Why Study Archaeology?

Why spend the time (and money) to study archaeology? It is not a simple picture.

Over the years many people have asked me about the advisability of studying archaeology. Sometimes it is those who look to develop a career in it. Sometimes it is parents who are worried that their child has apparently decided to pursue a career in some fringe subject. Occasionally it is someone who wants to find out more about their long-term interest. Continue reading Why Study Archaeology?

Archaeology: the Pick and Mix Profession

submerged forest Nova Scotia
The submerged landscape is something that touches us all, wherever we work. The traces of this submerged forest in the Minas Basin, Nova Scotia lie below some 12m of water at high tide.

When I studied archaeology, it was a very different topic. We learnt about cultural change through the examination of specific artefact and monument types, often assuming that the pieces that we found were finished and perfect. Continue reading Archaeology: the Pick and Mix Profession

The significance of a balanced view of the past

Excavation in progress on the Mesolithic site at Kinloch, Rum, in the 1980s. The past has much to contribute to the present, but it should be based on sound science.

The world of archaeology in the United Kingdom has been rocked this year by the announced closure of various university archaeology departments; some well publicised, some sneaking through with nary a comment. I felt a blog coming on Continue reading The significance of a balanced view of the past

Interpretive Whispers

The magnificant cathedral built by Earl Rognvald in the twelfth century takes on additional meaning when you have detail of those who built and used it nearly a thousand years ago.

I’ve been enjoying some time with others, exploring the archaeological sites of Orkney. I always appreciate the variety of monuments here. There are sites relating to all the major periods of prehistory and history and it is a great Continue reading Interpretive Whispers

Hindsight

The more we can shed the trappings of twenty-first century thought processes, the better we can think about the past. Reconstruction of a Mesolithic settlement, by  Jan Dunbar.

Hindsight, we are told, is a wonderful thing. In many ways, it is. But in some ways, it can hinder our view of the world.

Over the past few years, I have been part of a team researching the changing Continue reading Hindsight

Warts and All…

Our interpretations of the past are often very rosy – it rarely even rains! Reconstruction, by artist Jan Dunbar, of an Early Neolithic farmstead in the east of Scotland.

I am old enough to remember the introduction of immersive ‘time travel’ type heritage displays. They often involved using electric ‘cars’ to progress through a reconstruction, or series of reconstructions, of the past. There were even sounds, and appropriate smells, along the way. I, along with many others, loved them. Continue reading Warts and All…

The Joy of Museums

Stone tools collected by local antiquarian, Dr John Grieve, now housed in Aberdeen City Museum. This collection has recently provided some useful new information.

We are all accustomed to the joy of museums. They provide great centres for getting to know a new location or understand the history of a holiday destination. They offer a wonderful way to spend a rainy day, and are brilliant Continue reading The Joy of Museums

World Heritage Sites

The World Heritage symbol is a powerful logo but many sites barely display it. Full marks to Quebec City for celebrating their status with this wonderful sculpture.

On 18th April we celebrated World Heritage Day. I have been lucky enough to visit a great variety of World Heritage Sites around the world, both cultural and natural, and, of course, I live and work in close proximity to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. Continue reading World Heritage Sites

The sadness of coastal erosion

The impressive erosion face at the archaeological site at Pool, Sanday

One of the most common calls I get is about coastal erosion. Orkney, indeed Scotland, is known for its archaeology. It is not surprising, therefore, given the length of the coastline, and high energy content of the surrounding seas, that the remains of ancient sites are to be found, dropping out of the cliffs and sand Continue reading The sadness of coastal erosion

The Bare Necessities

Food; warmth; shelter: these are the universal necessities for human life. But what about other, less tangible needs: social contact; mobility; forward planning? Life on the Pamir Plateau in 1988

I’ve often considered past lifestyles through the filter of the essential requirements of life. Food, heat, shelter – things like this remind me that we are not that different from the people of the past, we just have different ways of fulfilling our needs. Continue reading The Bare Necessities

Good Pictures

Any image has so much to say. The Mesolithic characters for Into the Wildwoods were drawn by Alex Leonard.

One of the really fun things about my work has been the opportunity to work with artists on reconstructions of the past. Usually, but not always, these have focussed on Mesolithic communities. I’ve been doing it for nearly 40 years, and it has been so interesting trying to bring the world of prehistory to life. I thought it Continue reading Good Pictures

Where are the women?

women at work
Women make a valuable contribution in all strands of the profession – we are not pioneers, we are archaeologists.

There have been women in archaeology since the earliest days of the profession. It is not hard to find information on many of them. I’m curious about two things though: firstly, why are they so often referred to as pioneering; and secondly, Continue reading Where are the women?