CRE XV Review

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Pretty much the whole of my last week was spent preparing for; or actually at, the 15th Current Research in Egyptology conference, where recent graduates and early-career Egyptologists gather to present their work and discuss their research.

 

For me, it was exciting (and nerve-wracking!) as this was the first time I would present my research to other scholars – and see whether it held up under scrutiny. I presented a paper on infant jar burials, something I worked on as part of my MSt last year:

 

Precious deposits: new interpretations of infant jar burials in Egypt and Sudan

Kom Firin, please do not reproduce without permission

Kom Firin, please do not reproduce without permission

Infant jar burials are a persistent feature along the Nile Valley from the Neolithic to early Christian period, and hold a particular fascination. However their interpretation has been restricted and their relative rarity on sites often overlooked. Rather than a cheap, standard method of disposal, I suggest these burials allow us an insight into the perception of children in Ancient Egyptian society and can aid towards understanding of social identity and community.

 

This paper will use evidence from El-Kadada, ‘Ain Asil, Elephantine and Abydos among others to discuss the meaning of particular ceramic forms used, rather than assuming all vessels to be a sign of low value. Assessing patterns of deposition, this will be used to critique the ‘womb metaphor’ often cited in understanding the relationship between the infant and the vessel, and suggest instead that infants were associated with domestic space. This in turn has repercussions for the idea that children were not full community members.

 

Bringing ceramics into social analysis is proving to bring new insights into the understanding of Egyptian social culture, and this paper hopes to demonstrate the validity of such an approach.

 

pot burial es-sour

Sadig, 2005, Sudan & Nubia vol. 9. Please do not reproduce without permission

 

However I also decided to take the opportunity to put feelers out about a part of my thesis research, and did a poster on red painted bowl rims in Third Intermediate Period Nubia:

 

Deliberate drips: developments in ceramic decoration at the end of the New Kingdom in Nubia.

 

Great strides have been made in clarifying ceramic chronologies for the end of the New Kingdom and the Third Intermediate Period in Ancient Egypt. However, in Nubia, it still remains extremely difficult date graves closely. This is problematic for our understanding of social and political shifts in Nubian societies leading up to the Napatan era. It is increasingly apparent that there are noticeable differences in contemporary ceramics in Egypt and Nubia. Recent fieldwork in Sudan has thrown up a substantial amount of ceramic material which can aid towards our understanding of where exactly Nubian ceramic development differs from that in Egypt.

 

This paper will focus on one observed trait; the increased tendency for red-painted bowl rims to bear uneven drips. Using examples from Amara West, Missiminia and Hillat el-Arab, this is suggested to be a deliberate feature choice by potters rather than carelessness, starting at the end of the New Kingdom and increasing in popularity in the early Post New Kingdom.

 

If this feature is found to appear at other contemporary sites within Sudan, it may act as a chronological marker, whilst establishing that these sites had aspects of a regional style even under New Kingdom control.

 

With those out in the open, I now feel like a proper Egyptologist!

 

The conference was also a chance to hear about some of the fascinating and wide-ranging research going on within Egyptology at the moment – and it was wonderful to dip back into that world once again, which I am getting increasingly anxious to re-enter!

 

It was opened by Dr Alice Stevenson, curator of the Petrie Museum, with her Keynote lecture discussing the role of museums in early excavations; as well as the AHRC project she is running, a collaboration between the Petrie, the EES and the Griffith Institute. This three year project aims to track down artefacts dispersed from EES excavations between 1883 and 1915, and ultimately to make this information freely accessible online. So hopefully there will be less desperate rounds of emails to museums/collectors (we’ve all been there…).

 

This year, the conference was its biggest yet, with two or three parallel sessions running each day; so I only saw half of what was going on really, often racing between lecture rooms to be sure of hearing those that piqued my interest. I was particularly interested in ‘Tells, toponyms and the Third Intermediate Period: constructing a new topographical settlement map for the period’ by James Bennett, a PhD student from Durham University, as I envisage developing my pilgrim flask typology during my PhD is going to be particularly challenging for vessels from this complex period. Carl Walsh gets the prize for a presentation I haven’t been able to stop thinking about with his ‘Establishing the proper etiquette: diplomacy and transmission of courtly lifestyles between Egypt and Kerma in the Middle Bronze Age’. He discussed the idea of sitting as a form of courtly display in Kerma, culminating in the appearance of chairs and funerary beds in Kerman graves. This referenced the fact that sitting down as we do today is actually an unnatural posture, and is in fact damaging to the body. I now think about this almost every day in my office job, when my back inevitably starts to ache! I was interested to see another discussion of infants on the programme; ‘The liminal status of the unborn and newborn child in Graeco-Roman Egypt’ by Ada Nifosi. My study focused on establishing the value of children through the vessels themselves, using ceramics to try and access reasoning behind pot burial; so it was interesting to see a study from a later period, where Egypt was heavily influenced by Greek and Roman cultural values, and to bounce ideas off each other.

 

“Deviant burials from the predynastic to the Middle Kingdom’ by Antje Kohse was fascinating, because I had read about deviant burials from Europe – mostly relating to bog bodies, which are often staked to the ground, possibly to stop them rising. I was intrigued to discover that stakes have also been found in Egyptian burials; and while I was aware of the various ritualisations of the body after death in the predynastic, had no idea it continued into the Middle Kingdom.

 

There were so many I could wax lyrical about: from the University of Waseda presenting the results of their conservation of Amenhotep III’s tomb, exciting because most of their findings are typically published in Japanese; discussions of current excavations at Gebelein and Saqqaara; preliminary findings from early PhD days and proud presentations of 3 years of hard work at the end of PhDs. The other keynote speakers were particularly interesting. Dr. Richard Bussman’s discussions of early temples and how habit and tradition in themselves establish meaning to religious beliefs was an intriguing and unusual approach to temple analysis, bringing some useful anthropological ideas into play.

Egypt-Exploration-Society

Chris Norton, director of the EES, closed the conference with a discussion of the society’s plans for the future, which is a good look at the near future of the discipline in general. With six major projects – The Theban harbours and waterscapes survey; the Delta Survey; work at Quesna; the Imbaba prehistoric survey and Tell Basta (for some reason I have completely forgotten the sixth one!) – the society has a continuing strong presence in the field. However it also publicly announced for the first time, that they are offering 3 annual scholarships to Egyptian archaeologists to come to London for a month, using the library facilities and engaging in dialogues with British archaeologists, which can only benefit good international disciplinary relationships. With the EES newsletter now also to be published in Arabic, this is looking good!

 

Ending with looking to the future was an ideal way to close the conference; however, as with most archaeology conferences, it was certainly not all work and no play; with drinks receptions every night, a conference dinner, and a conference party at Kings (which incidentally has the most amazing bars, one overlooking the river and one akin to a swanky hotel bar!). Perfect way to wind down after concentrating all day, as well as to get people chatting!

 

With the CRE, conference season seems to be upon us, with the annual Sudan Archaeological Research Society on the 19th May, at the British Museum, next on my list. But for now, I need to get my act together and write up my presentation while the conducive dialogues it sparked are still fresh in my head!

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Croydon eulogising

It’s been a while since I last posted on here; and that’s because I have somehow finally managed to enter the world of work. Round of applause please.

I’m working as a call handler for an insurance company in Croydon, and have been promoted from a temp worker to full, contracted employee.

Office work seems, to me, to consist mostly of being shouted at by angry clients, smelling of fish all day after spilling my packed lunch on myself, and trying not to stare at the old desktop screen too much to avoid a headache. But hey, today is payday!

Taking a random, let’s be honest boring job while you wait for the next opportunity to come along is something all archaeologists will be familiar with. The reality of archaeology can often be significantly less glam and adventurous than most people think, thanks mostly to this waiting game so many of us are forced to play.

When I first moved to London, I thought I would quite easily be able to get a good job for a year; but I’ve learnt that having a BA and Masters in Egyptology freaks potential employers out rather than making them want to hire you. Temporarily, it ended up damaging my job prospects rather than helping them- NOT something that is exactly advertised!

I’ve also learnt that, while I can happily research in the library all day, downing coffee to keep my brain buzzing, I get bored after about an hour in the office, can’t even drink coffee because I get so dehydrated (the horror for an addict like me!) and collapse in front of the TV as soon as I get home.

However, as everywhere in the UK, history has left its mark even on industrial Croydon, and I can’t help but become intrigued by it. Croydon is certainly not the most romantic of places; everyone who learns I work there pulls a bit of a face at its reputation, while my Dad refers to it as Stockport on Steroids.

Romantic meets Industrial

Romantic meets Industrial

 

Glimpse of the water tower

Glimpse of the water tower

My unpeeling of Croydon’s historical layers began with Park Hill recreation park, which I discovered when, in my lunchtime attempts to escape the stale office air, I spotted through the high rise buildings what looked like a castle – the lure of which I was obviously powerless against. This ‘castle’ (actually a Victorian water tower but it was still historical, so half a point awarded) was nestled in the middle of a large park, choc-a-bloc with spring flowers and blossom trees. Judging by the mature trees, I thought the park was about 100 years old.

HOWEVER, a little digging later and it turns out this male park is a tally the last remains of a deer park, which stretched across Central Croydon to a palace owned and inhabited by the Archbishops of Canterbury for over 500 years. Yes, Croydon has a palace. A palace in which the likes of Henry III and Elizabeth I stayed in.

The Palace still stands, and is now a girls’ school, so I went to have a nosy at that too. There’s only so much you can see behind the high walls but there is a society that open the palace for guided tours a few times a year, and I am dying to go on one.

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Now, whenever I’m dodging the 4 lanes of traffic and skipping across the tramlines as I have to to get home, I stop and try to imagine how quiet Croydon must have been 500 years ago, with deer grazing and Elizabeth I (my favourite monarch of course) galloping across toward the palace. I tend to avoid the underpass now; the last time I used it I ended up in the middle of a turf war with a bag of rubbish soaring quite spectacularly over my head- so now I risk the traffic and imagine!

Croydon also, amazingly, has a Minster (like York!). This one is made of chipped flint and has a fascinating collection of tombstones, the reliefs carved representing the deceased’s career in life. The Minster is locked except for services, but the outside was still beautiful, if slightly neglected.

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What Croydon has a lot of is late Victorian architecture, with a lot of Victorian shop buildings still in use today. Dating from probably only a little earlier is a distance marker, which has been placed in the park although probably was originally from elsewhere. The only side not eroded is the one marking Whitechapel. I love this.

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It also marks the entrance to a little memorial garden, split into herb patches, in honour of Cicely Mary Barker. I had never heard of her; but I had seen examples of her artwork for most of my childhood- she was the designer behind flower fairies! She had no formal art training but her artwork is now instantly recognisable by people all over the world, and she lived her entire life in Croydon. That’s certainly someone to be proud of!

Thus ends my Croydon eulogy. But it just goes to show that history and stories are all around you, even in the most unlikely of places!

Now on to spend my weekend prepping for the CRE conference….

 

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Few interesting gravestones from the Minster

Musings on Funding

It’s been a while since my last post, and for that you can blame the seasonal lurgy lurking about. But all my time sniffling into tissues inside has given me lots of time to ponder about various things. One thing that kept bubbling up in my brain was the trials and tribulations of heritage funding in the current climate, and particularly the rise of one source. Everywhere you seem to turn in the heritage sector at the moment, the Heritage Lottery Fund has swept in as a corporate saviour. For once, the funds actively try to support community projects, encouraging local groups to apply in for any amount from £3000 to over 5 million. They’re the driving force behind the transformation of Stonehenge with its spanking new visitor centre; and whether you think its a feast or a flop its nice to see someone taking an active interest in preserving the site for a change. The St Mary’s university church in Oxford, opposite my old college, has been attempting to raise the money to restore its degrading roof for years; the HLF has recently stepped into the ring and now the church looks good as new (although Oxford is still full of scaffolding during the down season). The Future Curators project, where early career curators can develop skills and contacts spending six months working at the British Museum and a year at a sister museum, is funded by them; as is the Inspired by the Crystal Palace Subway project I am a part of. I was never a fan of playing the lottery, but now whenever my Nana buys her ticket I feel like there’s hope left for the heritage sector!

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Thanks guys!

One of the many intermittent jobs I have taken on in this year of semi-retirement and baking is working as a tour guide for the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, something else partially funded by the HLF. Indirectly, I owe my job to them! The library originated through the efforts of one man, Dr. Alfred Wiener, to record the anti-Semitic propaganda and activities he noticed in the 1920s and ended up being used not only by the British Ministry of Information during WWII but also to prosecute Nazi war criminals. Every Tuesday at 1pm a tour is run, open to the public, which is normally started by a brief explanation of the history of the library and its founder; but currently an exhibition is being held marking the 80th anniversary of the library’s foundation. This display goes into a great deal of fascinating detail, focusing not only on Wiener’s early life writing against anti-Semitism, but also on the active role the library plays in memorialising individuals and in modern genocide studies. It recently received a selection of documents from the Rwandan community and the exhibition also holds a drawing done by a Darfuri child depicting the attacks on his village, one of hundreds used as evidence in court cases. It’s only on until the 19th February so get down there!

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The Wiener Library slap bang in the museum district of Russell Square

One of my favourite things about living in the Big Smoke is the sheer number of historical buildings and places packed into every available corner. People often act disbelieving when I wax lyrical on how wonderful London is, but how can I not when there are 240 museums alone?! How they all keep afloat is beyond me, but must be a testimony to some pretty determined finance officers behind the scenes.  Unfortunately, one area where funding is still super-tight is in research. Most PhD application deadlines have now passed and people will be waiting for funding news, where the forecast is depressing. However, the determination by museum and heritage groups to ensure access to the public, as well as the amazing free exhibitions on offer, shows that their passion for protecting shared human history has not been forgotten in the all-too-common scrambles for public money. This at least makes me think that one day, I might end up with a job 😀

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All Hallows by the Tower stained glass – some of these buildings can still be seen today

Sprouting Glories

I don’t care what anyone says; archaeologists like digging, and we like getting dirty. How else could we handle 12 hour days in muddy holes or sandstorms? It’s one reason we’re all so afraid of suits….

So it’s really no surprise that I love gardening, although I must admit it took me a few years to get over my irrational fear of worms! The recent weather quite literally puts a dampener on getting out in the soil very often at the mo, so I indulged my gardening craze with a trip to The Garden Museum recently.

Can you even believe there is a garden museum?! My friends all thought I’d lost the plot a little (well, a little more than usual anyway) for being so excited, and excised deep pity on my fiancee for being obliged to come with me. Such things are definitely part of the relationship contract.

The church cloaked in greenery; very appropriate!

The church cloaked in greenery; very appropriate!

The museum is housed in the old St-Mary-at-Lambeth church, where the Trandscendents, the original gardening family, were buried. The church and the small garden around it, a tiny bemusing oasis in the centre of one of the busiest parts of London, was actually part of their family estate, and was saved from destruction in 1977 by the museum organisation. It has really only begun to develop its museumness since 2008 however, and to be honest, by the look of it at the moment, it is undergoing significant development. It is an absolutely brilliant example of the melding of heritage and modern needs discussed in my previous post however. I have a distinct soft spot for church conversions. Why knock it down to rebuild something not nearly as interesting architecturally?

John Trandescant's tomb...well one of them anyway!

John Trandescant’s tomb

The museum has a permanent exhibition on the history of gardening, as well as a current temporary exhibition on gardens and gardeners in art. It was particularly interesting to see how the perceptions of gardeners themselves changed as gardening became a ‘gentleman’s hobby’, and the plain but practical tools used in the early periods give way to funny little things like walking sticks with hoe attachments and long lace-up wellies to keep his Lordship’s snazzy trousers clean. And now, in my opinion, until you get high up into fancy landscape gardening, basic pottering about and planting has become an old lady activity. Probably another reason my friends’ think I live the life of a retired person….

As usual, my eye was drawn to the ceramics in the museum. Two in particular caught my eye; early watering cans!

Thumb pot

Thumb pot

Bit more familiar

Bit more familiar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The thumb pot dates to the end of the 16th century, although it bears a remarkable resemblance to a faux-Roman glazed pot I once bought in Spain as a child and somehow carried back as hand luggage….back in the day when it wouldn’t be regarded as some sort of crafty weapon. The idea, apparently, is to submerge it in a pool of water and place your thumb over the top when full. Slowly releasing the pressure would make the water come out of the holes in the bottom, like a hand-held sprinkler hose. Ingenious!! I suppose the latter one was created when they realised how much easier sprinkling could be made by attaching a side bit, sometime in the 17th century. I bet the older gardeners felt like prize idiots….

These are my favourite types of pots; the ones not meant to survive. They were practical, everyday items for someone, and reflect society and activities more clearly than those meant to carry a message. As much fun as it is unravelling that message, it is also nice to see things that flesh out the background of someone lost to time.

The few photographs, drawings and references to gardening throughout the ages which survive also bring to the forefront individuals often lost or overlooked in archaeology; women and children. Now I certainly don’t want to come over all gender studies here, but early archaeological reports and literature were typically more reflective of Western society than those they were supposed to be studying. Any body with a sword was a man, any with a grinding stone a woman, that sort of thing. It gets rather amusing (and foolish!) when against all 19th century sense the occasional body proven to be female was accompanied by great riches or weaponry, at which we are loftily informed that these reflect not her wealth, but her husband’s/brother’s/father’s. Of course, the most complex interpretation must be true….

The same goes for children. Their experience of life was little talked about, and only now are studies beginning to emerge which demonstrate the vital economic role even very young children often played in society. 

So what was interesting is that according to museum research, there was never much segregation in the gardening world; men and women worked side by side and both achieved a lot. Children were trained in the trade from a young age and were often drafted in groups for large projects! It was quite nice to know that a 19th century me could have also got involved in the garden.

If you’re ever in the vicinity of Lambeth anyway, pop in; they also have a small knot garden designed by the Marchioness of Salisbury, which was the main draw for me. There’s something very beautiful in the idea of transferring what looks like an intricate drawing to plants. I especially like the earlier, pre-box hedge knot gardens, which I think would fit very nicely in a modern garden as a draw to butterflies and bees, something constantly being drummed into us at the moment. Lavender and rosemary for the chunky design and lemon balm and sage for ground cover. Mmmmmm. One day…..somehow I don’t think my landlord would appreciate me digging up his entire garden quite yet to have mini hedges springing up all over the place….

The knot garden

The knot garden

My appetite nicely whetted for planting yet again, I potted up my window box in its winter dress finally, and it does look beautiful. I did notice on another day walking past the snazzy hotels and fancy houses of London, that a lot of them had purple/white tipped heather, and white cyclamen decorations – exactly what I’d done! Perhaps I do have a fashionable bone in my body after all!

Height of London fashion!

Height of London fashion!

Battles of heritage

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It’s been the most deliciously crisp autumn weekend down here in Crystal Palace; absolutely freezing, but wonderful blue skies. Given the horror expressed by family members and their friends up North London way when we told them we were flat-hunting in this neck of the woods,  the sense of being in the countryside couldn’t be more incongruous.

I’ll openly admit: when we moved to London, I picked Crystal Palace because it was pretty. I’m an absolute sucker for Victorian conversions– drafts, water lurching between hot and cold, and random heart-stopping creaks as the house moved about overnight like it was alive (or a burglar was prowling around as I more commonly think) are, thanks to growing up in a 300 year old toll house, necessary for a home. New builds, with their insulation and perfect squareness freak me out no end. It was the wealth of old houses here that meant I dragged my fiancee into ten different estate agents until we found someone to give a viewing of a flat that afternoon, not any consideration of the history of the area. And the sheer number of drinking spots of course….

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I’d heard about the palace but never really considered it much past an observational “Ah, yes, this is where it must have been!”. The obsessive archaeologist within me however, was not entirely impressed with my energy being expended entirely on cushion arranging and after one too many times manically scrubbing the bathroom sink on yet another unemployed afternoon, strictly told me to get myself together. If I can’t be a paid researcher on an Egyptological project, there is no reason why I can’t be a volunteer researcher on a local project. 

To this aim, I have recently joined the Inspired by Crystal Palace Subway Project (http://www.inspiredbythesubway.org.uk), whose aim is to reopen the old railway subway, which closed in 1954, to the public. I will leave detailing the project’s manoeuvrings to a separate page on this blog; but as I sat in an Oral History training workshop over the weekend it was not the subway that was the main focus of debate (or the mysterious reason it is known as a subway and not its English word, an underpass) but Park Politics.

In particular, the fact that a Chinese Billionaire, Ni Zhaoxing, had purchased the plot of land upon which the original Crystal Palace had stood, and was planning to rebuild it, came under heavy fire (for more information, see here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-24375547).  This would mean building right over the subway, which would not be demolished but used as an entranceway.

Protecting our heritage from non-sympathetic redevelopment is, in my opinion, absolutely vital if we are to avoid becoming a concrete, soulness nation. However, I seemed to be the only one reserving judgement about the development until more information was provided. Both my enquiries as to the intended purpose of the development and whether the Exclusivity Clause signed with Bromley council meant council-led excavations would be carried out pre-building were met with blank stares. The only thing flying freely about was rumours, although this seems to be a feature of the news coverage in general; a 6* hotel and an exhibition space are only two of the purposes being confidently asserted as definitive!

An artist's reconstruction of the proposed development (image belongs to Sky.com)

An artist’s reconstruction of the proposed development (image belongs to Sky.com)

This is not intended as a slur on the project; far from it. One of its main aims is to interview members of the public for their personal memories of the subway, bringing the community into a heritage project which could have become purely architectural all too easily. Rather, this is meant as an observation of the tension simmering beneath the surface of every archaeological and heritage find, brewing spats between the desire to protect heritage and the needs of a modern community. How are we meant to deal with both? Are they inherently antagonistic? 

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View from the West Croydon train station

Redevelopment is, in my opinion, not only a necessity for heritage sites but often a blessing. If an ancient building is sensitively redeveloped and given a new use as a town hall, it will be seen more as community heritage than if the stone skeleton was picketed off from the public and red tape made it impossible to use the area. One of the most beautiful things about British cities is how new builds have grown around old and the fascinating picture that presents on a day to day basis. On the flip side of the coin, cases such as in Sudan where future redevelopment of the Nile river is due to flood not only archaeological sites but also modern towns obviously brings no benefit to anybody. 

Nu and the Zhongrong Group have promised not only to restore the site but also to engage with community feedback, although whether they will keep this promise remains to be seen. Personally, my main concern is the loss of community green space. What do you think?