First Review for Built on Bones!

So, I spent this week doing a lot of things. One of my favorites was freaking about my photoshopped proximity to lifetime hero author Neil ...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Guardian has published the obituary for the inimitable Bill White today. Bill played a major role in my own education and interaction with the bioarchaeology of London, so it was a bit strange to see the life of a man I knew as an institution of the Museum of London laid out with a bit more perspective. While I knew him as the man who rolled his eyes (discreetly, of course) at some of the nonsense that gets put about as science in the world of bioarchaeology, I certainly never knew that he'd gone to school with the Who. I definitely remember his advice about wrapping up in the arctic cold of the (now, off-limits) MoL bone store, but what I never knew, and really wish I had, was that Bill was the product of the UK's now-dying further education system.

Bill had been a successful chemist before he decided to follow his passion into osteoarchaeology. He changed careers and the course of UK bioarchaeology by following the same certificate type programme that my institution is now in danger of dropping completely due to government cutbacks (to be clear, these came in under the last lot--but the situation is certainly Not Improving). There is probably not a single researcher in London bones in the last 25 years who was not at some point gently guided in the right direction by Bill's terribly expressive eyebrows: I know I certainly was. But it really kills me to think that with the short sighted destruction-by-attrition (of staff and of student numbers) of programmes like the post-diploma or certificates in archaeology at Birkbeck, we're preventing an army of enthusiastic, capable people from doing what they love.

I teach at Birkbeck, and I know that the crew there wants desperately to continue providing the sort of opportunities Bill had. What I really don't know is whether it's going to be possible.



Monday, 6 December 2010

 So it looks like our good friends at the Thames Discovery Programme have wowed yet another award-giving body-- they're up for Research Project of the Year from Current Archaeology!

They really go above and beyond in terms of bringing archaeology to the public, particularly to the london public, so why not click through and support them!

Friday, 3 December 2010

  I've just read the new piece over at Middle Savegery on the trouble academics face trying to use collections with stern copyright restrictions. MS flags the inherent contradictions between two opposing forces in research, particularly arch and anth where much of the material is human-centred and just about guaranteed to evoke an emotional response in someone, somewhere. On the one hand, there are archives, collections, museums, and private individuals who are firmly invested in the sole proprietorship of the material they  hold: intellectual property is monetarized to fund its holder. These organizations are also frequently acting to protect individual anonymity by limiting access or reproduction rights. However (and this is the point where we all get a little agitated) all of these limitations seem to fly in the face of our missive to make our work accessible. Humanities don't get funded, grants don't get given, and your own relevance as an educator is questioned if you can't demonstrate an active programme of dissemination of your work.

So what I think MS is asking is: how do we reconcile a world of Wikileaks, a world where probably 80 per cent of our students have never paid for an album of music, a world of mash ups and tribute Youtube videos...with the 'owned' world of copyright images and data protection acts? I honestly don't know. I'd actually like to propose an additional question. How much of the restrictions placed on using research materials are based on the host institution's need to capitalize on its assets, and how much is based on our squishy uncomfortable feelings that we are somehow transgressing against people's desire for privacy, anonymity, or (and this is the one I'm interested in) a peaceful eternal repose?

From personal experience, I find that my idea of what might be proprietary and or subject to some degree of sensitivity consistently falls short of what collection managers expect. I've been asked on a number of occasions to take things down or not to use images or footage; I always comply but there remains a sort of disconnect which prevents me from actually anticipating when I have crossed the line. The UK has much more serious data protection laws in effect than the US, where MS writes. We have a considerable onus to avoid  images of human remains in particular, though this is something I have encountered in every country I've worked in.Who knew that a scrap of unidentifiable human skeletal material that looks a bit like salt-water taffy could infringe copyright in a mobile phone photo? Well, I do.

So, someone, let me know. Why can't the Getty keep it's scans, and why can't I take photos of post medieval skeletons?

Trivia (personal)

archaeologist. dental anthropologist. yes, that's a real thing. Author of Built on Bones, available in February 2017 (UK), May 2017 (USA) from Bloomsbury.

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