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.
As in far-thing, not an old coin.
As part of Last Short Story, we’re obviously trying to cover all the paying markets. At the start of the year in particular, we had to buy any copy we wanted because very few people knew about the crazy idea and review copies were few and and far between (and always warmly welcomed). Now, things are getting a bit easier, and we’ve got a few more review copies coming in (generally warmly welcomed, with only a very quiet groan of: ‘what, more?’).
One of the magazines I volunteered to buy was Farthing Magazine. I thought it looked cool – they have a great quote from Ursula le Guin on the site! – and some interesting-sounding stories. I eventually managed to pay by Paypal, which was a bit of a saga in itself, and then… nothing.
That was June.
They definitely took my money – can’t even remember how much now. I’ve sent a number of emails to the editor’s contact email address. There is no way postage from the UK should take 4 months. Is there?
I’d love to hear from anyone who’s received Farthing – so that I know it can be done, and to know whether it’s something I should bother with chasing up. I really don’t want to just put zeros in its columns, on our little LSS spreadsheet…
Yeh, bit slack with reading these mags at the moment… I got stuck on an article about Charles II and the restoration, and then it occurred to me that I didn’t have to finish reading it – novel, eh?
The two articles about the mutiny/insurrection/pick your favourite word in India, against the Brits, were fascinating. Saul David and William Dalrymple give different perspectives on it (literally: one Brit, one Indian). Given I knew zip about the issues and results of the conflict, these articles were intriguing for me. The question about motivations, and whether it was religious or political or how those things worked together in somewhere like India, with Hindus and Muslims and Christians, was absorbing. And I am not willing to draw any modern parallels.
I’ve heard the word Oxyrhynchos (sharp nose) with reference to papyri before, but never really knew what was going on there. Now I know, thanks to Peter Parsons! I love things like this: piles of rubbish being preserved for millenia, and then being just the ticket for archaeologists – a great big mound of treasure, basically. Yay for the preserving sands!
It’s the 300th birthday of the union between England and Scotland this year, and apparently there’s a bit of grumbling and muttering, in Scotland especially, about what a bad deal they got. Not so, according to Eric J Evans, who reckons the Scots got a very good deal indeed – especially economically, if not politically.
There’s a new book coming out about Stalin as a young man – who’s not interested in analysing the youth of a nutter, to see what caused him to be like that, to reassure ourselves that something went wrong so he wasn’t just a normal man who did dreadful things? Anyway, according to Simon Sebag Montefiore, he developed a taste for violence early on, but also was into seducing women and writing poetry… which may be connected to one another…. I don’t think I’ll read the book, but it’s an interesting idea, and I think I’m glad someone has done it.
Diarmid MacCulloch’s article on Christians and Muslims today, and whether this is some inevitable (argh! anathema word!) clash of faiths or a result of the last 200 years of history, is fascinating – because I don’t know a lot of it, and he makes a compelling case. As a Christian myself, I think that there is (inevitably!) tension between the faiths because of their differences, but this doesn’t necessarily translate onto the world stage… I’m not convinced Bush makes his decisions as a Christian and nothing else, and I am also not sure about the various Islamic states – because I just don’t know enough about them. Anyway, very interesting stuff.
Finally, let me just mention the short article on ERII’s coronation. Interesting stuff about the behind-scenes events, and the stress over whether or not to broadcast it.
Not the best issue of BBC History, for my tastes, but still quite good.
Some random musings on some of the articles in the latest Archaeology mag from the Archaeological Institute of America…
“Who’s Buried in St Paul’s Tomb?” Unlikely to be Paul, I would have thought, statistically… I find the last sentence a bit weird: “Naturally for us archaeologists it would be interesting to know if the remains inside really belong to St. Paul,” says Giorgio Filippi. If he is speaking for all archaes, then ‘I doubt it’ is my response; if for his fellow Vatican Museum archaes, then maybe. But how would you be able to tell anyway?
The world roundup is always fun… favourite item this time is the fact that Indiana Jones made it in…
“Publish or be Punished,” says Israel to diggers there – and while I feel sorry for the archaes who feel pushed to do more and more and have no time for it, I understand where Israel is coming from too. Having your cultural heritage stolen, or just forgotten because it lies gathering dust (outside of the ground where no one else can find it) can’t be too much fun.
I really enjoyed “Beyond the Family Feud”, about the question of where the Olmecs fit in with other Mesoamerican cultures and whether that’s even a valid question to ask. I love a whole new take on old issues.
Haven’t seen Apocalypto, don’t plan on it. The article trashing its portrayal of the Maya, by David Freidel, was pretty entertaining though.
I (heart) the Antikythera Mechanism. Every now and then someone discovers/decides something new about it, and it gets into the news as if the thing itself has just been found – rather than oh, a few decades ago. But the new stuff being used and found out is very cool, especially the geodesic dome to shine light at it at different angles.
I like Vikings too, so the stuff in “Iceland’s Unwritten Saga” – about investigating early settlements there – was interesting too. And it linked nicely to “Diamond Rush,” about the diamond-hunters who went to Brazil in the C19, in that both are looking at the impact of humans on the environment and what we today can learn about how it happens – and, hopefully, what could be done about it.
There were other bits and pieces in this issue, but I just find it a bit hard to rustle up a huge amount of interest for much American archaeology. Bad of me, I know. Oh well.
I am so glad I subscribed to Achaeology. The Aussie ones are just so dull, and boring, and often poorly written….
Here’s what’s in the jan/Feb issue:
An article that looks at the problems of even thinking about working in northern Cyrpus (the Turkish bit, which I didn’t realise is only recognised by Turkey), and the consquences on people who have the temerity to go and (possibly) vital resuce work on important ancient sites.
Clay tablets from Qatna, which was destroyed by Hittites, and the city where they were found… there’s correspondence between the Prince of Qatna and Akhenaten in the Amarna files.
An article on Selam, the near-complete skeleton of a c. 3 year old child even older than Lucy, who is 3.2 million years old.
Underwater archaeology in the North Sea, mapping ancient rivers and thinking about where people might have lived when the North Sea and the Englsih Channel were land (very, very cool).
Trying to figure out where Hannibal crossed the Alps – to their credit, it addresses the question of whether this is actually relevant to anything, and has a stab at arguing that yes this is valid research (and certainly, if you want to find out, it makes as much if not more sense to, like, go to the Alps and do some digging than just read Polybius…).
Excavating some fort in Georgia, US.
The legacy of some semi-nutter, Augustus le Plongeon, who thought world culture was thanks to a Mayan queen called Moo.
And, finally, an article on reshaping Waterloo – making it more touristy, but at the expense of any archaeological explortions, which have apparently never been conducted on the site (what the?). I can understand wanting to make money, but at the expense of finding out interesting stuff about the battle it doesn’t seem to make sense.
Anyway, it was a brilliant read.
This is a particularly appropriate title of an article in Archaeology magazine, an exceprt of which can be found here. I am so angry at what is being done here – the lack of attention that is being paid to the remains of the area, which may well be incredibly significant. But it also makes me wonder a lot of things.
How much does it matter if we don’t know about a certain period of time? (and how much is that a heresy for a historian?) We are always told not to make a case from silence, but surely there are many, many things we don’t know because it never got written down, or the mss/artefacts were not preserved… surely some, at least, of what we know is preserved by fluke alone. So does it matter that we don’t know something? How much does it matter? How can we make that call? I just don’t know the answer to that question, and it bugs me a lot. Does it change the world that we don’t know exactly how Nubia/Sudan influenced the ancient Egyptians, or more recently medieval African Christians? Maybe not that much… except that more people might respect the modern inhabitants of the area if that became more well-known (which begs the question, how much do people pay attention to historical/archaeological discoveries? Not that much, I suspect, except when it’s about homo sapiens and Neanderthals having sex…).
How do you make the call between modern needs and archaeological needs? I guess people who are still alive take precedence, but surely there can be ways that both interests can be served? It makes me very sad both that nomads are being displaced by this new dam, and that lots and lots of archaeoloical stuff will be lost. But that tribal elders can think that keeping archaeologists out because it will slow the dam down means either that they are stupid and naive – which I am very not convinced by – or they are getting bad advice….
New ASIM! Hurrah! Voume 26… review to follow… I’ve read maybe half; it’s mostly good, but not as overwhelmingly good as previous issues.
I bought this magazine while in Darwin; it’s from the US, so it’s quite expensive over here. It’s a fascinating magazine, covering digs and finds all over the world (ish; I’m sure there are lots of things that get left out, but maybe that’s just a fact of life and the magazine world). I bought the next issue when I got home, and then decided that I would like to keep doing so – so Mum has got me a subscription for my birthday; my first copy should arrive right around my birthday, actually. Very exciting. I love it because there are things in there I would never read about otherwise – like ceynotes, or sink holes, in South America and the evidence for ritual sacrifices near/in them. And of course it also includes the stuff that I would deliberately read, like about Egypt.
I tried the Australian magazine as well, but I just found it… too amateurish, maybe. It didn’t have as many articles about interesting things, and the writing left me a bit cold. Sad, really.
Kate told me to look at this website ages and ages ago, because she was hoping to get some stuff published there. It quite seriously took me about 6 weeks to get around to it, because I thought it was going to be this huge site with lots of stories it would take me ages to get through. Turns out instead that it is for a hard-copy, pulpy magazine that publishes short stories and reviews, every two months. I looked at the site and signed up immediately. I got my first one a couple of weeks ago – so cool – it was great fun to read, with some really different and weird stuff in there. I am really, really hooked, and am definitely going to keep at it.
The reason I think that Kate found it in the first place is because Tansy Rayner Roberts is one of the founders. She’s a Tassie writer, our age, who has had two books published which we really liked. Kate is always hoping that she will have more books published, preferably in the same series as the other two, because she likes the (semi-anti) hero, Aragon Silversword. And this from a girl who says she can’t stand Lord of the Rings (Kate, not Tansy).