The Great and the Small

Stonehenge in low winter light, December 2004

women at work
Those who work to unearth the smallest of archaeological sites make no less a contribution than those whose research will grace our television screens and newspapers.

There is no shortage of television coverage of ‘big-name’ sites like Stonehenge. As I write I am still digesting the ‘new’ revelations of last week’s programme on Channel Five which presented a detailed breakdown of research on the big pits surrounding Durrington Walls. Continue reading The Great and the Small

False Boundaries

The interior furnishings of Skara Brae elnd themselves to many interpretations

Archaeologists like to pigeonhole things. It helps us to categorize and interpret the data we find. But life does not always conform to quite such clearly defined ways. We have to be careful that our organizational need for boundaries does not Continue reading False Boundaries

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 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

Finding the right words

Cave painting.
Communication can be a complex business. Figure from the cave of El Castillo, Spain.

I love writing, I love playing with words to make them sound right and convey meaning. But I’ve become increasingly aware that the way I hear them inside my head, and the meanings I am trying to communicate, may not be same as the meanings and sounds received by those who read them. Continue reading Finding the right words

Difficult Decisions

Archaeological remains are fragile and have to be carefully managed. Sometimes there are hard decisions to be made. In Orkney, the Control Tower sits amidst the remains of the airfield at RNAS Twatt

Recent publicity about the road plans at Stonehenge have highlighted the difficult issues that face the archaeological manager in going about their job. I’m not going to comment on that particular case – there is plenty of online opinion Continue reading Difficult Decisions

Using your voice

The Barberellas in concert at the Stones of Stenness, Orkney. How did the original users of the monument sound?

A few months ago I  spent a week working on voice and communication with Kristin Linklater. It was a fascinating experience that got me thinking about all sorts of things. I never set out to be an academic (if, indeed, I am one). I was just Continue reading Using your voice

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