Immersive Archaeology at Stonehenge

Stonehenge in low winter light, December 2004
Stonehenge – any interpretation includes an element of supposition, but we need to think how best to make it come alive.

I heard a nice little piece about immersive archaeology on the radio recently. This comprises a new form of presentation of the past which makes use of gaming technology to reconstruct ancient sites and monuments as they might have appeared when in use. It includes additional atmospheric detail such as noise (or the lack of it in the case of traffic). Apparently, Dr Rupert Till from the University of Huddersfield has recreated the sounds of Stonehenge in a virtual tour that makes use of ancient instruments.

The radio interview noted that this was a controversial development in archaeology, making use, as it does, of supposition rather than fact. We can never know what the sounds of the Stone Age sounded like. They did go on to include a snippet from Aaron Watson, whose work I much admire, and he validated the project; but I felt that there was still an element of doubt and it got me thinking.

Firstly, the implied information that archaeology deals with ‘fact’. In reality, I can’t think of any interpretation in archaeology that is totally factual. We may record a burial – but we don’t know the precise details. Our assessment of the childhood home of the individual (if we make one) will be based on an evaluation of several possible matches for the isotopic detail gleaned from their teeth. Information relating to age will be based on an evaluation of the skeleton; diet, manner of death, burial rites: all similarly related to the evaluative skills of various specialists. We may record a stone circle – it is still impossible to be certain that every stone was in place at the same time, perhaps some had fallen before the last were erected. We record a structure – we interpret its function, even its appearance. We don’t know what it was used for, we guess. We put these elements together into a story in order to construct a human narrative.           There is no such thing as archaeological truth.

Secondly, the nature of the narratives that we construct. If we base them on archaeological remains alone they will be sorry, monochrome, stories indeed. I am constantly amazed by how drab and grey archaeological finds tend to be. Not surprisingly, after several millennia buried in the earth, colour and texture tend to have disappeared. But our lives are not monochrome, and this is as true of the past as it is of today. If we are truly to build a narrative of the past, we have to consider those elements that no longer survive, elements such as sound, colour, sensation such as warmth and light.

To make the archaeological narrative work we have to fill in the gaps between the details we amass from archaeology. The trick is to fill those gaps with detail that is bounded within the realm of probability. Understanding where that realm lies is the job of the archaeologist and colleagues.

So, I say – excellent. I’m all for immersive archaeology. Yes, it leads us into supposition, but that is the nature of archaeology. It may be territory where we need to employ our interpretive skills a bit more openly than we do when working on a conventional archaeological report. But lets not kid ourselves: that report contains just as much doubt as the virtual reality headset or the phone app. As long as we base our scenarios in the available information then it does not matter if the story changes from time to time. We don’t really think that our word on a site is the definitive last word do we? People are always reappraising things in light of new information.

I’m not in archaeology just to talk to myself, or my colleagues (apologies to my colleagues). I’m in archaeology in order to make the past come alive for everyone. And I would be in dereliction of duty if I did not make use of all possible techniques to do this. Including new ones.

Virtual reality, immersive archaeology, soundscapes – bring them on. Hopefully they will soon become an integral part of  the way in which we present the past – whether in museums, out on walks, perhaps even at home. It is so good to see people taking steps towards this.


Runes at Maeshowe
The Norse who carved the runes at Maeshowe were clearly literate. I have a feeling that they would not have been that surprised to know that some of their messages have survived – even if we find it hard to understand exactly what they were wanting to communicate.

It is just over a year since I started writing this blog. I’ve been thinking about why I am still writing.

Actually, it is quite addictive. I love writing, I like crafting language, and I particularly like the way in which the blog allows me to write without rigid boundaries. Of course, there are norms, both social and academic which I try to follow. These include adding links to sites that I might mention and, obviously, crediting and linking to other material. I don’t have to worry about house-styles, specifics of grammar, or content, because I’m not bound by publishers or referees.

It is wonderfully liberating to be able to jot down my thoughts on topics that matter to me. And amazing that anyone likes to read them. It gets me thinking and encourages me to research topics that I might normally gloss over. I enjoy the challenge of trying to craft something sensible and vaguely interesting in a relatively short space. Occasionally someone will comment on something and occasionally the blog has led me down completely new and interesting routes. It has all been fun and I don’t intend to stop. I was surprised by how stressed I got recently when poor broadband restricted my ability to communicate online.

There are so many different ways in which one can communicate. I’m no artist, and definitely not a musician. My contact with fiction writers has taught me that I could never write a novel. I love lecturing, but it is a more limited format. Many years ago I presented a radio programme on local archaeology: that was fun, but it was a lot more work than the blog. I spent a couple of days this summer working with a camera crew for the BBC – that was fun too, but I’m not sure I’m a natural; it is quite stressful trying to say the right thing with the right emphasis, enthusiasm, and facial expression. In academic writing I struggle to use the correct jargon. This is mainly because I hate jargon – if you are trying to communicate with the world, then it just seems lazy not to take the trouble to explain something in a way that everyone can understand. It seems I’m not alone in thinking like this, I have recently discovered the Rounded Globe publishing house which aims to produce freely available, jargon free, scholarly texts. If you have not visited their website – have a look.

I do love writing popular books and articles, but they can be time consuming and you are bound by the strictures of your editor and publishing house.

So, I’m left with the free-style blog.

I’m lucky to live in an era when internet technology not only allows me the means to reproduce my work for free, but also to export it around the world. If I have an overriding theme, it has to be the way in which the world of the past continues to touch on my own life. When I visit the Neolithic sites of Orkney I wonder about those who produced the carefully incised designs that one sees on so many of the stones at sites like Ness of Brodgar. Those who carved them, too, were communicating. Perhaps they loved it just as much as I do. We have long lost the lexicon and the grammar by which to understand their work. Maybe it was only ever intended for a few, maybe it was more general. Those who carved the Viking runes in Maeshowe seem to have thought that they would be understood by many. Those who produced the carefully illustrated Christian gospels knew that they would only be read by a few and that a ‘translator’ would be needed in order for their work to be appreciated by the general populace. I wonder how any of these people would feel were they to know that their communications are now the subject of study so many years later. Time, it seems, is the one element where my predecessors have the advantage of me. Somehow, I feel there is less chance that my ‘wisdom’ will be the subject of such interest in 3016.

Archaeology and the media

popular archaeology
It is worth getting popular archaeology right: the wonderful Brian Wilkinson enthusing people about the Mesolithic life style.

I’ve always been keen to promote archaeology to a wide audience. As such one can only be happy to see archaeological material being presented in a variety of popular media such as television, books and radio.

How sad, therefore, to hear a popular account of archaeology on Start the Week on Radio Four this week that was very misleading. My problems relate to the description of Britain in 9700 BC and thereabouts: Northern Britain under glaciers; tundra to the south and a landscape devoid of human settlement; Doggerland as a landbridge; the characterisation of the Scottish coast by raised beaches; and, of course, the tsunami that cut us off from the continent. Apart from the tsunami, it all sounded very drab. Of course, it pressed all my buttons for it is a period about which I feel passionately.

Most of my complaints relate to language and I know that makes me pedantic. But we are talking radio here, if language is not important then what is. To say that northern Britain was under glaciers in 9700 BC may be technically correct (though they were diminishing) but these were the re-advancing ice coverage of the Younger Dryas (sometimes known in Scotland as the Loch Lomond Stadial) and are more commonly referred to as ‘small ice caps’, rather than the full blown glacial cover. Similarly, to talk about the coastline of Scotland as characterised by post-glacial raised beaches is a gross over-simplification that owes more to the school books of my childhood than to current research. There are places, like Orkney, where the post-glacial coastline is characterised by the submergence of landscape.

To hear Doggerland described as an isthmus, a landbridge, or a plain always upsets me. The area of Doggerland in the Early Holocene is still based on fairly general models, but even these suggest that it was a considerable landmass. It is likely to have been bigger than several of the smaller European countries today, including England. I don’t think that is an isthmus. Low-lying plains?  I do accept that on a chat show one does not have time to explore the nuances of current archaeological research. But the work on Doggerland is hardly new and shows clearly that it comprised rather more than the undulating landscape I caught in my mind’s eye as I listened. There are many people working on Doggerland and they include artists interested in ‘re-naming’ it as well as geoscientists interested in ‘re-wilding’ it. No one, perhaps, has done more than Vince Gaffney and his team to highlight the glories of Doggerland and its topography: lakes; hills; rivers; marshes, it is all there and now they are working to elucidate the animals and vegetation. Maybe it is just me, but I don’t see Doggerland as a landbridge, I see it as a country. For me Doggerland is exciting, full of promise, and a glimpse to a past where Britain takes its rightful place as a part of Europe.

Britain abandoned: the human occupation of Britain has a long and venerable history going back almost a million years and, yes, there are times when it is thought that people may have been absent. But not in recent times, and for me that includes anything from fifteen thousand years ago. Sites may be few and far between, but they are there. The last ‘Upper Palaeolithic’ hunters based their stone tool assemblages on long blades, and we are beginning to recognise related industries from sites across Britain from north-west Scotland and Orkney to, of course, the south. Scientific dates are still sometimes elusive but, where they are lacking, fairly accurate parallels may be drawn on the basis of dated sites elsewhere and these show good evidence for long-blade based activity in England by 11,500 BC and in Scotland around 11,000 BC. By 9000 BC things are really taking off: there is, for example, evidence of the sophisticated use of the landscape of the Vale of Pickering in Yorkshire with people at sites like Star Carr building houses and platforms and making use of those wonderful deer masks in hunting and other rituals. For me this is an exciting time: small groups are making their way in a rich landscape. Their culture is rich with meaning and possibility, building on a venerable ancestry to make the most of the world they encounter.

The power of the tsunami. Yes, of course, the Storegga Slide and associated tsunami were powerful events, transforming and treacherous for those who got in their path. But, the modelling that suggested (a while ago now) that the tsunami had washed away the last vestiges of Doggerland, was very generalised and simply showed that low lying coastal land would have been vulnerable. It is hardly rocket science. In reality, Doggerland had been diminishing for millennia before that. The tsunami provides a convenient shorthand for the loss of Doggerland, but I suspect that its real power lies among modern archaeologists rather than the people of the past. The population of Doggerland had a high degree of mobility, many were seafarers, all understood the landscape and held the inherent flexibility they needed to survive. They lived in a changing world; for them, change was the norm and they knew how to survive. The tsunami was a disaster, but Doggerland was already disappearing and would have been lost with or without the Storegga Slide. For me the tsunami is a distraction: I try to avoid it in lectures, but, usually, the first question will be along the lines of: ‘you didn’t mention the tsunami, but…’. Arghhh.

The final point to be made was that the geography of Britain, and the geographical processes to which the land is subject, make it inevitable that the south, specifically the south-east, should be the centre of things. It would be easy to think this, if the archaeology did not suggest otherwise. There is no evidence for any geographical ‘preferencing’ prior to around 3500 BC, except to say that populations in the north seem to have had their own roots and these roots may not always have been the same as those of the populations in the south. By 3500 BC the economic basis of life across Britain has shifted to farming and, curiously, current evidence suggests that something happens in the north to springboard a series of developments in cultural and social life which spread, pretty quickly, southwards. So the north had it first. Some might see this influence as culminating in the construction of monuments like Avebury and Stonehenge. Only after this do we begin to see the increasing social power of the south and it is a long time before it extends fully to encompass the north. My own hunch is that this power shift is related, among other things, to the increasing importance of external contacts and the way in which the proximity (and ease of access) to the continent allowed society in the south to develop.

For me the programme was interesting. It clearly got me thinking, and it is good to hear archaeology ‘out there’, but the content was sadly old fashioned. I can’t be the only one to find the period fascinating. The number of research projects taking place and pushing knowledge forward suggests that I’m not. There is new stuff to read, and it is always worth reading it.

Maybe the guests were just having a bad morning on Radio Four on Monday, but I was sad to hear them painting such a depressing view of our ancestors and the world in which they lived. It is a shame when popular science is out of date. If we are going to do it, we need to do it properly. I do understand that I’m biased, but for me the landscape of Doggerland and the lives of the Late Glacial and Early Mesolithic communities of Britain are full of wonderful, colourful, promise.

Ideas of efficiency

Remains of a posh supper? Remains of a paupers’ meal? Actually, a teaching aid.

To my mind, to be a successful archaeologist you have to move beyond the norms by which you live. Of course the people of the past were people, just like us. But there can be no hard and fast rules where people are concerned. The search for universal rules of behaviour ultimately undermined the rigid application of middle-range theory in the 1980s, and we still need to be careful that we do not slip into the trap of assuming that just because we think ‘thus’, so the people of the past must have applied the same criteria.

A great example of this lies in the oft discussed ideas that stone circles were not necessarily conceived as ‘finished’ entities, and that the aim while building them may have been to employ more, rather than less, hours in construction. The act of building; the organisation; the ability to undertake tasks that did not simply relate to the production of food; the creation, transport and erection of a single stone: all of these may have been the statements that served to knit a community together and enhance its image in the eyes of its neighbours.

Twenty-first century ideas of efficiency cannot be applied to the past, even the recent past: consider how the construction of a cathedral may have so much more meaning imbued within it over and above the simple erection of a place in which to worship God. In the case of St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall it was indeed a building designed to shout out the glory of God. But it also set out to be a statement of the wealth and connections of the new Earl, Earl Rognvald, while at the same time serving to establish his power over and above that of the established church in the islands. It was, also, a visible promise to his new dependents: he would see to it that Orkney remained great and that their lives under him would flourish.

The same caveats work, even when we discuss humbler buildings. Homes, for example, have only in recent times evolved to include ideas of space and privacy that would have seemed very alien to many of our ancestors. They are not always recognised in cultures away from Britain today; my former family-in-law in Chile never really understood my occasional need for solitude. Today in the UK, we incorporate elements that are not actually ‘efficient’ into our structures; we could live cheaper lives and expend less energy if we had fewer rooms and made use of them to house more people. Modern ‘energy efficient’ architecture still has to incorporate twenty-first century norms of ‘the right way to live’.

A further example of behaviour today that might surprise our forebears lies in the regular use of the gym. What would they make of our tendency to spend hours working together, and yet never talk, simply to run, cycle, or walk without ever actually going anywhere? Of course, there is a point to it for us: the relentless drive to keep fit. But would that be obvious to the untutored outsider (which is what we archaeologists are)? I suspect that some sort of religious cult would be the most likely explanation, and maybe they would not be wrong.

It is quite fun actually to set yourself to thinking of other ways in which our norms may have been different in the past, and of ways in which our own activities might be misinterpreted. If you have not come across it, I thoroughly recommend David Macaulay’s book ‘Motel of the Mysteries’. It is a bit dated now but it is still a lot of fun and provides an important cautionary tale about leaving your own world behind when you delve into the world of the past. I think this is one of the reasons that many archaeologists enjoy Science Fiction: the creation of worlds is, after all, what we do.

Whatever your motives, remember that to be an archaeologist one of the most important attributes is imagination. As someone once said in a different context: you should always be prepared for the unexpected!

The Power of the Periphery

Scotland as seen from the north.
Sometimes it helps to alter your focus in order to see things differently. This map was produced by Kenny Swinney of Orkney Islands Council for my book: Between the Wind and the Water.

There is a lot of discussion today about the power of the centre versus the power of the periphery. It is a question that transcends disciplines. In politics we see debate over the role of ordinary people in shaping both policy and institutions – there are numerous examples to be drawn from our own experience as in the Brexit vote, or the re-election of Jeremy Corbyn and we can also draw examples from the experience of others such as the continuing support for Donald Trump. Examples can be strategic and serious as in the events of the failed coup in Turkey, or more light-hearted and tactical, as in the debate (and eventual compromise) over the naming of a new polar research vessel: in this case it is the remote sub-sea vehicles that will bear the popular name of Boaty McBoatface. It occurs to me that people, us, are beginning to feel empowered as never before.

The old adage, ‘act local, think global’, is finally coming to fruition.

This is not just a matter of politics. It is something that affects many other aspects of our lives. One theme that came strongly out of the presentations and debates at CHAT2016, which I attended in Kirkwall recently (convenient), was the way in which communities are increasingly taking the lead in identifying the form and shape of their heritage. You might say that archaeologists have been keen for many years to involve local people in archaeology projects. And indeed this is so. Professionals have been working hard to give a voice to local people. But that is exactly my point. The difference today is that it is the people, not the professionals, who are leading the projects. The situation is no longer the rather patronizing one where we, as professionals, came into an area and identified ‘worthwhile projects’ with which people might like to become involved. Today, local groups are often in existence long before they bring in the archaeologists. In this way, and especially with regard to the archaeology and history of more recent years, we are beginning to create a record of the past that presents the view of those who experienced it, rather than those who have been trained to investigate it.

It is a new view of the professional: as facilitator, rather than instigator, but it is an exciting development. One in which our skills become truly worthwhile. There are numerous examples in other disciplines: self-publishing; pop-up cafes and shops; even Uber? Finally, the age of ‘Power to the People’ has arrived. I’m wondering why?

I’m wondering whether this is the real revolution of social media. The common use of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and all the other platforms has fostered an atmosphere in which we have all come to believe that we have authority. We recognise now that what we have to say is worthwhile. Social media, facilitated by broadband and 4G, allows our views to be shared, picked up, passed on, and enhanced. So, for the first time, we all have a voice that can travel. We have the power to organise. Of course, it has to be used with care, but it is a voice that increasingly, collectively, has power.

I’m not sure where this is leading us. There is something inherently unsettling about breaking away from the power of authority and I have a feeling that we may be in for some challenging developments. Our new world will, no doubt, require great powers of negotiation and compromise. Things may not always be done as we might like. But, in the long run, we will get used to things and I feel, I hope, that it will be positive. It is certainly bringing new and positive angles to our experiences of the past.

No Rural Idyll

Ness of Gruting neolithic farm
Remains of the Neolithic farmstead on the hillside at Ness of Gruting

Standing on a windswept hillside in the Northern Isles one cannot help but feel the utmost admiration for our ancestors. We may think that we are technologically more advanced, but as you wander among the ruins of the small farm steadings and their fields that dot the slopes it seems nothing short of miraculous that anyone could produce enough food to support a family here. I’ve been exploring the remains from two very different periods: the Neolithic farms of western Shetland and the Viking farms of Unst. Each evening I have returned to my hotel only too glad of the trappings of modern society: hot water, a warm house, electricity and good, varied food.

The relict agricultural landscapes here are wonderful, and well worth exploring. In many places houses and fields still dot the hillside with little of the overlying debris of more recent centuries. It is an evocative experience to wander among the remains and consider the way in which a place so tranquil once rang to the sound of children, dogs, working people and beasts, together with the smells of peat fire, home cooking and farm debris.

Of course there are many factors at play here. First of all, we have the twin elements of weather and climate. I experienced Shetland during the worst summer storms for a long time (as I write this my flight home was delayed).  The times when these landscapes really came alive and the farmsteads were thriving coincided with more clement periods – though not perhaps so very different: a mere change of a degree in temperature or so; a shift in the jet stream; or a few years of better weather, could all make the difference between a good harvest and a bad.

There are also the expectations of the community. Today we all rely on access to washing machines, plenty of food, adequate clothing, and warm homes. But you don’t have to go far back in time to find people for whom life was very different. It always amazes me to consider the photos of rural life a hundred years ago or so that one sees in local museums. There are women bringing peat down from the hillside in great baskets – the loads alone are impressive but what really catches my eye is the fact that in many cases the people depicted are barefoot. We might be worried about hypothermia and a host of other problems but standards were different in the past.

Nevertheless, I don’t want to denigrate the effort and hardship of previous generations. I’m sure that people felt cold, tired, miserable and hungry much of the time. Most of us have forgotten how it is to rely on our own hard work in order to survive. When we need food we go to the supermarket. When we need heat we turn up the gas or electricity. Those who farmed the hillsides of Britain in times past experienced a very basic level of survival. Life could turn on a shoestring. When times were hard, when they could not harvest an adequate crop, when they could not support the animals through a wet summer or a cold winter, then people died. The hillsides that we wander for recreation today may look romantic, but life there was no agricultural idyll in the past.

I’m still left in awe of those who made their homes here in years gone by!

Motives for travel

Visitors to Brisay
Students visiting the remains on the Brough of Birsay

I’ve been spending some time recently with a group of folk who have traveled to Orkney in order to tour the archaeological sites. In this particular case, I’ve had the opportunity (and fun), of guiding the group around Orkney and talking (perhaps too much) about the sites. Of course, one of the highlights was our visit to the Ness of Brodgar in order to see the excavation work taking place and the slow revealing of the site. It got me thinking about our motives for travel and I wondered whether they really differ so much from those of the communities who visited places like the Ness of Brodgar in the past.

In many cases, visitors travel considerable distances to reach Orkney (and my group was no exception). Orkney archaeology has always been popular but as word of the archaeology here has spread around the globe so more and more people arrive. In general, they are keen to experience the sites at first hand, to walk round them, and to learn more about the live-styles of those who originally built and used them. This can be a complex, even daunting, process. The remains that survive from the past look very different to the houses and structures that we are familiar with today and in many ways our lives bear little comparison with those of our ancestors. At first glance one might be forgiven for thinking how boring it all was – there is little colour or noise; everything seems to have comprised drab, silent, shades of stone. It seems very strange, very alien. But of course, it was not really like that at all; we are all people at heart whether we live today or in the past. Human beings have a wonderful facility for personalizing space, for finding colour and for creating sound.

But our connection with the sites that we visit is about more than understanding. It is also about attitude. Modern travel allows us to dip in and out of a range of cultures and landscapes that would have been unthinkable 500 years ago, never mind 5000 years ago. The Internet and Social Media mean that we arrive well prepared with information and, once settled, we can share our experience through images and words with a wide community of friends and acquaintances.

Are we really so very different in this to our prehistoric ancestors? They too, traveled to reach sites like the stone circles, sometimes (like us) journeying a day or more (if by different means) from their home village. They too, got to know strangers, became accustomed to different ways and clothes, tried out new foods, learnt new things, and visited iconic sites. They too had stories to share when they got home. We don’t know what, precisely, went on at the Neolithic stone circles of Orkney, or at sites like Ness of Brodgar; we are fairly certain that the activities involved communal get-togethers. They may have taken place at significant times of the year, they may have involved people from a number of separate villages, some may have travelled considerable distance, and what you came for may have varied in detail depending on specific requirements and times of the year. Or not.

In many cases these journeys seem akin to some sort of pilgrimage: defined by Wikipedia as ‘a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance’. They provided a sense of fulfillment for those who undertook them and helped them to make sense of, and to feel secure in, their world. That is precisely how I see our modern visits to these places. These are powerful locations and many visitors speak of ‘the atmosphere’. Heritage has become a significant asset for the twenty-first century. It helps us to root ourselves in place and community and to feel that we belong and have always belonged. Consider the role of travel and sight-seeing in our society. We love to tick off sites (particularly if included in some sort of list: ‘The 100 Best Sites’; ‘World Heritage’; ‘Remote Places’). We use photos to confirm our presence and validate the ‘specialness’ of the experience. Some like to theme their journeys, whether to sacred sites, Christmas Markets, or wilderness. Others are more eclectic. There is social prestige, and interest, to be gained in becoming a seasoned traveller.

Our horizons may be physically wider than those of our ancestors, but mentally they are little changed. Our technology may be more advanced, but there is little difference in its mental impact. Our trips to the stone circles of Orkney, or anywhere else, rest on the same foundations as those of the prehistoric communities who made similar journeys five thousand years ago. When I’m at the Ring of Brodgar, or exploring the Stones of Stenness, I share a purpose with those who were there in the past. I’m validating the place of the monument in the world of today: my world. That is what my recent guests were doing. And that, I feel, is exactly what my prehistoric forebears were doing.

The State that Looks After Its Past

Ring of Brodgar

The stone circle at the Ring of Brodgar is a popular place for locals and tourists alike; entry is free.

My local newspaper, the Orcadian, recently ran an article about possible plans for Historic Environment Scotland (HES) to hand over the operation of the 33 HES sites in Orkney (including the Ring of Brodgar and Skara Brae) to the care of local Council as a result of funding problems. This was, of course, strenuously denied by HES, though they did say:

We are exploring options for managing site access at Maeshowe, as visitors currently have to cross a busy main road to get to the site and the safety of our visitors and staff is paramount.

Our board recently considered a proposal, and wish to discuss the project further with Orkney Islands Council when our new chief executive arrives in September.

We are reviewing short-term options at present… Any short-term impact on access to the site will not have any effect on jobs in Orkney or anywhere else in Historic Environment Scotland’. (HES Spokesperson, quoted in The Orcadian, 11.08.16, page 1).

This little story, albeit hidden within the pages of a very local newspaper, rings alarm bells with me.

Continue reading The State that Looks After Its Past

The world of Doggerland

High Seas Orkney
The sea can unite as well as divide… It can obscure and reveal. It conditions the way we look at things. What lies out there – beyond our coasts?

I’m watching events relating to Britain’s position in Europe with a kind of horrible fascination. Chronologically, my work concerns the period when the land that would become the UK was merely a mountainous, largely ice-girt, peninsula on the north west of the continent that we call ‘Europe’. I realise that this has biased my point of view. Continue reading The world of Doggerland

New Paper out

Stenness survey
Surveying on the Loch of Stenness – survey work can be fun!

Just to say that I am co-author of a new paper (click here), published this week in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports. The journal have sent us the link which they keep open free for a short while for academic purposes as they say here:

‘Please use this link to download a personal copy of your article for your own archive. You are also welcome to email the link to your co-authors and colleagues, or post the link on your own homepage, Facebook, Google+, Twitter or other social media profile, to tell your network about your new publication.  Anyone who clicks on the link until July 12, 2016, will be taken to the final version of your article on ScienceDirect for free. No sign up or registration is needed – just click and read!

As an author, you may use your article for a wide range of scholarly, non-commercial purposes, and share and post your article online in a variety of ways. For more information, please see’ (JASR email 23 May 2016)

We think that this is an interesting piece of work which highlights how you really need the whole landscape history if you are to understand a site (or sites) properly. We have also prepared a more narrative paper which is to be published in the Archaeological Review from Cambridge later this year (I’m just editing it up according to the referees comments which are very positive and helpful). Anyway, I will let you make your own judgement.

It is a good example of the way in which archaeology has changed since I studied at Edinburgh in the 1970s. It all seemed so simple then. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d be working with underwater landscapes and sediments.