Monday, 20 May 2013

What does Europe mean to you?: 6

And so it ends...the annual "choose an anthem for the Bournemouth University Summer Archaeological Excavation" (known, for some reason, to those living outside of central Dorset as the Eurovision Song Contest) has finished. The votes have been cast, the selection made and a winner has been crowned. Of course the winner of the television show (Denmark) bears no relation to the winner of the main (Big Dig Anthem) prize, but that's hardly surprising.

Just to keep you in suspense I'll delay the announcement, to be delivered in breathless enthusiastic Eurovision style (just picture me in a silly hat and an insanely toothy grin leaping from foot to foot as if I need the toilet in front of a photo of Bournemouth pier) as I prepare to announce the results of the Dorset vote.

No major surprises this year, especially with regard to the UK entry (Bonnie Tyler) who managed to secure a ground-breaking 23 points and come 19th, nor indeed for Ireland (a one-time contender for the DBD anthem prize) who, despite having a set of terrifyingly tattooed cannibals on drums, finished last with a measly 5. As I've noted before, if you want to win the televised competition, you need to have friends (to help with the block votes). Ireland and the UK, at the north-western fringes of Europe, are geographically, politically and socially isolated (what they ought to do is invite some countries round for dinner more often and share a drink or five).

To win the DBD anthem vote, you don't need friends, political allies, big hair, shoulder pads, fireworks or a man in a box (thank you Azerbaijan)

what you need is....well, I'll come to that in a mo.

The only real, genuine surprise this year was the final voting as, with the absence of so many countries who either failed to make it through the semi finals (Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Israel, Latvia, Macedonia, Montenegro, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia and Switzerland) or failed to even turn up in the first place (Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czech Republic, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, Morocco, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Turkey), the usual rules on block-voting were left hanging.

With Turkey not appearing in the final, it was unclear who Germany or Azerbaijan would award maximum points to; without Cyprus, who would Greece vote for?; with so few Balkan nations getting to the final, who would the ex-Yugoslav republics choose? This confused free-for-all certainly enlivened proceedings somewhat, and there's no doubt that some of the UKs 23 points were derived from this nationalistic meltdown. 

Anyway, to clarify the Big Dig situation (as I’m sure you want to know), and to formally announce the Anthem for this years Excavation (without clarifying in any way my voting system nor any of the bribes and underhand deals that occurred), the winners are (in reverse order):

3) Who See? (also confusingly known as Who See Klapa)

the Montenegrin hip-hop cosmonaut fetishist duo (and their alien/android friend) from the Bay of Kotor with their surreal take on modern culture entitled Igranka or The Party;

2) Alyona Lanskaya

the be-spangled, crystal-egg hatched sprite from Belarus with Solayoh;

And (what with Moldova’s entry from Aliona Moon (O mie) being disqualified from our list for the total absence of a trumpet - although, to be fair, her dress did turn into a volcano) the 2013 winner is:

1) Greece’s entry Alcohol Is Free sung by Koza Mostra (and featuring Agathon Iakovidis)

It had men in skirts, 17 rousing shouts of ‘hey’ (count them), a catchy shout-along chorus (although I’m not sure about the sentiment – are they advocating the Do-It-Yourself production of free booze to drown out the Euro crisis?), a trumpet (appearing both on stage and in the mix) AND the most impressive moustache this side of Walrus Island.


So thank you Koza Mostra and thank you Greece. Goodnight Eurovision and goodnight Europe….it’s time to don those silly hats and head off into the sunset.


Friday, 17 May 2013

Zen and the art of topsoil clearance

Lots of things go through your mind as you stand in front of a large 360 degree mechanical excavator as it removes startling amounts of topsoil:

Is that really the top of the natural ground surface? Is that a Roman wall? Is that a pit / post hole / ditch? What am I going to have for dinner tonight? Did I remember to pack my lunch this morning? Will that large cloud in the distance bring rain (or worse hail or snow)? Was that bone I just saw disappearing into the machine bucket? Why didn't the Moldovan entry for the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest have any trumpets in it?

Machine watching is, quite possibly, both the most enjoyable, scary, enthralling, exhilarating and (sometimes) terrifying experience that an archaeologist can have whilst retaining their clothes (and, to be honest, I really wouldn't recommend 'Nudist Dig Watch', not even as a specialist Channel 5 programme). Seeing large areas of plough soil being effortlessly scrapped off to the very top of the archaeological horizon is, perhaps curiously, also rather relaxing.

The methodical, repetitive movement of the machine bucket, the slow scrap of the natural chalk, the relentless discharge of soil into the dumper truck, the ever increasing bulk of the spoil heap. Once you've got over the fear of missing the natural (not going deep enough resulting in weeks of backbreaking shovel scraping and barrowing, too deep and the archaeological deposits go ‘bye bye’ leaving you nothing to show but the sad remnant of something important exposed in the section wall), the process is actually quite calming. 

It allows you to stop; to contemplate; to think; to put things in order and, at times, to reach a state of almost Zen-like meditation.

Just as long as you don't ever take your eyes off the progress of the machine bucket - one unsupervised scrape and you could just destroy the very piece of archaeological evidence that you've long been looking for.

Today, for instance, as the sun broke through the rain heavy clouds, finally bringing some (little) warmth to the sodden ground, I found myself standing in a Dorset field overlooking the Purbeck Hills, in front of a mechanical excavator removing plough soil down onto a gleaming white surface of natural chalk. Every so often, a darkened patch of earth alerted me to the presence of a backfilled storage pit, ditch or posthole whilst a wall or patch of mortar brought some new area of interest to light. Then, shovel in hand, I jumped (as energetically as a man of my age can) into the trench in order to define the edges of the newly exposed feature.

When not 'jumping' and shovelling, of course, it's very easy to slip into a mental state of brain-freeze, a synaptic 'pause' where, although your eyes are fixed to the developing archaeology, your brain is merrily skipping off to some distant place (a la-la land for the less alert). Today, for instance, I found myself ruminating on everything from world politics to DIY home maintenance, in-between touching on areas as diverse as my unfinished novel (of some 25 years) and who was likely to win Eurovision based on what I'd little I’d seen in the first semi-final.

At one stage my musings were brought to a sudden stop by the realisation that the engine on the digger had slowed and that the driver was grinning at me and gesturing to the ground at my feet.

Oh yes....a wall….back to reality. 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

What does Europe mean to you?: 5

And so the annual "choose an anthem for the Bournemouth University Summer Archaeological Excavation" (known to the rest of the world as the Eurovision Song Contest) cranks up a gear. This time next week it will nearly be over, bar the shouting (and, as I've noted before, it's the shouting that represents one of the most enjoyable bits).

The dark beating heart at the centre of the European superstate is beautifully revealed once a year in this rather magnificent and complex competition. Forget the Euro-crisis, forget the EU, forget two millennia of conflict, collaboration and comradeship; if you want to know how nations speak unto nations, how cultures interact and mutate, how old scores are settled and new ones arise, then Eurovision is where it's at.

It's really nothing to do with the songs (although they make it far more entertaining than a visit to the European parliament); it's politics pure and simple. And, to be honest, I'd rather see badly-dressed, über-permed representatives from different nations howling and 'hey hey-ing' to a cheesy disco-beat as if their lives depended on it (and they probably do), than seeing news footage of over uniformed, crew-cut representatives from different nations laying into one another with bullets, bombs and mustard gas any day.

So, the tannoy systems across the dig site are under construction and the CD of songs is primed to play on continuous loop; but which of the 39 songs under consideration will win this year's coveted title of Big Dig Anthem? Can anyone surpass the inspired lunacy and infectious insanity (that triggered much frenzied mattocking and shovelling across the dig) of last year's Lautar by Pasha Parfeny...

...I sincerely doubt it 

As we speak, bands, singers and dance-coordinators are rehearsing in Malmö, Sweden for this year’s slugfest. Just two semi-finals and one epic final to go and we will have our result. Can Moldova win for a third year (if they have trumpets anywhere in their song I suspect that's a given) or will another nation sneak the much coveted top spot? Will there be glitter? Will there be cheese? Will there be glorious cultural incomprehension and mutual confusion? Will the UK song get nul points and / or come last, triggering another blast of UKIP styled Euro-loathing in the British Press (if you're wondering the answers are 'probably', 'possibly', 'yes', 'yes', 'yes' and 'of course, why bother asking?').

It's time to say once more: "Bring on the Brawl"

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Deep Space Archaeology - the consequences

Last month I posted about the NASA probes Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager 1 and 2 as the first (known) elements of human archaeology to exit the solar system and enter interstellar space, wondering (semi-seriously) how the rest of the galaxy would react to them.

Well of course, thinking about it (silly me) and, as many people have since pointed out (sometimes politely), we DO know what happens next; indeed a whole variety of different scenarios have presented themselves to us and these are worth (briefly) outlining here, as a form of archaeo-interpretation, just in case the probes are found and the messages from Homo sapiens that are bolted to them are ever read. In short, we need to be prepared.

Scenario One:

An alien race (of blue energy) will discover the location of Earth thanks to the instructions placed on Voyager 2 and will decide to visit. Earth military will shoot down the alien scout ship but the pilot will evade capture by cloning himself a new body from a lock of hair taken from a recently deceased painter / decorator (much to the surprise of his widow). A series of adventures will undoubtedly follow, at the end of which the Alien/Starman/Clone will depart Earth and his new/old/not-cloned wife (who by then is carrying their alien/clone/blueenergyball-hybrid child). 

Scenario Two:

An alien race of living machines will find Voyager 6 (presumably launched in secrecy at some point after Voyagers 1 and 2), drifting alone and damaged in deep space. They will repair and upgrade it, in the process helping it achieve a degree of consciousness, at which point it the probe will start calling itself 'V'Ger'. 

Bored with having discovered everything there is to know about everything, V'Ger will return to Earth in an attempt to find its creator. On the way it will destroy everything it finds (not sure why). A vessel sent from Earth to intercept it, the USS Enterprise, will encounter the probe, which will then abduct the ship's navigator, replacing her with a robotic duplicate. 

People will talk a lot. The Captain of the Enterprise, realising that he is in fact in love with the navigator/V'ger/Voyager person/duplicate/probe will merge with her/him/it and they will then both depart to another dimension.....or something.

Scenario Three:

An alien race (the Sidons), annoyed that the propulsion system of Voyager 1 (the "Queller drive") has wiped out millions of their race in an interstellar accident, will track down the last remnants of humanity (by now living on a space station on the moon which is travelling through deep space following the destruction of Earth). People will talk a lot. There will be an explosion and all the Sidons will die.

Scenario Four:

 An alien race of robotic/transformingthingamajigs (the Transformers), divided into two main factions (the Maximals, descended from the Autobots, and the Predacons, descended from the Decepticons) will discover the location of Earth thanks to the instructions placed on one of the Voyager probes. Because Earth is rich in Energon, apparently (who knew?), which the transformers need for fuel, they will travel back through a tear in the space/time continuum created by a transwarp device in an attempt to plunder the planet. Robotic thingys will shout (a lot), change into all manner of insects and animals and there will be explosions. Something will happen (very slowly).  

Scenario Five:

An alien race (the Psychlos) will discover the location of Earth thanks to the instructions placed on one of the Voyager probes. They will invade. Everybody will frown a lot and there will be some modest explosions. A thousand years later some humans will do something and the frowning aliens will stop breathing....or something. Everyone will be happy.

Scenario Six:

An alien race (unnamed) will discover the location of Earth thanks to the instructions placed on one of the Voyager probes. They will, for no apparent reason, crash three asteroid-like thingys into Earth. Newsreaders in the USA will get very upset. 

Earth will eventually destroy the alien mothership. Newsreaders in the USA will be very happy.

Scenario Seven:

An alien race (unnamed) will discover the location of Earth thanks to the instructions placed on one of the Voyager probes. Unknown to them, however, information on the disc will have been altered by two laboratory mice by the names of 'Pinky' and 'The Brain' (one is a genius, the other insane) in order that they appear to be the leaders of Earth and....

hang on a minute......!