Ask an Archaeologist: Kenny Brophy

Prehistories are very pleased to welcome Dr Kenny Brophy, (Urban Prehistorian extraordinaire), to take part in Ask an Archaeologist.


Ask an Archaeologist: Kenny Brophy

me low res

What is your specialism?

An interesting question! Traditionally I suppose I am regarded as a prehistorian, with a special interest in the Neolithic and early Bronze Age of Britain, with particular focus on Scotland. I have worked on ceremonial enclosures and stone rows, but more recently I have become more concerned with settlement and everyday life in the Neolithic. I have also for a long time been interested in landscape and how we experience this as prehistorians, and so earlier in my career I made a lot of use of phenomenology; plus I have dabbled in aerial archaeology and have a long standing interest in cropmarks. But over the past five or six years, my interests have evolved quite significantly – I would say I am now more interested in thinking about how the past impacts on us today and could shape our futures, and less on studying the past for the past’s sake if that makes any sense. I don’t think this has a name, perhaps I’m more of a heritage specialist now than archaeologist with a particular interest in how prehistoric traces appear to us in the contemporary landscape.


Why did you become an archaeologist?

I had no plans to be an archaeologist at all when I was at school, indeed it never crossed my mind. I had a vague idea of being a ‘scientist’, and then perhaps doing something with maps, but no clear plans. At Glasgow University, I was looking for a third subject to do with Geography and Geology, and a friend suggested Archaeology – so I did it and bought his course books cheaply from him. By the end of the first term, I knew I wanted to be an archaeologist, although doing what exactly I still did not decide for a year or two.

Which archaeologist (past or present) would you invite onto an excavation?

Alexander Keiller. I would love to hear his stories about fast cars, kinky sex and marmalade.

Choose one of the following: trowel; museum; archive; library; landscape; laptop.

Landscape is the easy choice for me. As a concept, regardless of how vague or how tricky to define, it captures for me what archaeology is all about. It concerns people and how they move about day to day, and it has a strong temporal dimension. The places that interest us as archaeologists – monuments, buildings, find spots, pits, settlements – are points within the landscape that were meaningful to people once, and still are to us, often for very different reasons. Landscapes can be places of economic transactions, but also be mythical and idealised. These kinds of contrasts fascinate me. Without landscape there would be no archaeology.

auchterarder standing stone

What is your dream find?

For many years now, I have hankered after finding a skull with rubies in the eyes, and a snake coming out of the mouth. I don’t know why.

Time travel, yes or no? (Give reasons)

No. What would it tell us really? All that would happen is that we would observe and record a whole load of other weird stuff that we would struggle to make sense of. The archaeological record is complex enough without another layer of confusion.

If you had to relocate to the past, which era would you move to?

That is tricky. I suppose, bizarrely, it would be the 19th century (AD!), at the birth of archaeology and so many other aspects of the modern world (good and bad). It would be fascinating to see the clash of politics, ideology, science and madness that seems to characterise that period. There was so much wrong, but also so much potential. I am not sure if I could relocate with self-awareness or not, but I hope I would be able to persuade barrow busters to stop busting barrows, and anatomists to stop measuring skulls, and put their minds and money to more useful and ethical pursuits.

Is there a work of art (e.g. novel, painting, music, film, etc) that has influenced you as an archaeologist?

A few writers have been very influential in my career. I have always loved the playful work of Georges Perec, and the English language compilation of some of his work – Species of spaces and other pieces – has informed my views on typology and classification, place and space, and even some of my fieldwork practices. His novel, Life: a user’s manual, is a story of obsession, places and puzzles that embodies deep time, which I love. More recently I have been heavily into the work of psychogeographic authors, such as Iain Sinclair, but more usefully still Peter Ackroyd. His novels Hawksmoor and First Light have, in very different ways, powerfully impacted on the way I conceive of archaeology.First Light front cover

My urban prehistory project is explicitly psychogeographical and the occult time-depth and resonance of place inherent in Hawksmoor (itself based on Sinclair’s Lud Heat) speaks to me more strongly than most archaeological approaches to landscape, place and things. The past awkwardly exists in ruinous and ghostly form in our modern, urban, shiny landscapes – but most archaeologists seem intent on editing out the modern and getting back to the now disappeared and dead past as if the present no longer existed. Ackroyd’s work suggests to me that our romantic notions about the past are not always helpful. In First Light, the investigation of a barrow by a group of archaeologists has traumatic and powerful implications. Maybe, as HP Lovecraft suggests, we should not be tampering with ancient, buried places – at all. And if we do, we had better be prepared for the consequences. I suppose these diverse sources all force me to think anew about archaeology, what it could be, what it could do, and I find these kinds of things very inspiring as well as unsettling.

Gorsadd stones graffiti

What are you working on at the moment?

Lots of things, it surprises me how busy I continue to be. I am involved in a very exciting collaboration with colleagues and PhD students that we have called Cycletree; we consider how landscape heritage can be used to deliver the aspirations of the European Landscape Convention. I am their prehistorian. There are field projects to wrap up – I am working on monographs for two field projects (in Perthshire, and Caithness) and winding down a series of excavations around the village of Dunning. My blog and urban prehistory project is a big part of what I do now, and I am developing various projects with a public-facing aspect such as working with school kids, leading walking tours, low level vandalism, planning community engagement events – plus speaking to non-archaeologists within and behind academia. Lots more too, I like being busy.


Many thanks to Kenny for taking part.

If you don’t already know his excellent blog, you can read it here.

Dr H

Click the links for more Ask an Archaeologist features and the Prehistories Contents page.




Ask an Archaeologist: Neil Wilkin

Prehistories is very pleased to have Dr Neil Wilkin, Curator of Bronze Age Collections at the British Museum, take part in Ask an Archaeologist.

Ask an Archaeologist: Neil Wilkin


What is your specialism?

My specialism is the Bronze Age in North West Europe. My PhD was on Early Bronze Age Food Vessel pottery and burial in Northern England and before that I was involved in a project that looked at Beaker burial in North East Scotland. In the course of working at the British Museum, I’ve become increasingly interested in metalwork deposition and hoarding. I’m also keen to bring together different types of evidence (e.g. ceramics, metalwork, typology and strands of context) that have often been studied in isolation in order to produce more joined-up accounts of the period.

Why did you become an archaeologist?

I was surrounded by archaeology growing up just outside Glasgow. My Dad was keen on buying our house because it was over the Antonine Wall, with a little bit of the foundation layer in the back garden! My primary school was across the road from the Roman baths and my bedroom looked out onto the Roman fort on Castlehill. At University I escaped to prehistory. I was always just as curious about who was beyond the Wall as who built it and Paul Garwood’s lectures and seminars on prehistory really captured my interest.

Which archaeologist (past or present) would you invite onto an excavation?

J.R. Mortimer (1825-1911). He excavated an impressive number of Early Bronze Age barrows near his home on the Yorkshire Wolds, many of them containing Food Vessel burials. By the standards of the day he was a good excavator, having a better grasp of recording and stratigraphy than many of his contemporaries. He was clearly passionate about archaeology from a young age and sacrificed a great deal in pursuing it. In a very good biography, Stephen Harrison makes a case that ‘had Mortimer lived and worked on the chalkland of southern England…he would have been celebrated today as the founding father of modern British archaeology’ (2011, 2), I think he’s certainly up there and deserves wider recognition. It would be good to tell him that.

2. Mortimer cover
Choose one of the following: trowel; museum; archive; library;
landscape; laptop.

I would have to say ‘museum’! But with the MicroPasts project, a collaboration between the British Museum and the Institute of Archaeology (UCL) underpinned by public participation (see, we’re trying to show that Museum objects, archives and computers (specifically 3D models) can be brought together in useful and productive ways. This has involved digitising and transcribing the National Bronze Age Index, a large, traditional
card-based archive and making models of Bronze Age tools and weapons using structure from motion photogrammetry. It feels like the past and future of museum object recording can be brought together.

3. MicroPasts
What is your dream find?

The most iconic objects in museums tend to be those without parallel, with ‘the’ before their names (the Nebra sky disc, the Folkton drums and the Mold Gold Cape), and that’s both a blessing and curse. I’d like to find a close parallel for something we previously thought was unique and which we have many questions about, something deserving of
‘the’ in the title! The comparison and context would hopefully deepen our understanding without stealing the original object’s intrigue. Perhaps another cape of gold?
4. Mold Gold Cape

Time travel, yes or no? (Give reasons)

No, thank you. I had a quite heated debate about this question on a dig in Shetland and I think its quite a telling one…

I enjoy the difficulty of the task and the lack of certainty in studying prehistory, I think the process constantly humbles us and that that’s an important part of its value as a discipline.

If you had to relocate to the past, which era would you move to?

Naturally the Bronze Age, especially the early Beaker period (c.2400 BC), with the new ideas, technologies and people shaking up the old world order, but perhaps that’s a bit predictable? I’d like to see Victorian Scotland and specifically Glasgow during the lead up to the International Exhibition of 1901, which established the Kelvingrove
Art Gallery and Museum. Glasgow has lots of beautiful buildings and monuments from this period and from the Georgian era, but they’re often overlooked, even by its inhabitants. Alasdair Gray’s observations in ‘Lanark’ (1981) captures the tension:

“Glasgow is a magnificent city…Why do we hardly ever notice that?…Because nobody imagines living here…think of Florence, Paris, London, New York. Nobody visiting them for the first time is a stranger because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history books and films.  But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively…when our imagination needs exercise we use these to visit London, Paris, Rome under the Caesars, the American West at the turn of the century, anywhere but here and now. Imaginatively Glasgow exists as a music-hall song and a few bad novels. That’s all we’ve given to the world outside. It’s all we’ve given to ourselves.”

Is there a work of art (e.g. novel, painting, music, film, etc) that has influenced you as an archaeologist?

Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel ‘Sunset Song’, for the tensions and balance between land and soil on one hand and ideas and education on the other. I also think some of the aspects of the farming lifestyle that are lamented as passing away (as agricultural machinery was introduced) would have been recognised by Bronze Age communities in North East Scotland, so it relates a really epochal moment. It also captures the conflict between fieldwork and academic writing that archaeologists experience.

“So that was Chris and her reading and schooling, two Chrisses there were that fought for her heart and tormented her. You hated the land and the coarse speak of the folk and learning was brave and fine one day; and the next you’d waken with the peewits crying across the hills, deep and deep, crying in the heart of you and the smell of earth in your face, almost you’d cry for that, the beauty of it and the sweetness of the Scottish land and skies.” (Grassic Gibbon 1932)

When I recently revisited Cyril Fox’s seminal archaeological work, ‘The Personality of Britain’, I realised the two books were published in the same year (1932), and while they differ in important ways, they also convey some similar themes and beliefs about the relationships between land and people.

What are you working on at the moment?

In addition to the MicroPasts project mentioned before, I’m working on publishing the PhD thesis on Northern English Early Bronze Age Food Vessel burials. I’m also working towards an integrated study of Bronze Age metalwork deposition and hoards. The Treasure Act component of my job also means that, come Monday, I could be working on a new hoard that’s recently been found and that inevitably takes me off in new and unexpected directions…

5. Hoard


Many thanks to Neil for taking part!

Make sure you check out the MicroPasts website.

Click on the link to read other Ask an Archaeologist features.

Dr H

Ask an Archaeologist: Emilie Sibbesson

Prehistories caught up with Emilie Sibbesson, Lecturer in Archaeology at Canterbury Christ Church University.


Ask an Archaeologist: Emilie Sibbesson

Emilie Avebury

What is your specialism?

I’m a prehistorian, trained in ceramic analysis, and interested in food remains and food technologies.

 Emilie's mug

My mug at the 2012 An Doirlinn dig


Why did you become an archaeologist?

Who knows! My dad is interested in history and when we visited a historic site, he’d say ‘imagine what it would have been like…’. I think he said it more to himself than to us, but it must have sparked something. I also read a lot of historical fiction as a teenager – Swedish authors like Olov Svedelid, Vibeke Olsson, and Jan Fridegård. I’m still more interested in the human scale than the grand narratives.

Emilie Books

At university, I had intended to focus on Classical studies but then I was exposed to prehistory and that was that. I stayed in archaeology after the degree because it is so diverse. It’s got a bad reputation as a narrow subject, but it isn’t. I love that I can combine elements of, for example, chemistry, philosophy, and politics almost daily in my research and teaching.


Which archaeologist (past or present) would you invite onto an excavation?

I have a soft spot for Gordon Childe, so I’d invite him. We’d have tea and biscuits and he’d tell us about the Skara Brae dig. I’d put Indiana Jones to work on finds washing and flotation. I’d have pints with Sally Binford in the evenings.

 File:Gordon Childe.jpg

Choose one of the following: trowel; museum; archive; library; landscape; laptop.

I’d have them all, but if I must choose I’d say museum because there is interpretive mileage in the material gathering dust in museum stores.


What is your dream find?

Pottery on securely dated Mesolithic site in Britain would be brilliant, or an Early Neolithic site with the same level of organic preservation as at Must Farm in Cambridgeshire – the bowl with in situ nettle stew and wooden utensils from that site were fantastic.


Time travel, yes or no? (Give reasons)

Absolutely! But it shouldn’t be involuntary and arbitrary like in Slaughterhouse 5. I’d go to the early 4th millennium BC and write an eye-witness account of the Neolithic transition, although I wouldn’t want to prepare the risk assessment.


If you had to relocate to the past, which era would you move to?

Victorian England perhaps, if I could be a woman of independent means. I’d love to have seen the Great Exhibition in Crystal Palace in 1851. Food-wise, I’d find it hard to stomach certain Roman or Renaissance ‘delicacies’, but the Iron Age seems tasty. Beer, bread, meat, and herbs – I could live with that.

 File:Crystal Palace.PNG

Is there a work of art (e.g. novel, painting, music, film, etc) that has influenced you as an archaeologist?

Bach’s St Matthew Passion helped me finish my thesis, although I’d call that first aid rather than influence. Also, the opposite is true: being an archaeologist influences the way I look at a painting or craft item. I have been archaeologically conditioned into seeing the choices and stages of the manufacturing process, which is as fascinating as the finished product, if not more so.


What are you working on at the moment?

I am working on bringing food studies and archaeology closer together. Food is an excellent vehicle for historical understanding, both as something that shapes and changes society and on the smaller, experiential scale. Teaching is also taking up a lot of my time at the moment. Why pretend that it doesn’t? I’m developing a theory course this year – it’s hard work but it has reminded me that I love theory. I wouldn’t be an archaeologist today if I couldn’t do theory.



Thanks Emilie!

You can read more Ask an Archaeologist features here…

Ask an Archaeologist: Katy Whitaker

One of the archaeology blogs I enjoy reading is Artefactual, which focuses on the making and recreation of archaeological artefacts.

I was really pleased to track down the site’s author, Katy Whitaker, and have her take part in Ask an Archaeologist. The interview is illustrated by Katy’s replica artefacts.


Ask an Archaeologist: Katy Whitaker

antler die 201406_#01

Antler die after Frocester Court Roman villa

What is your specialism?

My specialism is aerial photography.   I work with England’s national collections of some 4 million air photos, which are part of English Heritage Archives, cataloguing and researching images.

Most recently I’ve been working on the Aerofilms Collection through the Britain from Above project.   The Aerofilms Collection is really important for understanding different landscapes, because unusually it includes extensive air photo coverage from the inter-War years, and because of its predominantly urban and industrial subjects.

However, I also make replicas of artefacts for display and education purposes, and teach experimental archaeology.   Ancient technology is a fascinating and really hands-on way for people to get involved in the past.   I’ve always wanted to know how things were done – its part of understanding why people did what they did.   If I’m not in the archive or library, I’ll be in my workshop!

rib 2013_04_#03

Bone practice piece, Upper Palaeolithic, horse head on a rib (after Courbet Cave, but not a copy)

Why did you become an archaeologist?

Now you ask the question, I realise I’ve never really asked myself!   When I was at school, thinking about University, it seemed entirely natural to look at the archaeology courses on offer.   As we couldn’t study archaeology at school (no A-Level in it those days) I would have to do it at University.

With hindsight, I realise that I was drawn to archaeology by my intellectual interest in and emotional response to places and to things, inhabited, made, and used by people in the past.   I loved visiting sites and museums, and after I worked on my first excavation, aged 18, I wanted to learn more.

Which archaeologist (past or present) would you invite onto an excavation?

Dorothy Garrod (1892-1968).   I would invite her for two reasons.   First, her undoubted fieldwork skills.   Having cut her teeth in France, she led the excavations of a series of very important Palaeolithic sites in Europe and the Near East.   Secondly, and actually this is most important, I would want to learn from her exceptional abilities to run a team in the field, bearing up with difficulties and indignities, and inspiring those around her.   In contemporary letters, and in later interviews with Dr Pamela Jane Smith who has researched Garrod’s career, members of her crew often comment on Garrod’s self-assurance, sense of humour, and courage.  She has a reputation as a talented, determined, committed fieldworker; working collaboratively with her team members, developing them and placing trust in them.

Choose one of the following: trowel; museum; archive; library; landscape; laptop.

Archive.   It’s all well and good excavating; if you then accession the artefacts in a museum; and publish something with your descriptions and interpretations; and people can wander the landscape in which a site sits; or trawl the internet to find out what they can about a site from the comfort of an armchair.   But the archive is what enables people to see and understand what you actually did during your fieldwork.   The archive is what makes it possible to reinterpret a site, to ask different questions or apply new techniques.

hammerstone 201406_#02

Sarsen hammerstone;

This is a work in progress, I’m using it in a long-term pre-experiment, so at the moment it doesn’t look like the hammerstones on display in Devizes and Salisbury, but it will do when the work is done

What is your dream find?

My answer changes from day to day!   Right now my dream find is a hafted prehistoric scraper from a European context.   Scrapers are probably the most common knapped flint tool in much of prehistory, but we only ever get the stone bit, never the handle (if there was one).    We can think of a range of tasks that scrapers could have been used for – and use methods like use-wear analysis to study them – but our analogies for hafting come from very different places around the world.   There are really good ethnographic examples of scrapers in handles, but because these are from countries like Ethiopia and Canada with very different histories, environments and social contexts, they don’t necessarily make good analogies for the European archaeological assemblage.   So there is something really very basic, about a prolific archaeological artefact which you could easily collect when field-walking most places in Britain, that we simply don’t know about.

scrapers 201406_#21

Hafted scraper

Time travel, yes or no?

No.   It would be too weird for words.   Of course I want to know what life was like in the past, just like physicists want to unpick the Big Bang – but I am embedded in the Western cultural and scientific idiom in which time’s arrow flies in one direction.

If you had to relocate to the past, which era would you move to?

I would live in a medieval hall house and run the dairy; visit a medieval church with its un-Victorianised fixtures, fittings and open nave free of furniture; see a medieval cathedral being built.


Tesserae in Totternhoe stone

Is there a work of art (e.g. novel, painting, music, film, etc) that has influenced you as an archaeologist?

Not one thing, no.   However, the work of artists like John Piper, Eric Ravilious and Heather and Robin Tanner suggest creative ways in which insights into the past can be made.   I’ve recently been enjoying Stonework by Mark Edmonds and Rose Ferraby and The Fork’s Tale by Alana Jelinek, both of which are “a different way of telling”.   Edmonds describes Stonework, a book about Neolithic quarrying and axe making in the Langdale Fells, as an experiment working towards “a more appropriate truth to materials”.   In The Fork’s Tale, Jelinek gives a voice to an object in a museum in order to explore the relationship between collections, collectors and collected things; and in doing so questions how we know what we think we know about the past.

elder cannibal fork 201404_#04

A cannibal fork; my interpretation, not a copy

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a replica of the Kingsteignton Idol.   This is an Iron Age figure carved from oak, found in the mid-nineteenth century in Devon.   It was dug out of the bank of the River Teign by workmen from a local clayworks, along with other wooden items preserved in the anaerobic conditions.   You can see it in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter.   There is a small group of prehistoric wooden figures from Britain and Ireland, but they date from the Neolithic to the middle Iron Age so it’s hard to say if they were made for similar reasons or used in similar ways.

The Idol doesn’t have arms, but there is a hole through the neck above the position of the shoulders.   Other figures appear to have arms, like the ones from Roos Carr which have peg arms fixed in holes drilled in the body, and the Ballachulish figure on which the arms and hands are carved in relief on the body.   I have decided to make sets of arms for the Idol, enabling different forms or poses to be made.   This has the potential to lead to different interpretations being reached and different experiences being had by people who then handle and play with the (replica) Idol.

However, I have to carve the figure first.   To borrow a concept from lithics analysis, the chaîne opératoire begins with procuring the wood.   Selecting the right piece of oak has already presented me with some problems to overcome.   The Idol was carved from a section of roundwood and Bryony Coles suggests in her paper about prehistoric carved figures that the wood was unseasoned.  Unseasoned roundwood is very susceptible to cracking.

frullini 201406_#02

Frullini; Bronze Age beaters, Lake Fiave (for food preparation)



Thanks Katy! Please go and check out her excellent blog.

Dr H

Ask an Archaeologist: Gabriel Moshenska

Gabriel MoshenskaLecturer in Public Archaeology at UCL Institute of Archaeology has kindly agreed to take part in Ask an Archaeologist

Me digging air raid shelter

What is your specialism?

I have several different areas of specialism, which is a bit exhausting.  Firstly I work on the archaeology of modern conflicts, in particular Home Fronts and the civilian experience of war.  I’ve dug up and surveyed quite a lot of air raid shelters, and that’s a lot of fun.  Secondly, I’m working more and more on the history of archaeology, in particular popular archaeology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Amongst other things I’m writing a biography of Thomas Pettigrew, a Victorian antiquarian who used to unroll Egyptian mummies in public.  Finally, I work a lot in community archaeology and I study and teach public archaeology in general, including looking at the public understanding of archaeology and techniques for communicating archaeological research.

Why did you become an archaeologist?          

Originally I wanted to be an aeronautic engineer, but I joined the Brighton and Hove Archaeological Society when I was in college and had too much fun digging with them.  Then I decided to study archaeology at university, dug in fun places, and met loads of lovely and brilliant people.  I’ve dug abroad a couple of times but it’s British archaeology that gets me most excited, even at the low points like when I’m mattocking clay in the rain.

Which archaeologist (past or present) would you invite onto an excavation?

It would have to be the Wheelers – Tessa and Rik – and really I’d like them to invite me onto one of their excavations which they ran as a team, preferably at Maiden Castle in Dorset in the mid-1930s.  Tessa was a brilliant fieldworker and teacher and I’d love to have a chance to work under her guidance, and of course it would be rather fun (also a bit scary) to meet Rik, although being neither young nor female I doubt he’d have much interest in me.

Choose one of the following: trowel, archive, library, laptop.

Archive, definitely.  I’ve spent a lot of time in archives while I’ve been researching the history of archaeology, and some of the things that I’ve found have been just extraordinary, enough to give me those shiver-down-the-spin moments of total excitement.  Mostly it’s just letters and bills, boring everyday stuff, but every so often there’s a note or a letter that gives you a really penetrating insight into the people and the times they lived in.  Sometimes it’s a comment or a complaint, a bit of gossip or an insight into somebody’s world-view.  Other times its something personal, like (possibly my favourite archive find) a letter in which a very famous Egyptologist rather plaintively asks for advice on an embarrassing and painful STD.  Archives are the best.

File:Ray Flying Legends 2005-1.jpg

What is your dream find?

Even though I didn’t become an engineer I still have a lot of love for old aeroplanes.  My dream find would be the (sadly mythical) crates of Spitfire fighter planes that some archaeologists went looking for in Burma some time ago.  There’s hundreds of myths around the world, including plenty in the UK, of huge secret burial places full of old WW2 aircraft, tanks, jeeps and other stuff, just waiting to be dug up and driven or flown home.  Of course 99% of the time its total bollocks.  Still, I’d like there to be just one Spitfire waiting for me out there, nicely preserved in its crate, so that I could have the excitement of finding it and then the enduring fun of owning a whacking great fighter plane.

Time travel, yes or no? (Give reasons)

No.  One of the best things about archaeology for me is the moment when you’ve studied a landscape or parts of a landscape long enough that you can see its development in your mind’s eye, and vividly imagine it changing over time into its present form.  The archaeological imagination is a wonderful thing and I wouldn’t want to give that up, even for the answers to a whole load of big questions.  Also, I’d probably step on a beetle or something and change the entire course of human history in some horrible and unpredictable way.

Image of Perthi Duon in 1802, sketched by the Rev. John Skinner

Sketch by Rev John Skinner (1772–1839)

If you had to relocate to the past, which era would you move to?

I think I’d make a rather good eccentric antiquarian vicar in early Victorian England.  I’d dig barrows, record local folklore, collect artefacts that farmers dug up, and write long dreary books with engraved illustrations.  I’d cultivate an interest in some kind of exotic antiquities like Indus seals or Assyrian tablets, and spend all my money in auction houses and in sponsoring expeditions.  In my spare time I’d write ghost stories.  The actual vicaring would be a bit of a chore but not too bad.*

*N.B Dr A has often expressed a similar wish. The idea of a REF and admin-free lifestyle dominated by research in a comfortable vicarage is probably at the root of this daydream.

Is there a work of art (e.g. novel, painting, music, film, etc) that has influenced you as an archaeologist?

Sussex is where I did my first digs over several years, and the Sussex landscape and its history are still great loves of mine.  I read Kipling’s Puck stories when I was quite young (Puck of Pook’s Hill and Rewards and Fairies), and they did a brilliant job of painting time depth and the human stories of the past into the Sussex countryside.  My favourite visual reminders of the beauty and depth of this landscape are some of Eric Ravilious’s paintings, which capture the colours and contours of the Downs just perfectly.

What are you working on at the moment?

As usual, far too many things.  I’m recently started drawing comics about archaeology and the history of archaeology, and I’ve got two in the planning/sketching stages at the moment.  I’m also trying to raise funds for an oral history project, which is slow going.  I’ve got several book projects on the go on public archaeology and conflict archaeology, all of which are swallowing up too much of my time, and also two long articles on the history of archaeological science that I’m revising for publication.  On top of all that I’m hoping to spend at least ten weeks digging over the summer on a bunch of different sites.  My work life is stressful and exhausting but never boring, and I like it that way.


Thanks Gabriel!

Gabriel’s excellent comics about archaeology can be seen here and here.

Read more Ask an Archaeologist features here.