I have just returned (well a few hours ago) from a weekend in the big city, attending an archaeological conference with Dawn and lots of people I don’t know. It was called Archaeology 2010 and was at the British Museum, downstairs in the lecture halls. Ignoring the less than diverting discussion on coin moulds, it was a great weekend. Most notable was the lack of muddy poodle paws. Though we did have plenty of rain.
My main reason for going to the conference (apart from a great love of archaeology) was to hear a few of the speakers. Most notably Mary Beard (Professor of Classics from Cambridge and one of the 100 most influential woman in Britain), Chris Stringer (the foremost expert in evolution in the world) and Brian Fagan (Professor of Anthropology, University of California and the author of a few ancient climate books, most notably The Little Ice Age, which I recommend). Each of them was brilliant. Prof Fagan was particularly entertaining. But there was so much more than these three.
In fact I think it will be a long time before I forget the sight of Prof Fagan listening to a long involved question from Dr Julian Richards and then striding over to him, explaining he was going deaf and bending down to him in the front row, asking him to repeat the question.
I’d never heard of Sam Moorhead and David Stuttard. They have just published (like, so new, it’s not actually for sale yet, except at the conference where the copy I bought still had wet ink) a book called AD410: The year that shook Rome. It’s about the sack of Rome. So far (I’ve read one page) it’s very good. They spoke on Saturday and were very engaging.
They were followed by ex-Monty Python star, Terry Jones with his (now old) presentation about Barbarians. It was also a BBC series. While very entertaining, it was irritatingly unscientific and, therefore, annoying. So what if the Romans called anyone who didn’t speak Latin a barbarian? The word originally meant foreigner! Anyway, the previous talk by Moorhead and Stuttard was streets ahead and far more interesting.
Along with Chris Stringer, another chap spoke on Sunday morning. His name is Clive Gamble and he is a professor at the Centre for Quaternary Research at Royal Holloway. His talk was also on Out of Africa but in greater detail. He had a wonderful anecdote about his visit to an Australian palaeolithic site two days north of Alice Springs. He told the story of his first trip there.
He was sitting in the Landrover, next to the dig director. They had already been driving for a day and a half, through the wonderful red centre, scrub and desert all around, and he was wondering where the dig actually was. He asked the director who said he was looking for something. When asked what this was, he replied, completely straight faced, “a filing cabinet.” Clive digested this without any sign of alarm.
Suddenly there it was! On the side of the road. A filing cabinet. The dig director quickly relaxed and said, “we take the next right“. They left one track for another and sped off into the bush once more. Half a day later, they arrived at the site. The audience thought this was hilarious. I just sat back and thought, ‘yeah, that’s Australia‘.
Frances McIntosh from the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) was another person I’d never heard of. She is writing her PhD on a particular type of Roman brooch. Her presentation sounds like it would be dire but, in fact, she made it very interesting. She was followed by a guy who’s been working on improving the online searchable database for the PAS. The new site looks fantastic and I am going to use it for my dissertation.
All round, a fantastic weekend. And Dawn agrees wholeheartedly.
Spending the night at the flat was interesting and not a little odd. But at least I didn’t have to get up too early on Sunday morning.
Below is a photo of lecture hall #2 just after Chris Stringer’s talk on the Out of Africa proposal. I should add that it was packed and this is between lectures!