Ask an Archaeologist
What is your specialism?
Death and burial, monuments and memory, the Early Middle Ages and the contemporary past.
Why did you become an archaeologist?
I was interested in it and I thought I might enjoy it. Sometimes I believe it was a good idea.
Which archaeologist (past or present) would you invite onto an excavation?
This question presumes that having someone one admires and/or respects actually turning up in the middle of an excavation is a positive thing. My experience of this has been largely negative on a variety of levels. They can screw up the routine, screw up the sections and introduce dangerous thinking. At least Swedes bring cake with them and are courteous. Still, if I were to have someone turn up on my excavations from the past, I think it would be the antiquarians or early archaeologists who rifled the site before I got there so I could give them a good kicking.
Choose one of the following: trowel; museum; archive; library; landscape; laptop.
I chose none of these. I chose something else. In fact I chose two something elses:
1) I chose office! I have just moved office from one corridor to another corridor of the same building. Why do you ask? It is the same size, same window, same furniture and I have arranged it in the same way. It is so that I can give over my old office to a new colleague so that he can be at the hub of the department. I get to be in the office next to our Visiting Professor Stewart Ainsworth – Professor Landscape himself! I love my office. It allows me to work in peace, I have dual screens, I can access my books and I can think. I also get to escape the intolerable whistling of a colleague who insists on keeping his door open.
2) I chose crematorium! Forget messy ‘real’ landscapes. Who really cares about moorland full of stone circles and fields packed with weary ridge and furrow. All of them give my the shivers. And contemporary archaeologists pretending to be interested in housing estates and industrial wastelands. Boring! Even old burial mounds and burial grounds bore me. Yawny yawny yawn-yawn. The best kind of landscape is the gardens of remembrance around crematoria. They are regularly mown, have rose-beds, bushes, trees, water features and lots of lovely, lovely memorials, all set in a tumultuous sea of evolving memorialisation including sculpture, memorial plaques, benches, memorial walls and all sorts of other stuff. At the centre-piece, a gas-fired human-body processing plant with various insensitive attempts at architectural sensitivity and a ready drive-through circulatory system for traffic. Can’t beat it. They are always near service stations and main roads. And not just crematoria. Municipal cemeteries are great too.
What is your dream find?
An evil Pandora’s Box/Megatron that I can set to destruction mode to punish University administrators, insolent funding bodies who have no idea how great I am and idiotic referees who refuse to bow down to my genius.
Time travel, yes or no? (Give reasons)
God no! Because (a) it would ruin all the fun, (b) I expect people in the past were really dull if met face-to-face and are far more interesting if seen from a distance (and they smell better from a distance too), and (c) time travel is dominated by Doctor Who, and no matter how much of a fan of the series you might be, you have to admit that he has turned into a complete and utter male-nipple.
If you had to relocate to the past, which era would you move to?
I would move the Roman period, walk only in straight lines, wear sandals and a toga, talk only Latin and eat only when lying down. This would be to irritate all those Romanists fascinated by creolisation. None for me matey! Roman 100% I would even try to order pizza in a small native settlement in North Wales. Very much like trying to have a meal out in a modern tourist hotspot in the region today. They probably didn’t take credit cards then either and the dirty looks would be the same.
Is there a work of art (e.g. novel, painting, music, film, etc) that has influenced you as an archaeologist?
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently editing a book on early medieval stone sculpture, another book on cremation in archaeology and a third book on mortuary archaeology in contemporary society. I am also editing vols. 170 and 171 of the Royal Archaeological Institue’s Archaeological Journal, both due out in 2014. I am also working on revising a manuscript submitted to the journal Archaeological Dialogues as soon as I can work out what on earth the anonymous referees are talking about. When all this is done, I am getting cracking with my Past in its Place project collaborating with literary scholars, historians and geographers.
You can check out Howard’s blog here