Sunday, 14 May 2017

A Song for the Durotriges

It begins - the annual competition in which (most of) Europe gathers together in order to showcase the finest songs in the hope that one will be chosen to be the Durotriges 'Big Dig’ anthem. The misguided, misinformed and foolish think that this is 'the Eurovision Song Contest', but we in the know are aware of the truth. The winner in the televised version of Eurovision may get to take home a glass trophy in the shape of a rectal camera

but the winner of the Durotrigian popular vote has the satisfaction of knowing that their song will be played loudly (and constantly) in the site minibus and tannoy system every morning from now until August in order to motivate, inspire and (just possibly) infuriate. The dig season is starting – now let’s find an anthem.

This year the choice has been more difficult than usual, not because of the poverty of songs (thank you 2016) but because there have been so many gloriously insane entries, any one of one of which could easily have taken the prize. This, coupled with the fact that the entire stage was designed to make every contestant look as if they were performing beneath a giant set of squatting buttocks

and the final decision was difficult; very difficult indeed.

Would it be the hair-whipping Montenegrin whose 'Spaceship was ready to blow'  despite the fact that his 'Linen is covered with feathers'?

Would it be the Italian caught on stage by an amorous Gorilla?

Or the mooning Austrian?

The funky Moldovans?

The Brexit-apologising UK entry?

The schizophrenic Croatian opera singer turned soprano-biker in love with himself?


The 'can't quite stand up' (and utterly unpronounceable) O'G3NE from the Netherlands?

The super sinister scary JOWST from Norway (who could not only hear voices in his head but whose chorus seemed to be the less than jolly mantra 'Kill Kill Kill')?

The five men from Sweden in desperate need of a functioning public toilet?

Or the clearly Durotrigian crowd-pleasing Dihaj from Azerbaijan who sang about skeletons whilst performing with a horse head human hybrid man on an archaeological photographic step ladder?

Tough choice.

In the end, of course, although both the official Eurovision jury and public vote went for socially awkward Salvador Sobral from Portugal

there could only be one winner of the Durotriges Big Dig 2017 Anthem prize. 

Hello Europe, this is Bournemouth calling. The votes of the Dorset jury are in and all bribes have now been cashed. 12 points go to the Romanian entry 'Yodel it' by Ilinca and Alex, a beautifully crafted ballad detailing the benefits of the UK-based parcel delivery service complete with guttural throat exercises, glitter-cannons and eastern European rap

Brilliant - quite quite brilliant. From this moment, the peace of the Dorset countryside will be broken each and every morning with a prime slab of yodel-based-rapping. What better way to inspire the dig team?

Thank you Kiev, thank you Europe and goodnight...

Friday, 28 April 2017

Signs of Life 3

It's that time of year again when lectures, meetings, fieldtrips, seminars, more meetings, exam briefings and assignment marking join together with even more meetings to create a perfect storm of timetable-related-brain-congestion from which it is difficult to escape. Occasionally the well-researched student assignment or well-argued question in the middle of a lecture provides a 'Eureka' moment that makes all the hours lost in mindless-meeting-related drudgery worthwhile. Sometimes it is a confused headline news story glimpsed for a moment in a TV bulletin makes you stop in your tracks and wake up.

This time it's the BBC News page that does the trick:  

Not being a follower of football (have I said that before?) it took a long time for me to realise this wasn't a piece of fake news or late April Foolery - especially as people have been saying for many years that Jesus Saves...

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Archaeology of Doctor Who 4

Ok (bit weird) but less than 2 weeks on from wondering whether BBC Dr Who show runner Steven Moffat had taken a peek at my own private Who-related wish list, putting so many archaeologists (and not the usual, run-of-the-mill evil / dysfunctional / curse-invoking type that pop culture relentlessly throws at us) into his flagship programme, together with multiple depictions of Roman soldiers AND Stonehenge, this week, in an episode entitled Smile (which as several people have pointed out to me is an anagram of Miles - just in case my completely delusional egocentric worldview wasn't warped enough already, thank you) featured the geeky spot to end all geeky spots...

...for, a mere 18 minutes in, as Bill, the Doctor's new companion, searched through the archive of a post earth-evacuation colonist ark, she accessed images and information relating to humanity's great artistic achievements and there, sitting squarely among Stonehenge and Easter Island was an image of the Venus mosaic from Bignor Roman villa in West Sussex. 

I recognised it straight away, why wouldn't I, it is after all a mosaic I'm very familiar with

having, quite literally, together with my friend David Rudling, written the book on it (which is currently available from all good (and probably some less good) bookshops)

Wow (and I repeat) wow. Of all the mosaics in all the world (etc etc). This, coupled with an image of the Medusa / Gorgon head from Bath

and I had to have a bit of a lie down

What with the Ninth Hispana Legion coming up in a few weeks time (seriously), all I need to make my delusional mindset come into less focus would be an episode set completely in the galleries of a Neolithic flint that would be a bit weird (not to say very unlikely) wouldn't it.

Anyway, all things considered, I am very pleased to see that, not only is the past valued in the future, but it's a very archaeo-centred Bournemouth University Research Project version of the past (if we count Bignor, Bath, Easter Island, Stonehenge and the forensic analysis of human remains)..

...cue happy emoji-robot-interface face

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Archaeology of Doctor Who 3

I'm a big fan of Dr Who (did I mention that before?) and, as the new series is about to air on the BBC (the last to feature Peter Capaldi as Doctor 12/13/1st of the second phase/indeterminate - delete as applicable) I am beginning to wonder whether show runner Steven Moffat has taken a peek at my own private Who-related wish list.

I have, of course, had this feeling before.

The series 5 finale (in 2005, rather than the season 5 finale in 1968) The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang, for example, was set almost entirely within one of my favourite examples of prehistoric architecture: Stonehenge 

Not only that, of course, but it also featured [spoiler alert] Cybermen, Daleks and the trowel-bothering, gun-toting, banana-wielding exo-archaeologist Professor River Song

It also had, quite inexplicably, Roman legionaries

Lots and lots of Roman legionaries

and, OK so the legionaries all turned out to be [Spoiler Alert] Nestene Duplicates (rather than Autons - no, me neither), but the combination of Romans and Stonehenge made this particular lecturer in Prehistoric and Roman archaeology a very (very) happy man. So happy, in fact, that I think I'll say that again: Roman soldiers AND Stonehenge.


Even better, just like myself, the good Doctor and his chums immediately went mucking around in the ground around the sarsens. OK, so my particular 'mucking around' was part of a properly managed archaeological research programme (rather than a search for an extraterrestrial thingymabob), but I did feel a strange kind of kinship

- it being about as close as I'll ever get to sharing the same experiences as the good Doctor. What particularly made me sit up and take notice (even more than I was already) was when Team-Who found a secret way down into the ground within Stonehenge. 

At this point I remember thinking 'that looks very familiar...' and in a way it was, my very own 'photo from the trenches' appearing as a cover image on Current Archaeology magazine a few months previously.

Perhaps, I wondered, if only we'd dug a bit deeper at the site, we too could have found and opened the Pandorica (although I suspect we wouldn't have made such a good job of the overall recording).

Reading this week's Radio Times (other TV listing magazines are available) detailing the upcoming 2017 series 

I see that [Spoiler Alert] episode 10, entitled "The Eaters of Light" (by Rona Munro) is described in the following terms:

"A long time ago, the Roman legion of the ninth vanished into the mists of Scotland. Bill has a theory about what happened, and the Doctor has a time machine. But when they arrive in ancient Aberdeenshire, what they find is a far greater threat than any army. In a cairn, on a hillside, is a doorway leading to the end of the world"

Do excuse me, I think I need to lie down in a darkened room for around 10 weeks....see you in June.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Being 'in Harry Hill'

"Were you once in Harry Hill?" 

Apart from the distinctly 'tabloid' (and, when you come to think of it, rather personal) nature of the question, I had to acknowledge that the answer was indeed in the affirmative.

"Yes, I did briefly make an appearance in the programme Harry Hill's TV Burp back in 2003". I smiled at the student whom, I couldn't help but noticing, had probably been around 4 years old at the time.

We had just come to the end of a long (but I like to think profitable) dissertation meeting, outlining in detail the nature of the Harvard Referencing system, but I could already feel my synapses starting to decay. I could also, however, sense that the student was awaiting further input.

"It was a piece on the Piltdown skull, a riff based on something I'd said in another programme about how strange it was to think that the earliest human could have come from the Home Counties of England"


"and that the skull may therefore have been a bus conductor from the 1970s ITV situation comedy On the Buses"

[more silence - this time accompanied by awkward shuffling]

"called Blakey"

I guess you had to be there. 

Still, at the time, I recall that this 9 second appearance gained more attention than anything I had ever written, researched or previously published, to the extent that even the man in the Off Licence later greeted me with a "ere, didn't I just see you on the telly? Sandra, Sandra, this man's a friend of Harry Hill" (followed by an ultimately futile attempt to explain to both the owner and Sandra that although yes, I had appeared on Harry Hill's programme in a pre-recorded clip, no I hadn't actually met Harry Hill and therefore couldn't really think of him as an acquaintance).

I felt that it was now my turn to ask the student a question: "why do you want to know?"

For a moment he looked a little non-plussed. "Well", he confessed, "it says on Wikipedia that you were once his TV expert of the week".

Ah yes, how everything else you may have achieved in life ultimately fades to nothing when it comes to the extraordinary power of the goggle-box... term over yet?

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Gorffwys mewn Hedd - Geoff Wainwright

In remembrance of professor Geoffrey John Wainwright (1937-2017): colleague, friend and archaeologist without equal. Working with you was a privilege and an honour. 

Gorffwys mewn Hedd

Friday, 17 March 2017

Archaeo-terrors (no. 1): a fear of landing

Moments before I got into the plane I remembered just how just much I disliked landing. Flying, as I think I've noted before, is actually alright (once you get past the stomach-churning, underwear-soiling terror of taking off). Yes, flying is ok; it's the hurtling back down to earth at high speed with no clear evidence that your flimsy plane can fool gravity sufficiently long enough to allow you to land safely that can be officially classed as mega squeaky-bum-time. 

As I sat in Old Sarum Airfield cafe, patiently waiting for the plane to be made ready, I was reminded of Douglas Adam's description of the Vogon Constructor Fleet: a series of alien vessels which hung in the sky above Earth "in much the same way that bricks don't".

I finished my ploughman's lunch, took a deep breath and visited the loo one last time just to be on the safe side. 

Today I was going to be travelling across the air-space of Wiltshire and Dorset in order to peer down at some rather impressive ancient monuments. The route (and, indeed, entire journey) was completely my fault, having been asked by a TV company to describe which prehistoric earthworks best reflected the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age of southern England. Having provided a lengthy list, and assuming we might be visiting, at least of few of them on foot, I was now facing a 3 hour flight in order to get them all in.

This time, aside from the fear of landing, there were added feelings of claustrophobia to contend with for I was crammed into the back seat of a (very) small plane with the sound recordist (and all of his kit), whilst the documentary director sat in the front leaning across the pilot, buttocks pressed firmly against the windscreen, camera pointing up my nostrils. "Remember, don't look directly at the lens" he said, though I confess my line of sight was more than slightly restricted as it was. Eventually I settled on an uncomfortable position, head turned 90 degrees to my body, nose touching the side window. With a set of headphones now encasing much of my face, I could no longer see the pilot (which was probably just as well as I suspected that, what with the camera, sound kit, director's backside, sound-recorder and myself, he actually had very little room to do any serious flying). 

Hod Hill appeared below us and it was time to discuss the Roman Invasion of Britain

Swooping over the hillfort (several times) I began to wonder how much easier the Roman invasion of Britain would have been had the legions of Claudius been in possession of a Stuka dive-bomber. Certainly our current flight over the hill seemed to have a dramatic effect on those engaged in walking / picnicking / dog-walking / romancing across the upper slopes, sending many of them scurrying for cover.

After 20 minutes we were ready to move on.

Oh look Maiden Castle. We strafed the hillfort whilst I tried to enthuse about the excavations of Tessa and Mortimer Wheeler. This was beginning to feel a bit like trying to read a book, sing and remember all the lines to the poetry of William Wordsworth whilst sitting on a rollercoaster.

Next up Avebury.

Then Silbury Hill

By now I was starting to feel decidedly ill. I've never really experienced air-sickness before, but I was learning quick. "Keep talking", the director enthused "you're doing great", but I was now uncomfortably aware of a major disconnect between brain (which was urging the contents of my stomach to say exactly where they were) and my mouth (which was gibbering incoherently).

Then, as we lurched suddenly downwards and to the left without warning, I glimpsed the earthworks of Old Sarum, whizzing by at high speed, and I knew, with some satisfaction, that we would soon be coming in to land.

All the terror that normally surrounded the act of landing had evaporated (together with my appetite); now I was only too glad to see the ground rearing up at us like a half-starved lion about to devour a particularly plump wildebeest. 

We were home.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Richard III strikes-back?

Last year, in what the American satellite news channel CNN described as "the fairy tale that gripped the world", Leicester City (Football Club) won the English Premiership (football) trophy. As long term readers of this blog know, my love of football is not quite as great as my love of Venezuelan goat throttling and so, as a consequence, I was more or less completely 'ungripped' by the aforementioned tale from the world of fairydom. What did intrigue me, however, was the way in which an archaeological discovery was taken by many in the media to explain the success of  the Leicester team. 

Apparently it was all the fault of Richard III

The discovery, exhumation and final reburial of Dickie 3 was, as even the more sober sports journalists at the BBC felt obliged to comment, surely the main reason why the fortunes of the club changed so dramatically, bringing them glory, riches, unparalleled success and international fame.

That's all well and good; you can believe what you like (honestly) - at the end of the day, I just have to say that it's nice to see that the archaeological disturbance of a Medieval monarch didn't unleash the usual round of plague, pestilence and shuffling armies of the undead.

All in all, the good people of Leicester seem to have escaped rather lightly.

But, of course, they haven't. Today, in 2017, with Leicester FC close to relegation (so the same journalists keep telling me), the team in utter disarray, the fans upset and the manager ignominiously dumped, it all looks so very different.

What could possibly be the reason?

Well, given the universally-held belief that the triumph in 2016 was solely "down to the big famous King Richard", there can only be one explanation: pleased though he was to be freed from beneath the municipal car park of Leicester, King Richard ultimately did not want to be reburied in, or anywhere near, the town.

Big mistake.

What's worse, I fear, is the fact that new caretaker manager for Leicester FC is the inappropriately named Craig Shakespeare

Given the totally positive spin that the playwright Shakespeare gave to Richard III in his eponymous play, what could possibly go wrong?