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