Questionnaire: Blogging about archaeology

Dear readers:

Fleur Schinning of Leiden University in the Netherlands is researching the use of blogs and social media within archaeology as outreach methods. The goal of this research is to gain insight in how blogs and social media can improve the accessibility of archaeology, primarily focusing on the target group young adults.

Below is the link to a questionnaire. Answering the questions will not take more than 5 minutes. Your answers are processed confidentially and anonymously and will not be used for any other purpose than this research.

Additionally, all participants of the questionnaire will have a chance to win 6 issues of Archaeology Magazine ( If you would like a chance to win this, please fill in your e-mail address at the end of the questionnaire.

Thank you for your participation!

The Museum of Self Archaeology

Hidden away deep beneath the bustling city of Antwerp is a shadowy, quiet, and forgotten world. Unused for over thirty years, a vast web of interconnected and abandoned metro stations has ceased to exist in its capacity as a means for public transportation, transforming instead into a desolate extension of Antwerp’s underground infrastructure of sewage canals and access tunnels that’s as haunting as it is beautiful.

In the interest of exploring what he describes as “the role of narrative in architecture,” architect Jon Martin has proposed a project that would bring the forgotten tunnels of Antwerp’s 1970’s metro project back to life.

His project takes the form of a “Museum of Self-Archaeology,” where museum visitors would be guided on a tour of individual and collective self-reflection — allowing them to re-live their pasts by exposing the history of their city’s underground organization, structure, and design.

Martin takes us on a tour of the subterranean project he’s envisioned:

At the bottom of the chasm, a sharp contrast to the walls around him revealed what appeared to be the hind side of some large container. He followed a small slant in the ground that took him under the mysterious box. A faint light glowing in the distance made it just bright enough to see as he walked through the narrow dark tunnel. As he walked, a trembling in the walls sent unnerving chills down his spine, and he quickly made his way to the opening at the other side. Another slant led him up into a tall room flanked with enormous walls and an extensive hallway. A muddle of structure and strange forms seemed to flow the length of the room with little conformity or order. Walking along the great hall felt like stepping back in time or into a forgotten world. The walls were dirty and old, like the relics of an ancient city. Only occasionally did I spot something strikingly out of place. First it was a sculpture, like the giant hand at the bottom of the stairs. I began to realize I was perhaps in some archaeological site. Were these things that have been uncovered and left in their place?

I spent a little time when crossing these oddities, then kept moving, curious of what else might be found in this seemingly endless tunnel. The skeletal-like forms overhead began to descend to the ground and run into each other. Where they made a sharp twist to the left, the ground dropped to an even greater cavern of a room.

Martin promises in his portfolio that his plans for the project are to be continued.  It’ll be interesting to see where he goes from here.


Selling Stonehenge and other World Heritage Sites

Here’s a novel suggestion for how the government can help reduce the massive public deficit: sell Stonehenge. A survey of 500 estate agents, among other monuments studied, has placed the price of the ancient stone circle at a cool £51 million. It’s a drop in the ocean of the £156 billion gap between government income and expenditure. But it’s a start.

Okay, so we’re not really advocating putting one of Britain’s most prized historic monuments up for sale: UNESCO would have some angry words to say about that. And it doesn’t even bare thinking how the druids will react. But the survey does shed light on just how much heritage sites are worth. Elsewhere, a price tag of £5.2 million was placed on 10 Downing Street, while Windsor Castle’s value was reckoned at £391 million.

But are the sums on Stonehenge correct? Shouldn’t such an internationally-renowned, popular and iconic monument be worth so much more?

In recent years Christie’s auction house has sold the likes of the Egyptian statue of Ka-Nefer and his family for a tidy £1.9 million, the Canford Assyrian relief for the princely sum of £7.7 million, and the Jenkins Venus for a whopping £7.9 million.

Counting just the 18 large standing stones, the 10 giant stones of the inner circle and the central altar stone at Stonehenge, by a very unscientific breakdown, that £51 million price tag on the Neolithic monument gives its 29 key constituent parts an approximate value of just £1.7 million a piece. That’s lower than each of the Christie’s sales listed above.

Theoretically speaking, don’t these figures at least suggest the total price tag should be a bit higher? Surely a super-wealthy antiquities collector would be prepared to pay megabucks to have a Stonehenge megalith in their living room? Or possibly even a trilith framing their front door?

And what about admission fees? Stonehenge presently attracts around 900,000 visitors a year, at an average price of about £5 per head. Multiply that long-term – by 25 years, say – and that means the monument is worth over £112 million. Consider too that visitor figures will most likely increase in years to come, and factor in revenue from merchandising, and £51 million begins to sound like a snip.

“It’s quite a challenge for estate agents more used to valuing suburban semis to put an accurate valuation on a royal castle or ancient monument,” commented Nigel Lewis, a property analyst at, who ran the survey. “But there was a surprising amount of agreement between the different agents we spoke to.”

Clearly estate agents have done their sums, too. They consider many different factors when it comes to judging the value of a property – location, age, whether it’s in need of improvement and so on. Stonehenge doesn’t lack for a good spot, situated on sheep-nibbled rolling Wiltshire countryside. But at 4,500 years vintage it could hardly be described as a new build, while its state of repair is questionable to say the least. And then there’s that ugly car park plonked right across the road since the 1960s (although it’s soon to be removed).

Also, unless Stonehenge’s new owners were to scrap already scaled-down plans for a new visitor centre – current cost £25 million – then that’s a big chunk of change they’ll need to lay out straight after being handed the keys to the front gate. But £51 million still sounds like far too low an asking price.

Someone buying a historic British monument isn’t actually as ridiculous as it sounds. Missourian businessman Robert P. McCulloch in 1968 purchased the old 19th century London Bridge designed by engineer John Rennie (or at least its stone cladding) from the City of London for $2 million dollars. He then shipped it to the United States, where it was rebuilt across Lake Havasu in Arizona as the gateway to a mock-English community. Legend has it that McCulloch mistakenly believed he was actually buying Tower Bridge – a story he vehemently denied.

It’d be a tragedy to see Stonehenge similarly packed-up and shipped off elsewhere. But Number 10 or Windsor Castle? Times are tight, after all.

From The Independent


Here in America we’ve got our own budgetary gaps to fill.  If the Stars and Stripes were to follow suit (remember this is all theoretical) what would we be able to bring to the auction block?  Off the top of my head I can think of a few World Heritage Sites that may fetch a pretty penny from the right buyer.

First up is Independence Hall in Philadelphia, PA where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States were both signed.  Ultimately the birthplace of American government, wouldn’t it do wonders to inspire fair forms of government in other parts of the world, say the Middle East?  Could we part with it knowing that the building could possibly inspire other nations to develop a free and equal way of living?  Or would we be wrapped in fear that Independence Hall may end up as a trophy piece on the mantle of some communist nation?

Next, the Statue of Liberty.  Imagine if France were to buy back this long-standing symbol of freedom and new beginnings.  Since 1886, Miss Liberty has sat at the entrance to New York Harbor welcoming immigrants to a land of freedom.   With the way our country (sorry, I mean Arizona) is cracking down on immigration, maybe it’s time we let this one go.  Some things just don’t fit like they used to.  Perhaps it would look better on the coast of England as the pin-up girl of the EU.  Hell, maybe BP can buy it and use it to stop the leak in the Gulf.  Whatever works…

The whole idea fostered by The Independent article is how do you place monetary worth on ultimately invaluable landmarks?  By what criteria is value judged?  While these places may have value in the form of materials or architectural design, the intangible value they have to people and nations can never be calculated.  Ultimately, is the idea of owning a piece of another country’s cultural heritage just too much to consider?

Comments welcome.

Sexy Archaeology Holiday Gift Guide

The holiday season is upon us and whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanza, Hanukkah, Saturnalia, Festivus, Wookie Life Day or one of a dozen other December rituals, chances are you’ll be buying a gift for at least one person. And what if that person is an archaeologist? Whatever will you get them? Thankfully, Sexy Archaeology has you covered with our guide to holiday gift giving.


Skulls Unlimited indeed!Think you’ve got the cranial capacity to come up with the best present ever? Save all that energy and head over to Skulls Unlimited, the world’s leading supplier of osteological specimens. We watered a the mouth when we saw the extensive collection of replica fossil Hominid skeletons they have available.  What better present than a museum quality Australopithecus afarensis? How about an entire disarticulated Lucy skeleton? Really get creative by wrapping each bone individually.

Head over to Skulls Unlimited now!


TK001-500x500The Past Horizons tool store is your one stop shop for top archaeology gear at the lowest price. From trowels to finds bags, Past Horizons should be every archaeologist’s first stop to shop. We’re especially fond of their Archaeologist toolkit. This is the best toolkit we’ve seen yet; it comes complete with 4” WHS trowel, tapes, nails, plum bobs, and plenty more all in a handy 12 tool roll. You can pick one up today at the Past Horizons online store for £59.99.

Find this and more at Past Horizons!


pPBS3-6346590dtIf your archaeologist conducts his or her work from the armchair, then the Time Team America DVDs are the perfect find! PBS has made all five episodes of the hit series available on DVD. Join host Colin Campbell as he takes you to some of America’s hottest archaeology sites on a whirlwind three day dig. Our particular favorite is the Range Creek, Utah episode…. but we wouldn’t say no to the complete set.

Unearth this and more at


obsidian-igneous-volcanic-1061156-lMaybe your archaeologist is more of a hands on individual. Flint knapping never went out of style; it can be a great way to understand past peoples and the methods they employed to make the artifacts we find today.  Plus there’s nothing more satisfying than the sound of a hammer stone against volcanic glass.  3 Rivers Archery has an excellent flint knapping kit, good for both beginners and modern day Clovis peoples.  As for the source material, we suggest keeping you eyes peeled to EBay for the best deals on flint and obsidian from around the globe.

Visit 3 Rivers Archery.

That’s all for now.  If you have gift ideas you feel every archaeologist should know about, send us an email and let us know!

To Catch a Looter

As United States troops begin withdrawing from Iraq, we should take stock of the staggering damage that Iraq’s ancient archeological sites have suffered from looting over the last few years. After the 2003 invasion, swarms of looters dug huge pits and passages all over southern Iraq in search of cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals. At Isin, where a Sumerian city once stood, I watched men sifting through tons of soil for 4,000-year-old objects to sell to Baghdadi dealers. It was mass pillage.

The worst of the looting appears to be over, say the experts who monitor archeological sites with armed inspections and aerial photographs. With security improving, Iraqi authorities now have the chance to bring long-lasting protection to what’s left of the country’s ancient heritage. They could take some pointers from an unexpected place: Peru.

In 1994, residents of eight villages in northwestern Peru — a region of deserts and oases that looks much like Iraq — organized citizens’ patrols. The patrols weren’t out to stop house burglars or cattle rustlers. They were looking for looters, who, for several years, had plundered the area to feed the robust international market for pre-Inca artifacts.

I spent a few days with one of these patrols in the village of Úcupe in 2002. The members were unarmed and well organized, and they knew the terrain as well as you know your dining room. When they spotted looters digging up the overgrown ancient burial mounds that dot the landscape, they surrounded them and called the police. In this way, I saw the patrols apprehend three potential looters without firing a shot.

Last year, archeologists excavated an intact tomb at Úcupe that contained the remains of a lord who ruled during the Moche civilization around A.D. 450. He was buried with golden headdresses, war clubs, silver rattles and opulent jewelry. If sold piecemeal on the black market, these objects could have fetched millions. Instead, their discovery opened the door to a new understanding of how power was exercised in the Moche world.

Without the civilian patrols, this tomb would certainly have been emptied by looters. The people of Úcupe will now benefit from the archaeological tourism that often follows such discoveries and that, in Peru, is booming. They protected a community asset, and it paid off.

This kind of grassroots organizing — where local officials, police officers and archaeologists join forces with local residents — is the best way to combat looting and protect sites from being swallowed up by the illicit antiquities trade. A similar strategy has proved effective in Mali, a country that has little in common with Peru besides a rich archaeological heritage. It would work in Iraq and elsewhere.

Surprisingly, though, relatively few governments have focused on getting rural people involved in protecting threatened sites. Most spend their energy pressing museums in the United States or Europe to repatriate looted artifacts, instead of focusing on safeguarding the archaeological riches still in the ground. Repatriation is a valuable goal, but an immense amount of historical information is lost whenever looting occurs and sites are damaged, even if the objects are later recovered. The government’s time would be better spent expanding the patrols to prevent looting in the first place.

In Iraq, the authorities could start by inviting provincial museums and archaeologists to work with local governments and police departments on organizing residents who live near key ancient sites. Rural citizens’ patrols aren’t expensive — they need binoculars, cellphones, maybe a few dirt bikes and some basic training. Financing could come from international conservation and community development organizations and should include money for education to encourage people to see the ruins in their midst as valuable community assets as much as potable water or clean streets. Once organized, the patrols need to be lightly armed if armed at all, and they have to be well regulated by the police. But as the good citizens of Úcupe have shown, they work.

Written by Roger Atwood for the New York Times.  Thanks to Mike Henry for giving us a heads up.

Real Tsunami May Have Inspired Legend of Atlantis


The volcanic explosion that obliterated much of the island that might have inspired the legend of Atlantis apparently triggered a tsunami that traveled hundreds of miles to reach as far as present-day Israel, scientists now suggest.

The new findings about this past tsunami could shed light on the destructive potential of future disasters, researchers added.

The islands that make up the small circular archipelago of Santorini, roughly 120 miles (200 km) southeast of Greece, are what remain of what once was a single island, before one of the largest volcanic eruptions in human antiquity shattered it in the Bronze Age some time between 1630 B.C. to 1550 B.C.

Speculation has abounded as to whether the Santorini eruption inspired the legend of Atlantis, which Plato said drowned in the ocean. Although the isle is often regarded as just an invention, the explosion might have given rise to the story of a lost empire by helping to wipe out the real-life Minoan civilization that once dominated the Mediterranean, from which the myth of the bull-headed ‘minotaur’ comes.

The primary means by which the eruption potentially wreaked havoc on the Minoan civilization is by the giant tsunami it would have triggered. However, the precise effects of this eruption and killer wave have been a mystery for decades.

Now scientists find the tsunami may have been powerful enough to race some 600 miles (1,000 km) from Santorini to reach the farthest eastern shores of the Mediterranean, leaving behind a layer of debris more than a foot thick by the coast of Israel.

Researchers dove as far as 65 feet deep (20 meters) off the coast of Caesarea in Israel to collect tubes of sediment, or cores, more than 6 feet long (2 meters) from the seabed.

“The work resembles a construction site with pneumatic hammers, heavy weights, floats to counter-weight equipment, hoses – Each time we took the system down it took hours of surface preparation, planning, and discussion,” said researcher Beverly Goodman, a marine geoarchaeologist at Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences at Eilat, Israel.

Within the cores, they found evidence of up to nearly 16 inches of sediment deposited roughly about the date of the Santorini eruption. The range of sizes of the particles making up this deposit is the kind one might find laid down by a tsunami – storms, in comparison, cannot kick up the seafloor as much, and as such the range of particle sizes they generate is more limited.

The discovery was very much an accident, Goodman noted. They were actually researching the demise of the harbor of ancient Caesarea, the cause of which remains hotly debated, with culprits including earthquakes and tsunamis.

“I was testing how two later Roman and Byzantine tsunami deposits could be characterized by studying the different grain sizes – various sand, pebbles, rocks, ceramic pieces – in the deposit. Based on determining this ‘signature,’ I then noticed that there were more than the expected number of tsunami deposits,” she explained. “I had no expectation that remnants of the Santorini event would be present in the cores.”

These findings support the idea that the Santorini eruption and the side effects from it, such as the tsunami, were massive.

“In the case of the eastern Mediterranean, there seems to be a surprising dearth of archaeological sites along the coastline following the Santorini eruption event,” Goodman said. Either archaeologists have failed to concentrate on this time span, “which isn’t the case,” she said, or the tsunami had a very real impact on coastal settlements.

The dramatic changes in life triggered by the tsunami “might have been part of the fabric of the Atlantis story,” Goodman added. “The network of sea-based trade was rather sophisticated in that period, and colonies that were nearly solely dependent on those trade routes existed. It is hard to imagine that such a far-reaching disaster didn’t cause them severe shortages in supplies, wealth and power.”

Although Atlantis itself “is a myth and legend, it is informative about the experiences of the ancients,” Goodman said. “It may very well be the case that those passing the story on had heard of or witnessed events in which coastal buildings went underwater because of earthquakes; beachfront towns were flooded during tsunamis; islands were created by underwater volcanic activity. There may be that grain of truth that lent legitimacy and a certain reality to the legend of Atlantis.”

To better reconstruct the Santorini tsunami, the scientists plan to analyze deposits closer to the eruption, such as on Crete and in western parts of Turkey. Knowing the potential effect of tsunamis could be critical for the coastal planning and management, Goodman said, adding that the eastern Mediterranean is very highly populated and possesses considerable sensitive infrastructure such as power stations.

“I suppose there is always the question of whether I think another tsunami will occur in the eastern Med,” Goodman said. “The answer is yes. I actually checked the elevation of the house I am moving to near Caesarea before agreeing to move there.”

Goodman and her colleagues detailed their findings in the October issue of the journal Geology.

From LiveScience

October 12th – Discovery Day!

What a lame holiday.

October 12, 2009 is Columbus Day. For those of you who may not be familiar with this holiday, the second Monday in October each year marks the day much of North America celebrates the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas (or the Caribbean if you want to get specific). Columbus’ four voyages led to the general awareness of the Americas throughout Europe. As a side note, his discovery also led directly to the death of millions of Native Americans, the extinction of entire peoples (Taino) and the founding of slavery in the Americas. But I’m not here to put Columbus on trial, I’m here to ponder whether or not the man’s achievements warrant his own happy little holiday or if this day could be meant for so much more.

This article caught my attention:

Is Columbus Day Sailing Off the Calendar?

The tradition of honoring Christopher Columbus for sailing the ocean blue in 1492 is facing rougher seas than the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria.

Philadelphia’s annual Columbus Day parade has been canceled. Brown University this year renamed the holiday “Fall Weekend” following a campaign by a Native American student group opposed to celebrating an explorer who helped enslave some of the people he “discovered.”

Already 22 states don’t give their employees the day off, according to the Council of State Governments. And in other places, Columbus Day is under attack. “We’re going after state governments to drop this holiday for whatever reason they come up with,” said Mike Graham, founder of United Native America, a group fighting for a federal holiday honoring Native Americans.

His group’s agenda: Rename Columbus Day “Italian Heritage Day” and put it somewhere else on the calendar, then claim the second Monday in October as “Native American Day.” South Dakota already calls it that.

Other organizations want to rename the day “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” as several California cities, including Berkeley, have done.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day? What an excellent idea! Let’s give credit to the Paleo-indians who actually did discover the Americas a staggering 20,000 years before Columbus. Their discovery alone is enough to close the book on the celebration of Columbus Day. But this is America and, as much as I hate to admit it, if there is one thing American’s hate more than changing their beloved ways of thinking, its relinquishing anything to native peoples.

I feel the solution to this problem is finding the happy medium or what amounts to a re-branding of Columbus Day.

I like Discovery Day. That’s how the people of The Bahamas commemorate October 12. Discovery Day detaches itself from the accomplishments of just one man and opens the door to celebrating so much more. Honestly, what Columbus did pales in comparison to some of the other exciting discoveries made throughout human history. Sticking with the realm of land exploration for just a bit longer, consider Leif Erikson who is currently regarded as the first European to arrive in the America’s (what now Columbus?).  Sure he has his own holiday, but how many American’s actually know when it is? I’ll save you the trouble of looking, it’s October 9th. What of Jacques Cartier and his explorations of the St. Lawrence River or Abel Janszoon Tasman’s exploration of Australia in 1642? Take a step away from earthbound discoveries and consider the work of Galileo. Consider all of the discoveries in astronomy, the hundreds of thousands of galaxies discovered by the Hubble Space telescope in the past 19 years. Hell, there aren’t enough days in the year to commemorate what has been discovered since NASA was established in 1958. Think of the countless discoveries in chemistry, earth science, mathematics, genetics, medicine, physics, and biology. Think of archaeology. Think of evolution! Think of all of these wonderful fields of study, of the countless individuals whose hard work and dedication have made our current way of life possible, and understand the need to commemorate it all.

Happy Discovery Day.

Paleontologists brought to tears, laughter by Creation Museum

We found this story in the Sexy Archaeology inbox and thought it was worth sharing with all you sexy, dirt digging scientists.


For a group of paleontologists, a tour of the Creation Museum seemed like a great tongue-in-cheek way to cap off a serious conference.

But while there were a few laughs and some clowning for the camera, most left more offended than amused by the frightening way in which evolution — and their life’s work — was attacked.

“It’s sort of a monument to scientific illiteracy, isn’t it?” said Jerry Lipps, professor of geology, paleontology and evolution at University of California, Berkeley.

“Like Sunday school with statues… this is a special brand of religion here. I don’t think even most mainstream Christians would believe in this interpretation of Earth’s history.”

The 27 million dollar, 70,000-square-foot (6,500-square-metre) museum which has been dubbed a “creationist Disneyland” has attracted 715,000 visitors since it opened in mid-2007 with a vow to “bring the pages of the Bible to life.”

Its presents a literal interpretation of the Bible and argues that believing otherwise leads to moral relativism and the destruction of social values.

Creationism is a theory not supported by most mainstream Christian churches.

Lisa Park of the University of Akron cried at one point as she walked a hallway full of flashing images of war, famine and natural disasters which the museum blames on belief in evolution.

“I think it’s very bad science and even worse theology — and the theology is far more offensive to me,” said Park, a professor of paleontology who is an elder in the Presbyterian Church.

“I think there’s a lot of focus on fear, and I don’t think that’s a very Christian message… I find it a malicious manipulation of the public.”

Phil Jardine posed for a picture below a towering, toothy dinosaur display.

The museum argues that the fossil record has been misinterpreted and that Tyrannosaurus Rex was a vegetarian before Adam and Eve bit into that sin-inducing apple.

Jardine, a palaeobiologist graduate student from the University of Birmingham, was having fun on the tour, but told a reporter that he was disturbed by the museum’s cartoonish portrayal of scientists and teachers.

“I feel very sorry for teachers when the children who come here start guessing if what they’re being taught is wrong,” Jardine said.

Arnie Miller, a palentologist at the University of Cincinnati who was chairman of the convention, said he hoped the tour would introduce the scientists to “the lay of the land” and show them firsthand what’s being put forth in a place that has elicited vehement criticism from the scientific community.

“I think in some cases, people were surprised by the physical quality of the exhibits, but needless to say, they were unhappy with things that are inaccurately portrayed,” he said.

“And there was a feeling of unhappiness, too, about the extent to which mainstream scientists and evolutionists are demonized — that if you don’t accept the Answers in Genesis vision of the history of Earth and life, you’re contributing to the ills of society and of the church.”

Daryl Domning, professor of anatomy at Howard University, held his chin and shook his head at several points during the tour.

“This bothers me as a scientist and as a Christian, because it’s just as much a distortion and misrepresentation of Christianity as it is of science,” he said.

“It’s not your old-time religion by any means.”


Heritage protection on the Moon!

Moon landing

July 20, 1969: Neil Armstrong and “Buzz “Aldrin became the first men to set foot on the surface of the moon.  Not only would they leave behind an American flag and a few footprints, but over 100 artifacts of their journey to the lunar surface.  Among the objects left behind were:

  • Two pairs of space boots
  • A television camera
  • A hammer
  • Two medals commemorating two dead cosmonauts
  • Two urine collection assemblies
  • And four defecation collection devices (poop bags)

The moon landing site, known as the Bay of Tranquility, is now the subject of growing debate in the realm of heritage protection.  While there is no doubt the site represents a great achievement for all of mankind, some are claiming that the moon landing site needs to be preserved.  While the artifacts are not threatened from wind or weather damage, we live in a world that is seeing the increased privatization of space travel and the thought of having tourists on the moon within fifty years may not be far off.  And with the Google Lunar X Prize up for grabs, unmanned devices may begin plunking down on the big cheese in the next couple of years.

What do you think?  Should governments begin taking steps to preserve the Bay of Tranquility as a world heritage site or is the idea just space junk?

Read more:  New Scientist, LA Times

What makes archaeologists so sexy?

It’s time for you the people to answer the age old question, what makes archaeologists so sexy?

Is it the brain? The brawn? The dirt?

Think about the sexiest archaeologists you’ve worked with. What was it about them that attracted you?  Their credentials?  Their passion for their work?  The way they cut through strata like it was nobodys business?