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, 14 March 2017

As part of the long process of thinking about the book (especially now that people are reading it, and asking awkward questions like 'wait how do the genetics of pig domestication work again?') I've been doing some additional writing. This was a longer piece for Guardian Cities that I really enjoyed thinking about; I've now decided Annie Besant is one of my personal heroes.

She's been arrested* for everything you ought to be arrested for as a Victorian lady - feminism, reproductive rights, atheism, and anti-colonialism.  Besant was a rather prolific writer who turned her talent into a crusaders' sword -- she wrote passionately about injustice, and had a special feeling for those women who felt the hand of opprobrious society most heavily. In 1888, she wrote about a kind of 'white slavery' in London's East End, starting off a torrent of accusation and retribution by match moguls that resulted in the London Matchgirls strike and, eventually contributing to the banning of toxic white phosphorous that caused 'phossy jaw'.

I thought it an apropos kind of hero for Women's History Month, given the TrowelBlazers beacon I sent up in the sky (ok, Guardian) calling for a return to activism for International Women's Day.

So, as the furore and excitement of IWD settles back down, I hope everyone has a chance to trawl through the pages of history and find their Annie. And then gets up and does something about it :)

*ok, not always arrested as such. But usually arrested.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Properly pleased to see such a stellar review in that rather august instrument, The Times (register for free access), for Built on Bones! Tom Whipple has masterfully identified key draws of the book, primarily chattiness and Alan Rickman references. 

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Ok, yes, there was a long hiatus. This has a lot to do with the number of countries I have seen fit to wander through in 2016 (special shout out to the elderly Peugeot convertible for making it around the UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg--finally!--Germany, Austria, Spain, and Italy this summer). This also has to do with the fact that I have been writing a lot -- there was a book, which I may have unobtrusively mentioned, but also some very fun pieces while wearing my other hat as part of Team TrowelBlazers.  I am very fond of this piece in February's History Today, so if you have a chance take a look.

There are jokes about how awful the poetry in 'Girl's Own' magazines of the Victorian era is; if you want to see how I managed to shoehorn that into a story about heroines of the digging sciences, you'll have to read the damn thing ;)

As we ramped up to the Raising Horizons launch (more on which over at TrowelBlazers) we've had a great run of pieces celebrating women in science then and now -- check out Becky Wragg Sykes' piece for Current Archaeology now on newstands, or our joint effort in the Guardian.

Suzie and a decent amount of champagne help us keep up with the latest TrowelBlazing news.

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 Gaiman and actual cool writer Elif Şafak.

For information: generally, archaeological book reviews are TERRIFYING. People with PhDs in very obscure and nuanced aspects of the past read something you've written, agree with 90% of it, but spend three pages telling you off for misunderstanding the fundamental holistic interconnectedness of the Pre-Pottery Neolithic. Or something-- the ruthlessness is all part of the fun. So imagine my surprise when I got my first book review in Reader's Digest... and it was nice.

Obviously, feel free to buy my book and disagree rabidly with whatever per cent of it makes you happiest.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Slowly, slowly, this blog is creaking back to life; mostly so I have a forum to explain myself when the book eventually comes out (Feb 23, UK / May 7 USA). But there are some amazing things going on in the world of the past that don't involve me digging up skeletons: the Raising Horizons project from TrowelBlazers!

We're in the middle of our first fundraising phase, so talking to all the media about all of the TrowelBlazing, including this article in the Guardian.

There is still time to get in the amazing perks, raffle prizes, and POTENTIAL STICKERS that come with supporting our effort to reset imaginations and inspire future TrowelBlazers! Check out our IndieGoGo campaign, and help some future scientist See It, Be It.

RAISING HORIZONS from Wire Frame Media UK on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

So, after an INTENSELY LONG HIATUS due to work constraints, I thought I'd put a quick piece up on the Pokemon Go phenomenon, mostly because any widescale human trend is super interesting, but also because I have a residual interest in Augmented Reality that is probably Neal Stephenson's fault. This is largely brought on by a terrific article in Forbes featuring Andrew Reinhard of #archaeogaming fame posted in the Women's Digital Archaeology Network by Lorna Richardson.

(here is a video of people in New York freaking out over a rare Pokemon)

The article mostly lays out past attempts at engaging people with heritage, a lot of which was pretty groundbreaking considering Pokemon Go is just about the first popular AR game and it's taken 10+ years to even get that far. Particular shout outs to Stu Eve and his projects over at Dead Men's Eyes are necessary -- if you can smell the Pokemon in the next release, you'll have innovators like Stu to thank. Or not. I'm not really sure how a Pokemon smells. Hamster-y? ANYWAY.  Andrew drew my attention to the whole thing (baffling instagram shots eventually explained by mass hysteria in the press), which he's now written up here, as well as the Forbes article, following on encountering this well thought out post on why Pokemon is the anti-heritage (and not even really AR) by Stu and a bit of ri-post-e (sorry) by Colleen Morgan playing Pokemon's advocate.

So, generally, I've been thinking about this a lot, particularly in the context of why previous efforts didn't take off -- and of course there's no guarantee that this is the dawning of a brave new age, as Stu points out. I suspect a combination of the increasing social acceptability of staring into your phone all the time (remember the etiquette of 2006? no, no one else does either) and the wide-world approach explains quite a bit of the mass appeal, with a little side dish of nostalgia. It occurs to me that site-limited stuff never seemed to do much.
I find all of this really interesting in terms of implications for AR engagement with bioarchaeology and palaeoanthropology; my stuff was always balancing neanderthal heads or spotting skeletons; maybe Pokemon GO shows us this just isn't the way most people want to interact with their heritage? Maybe the value-added of Pokemon GO is in the searching out the unexpected, and seeing an Eevee at Stonehenge prompts the same delight as seeing Dali's Lobster Telephone.
Proof that humans (read:me) find surrealism HILARIOUS

Meanwhile maybe the AR designed for a specific site lacks that sense of discovery, or interaction patterns are rather too close to an audioguide tour to hold our attention? Kate Ellenberger has designed a bespoke archaeology Pokemon GO event in Binghamton NY that seems to indicate that the combination works well, and that kind of tour guide experience might overcome Andrew's initial concerns about lack of content, so I'm not sure if that's really true, given the technical skills and general wit of the Hertiage AR crowd -- but maybe it's something to think about. Maybe when the Facebook of AR becomes a reality, and we are all capable of adding social or gaming layers to community space, the reasonable criticism Stu presents about the lack of information and lack of interaction provided by a game like Pokemon Go can be overcome. And the privileged subset of the world that always has its phone out finds static cartoon chicken-foxes more interesting than archaeological heritage can be gamed into submission.

Apologies if I left a lot of amazing AR projects out of this post, I am super not supposed to be using my daily word count on this. No one tell my editor. ;)

NB EDITED 28 Jul 2016 to update w reference to Kate's project and fix some typos.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Mostly, I thought I ought to put this up as a tribute to the late Bill White, who was a font of knowledge on all manner of Londoners long since gone to ground. What I’ve recorded here as ‘pers. Comm’ can now be found in the published monograph (cite), but I like to remember it coming straight from Bill himself; his funny, fascinating I insights that I would slowly absorb along with the heat from the mobile radiator set against the arctic cold of the infamous Rotunda.

Excerpt below from my phd (Hassett, B. R. 2011. Changing World, Changing Lives: Child Health and Enamel Hypoplasia in Post Medieval London. London: University College London).

The New Churchyard at Broadgate (LSS85)

The New Churchyard was established in 1569 as an extramural interment ground for the ‘overflow’ of deceased from city parishes though it increasingly became associated with the Bethlehem Hospital nearby and came to be known as Bethlehem burial ground on later maps (Harding, 1998; Harding, 2000). The last burial in the New Churchyard was recorded in 1714 (B. White; pers. comm.); inhumations in this assemblage are the earliest group studied. The cemetery was varied in socioeconomic composition, accommodating not only those who could not afford the sometimes exorbitant burial costs in their own parish, but also burials for which their simply was no room in times of catastrophic mortality (i.e. plague years). It also functioned to absorb all of the London dead who did not belong in the traditional place of burial, the home parish, for reasons of penury, anonymity, moral failure, or religious dissent (Harding, 1998; 2000).
The burial assemblage studied here was recovered during the Broad Street excavations carried out by the Museum of London Archaeological Service (MoLA) from 1984 from an area near Liverpool Street Station in east-central London. This assemblage is possibly the least economically or geographically coherent used in this project. There is a strong suggestion in historical accounts that the dead in the New Churchyard largely represent a particular class of Londoner, aliens and those of low socioeconomic standing rather than a mixed group organised on more traditional, geographically-bounded parish lines.
The location of the cemetery itself reflects its role in housing the marginal after death. It was set up outside the City walls in what would become the suburban parish of St. Botolph Bishopsgate, but was in the mid-1500s a landscape of fields and open spaces. The land was adjacent to the small church of Bethlehem and the land for burial a gift of the Mayor Sir Thomas Roe (or Rowe) in 1569, who subsequently buried his wife in the new ground (Stow, 1598). Further building in the area would see the construction of the infamous Bethlehem Hospital, or Bedlam, nearby (Harben, 1918), and there is considerable interest on the part of Victorian chroniclers of the London dead in the prospect that the burials represent the inmates (Holmes, 1896). Residential building on what remained of the ground seems to have been carried out in the 17th and 18th centuries until eventually Broad Street Station, later Liverpool Street station, was established in 1875 (Harben, 1918). The development of Broad Street appears to have revealed considerable amounts of human remains; many of these are attested as uncoffined, and ‘collected into heaps’ (Macdonell, 1906p. 87) . It seems possible that these ‘heaped’ remains originate at least in part in the mass burial pits London is said to have resorted to during times of epidemic mortality, particularly during plague years, Stow reports a plague burial ground near Old Bethlehem in Moorfields (Harding, 1993; Macdonell, 1906; Stow, 1598). The alternate possibility that they represent simply disturbed remains hastily reburied during earlier construction is dismissed by reference to later sequences of street foundations by an early researcher into the morphology of the English skull, who reports on cranial measurements taken from a large group of skulls uncovered during excavation of a latrine in 1903 and previous excavation in advance of the foundation of Broad Street Station in 1863 (Macdonell, 1906); these were apparently curated at University College London though no trace remains of them. The number of individuals in the assemblage used here who may have been interred in some form of mass burial pit is unfortunately unclear, but there is the suggestion that the earliest burials excavated by MoLA were from mass burial pits and many of the later burials were inhumed in oak coffins (B. White, pers. comm.).
This extra-mural location was apparently not viewed very favourably by Londoners; burial in the New Churchyard was appreciably cheaper than in many parish churches. Harding (2002, p. 97) cites a Katherine Chidley in 1641 who describes burial in ‘Bedlam’ as the ‘cheapest she knows’.  Several parishes record burials of their number in this New Churchyard, among them All Hallows Honey Lane (Keene and Harding, 1987), but it may have been particularly used by the local parish, St. Botolph Bishopsgate (Holmes, 1896). Poverty was not the only impetus for Londoners to seek (or accept) burial there, however. A large number of inhumations in the New Churchyard may derive from times of epidemic mortality, as mentioned above, and may have come from many different locations in the City or in the suburbs.
There were other reasons to actively choose to be buried in the ground as well; chief among these was the sort of identity politics of religion which was such a salient feature of the late medieval and post-medieval city. One of the clearest examples of this can be seen with the popularity of the New Churchyard as a burial ground amongst the gathered churches of the late 16th century. Robert Lockyer, a rabble-rousing proselytiser for the Leveller movement, was very publically mourned as he was interred in the New Churchyard; both his interment in the cemetery and long public funeral procession were highly politicized, public acts (Gentles, 2004). Other members of the Gathered churches and foreign Christians also specified their desire to be buried in the non-denominational ground (Harding, 2002). The Dissenting religionists interred in the New Churchyard were not by necessity poor; many of them were comfortable burghers such as Ludowicke Muggleton and John Reeve, founders of the short-lived (and very small) 17th century Protestant sect of Muggletonians (Lamont, 2008).
          One Robert Greene (1558-1592) provides a lively example of another of the paths leading to the New Churchyard (Harding, 2002). Originating in Norwich, he may at some point have entertained notions of becoming a physician, and obtained degrees from both Cambridge and Oxford (Newcomb, 2004). He may have subsequently married, impregnated, and abandoned a wife in Norwich, after divesting her of much of her fortune; in London, he became a well known libertine, actively cultivating his own legend as witty, irreverent figure in a series of pamphlets. He wrote plays with the group known as the University Wits, which also included notables such as Christopher Marlowe, and left behind a considerable literary output. Nonetheless, he ended his days dissolute and destitute, dead of ‘eating too much pickled herring and drinking too much Rhenish wine’ according to contemporaries (Kinney and Lawrence, 1990, p 157). He was buried in the New Churchyard 1592, and an image of him in scribing away in his funeral shroud was published by fellow writer John Dickenson in 1598, somewhat ignominiously commemorating the character suggested as the basis for Shakespeare’s Falstaff (Dickenson, 1598).

Robert Greene shown writing, in his shroud. Plate from Dickenson, 1598.
Robert Greene devoted some of his limited time on earth to slagging off other writers: he did not think much of this Shakespeare guy.
 Aside from dissolute libertines and religious dissenters, the New Churchyard also absorbed the very poor (Harding, 2002). However, alongside the pauper’s graves and the interments of people who had not been able to afford the more expensive burial rates in the overcrowded London parish churches and churchyard, there were some more extravagant graves. Excavation at Broadgate uncovered some prestigious burial vaults, and a few of these contained coffin plates allowing identification of the remains interred within. Final publication of the excavated finds should provide more information on the higher status quotient of the assemblage (B. White, pers. comm.). With interments drawn from such a broad social range it seems precipitous to characterize the burial assemblage excavated at Broadgate as predominantly socioeconomically deprived or otherwise until further characterization can be made about the types of burials excavated; however those with a better knowledge of the material held at MoL suggest strongly that it is predominantly low-status in character. There is little prospect of funding at the present time for the reconciliation of all of the archived material. Incidental findings noted by B. White, curator (retired) of the Museum of London suggest that the archaeological evidence of high status burial at the site is at best misleading: the one identifiable name from a coffin plate is of a 48 year old Mrs. Ann Farringdon, who was judged unlikely to be the young (26-35) woman interred in the coffin to which the plate was attached. Further suggesting that reuse of the burial vaults may have confused matters is the cased of a lead coffin which is inscribed as containing four members of the Jenkes family but was found on investigation to contain the remains of no less than twelve individuals (B. White, pers. comm.).

*yes I stole that from Douglas Adams.

Dickenson J. 1598. Greene in conceipt new raised from his grave to write the tragique historie of faire Valeria of London; . wherein is truly discovered the rare and lamentable issue of a husbands dotage, a wives leudnesse, and childrens disobedience. received and reported by J. D. London: Richard Bradocke for William Jones.
Gentles IJ. 2004. Lockyer, Robert (1625/6–1649). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p
Harben HA. 1918. Berwick Alley - Billingsgate Market. A Dictionary of London: Centre for Metropolitan History. p
Harding V. 1993. Burial of the plague dead in early modern London. In: Champion JAI, editor. Epidemic Disease in London. London: Centre for Metropolitan History p 53-64
---. 1998. Burial on the margin: distance and discrimination in early modern London. In: Cox M, editor. Grave Concerns: death and burial in England 1700-1850. CBA Research Report 113. York: Council for British Archaeology
---. 2000. Death in the city: mortuary archaeology to 1800. In: Haynes I, Sheldon H, and Hannigan L, editors. London Under Ground: The Archaeology of a City. Oxford: Oxbow Books. p 272-283.
---. 2002. The Dead and the Living in Paris and London, 1500-1670. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Holmes I. 1896. The London Burial Grounds: Notes on their history from the earliest times to the present day. London: The Gresham Press
Keene D, Harding V. 1987. All Hallows Honey Lane. Historical gazetteer of London before the Great Fire: Cheapside; parishes of All Hallows Honey Lane, St Martin Pomary, St Mary le Bow, St Mary Colechurch and St Pancras Soper Lane. p 3-9;
Kinney AF, Lawrence J. 1990. Rogues, Vagabonds, & Sturdy Beggars: A New Gallery of Tudor and Early Stuart Rogue Literature Exposing the Lives, Times, and Cozening Tricks of the Elizabethan Underworld. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Lamont W. 2008. Muggleton, Lodowicke (1609–1698). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p [, accessed 19427 March 12010].
Macdonell WR. 1906. A Second Study of the English Skull, with Special Reference to Moorfields Crania. Biometrika 5(1/2):86-104.
Newcomb LH. 2004. Greene, Robert (bap. 1558, d. 1592). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p [, accessed 11427 March 12010].
Stow J. 1598. The Survey of London. Kingsford CL, ed.

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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