Daily Archives: December 5th, 2007

Archaeology Magazine Nov-Dec

After some effort, I managed to re-subscribe to Archaeology, which makes me happy. So I thought I’d blog some thoughts on the latest issue…

I’m not sure I like the new format of the mag. The old way, there were one or two short pieces at the start – like “World Roundup” (always an interesting read); then it was straight into the longer, in-depth articles. Now, there are fully 20 pages of ads and shorter stuff before you get to the meaty bit. To drag the eating metaphor out – I like an entree as much as the next person, but I don’t like getting bored before the main course. I’d rather have the little bits at the end, to browse like a cheese platter. Yah; pushed that one to the limits, didn’t I?

Anyway… I was fascinated by Sanchita Balachandran’s reflection on whether to preserve an artifact of dubious provenance. I would have thought that preserving at all costs, so that at least something can be learnt, would be worthwhile. Apparently, though, this can be seen as encouraging looters and other nefarious types to continue their dastardly deeds (not meant to be read flippantly, btw). I’m still not sure I agree with this idea – what, let the Rosetta Stone fall apart because you’re not sure where it came from? – but I can readily see there are moral issues here.

I love stuff about Oxyrhynchus, and Tebtunis seems to be in the same league in terms of the amount of papyrus they’re finding. Marco Merola writes a fascinating account of the archaeological efforts being undertaken on the site, as well as what is being revealed by the information. It still gets me, every single time, just how much has not been uncovered yet, of places like Egypt that we seem to understand so well – let alone places where digging is barely begun. I love it! So yes – Tebtunis – awesome. Also on this track is Jarrett Lobell’s article on the discovery of an agora – an entire damned agora! – in the modern suburbs of Athens. Mad. I do hope the developers manage to incorporate parts of it into the new buildings.

Read a book on Genghis Khan – I think it was by John Man(n?) a while back; he and his have been a perennial favourite. Having taught the Chinese Revolution this year (not very well…), I was reminded again how diverse “China” is and has been. Jake Hooker’s article on the Liao Empire – which I’d never heard of – brought this home. They created some truly amazing stuff but… where are the uni courses, the museum exhibits, the kids’ cartoon shows? You could do some truly awesome stuff in copying their riding boots.

There’s a running joke in my family that I don’t much like stuff that’s younger than 1000 years old (I take affront at that; 500 years, maybe). So I’m still sometimes a bit dubious about reading stuff like Tom Koppel’s “Steamboats on the Yukon.” Of course, once I get reading, I’m fascinated – the reality is that I love basically all historical stuff, although I don’t know why. It helps, with this article, that in this instance the author had spent time with the team attempting to study and preserve said steamboats, so his account of scrambling over them is compelling.

In line with the family joke, I’ve sometimes received the vibe (not from my family) that history is pointless, because you know, it’s like already happened? It’s tempting then to point people to Heather Pringle’s “Medieval DNA, Modern Medicine.” I don’t, because I think history is important in itself, but there you go. Being a child of the Jurassic Park at the movies generation, extracting DNA from old bones (teeth, actually) seems a bit parse sometimes. This article is nice in showing just how damned hard that is, and what we oh-so-advanced modernites can learn.

Finally, I have to say that however much I love the magazine, it feels like there are more ads in there every time I turn around. And they’re all American, of course, so there’s barely any point in even looking at them. Oh well; it’s still a great read.