Wednesday, January 28, 2009


In Situ has gained media attention! And by media, I mean my grad school colleague and friend Richard's blog, on which it is proclaimed "Blog of the Week." We're talking the new, independent media here, folks. So, welcome to any of Richard's readers, and I'll try to moderate the nasty things I say about Classicists. Sort of.

Meanwhile, in the traditional media, the New York Times reported today that Brandeis University plans to sell off the entire collections holdings of the Rose Art Museum, consisting mainly of paintings from the second half of the twentieth century. The decision appears to have been made by the university's president and trustees, independent of any oversight or knowledge by the museum's director and board. The president's statement cites a low endowment, and the university's "priority" of teaching and research, as reasons for the sale.

Now, first and foremost, as is brought up in the article, now is a terrible time to spell expensive artwork at auction. Duh. Second, museums and their collections are data mines for research in art, history, anthropology, psychology, etc, so to argue that museum collections do not fit into a university setting of teaching and research shows not only a lack of understanding what museums are, but also an utter lack of creative thought.

Finally, and perhaps what bothers me most about this situation, is that the article states that due to a low budget, most of the 6,000 pieces of artwork were donated to the museum. No one - no one - donates to a museum intending for their object to be sold back into private hands one day. People give expensive, important pieces to museums so that their contributions may be ensured survival and access. Museums, as holders of the public trust, have no right to violate that tacit agreement, whether it was legally defined in the donation documents or not.

When I worked at the museum (you know which one), the collections department had an ongoing fight with administration regarding the value and sale of our collections. To administration, the collections were worth money, and therefore could be sold if the museum needed extra funds. Even in difficult economic times of the present, we as a society cannot mortgage our past - and future. Museum collections are not like government bonds or stocks. They are not an investment. They are a documentation of who we are as a culture.

And that is worth so much more than whatever a painting can fetch on an auction block.

Monday, January 26, 2009


I know, I know, I start this new exciting blog and then promptly go on vacation for almost two weeks (and take a week to recover). And it's a shame, really, because the first 4 days of that "vacation" were actually archaeology-related. I went to the AIA conference in Philadelphia, where I interviewed with graduate schools, voted on AIA resolutions at the Council meeting, drank more than I should have, and discovered Philadelphia might not be the worst place in the world to spend 5-7 years of my life. I had a mental list going of blog-related topics from that weekend, too. I'll save them up for a later date, when I lack other inspiration.

But not today! Because today, as I was eating my breakfast cereal, I heard on Morning Edition a crazy story about Ohio and Kentucky feuding over a rock with some graffiti on it (dating back to at least 1847, when an "archaeological publication" noted it). Essentially, some guy decided it would be fun to try to find this rock, which had been underwater since the 1920s, when the Ohio River was dammed. So he and a buddy went out scuba-diving, found it, hauled it to the surface, and offered it to the local (Ohio) museum. Eventually Kentucky found out, and now they are raising a stink about the rock belonging to them, since it was an antiquity registered in Kentucky (having, presumably, been on the Kentucky side of the river before it was submerged). The original guy and his buddy are also facing charges because they illegally moved an antiquity.

There are so many convoluted issues in this story, I am forced to make a list to keep track of them all.
  1. What the heck is the archaeological significance of this rock anyway??? The story doesn't say anything about who made it, when, what's inscribed on it (other than a face that "looks like Charlie Brown"), or any other bit of information that would tell us why we should care. This is why people don't understand what's so wrong about removing an object from it's in situ location, and why it is against the law to do so.
  2. I'm sure some people care about legal disputes and state's jurisdiction, etc. I'm not one of them.
  3. A major problem in China right now is that with the building of the Three Gorges Dam, tons of ancient sites are being covered up. Conveniently for China, a lot of those sites are thought to have associations with non-ethnically Chinese people who lived in the region and might make a territorial claim to the land based on ancestry. Damming of the Nile has also destroyed many sites in Egypt. Damming = bad for archaeology and site preservation.
  4. Now I'm looking more closely at the face image, and it seems to have the year 1856 inscribed in it. Does something just over 150 years old count as an antiquity or not? Where do we place that line, both ethically and legally?
  5. Is it actually wrong - ethically - to have moved this rock and brought it to a place where people can see and study it? (If it warrants either of those things - I'm still not convinced.)
  6. Other thoughts? I know there's more!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Archaeologists Love Amphoras

Yesterday evening, I emailed a final draft of the beads paper to my adviser. I'm sure she'll have some comments and suggestions, but I'm not anticipating any major revisions. I put a lot of time into that project, and am really satisfied with the result. It was a perfect project, in many ways: it was fairly small and narrowly defined in scope but completely challenging (since I'd never done anything of the sort before), it opened avenues of further research and papers, and it fulfilled two important goals (a thesis and a publication). I can pretty honestly say that it was the most enjoyable paper I've ever written. While I'm almost sad to see it completed, it's very rewarding to know what I was able to do with the material at hand. This is a bit of a weird analogy, but in Season 2 of Project Runway, the eventual winner talks about how happy she is with her final runway collection and says something to the effect of "this is my dream...I'm so happy with what came out of me." I feel like that about the beads paper.

I also noticed as I was consolidating all the little bits and pieces that in word length, this project is almost identical to my senior honors project. Those of you who were my faithful Livejournal readers back then will recall what a disaster that was from top to bottom. I hated that paper when I had finished it; it took months before I could even look at it. It still makes me cringe a bit. But had I not been through that experience, I know that my research, organization, and writing abilities would be much less developed, and this project would have been less successful and more challenging (in the not-good way).

So, I launched this blog a few weeks ago and promised you all deep and brilliant insights into archaeological news, law, and ethics but have not produced such a post in at least two weeks. Nor have I been nearly as diligent at generating daily posts as my friend Claire on her new blog. Sorry. I'll do much better in two weeks, when break is over and I have more time. (And although that sounds counter-intuitive, trust me, it's not.)

My roommate got her copy of the American Philological Association newsletter today, and I was mildly annoyed to see that it's named Amphora. Now, for those of you who don't know, an amphora is a type of large storage vessel, generally for things like grain, olive oil, and wine. Stamped amphora handles, if you're fortunate enough to find one, are one of the best tools for dating strata at sites since they often have identifiable names or dates and circulated for shorter periods of time than coins. Long story short, an amphora is material culture and related to archaeology. What it has to do with the American Philological Association, I have no idea. I could accept if they had selected a material culture item at least tangentially related to the study of language and ancient literature, like Scroll or Inscription. But no. It just goes to show that everyone secretly wishes they were in archaeology instead. You would never see an archaeology newsletter called The Aeneid or Plato.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Very Indy Christmas

This post is only about a week overdue...

So what do budding archaeologists get for Christmas? Indiana Jones merchandise! My family only did "stocking presents" this year (meaning we opened presents for 3 hours Christmas morning, rather than the usual 5-6). Included in my stocking was: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, a new Lego set featuring Junior and Henry Jones Sr riding the motorcycle/sidecar, and a Lego Indy keychain.

The reason for only stocking presents is my family's upcoming epic 9 day adventure in Disney World in about a week. Will I go see the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular and covet many many things in the accompanying gift shop? Why yes, thank you for asking.

In other news, I'm making moderate progress on my thesis paper about glass beads. My adviser and I had a nice impromptu chat about it when I went into the office this week, but she politely asked if I could write up and include about 4 bone beads and a couple shell pieces in the final product as well. It's for the greater good - the final publication version of the paper will be a chapter titled "Beads" and include beads of all materials. Since, just like us, ancient peoples wore jewelry in multimedia, it makes much more sense to discuss all beads and pendants together, rather than isolated by material. It's just... the bone and shell pieces are so boring compared to the glass. But, that's archaeology. It ain't always golden idols and arks.

And finally, my last two PhD applications were officially due today. I, naturally, completed them weeks ago. Unfortunately, one of my recommenders has yet to do the same. For any of the programs to which I applied. Including the one due December 15th. Awesome.