The Archaeology of Peepo

“…and the nursery rhymes are different!”

I was commiserating with another translocated mother; she’s British and raising a son in Hawaii with an American husband, while I’m exactly the opposite. (Yes, I’m fairly sure that York is the opposite of Hawaii, alas.) We had been speaking about the subtle but substantial differences in nomenclature for British and American babies–everything from nappies vs. diapers to how the wheels on the bus go round and round, either all day long or all through town. London Bridge is rebuilt with different materials (silver and gold??) in the UK, whereas in the USA you take the key and lock her up…my fair lady. Needless to say, this all feeds into my shonky, blinkered ethnography of the UK, with this particular instance falling into the chapter on raising children.

Many of Tamsin’s books are from her grandparents who amassed a wealth of literature through teaching and having four children of their own. These are well-loved, disintegrating, and taped-together but remain compelling and most are still in print today. My favorites are the decidedly psychedelic Meg and Mog books (late 1970s):

From Meg’s Veg, sorry for the tipsy photos, I was battling a toddler

Though The Tiger Who Came to Tea (1968) is a close second–its ambiguous (anti-fascist?) narrative of a very large furry tiger who eats all the food and all the drink in a house occupied by a little girl and her mummy while daddy’s away is oddly chilling, and requires a greater literary scholar than I to unpick.

OH GOD WATCH OUT FOR THE TIGER AAAAAAHHHH

Janet & Allan Ahlberg’s Peepo (1981) is another classic British children’s book that I was not familiar with. Without getting too much into the literary devices in the book, it is told from the perspective of a little baby boy who peeps through a hole cut into the next page at various scenes of family life.

While it is not stated, the book is set during WWII, yet portrays a happy domesticity during a devastating war. This would have probably been obvious to any British readers, with the barrage balloon/anti-aircraft blimp in the background of an image of a park, a bombed-out building in the distance, gas mask on the bed, and the father is shown in uniform toward the end of the book.

This is obviously a idealized, heteronormative vision of the British past, one that probably feels true and right and comfortable. Dan tells me that a lot of children’s books are set during this time; my sample and experience are still relatively limited. What caught my attention is the architecture–we live in a similar Victorian terraced house that backs onto a small, paved yard with a tiny garden.

I started noticing the period-specific features of the house, ones that are mostly gone from ours, like the big stove in the kitchen and the outhouse tacked onto the end of the shed. The traces of these remain in our house, and some of our neighbor’s houses still have the back shed.

I realized that you could figure out the interior of the house and the location of the various rooms from a generalized knowledge of the architecture of these houses. This is how ingrained and ubiquitous these terraced houses are in the UK. In fact, after reading the book at least 1,000 times, I reckoned it was close to this set up:

This layout is from a house a block away from ours, stolen from a real estate website.

In this modern version the back shed has been converted into a kitchen and the former kitchen is now a dining room.

The interior scenes in Peepo are remarkably consistent, with objects (artefacts) appearing and reappearing as the everyday things interwoven into life. I wondered if the house was based on one from the Ahlbergs’ past, or if terrace houses were so generalizable that elaborate planning of the various scenes was not required. Of course the kitchen is there, with the stove just so, and the clothes horse in the corner.

I also love the book as potential inspiration for archaeological illustrations and reconstructions. It’s not messy, just full, rich with materiality and every object has a used and purposeful feeling to it. Small piles of toys are a playtime interrupted, but not quite cleared away. According to an interview in The Guardian, the illustrator Janet Ahlberg used The Army and Navy Stores Catalogue, 1939-1940 for reference and “would get waylaid in it and sit for ages looking at bread-bins and kettles.”

The book is from a baby’s perspective, watching his family move around him and the details he picks up that might go unnoticed by adults. It also evokes the “daily round,” of waking, daily activity, then bath and bedtime. Out in the back yard he sees:

A bonfire smoking
Pigeons in the sky
His mother cleaning windows
A dog going by

Here’s a video of Allan Ahlberg reading Peepo:

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Teaching with the Archaeology Data Service and Internet Archaeology

It’s fairly well-known that I’m a fan of the Archaeology Data Service, lauding their efforts and crashing their parties whenever I can. It is amazing to be right down the hall from the hive of archival activity, and Internet Archaeology is just up a couple of flights of stairs. I’m always happy to publish in Internet Archaeology, as the journal’s Open Access ideals and flexible data formats work well for digital archaeology.

What didn’t occur to me, at least at first, was the powerful teaching tool that combining the two would represent. This year I led on Accessing Archaeology, a module that our entire first year cohort of undergraduates takes. Students are introduced to basic concepts of Archaeology, including sessions on Landscape, Material Culture, Excavation, Archaeology & Science, etc. Each week students are in seminars wherein they discuss these concepts, using a textbook (available online through the library) and, importantly, present in small groups on a particular case study that shows the application of these concepts.

Some of case studies that the students present are from Internet Archaeology, and many of these articles have backup datasets stored at the Archaeology Data Service. For example for the seminar on Excavation, we use:

Prehistoric:

Wickham-Jones, C R and Dalland, M (1998), A small mesolithic site at Fife Ness, Fife, Scotland, Internet Archaeology, vol. 5

Historic:

Richards, J D (2001), Anglian and Anglo-Scandinavian Cottam: linking digital publication and archive, Internet Archaeology, vol. 10

The Cottam excavation is archived with the ADS and students are encouraged to find out more about the site and excavation techniques by investigating the archive.

I did not design the module–the heavy lifting was done a few years ago by my colleague Dr Steve Ashby (of Real Vikings fame), but I find that the way it integrates teaching the basics of archaeology with specific case studies presented by students to be an excellent method of engaging students with the material.

The module culminates (as many do) with an essay, and this year I set the question to draw from two different lines of evidence (say, analysis of structures + zooarchaeology or human remains + environmental sampling) from a single site to make an argument. Sorry I’m being a bit vague–I’d like to use variations on the theme in the future!

The students were able to pick one of six sites, five of which were archived with the Archaeology Data Service. This way they could access not only the associated official publications, but they could really dig into (sorry) the excavation data to query the methods used at the site. One of these sites was Sutton Hoo, which has a huge amount of data archived at the ADS. Students can access field reports, images, specialist reports, maps, and other archaeological gray literature to build their arguments.

I’m fairly new at teaching with archives, but I hope to integrate more of the materials at the ADS into the courses I teach as it’s an incredible resource and evokes both the desk-based assessments that archaeologists must perform before archaeological investigation and reveals how archaeologists make arguments with archaeological data–for better or worse!

Pencils and Pixels: Drawing and Digital Media in Archaeological Field Recording

Isometric sketch from brilliant field archaeologist Michael House

It’s publication day! It’s publication day! I’m very pleased that after two years, six (!!!) peer reviews, and some hardcore image wrangling me and Dr Holly Wright’s publication Pencils and Pixels: Drawing and Digital Media in Archaeological Field Recording has finally been published.

It…is a monster. Weighing in at over 10,700 words, we examine the history of archaeological field drawing to better contextualize the emergence of digital (paperless) field recording and drawing. We reference literature in architecture and design to inform this transition to digital, and find that drawing performs several essential functions in understanding archaeological stratigraphy. From the article:

As drawing has persisted since the beginning of archaeological recording, remained important after the introduction of photography, is characterized as an essential mode of communication and knowledge production within archaeology, and features prominently within abductive reasoning during initial archaeological investigation, a complete abdication to digital recording should be a matter of intense consideration.

Getting the article out was a bit of a fraught process, having to retrospectively include literature that was published after submission (Mobilizing the Past: Recent Approaches to Archaeological Fieldwork in a Digital Age I’m looking at you) and trying to include actual field drawings–it was a real struggle getting pencil drawings on gridded permatrace to be high enough resolution, so I ended up having to digitize the drawing, then had to trace the drawing onto the included photograph to make it extra clear. Layers of irony in that one in the digital/analog back and forth. The editors were great though and really worked hard with us to get it out.

I was especially happy to publish with the esteemed Dr Holly Wright, as this formed part of her dissertation on digital field drawing. She’s a good friend and colleague and it’s always fun to publish with folks. I was also able to include drawings from some pretty legendary archaeologists, Michael House and Chiz Haward.

Elevation by Chiz Haward, showing his integration of analog and digital drawing

Chiz was especially helpful and contributed an amazing elevation that he created through both digital and analog drawing. We quote him at length in the article as his integrated workflow was especially informative to our argument. Illustrations from David Mackie and Ben Sharp also feature, as well as some lesser-known dudes such as John Aubrey, General Pitt-Rivers, Stuart Piggott and Mortimer Wheeler. (No women! That’s the subject of some current research, watch this space.)

Anyway, I’d be exceedingly happy if you read this and shared it widely and let me know what you think.

Morgan, C., & Wright, H. (2018). Pencils and Pixels: Drawing and Digital Media in Archaeological Field Recording. Journal of Field Archaeology, 1–16.

I’ll upload proofs in a bit, but let me know if you can’t access it and I’ll send it to you.

Amsterdam Book Launch: Lonely Planet Yamatai Koku

I’ve had the lovely opportunity of having part of my undergraduate honors thesis tarted up and reprinted in the artist Susan Kooi’s book, Lonely Planet Yamatai Koku. The book is printed from right to left, Japanese style, and there is an official book launch in Amsterdam on 15 February, between 20:00 and 22:00 at San Serriffe.

From Susan:

There will be books, music and saké for sure, but there is still space for other happenings as well. So if you have anything you would like to contribute, you are very welcome to add something to the program!

I love working with artists pretty much more than anything and it was a great privilege that Susan took an interest in my previous research on Queen Himiko and the Yayoi period of Japanese archaeology.

EAA 2018: Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies

I’m very excited to announce that Catherine Frieman, Marta Diaz-Guardamino Uribe and I are co-organizing a session at the European Association of Archaeologists meeting in Barcelona, 5-8 September. We’d love you to join our session!
Title: Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies
Abstract:
Our engagement with the digital is reformulating the ways in which we (post/humans) engage with/create our worlds. In archaeology, digital processes and media are affording new practices of production, consumption and reception of knowledge, while throwing new light on existing analog methods. The digital is extending our cognitive and sensual capabilities, allowing us to explore previously uncharted grounds, giving us tools to envision the past in different ways, and enabling large datasets to be processed, distributed, and engaged with interactively. During this process, critical appraisal of the archaeological-digital has been relatively limited. 
In this session we will evaluate the growing paradigm of digital archaeology from an ontological point of view, showcase the ways digital technologies are being applied in archaeological practice—in the field/lab/studio/classroom—in order to critically engage with the range of questions about past people and worlds into which digital media give us new insights and avenues of approach. We ask how digital media and technology are being applied, whether they are broadening access to the archaeological record and how they are shifting relationships between archaeologists, the archaeological record and the public. 
Papers should have a theory-based approach to digital archaeological methods and set the agenda for future investigation. They should discuss the ways digital archaeology is affecting, disrupting and/or enhancing archaeological fieldwork, public archaeology, education and the publication/dissemination of archaeological data. Of particular interest are papers that engage with creativity and making, digital post/transhumanism, query analog methods through digital media, and feminist, indigenous or queer digital archaeologies.
For the session we have determined to pre-circulate papers and have a more general discussion panel at the conference. This will provide us more time and space for truly grappling with the questions at the heart of the session.
We also expect to publish this session in the European Journal of Archaeology. To that end, the following timeline would be applicable
1 February: Let us know that you are interested + provide a title for your paper
15 February: Submit your paper abstract to the EAA
1 August: Precirculated papers due
5-8 September: EAA Meeting
10 January: Final draft of paper due

Looking at the Moon: Archaeology & Children

Ritual offerings.

My child is obsessed by the moon.

It wasn’t her first word, but it was early, and fervent.

MOON. Before “mama” even. MOON. She points at the sky, finger connecting to the bright crescent. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is full, or a thin sliver, or covered by clouds. MOON. She asks after it several times a day, like a friend or a sibling. Now I look out for it as well, check when it rises so we can go out and affirm, yes, MOON.

I’m not the first person to observe how having children changes the way you think about things. Recently Rumaan Alam noted how his children’s awe (or lack thereof) changed how he sees art, citing beloved John Berger’s Ways of Seeing. In On Looking, Alexandra Horowitz guides us to look through the eyes of “experts,” including a geologist, artist, physician, urban sociologist…and a dog and a child.

My Tamsin is a similar age to Horowitz’s 1.5 year old son—Tamsin is also “blessed with the ability to admire the unlovely.” Touching, tasting, being, tripping, laughing. Horowitz compares her son’s investigation of things found on their walk to a kind of archaeology, “exploring the bit of discarded candy wrapper; collecting a fistful of pebbles and a twig and a torn corner of a paperback; swishing dirt back and forth along the ground.” I instantly thought of Angela Piccini’s Guttersnipe, still my favorite archaeology movie, wherein Piccini deftly weaves a Bristol history around personal experience through the medium of curbstones. Really. Watch it.

Certainly having a child changes the way that you walk down the street, but it also changes the way I think about the past. Tamsin delighted in long afternoons at our allotment, picking and eating raspberries, blackberries, currants (tart!), then apples and a wonderful plum tree and grapes in the yard of the house in Greece we were at this summer. She became much better than her slightly near-sighted mother  at spotting potential edibles, including birds. I’m not sure she’s better than other children at this sort of thing, and I rather suspect not, but I can’t help but think how it might have been incredibly helpful to have a food-spotter lashed to your back as you go along your way.

I realized that I had always thought of children as a burden in the past. The terror of trying to find a warm place for the night, of running out of food, of not being able to keep up with your group after a difficult childbirth…though obviously and sadly these nightmares persist for many people. I had never thought of a baby as a valued sidekick, as a contributing member of the household. The grave goods accompanying a child could celebrate their acumen, their contributions, something more than a parent’s loss.

After finding small caches of socks in books, bananas in couches (ew) and duplo legos in cooking pots, I also think of small finds and deposits I’ve found archaeologically. What an odd collection of small things, it must be a ritual offering….right? Or I wondered how on earth people could have misplaced that obviously valued object, that gold and pearl earring at the bottom of a cooking pit, etc. Now I think of grimy little magpie hands. Probably both are too reductive and mono-causal, but still.

Whether you attribute finds to children or to obscure rituals, these attributions show both our interpretive biases in approaching archaeological remains but also the potential of broadening and changing our archaeological imagination. I have very little in common with people in the past, as I type this blog out on a glowing screen in front of a fire, but small insights from a biological act that I am pretty sure happened in the past—childbearing—helps me think in different ways about their experiences. Yes, my sample is small…but she is growing all the time and she helps me to see things in new and delightful ways.

MOON.

(pssst, I’m quite amateur at thinking about children archaeologically, your first port of call for this expertise online is Sian Halcrow’s The Bioarchaeology of Children)

Is it ethical to use social media for teaching archaeology?

Taken in 2009.

In 2008 I wrote a fairly shiny, wide-eyed treatment of the use of Facebook in the classroom, arguing that it provided an opportunity to discuss online privacy and a unique way to engage with archaeology. I gave the option for students to create a fake profile for a 19th century resident Zeta Psi fraternity house, a subject of research for one of the classes, when one could still do such a thing. To wit:

A critical pedagogical engagement in archaeology offers the potential to serve as an emancipatory practice, in that dominant political and historical narratives are challenged with the material record, providing a way for students to examine these narratives within their specific historical context and provide their own interpretations (Conkey and Tringham 1996; Hamilakis 2004).

Social media was a great way to get students to translate taught material and research into a sphere that they are more familiar with and use it to query the historical and archaeological record. Great, fabulous…I wrote the short piece for a teaching prize, which I didn’t get. Oh well, add it to my failure CV ala Shawn Graham.

Fast-forward a decade and I receive a notification specifically calling for examples of innovative use of social media within the classroom. Always too early. Oh well. Anyway, I’ve used social media ever since to disseminate archaeological information in various ways, to an almost tedious extent. This autumn I taught a course called Communicating Archaeology wherein the students used blogs as a platform to host archaeological media that they created themselves. I don’t consider this to be radical in any way, just a convenient way to cohesively host content.

….except. Except that I’ve asked them to use WordPress. I quite like WordPress, perhaps obviously, but my (and my students’) content creation provides their bottom line. I can justify this to a certain extent with my own work in that it is a bit like (wince) academic publishing. Would I feel the same if WordPress was funded by adverts and posts actively helping to undermine elections, ala Facebook? Do I know that they are not?

Would I feel comfortable asking my students to perform their content on Facebook or Twitter these days? I’m not entirely sure. There has been some discussion regarding the ethics of use of social media amongst archaeologists, several of which are linked from my department’s webpage, but none of it engages with the fact that we are assigning students to create monetized content on for-profit platforms, OR that by making our students engage with these platforms they are getting their personal information harvested and re-sold. Never mind that, during an untold mental health crisis amongst our students, we are encouraging them to engage with media that actively makes users feel worse about themselves.

During my last lecture of Communicating Archaeology I emphasized to the students that on social media, the product is YOU. If you choose to engage with social media you may as well try to use it in a way that will benefit you, as those companies are profiting from your participation. For now the pedagogical balance may fall on a structured, critical engagement with social media, but any use in the classroom needs to fully consider the monetization of content and personal information provided.