The week before Christmas is the time for the annual Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) meeting. This year we left it to the week before to actually decide which one of us will go to Southampton. In the end, I headed there, since I did not have any holidays left to cover the childcare and I thought that the conference and the DigiTAG 2 session there would be a good vehicle for the Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) live tweeting session. After all, the DigiTAG sessions are organised in collaboration between the CAA and TAG and the first session took place in Oslo in April. This time the session was all about storytelling, ran this time as previously by James Taylor and Cara Jones, but also of the more serious business of knowledge creation.
Due to the need to be the whole day in the same session in the middle day of the conference and my interest in the Archaeology is a political matter session, I ended up hearing practically none of the random papers about the less known archaeological areas or regions that are the main feature in my usual TAG experience. There would have been a very interesting session on Following things in motion with everything from the sarsen stones from Stonehenge to how to be an Egyptian mummy in Victorian Britain as well as copper and colonialism together with druids, if all the papers took place as intended. There were the usual cancellations and overlapping papers, which meant that I could not hear the Tintagel Castle paper that was moved to a time I had to take my train.
Even if I could not hear everything, it was a TAG that gave a lot to think about. It was also an event to celebrate the 50 years of the Southampton department. This celebration took the format of a Personal Histories debate with all the big names in the panel, including Lord Colin Renfrew, Tim Champion, Mike Parker Pearson and Simon Keay. Since the admired pottery specialist David Peacock had recently died, the discussion was very polite and sober. The most colourful piece of information was Tim Champion’s acknowledgement that the Class of 1979 with Mike Parker Pearson and Tim Darvill, both in the panel, was the most competitive of all. The discussion was also guided by a PowerPoint presentation, prepared by Joshua Pollard and Andrew Jones, the organisers of the debate.
Before the debate there was Rosemary Joyce’s keynote Antiquity lecture that was given on a subject not expected by the organisers. Much of the conference was about art and visualisations – there was a Sightations art exhibition with the sessions attached as well – they had hoped to get a lecture on figurines. Instead, we all heard about nuclear landscapes. This sounded very familiar, since Cornelius Holtorf has a project on nuclear waste deposition, but Joyce’s paper gave a unique insight to the concepts behind the suggested deposition sites in America. It was all about how to make universally conveyed a message that these sites are beyond touching. It was interesting to know that archaeological sites had been used as examples of long-term preservations and the winning concept included a rectangular ‘Stonehenge’. After this double event, I and our friend Mark headed to get our complimentary glass of wine in the reception, sponsored by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA).Historic England.
The next day I just marginally missed hearing a paper about Brexit. Nevertheless, the first paper I heard by Marjolijn Kok discussed openly the matter of hidden political acts in commercial contract archaeology. She was talking about Holland, but similar issues are faced anywhere where the commercial market has been embraced. The developers do not exactly want the archaeological service but take the lowest bidder and the existing theoretical environment means that the theoretical in archaeological is seen only to happen in the interpretation phase, not in the formulation of the methods and data collection. These issues and other stuff led her to leave her job – but not archaeology. Now she has been involved in contemporary archaeology in recording an Occupy camp in Rotterdam. The presentation can be looked for in academia.edu.
Other highlights of the session included the discussion on public value in archaeology by Rob Lennox and the description of the experience of running the Local Heritage Engagement Network by Lorna Richardson and Rob Lennox. I know, they were the organisers of the session, but they had a lot to say. So much so that Rob’s carefully thought graphs had to be photographed in order to be appreciated later. The LHEN showed that while some campaigns did fine work, even if too late in the process, many volunteers are reluctant to act. This is partly to do with the fact that that is not why they are doing archaeology and do not see themselves as campaigners. However, local planning can be influenced only at the local level unless the policies change…
So, next year, it will be Cardiff and hubby’s turn to experience TAG and see the people we go for curry in TAG.