Friday, June 21, 2013

Archaeology's Dirty Little Secrets

So I have been planning on writing a new post recently. I even have ideas for it and kind of know what I want to write, but the last few weeks have been pretty crazy. I started a Finnish course at the end of May, the children I look after started holidays the next week, and I also started an online course or MOOC about archaeology. Needless to say with that and also making new friends and spending time with them I haven't been left with much time to write... plus I would feel incredibly guilty if I wrote a blog post without having done my archaeology course homework.

So anyway.... the course I started is through a website called Coursera. I came across it thanks to the Time Team Facebook page where they recommended the course that I signed up for. The course is called Archaeology's Dirty Little Secrets and into the third week now I am loving it! I have always enjoyed history and especially archaeology- I wanted to be an archaeologist for many years, and I am not really sure I've given up on that possibility yet, so it's fun. The course itself is through Brown University in the USA and the Joukowsky Institute which is situated at Brown.

So the course itself consists of video lectures, some required reading, weekly quizzes and weekly exercises or assessments if you want to call them that. The exercises are all peer assessed as with the sheer number of people who enrol in the course as well as the free nature of the course, there is no way that the staff could mark everyones exercises.

I just got the results of my week 1 exercise today and I was very happy. I got a 3- which is the top mark, and some really nice comments. As a result, I thought I would share what I wrote here. I will first post the requirements, then my response, then the comments I recieved.


Option #2: Archaeological expressions

Find one form of artistic expression (poetry, film, literature, trash fiction, music) that draws on archaeology and archaeological uses of the past*. Write a reaction piece in which you:
  1. Identify and describe the artistic work you have chosen.
  2. If it could be helpful to your classmates, provide a link (URL) to any relevant online content (e.g., YouTube clip, SoundCloud sample, IMDB page, etc.).
  3. Explain why you chose this particular piece.
  4. Critique the piece. Does it convey an accurate impression of archaeology? Is it significant, either artistically or archaeologically? Do you like it? Would you recommend it to others, and if so, who?


The work chosen for this archaeological comparison is called "The Curse", and it is episode thirteen of season four of the television series Stargate SG-1.

In this episode, one of the team members - Dr Daniel Jackson of SG-1, discovers that his archaeology professor from college - Dr David Jordan was killed in a lab explosion that has been attributed to the Curse of Osiris as he was working with artefacts recovered from a shipwreck of an expedition carried out in 1931. He attends the funeral and catches up with former colleagues he has not seen in five years. He stays behind after the funeral and discovers that items from the collection have either been stolen or misplaced, and works to help discover what has happened to them.

I chose this piece because it shows some of the issues that archaeologists and institutions face with regards to artefacts and ownership once recovered as well as the storage, testing and treatment of artefacts. It also addresses the beliefs of many people in curses being placed on items from tombs especially those of Egyptian mummies.

The episode starts with the characters of Dr Jordan and Dr Steven Rayner discussing some artefacts that had been recovered from a shipwreck of an expedition known as the Stewart Expedition undertaken in 1931. Dr Jordan lets Dr Rayner know that the opportunity has come up to have scans done on a canopic jar. Dr Rayner suggests that they just crack open the canopic jar to which he is told that the Egyptian government expects the items to be returned intact. He expresses some disagreement with this pronouncement stating that it is the find of a lifetime and they are "just handing it over".

This reflects on an issue that is facing the archaeological community and institutions around the world more and more often these days. Many artefacts were taken at times in the past when countries were either colonised, under occupation or before there were laws regarding what could be taken or even what could be excavated. As a result more and more countries are trying to recover items that they consider to have been looted from their past causing much controversy amongst those who believe they have a right to the items who make arguments on both sides of the divide as is the case with the Parthenon Marbles.

When Dr Jackson discovers the report of the death of Dr Jordan, the article states that the Curse of Osiris has returned. This alludes to the belief that curses will afflict those who disturb the tombs and holy places of ancient civilisations- in this case those of ancient Egypt. Later in the episode when Dr Sarah Gardner is showing Dr Jackson the artefacts, she says that they are supposedly cursed and that all the members of the original expedition died within a year of the discovery and Dr Jackson says that it had been attributed to mould spores. Her response states that mould spores do not make front page news.

These instances as well as later deaths of two more people show the pervasiveness of beliefs in "Mummy curses" which started in the 19th century with very little truth behind them as well as their common use as a trope in television and movies to make a plot more interesting or entertaining.

When Dr Jackson goes to find the museum curator in the storage area for the artefacts, she blames the state of the storage area on budget cuts. She also states that the crate in which another item was stored, was mislabelled and, that she had therefore only discovered the item a few days prior. She appears to be the sole person working in the department possibly due to the budget cuts she has stated and has a large number of items to catalogue. The sheer number of items shown to be in storage show the fate of many archaeological finds today with many artefacts remaining in storage for long periods of time after discovery and initial study, if study commences at all.

On a whole I believe this piece to show a somewhat accurate depiction of archaeology. It shows that not all archaeologists work in the field and that there is more to archaeology than digging up treasures and, that there are issues faced by those who work in the field of archaeology. I enjoyed it and would recommend this piece to people who like history and science fiction as well as people who like to see fictional archaeologists on film and not blowing up temples.

Gateworld: The Curse - - Last accessed 9 June 2013

Wiki: The Curse - – Last accessed 9 June 2013

National Geographic: Curse of the Mummy - - Last accessed 9 June 2013

Peer 1 → You completed and clearly expressed your response. Very well done.
Peer 2 → Having watched a few episodes of SG-1 in the past I was familiar with it's format and the the origins of some of its ideas in ancient Egypt. I found the piece both interesting and well researched. Although fictional representations of archaeology and archaeologists are often ridiculous you have pointed out that this does not necessarily always occur and that they can sometimes put forward ideas and concepts that are very representative of the truth.
Peer 4 → Good use of an excellent episode from SG1 to illustrate the required topic. Certainly original and clearly expressed. Do you watch the Abydos videos with the same slant as I do? Thanks.

I hope you enjoyed, let me know what you think.

~~Random Logic~~

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Speak Up and Be Brave!

I've been thinking about what I wanted to do for a new post here for the past week or so. 

A few days ago I came across a video for a song by Sara Bareilles. I had heard the song before but thanks to a post she put up on Facebook I saw the official video for the song and I fell in love with the song even more.

The song is called Brave, and the basic message behind the song is to not be afraid of who you are or what you do. Don't let others decide who or what you should be and stand up for what you believe in and your own desires. The video shows this message through a series of clips they rotate through of people dancing in public spaces outrageously without any thought of what others think. It shows people being who they want to be. I think it's a great message. It's a message that I think needs to be told more and more often in today's society. 

It's a message that hits fairly close to home for me.

When I was younger and to a much lesser extent these days I was a very shy and quiet person. I didn't have many friends in primary school. Not so much because I didn't want to have friends, but more because I didn't really know how to connect with most of the people I went to school with. I always felt like an outsider and putting myself in the spotlight was something to be avoided. Not only that, but I was also I guess a bit more of an I guess intellectual child compared to most of my classmates. I spent a lot of my time reading as a child, which is something I am not ashamed of by any means, and I spent many lunch times in the school library both in primary school and high school. 

The problem was not my being ashamed of who I was and what I liked, the problem was other kids making fun of me for those reasons. I was teased for wearing glasses as well as reading and had books snatched from my hands and thrown across the playground on a few occasions as a child. Because of these incidents I ended up with pretty low self esteem. I used to pretend I was sick at school so I could go home because I didn't want to be at school. It was my way of trying to avoid the bullies because the school wasn't doing anything to help with a problem they had been told about.

As I got into high school things changed for me. I went to a high school where there were very few people from my primary school and they were people that I could and did get along with mostly. One of my first moments in high school that I remember was being asked by someone I had known when I was quite young what I was interested in. I told them that I loved Star Wars. The response I got was along the lines of "Star Wars? That's for boys!" She then turned to a random girl behind her and tapped her on the shoulder and asked her "Don't you think Star Wars is for boys?". The response was unexpected by both myself and the girl who asked. "No, actually. I quite like it myself."

I made new friends in high school including the girl who also liked Star Wars, friends who liked to read, who liked science fiction and fantasy and I could talk to them about these things. We shared books and spent as much of our lunchtime in the library as we did out of it. Just from having those friends and being able to talk to them about things I began to truly feel that I wasn't a freak and I wasn't so strange. I began to embrace my "weird". I still got bullied on occasion but I didn't let it get to me as much as previously because I had a support system in my friends with similar interests

At around the same time as this I started to get into online forums and message boards associated with my fandom of Star Wars. It was a very liberating thing because I began to connect with people who had similar interests. Many were around the same age as me due to the resurgence of the series with the prequels. Some of my best friends to this day I made through fan sites.

So when I heard the song for the first time I really felt close to the message of the lyrics. I know what it's like to have words thrown at you so as to belittle you. I know the feelings that you feel when that happens. I know what it feels like when the adults who are meant to be your support system and and guidance don't do anything to stop it or help you. I hate to see bullying.

Most recently as I have mentioned on several occasions I have been working as an au pair. In the first family I worked for the children would often call each other names and I really hated it. One day when it was getting particularly bad I got the three children together- even the four year old, because I think you are never too young to learn not to be a bully. I had them in a circle and I asked each of them what they felt like when someone called them names. I asked each of them what it felt like when their brother or sister called them names and I asked them what they think their brother or sister felt like when they called them names. The response was they they felt horrible and that their brother or sister or anyone else they called names felt horrible too. I told them I knew what it felt like. I was bullied as a kid. It is NOT a nice feeling. After that day I do believe I saw and heard less name calling and teasing between the kids. Maybe I was just imagining it or maybe I really did see less of it. Either way, it is better to try than to let bullying go on.

So I just want to say if you are reading this. Watch the video. Listen to the lyrics and if you have children, work with children or just know children- then share it with them too. It's never too soon to teach children both not to be afraid of bullies, but also that it isn't right to be a bully.

~~Random Logic~~