imply contact of a regular and sustained sort if the fashion is to spread in anything like the timescales implied by some of the chronologies I read.

This is more of a note-to-self to have more of a think about this at a later date.

Written on June 19th, 2012 , Musings

I’m now at the end of the Certificate stage of the degree and I confess I have been struggling a bit with the idea of such malleable truths. The last essay I wrote dealt with the use of analogy in archaeological interpretation. I saw immediately that interpretation cannot avoid analogy so the question of whether it is valid to use analogy struck me as problematic. From that immediate reaction to the question, my reading then caused me to realise that archaeological theory is just applied anthropology and has no connection to the actual past. As the theoretical side was always my interest (I love to think) this caused me somewhat of a crisis. To the extent that I seriously considered not continuing with the course.

A chat with Hannah wherein I confessed my loss of faith helped enormously and I’ve decided to continue. But I need to do some practical fieldwork, something tangible to remind myself why I want to do this. I think a bit too much about things and if I don’t get out and about, it’s quite easy to collapse in on myself.

Written on June 14th, 2012 , Musings

With my professional hat on, I’m currently musing about how one would match a lost item to a found item, given that the two would have been described by separate people. The crux of the matter is down to distinguishing between categories and picking up on similarities in attribute values that are more readily apparent. For example, I’m not at all clear how one makes a distinction between a handbag and a shoulder bag as I tend to call every bag a handbag and be done with it. But I’m a lot clearer about reading a brand label, or defining it as being green.

It strikes me that categories are based on what one knows about the specific type of item e.g. coleopterists can discern between many types of beetle, but they are all mostly ‘beetle’ to me as I don’t know enough to distinguish. But I can tell a green beetle from a black beetle with relative ease, and that’s my hook into telling them apart.

There are, of course ambiguities with attribute values as well (I’ve certainly been party to many arguments about whether something is blue or green or grey) and for our particular matching problem here, we’re coping with that by saying that green can be a certain degree similar to blue. The fact that we’re having to do the same thing with categories just proves how difficult categorisation is – once you start creating really specific categories, you start requiring more specialised knowledge to tell them apart.

Written on February 22nd, 2012 , Musings

Frustrated with my attempt at an essay on the subject, I threatened to just write a series of haikus instead. Here they are:


Farming folk raising

trapezoidal mounds jointly;

family sleeps anon


Axes dropt loosely

Offered to the earth’s keeping;

Exchanges complete


Circles etched sorrowf’ly

Mound raised above patiently;

Bronze users lie still


Landscape shaped squarely

Fields tamed from the wild with banks

Sheep flock gratefully


Lines scored crookedly

Hills circled tentatively;

drawing home within


Clever metal used

Increasing intensity

Family within clan


Road scored straightly through

Where paths wandered wild before

Mines to empty now


Hillside homes abandoned

Valley life beckons for all

Sheep roam the hills


Deer claim the woodlands

Protected and tended legally

Forest law is laid


Rights maintained strictly

Manor law overrules forest

Wood for the poor man


Forest disbanded

Woodland reclaimed but worked

Trees now have masters


For what it’s worth, the essay is available here.

Written on February 12th, 2012 , Musings

The next essay title involves thinking about methodologies for archaeological investigation that don’t involve material remains. Personally, I’m struggling to think of any, as although I know we’re supposed to write about the scientific analytical techniques, that still operates on material remains. So I’ve decided what it means is actually ‘beyond the material culture aspect’.

Which, of course, started me thinking about exactly what I shouldn’t be considering: things and the importance thereof.

I generally pretend to be above the whole treasure-hunting stereotype of archaeology, although if you watch me, I’m generally keeping an eye open for flint. I do love flint. But I have no interest in digging stuff up, and I’m wondering firstly, why I don’t, and secondly, why others do. What is it about holding something old in your hand and knowing that you are the first person to touch said object for 1000 years. What does that mean to a human?

It’s always vaguely puzzled me why people are so awestruck by those Mesolithic footprints that appear on the Severn foreshore. Are we excited because it’s quite amazing that they are still there? Cos I’m quite fine with that. But if we’re excited just because they are evidence that there were humans there and they had feet then too, then I don’t understand. Is there something about seeing these footprints that can somehow tell us more about people in the Mesolithic? I can’t help feeling that what we get out of it is the warm fuzzy ‘connectedness’ feeling.

But I don’t need to see footprints of long-dead people to get that. My genes go right back to the earliest humans alive: I carry with me that connection to every person who has ever lived. I don’t need footprints to make me feel closer to them. So what is it about Things?

Things are ambiguous: you can look at something and take a guess at what it might have been used for, based on the shape, and comparing to modern objects. You can take that one step further, and look at microwear, to see if the use patterns are consistent with what it looks like it is for. What you can’t tell, is what that object meant to someone. I keep the darnedest things; sometimes because they remind me of an event, or a person, or a place. Sometimes because I feel sorry for an object and don’t want to let it go. If you looked at the collection of objects I own, I’m not sure you would work out what it’s like to be me. Probably just as well!

Written on January 19th, 2012 , Musings

As this blog was intended to allow me to measure progress, I feel I should take some time to reflect on progress so far.

Aside from my general fear of essay-writing (having not had to do so for 16 years), the thing I found hardest was limiting the scope of my writing. I tend to try and see the big picture, and slot the detail into it. I’m not good at diving into specific aspects without considering everything else I know and whether what I’m reading fits in with that. So I find a word limit very difficult, presumably as intended.

For the essay on Knap Hill, I wrote 5427 words, which then had to be cut to 2000. So lots of what I felt I needed to say had to be cut out. I had to remove the whole section about the creation being the usage, and recutting of ditches etc.

Hopefully, next year I will get better at editing.

Written on June 27th, 2011 , Musings

Last Sunday was the final field trip for year one. I can’t believe it has gone by quite so quickly, and it feels odd not to be frantically reading something every minute of the day and panicking about essays. I feel that I’ve learned so much over the course of this year, and even though it felt like hard work at the time, actually, all the research and writing was enjoyable (once it was handed in!).

At the start of the year my avowed  interest was the Neolithic period and I had wondered if I would change my mind once I learned more about other periods. To my surprise, I’ve developed an interest in earlier prehistory as well. I’m still fascinated by monuments and the change of society and belief that required them to be constructed. I still love the sense of theatre: the placing of the monument in the landscape and the control of the experience of the space, perhaps because that’s the tiny fragment of the place that I can pretend to share across the millennia. But to understand anything,  I think you need to look at what came before, you can’t just drop into a window in time in isolation.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far, in all my studies (both at evening classes and now at Bristol) is that observation is the most important skill to learn. As a side-effect of this realisation, I notice so much more of the world around me, and participate in it more fully. I hadn’t  noticed the Goldfinches in the area of London I work in, but now I’m constantly aware of hearing them. I never used to see the subtle earthworks in a wood, I literally just saw the trees. Everything has more layers, more depth and more presence to me now. That can only be a good thing.

Written on June 7th, 2011 , Musings

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