Well it makes a great cover, anyway, sort of Doggerland in a nutshell. I wrote the feature about underwater landscapes (or as the cover strapline puts it, “The search for Atlantis and sunken civilisations”) for the new BBC Focus magazine. It was interesting doing it to find how much the UK is leading this area of archaeological research – and what made it difficult is that many of the most promising projects are just getting started, so have little to show yet. It’s a topic to watch.
Heart-warming and intriguing news coming out of Egypt, but I sympathise with a fellow editor who must be thinking, why now? I’m sure it seemed a good idea at the time, but when around 414,850 members of the CSMA Club received their magazine over the past few days, editor Jeremy Whittle can only have wished it didn’t have “the wonders of the world’s oldest destinations” on the cover – Egypt.
As tourists try to flee the country, one of many interesting things is the way Egypt’s heritage seems to be faring. There is damage reported in the Cairo museum holding Tutankhamun’s treasures, but it, the New Library of Alexandria, Luxor Museum and other locations seem to have been protected by a spontaneous alliance of citizens, police and military. There are many instances of this kind where in the most fraught situations, people have shown how much they really value their heritage – so at odds with a cultural attitude in Britain that too often puts heritage in a side-room with cheap souvenirs, unskilled labour, light entertainment and soft politics.
I don’t have any special inside information on events in Egypt, but there are several things on the web worth following, including Alan Boyle’s Cosmic Log, Margaret Maitland’s Eloquent Peasant and Egyptology News.
I happen to be writing about unusual archaeological places to visit for a travel magazine this week. No pyramids there anyway, at least not in Egypt.
British Archaeology has just gone to press, so there are a few days for something to go disastrously wrong with our cover. But fingers crossed we shouldn’t be affected by protests and revolutions – and the cover’s one of our best. Not to mention the contents…
The new British Archaeology is now in the shops, a particularly strong issue, from Spoilheap’s analysis of new MPs at the front to an interview with photographer Don McCullin at the back, and lots of news, digs and stuff in between. The Council for British Archaeology’s survey of “community archaeology” – volunteers, amateurs, enthusiasts, unpaid archaeologists – is surprising and fascinating.
It’s not the biggest thing in the issue, but I liked the letter from Tim Marshall. He questions archaeologists who bring an unthinking attitude to criticising alternative energy schemes because of their real or apparent threat to archaeological remains or landscapes – a feature in the previous issue had ended with a swipe at the proposed Severn barrage. “Surely”, he writes, “archaeologists above all should be aware of the (more…)
I don’t often get called “whitey” or a “discriminator”, or accused of “femicide”, but those words seem to have been addressed at me (and other “events organisers, editors in broadcasting and the media, radio and TV producers, commissioners and jurors”) in a vitriolic and perhaps wilfully thoughtless piece by Bidisha in last week’s Guardian. Of course, I can take it – I’m an editor. But there’s a serious issue here, which is the continuing dominance by men of the powerful and creative ends of the arts and media, to be seen against a wider engagement that is plainly more balanced, if not weighted towards women (“Women write, read, edit and publicise more fiction than men”, claims Bidisha). Though the article was not about race, Bidisha appears to think that humanity divides into whites and Arabs. As Julian Baggini has already commented, things are far more complicated than she seems to believe. Editors, organisers and producers are facilitators, not gods.
I’ve been editing British Archaeology for six years. There is only one editor, and I’m a bloke, so inevitably some of the content (more…)
One of the first things I did after leaving the Alexander Keiller Museum in 1984 was to write an Avebury guidebook. I hoped Shire might publish it, but John Rotheroe thought the market too small (though later he commissioned a guide from another author), so I decided to publish it myself – the start of what became Digging Deeper.
I had to get advance orders before the bank (more…)
Looking at some evocative photos of the Patagonian coast (I seem to know a lot of people who’ve recently been out there), I was reminded of a boat that went through the Straits of Magellan in 1913. This was the auxiliary schooner Mana, registered in Whitstable in 1912, captained by William Scoresby Routledge, stewarded by his wife Katherine Routledge (nee Pease) and crewed by a curious collection of seamen, fishermen, scientists and the odd Royal (more…)
I started dipping into John Carey’s new biography of William Golding yesterday. Lord of the Flies – Giles Cooper’s radio dramatisation, Peter Brook’s film and the book itself, which I was given to read by an inspired English teacher when I was the same age as the boys it features – played a big part in my childhood education. I loved it, and as with Orwell’s Animal Farm, read the book several times over.
So there was a little bit of coming home when some years ago I came to live in the town where Golding grew up, and now regularly walk with my young daughter past the blue plaque put on his family’s house (left end of row in the photo above) by Marlborough town council. Carey’s book seems to be that of a literary critic (which of (more…)
Since early May archaeologists have been unearthing the remains of some 250 soldiers who died on one night in 1916 at Fromelles in northern France. For the course of the first world war, the battle was irrelevant, but nearly 3,000 men died, among them some 2,000 Australians and 500 Britons. Eight grave pits dug by German soldiers for some of their attackers’ bodies were recently located, and a unique team was assembled to examine them.
There has never been a project quite like this. It is, says Margaret Cox, exactly how the site of a human atrocity should be (more…)
To its eternal credit, the Guardian today has a large chunk of archaeology in its G2 supplement, with 10 features looking at what’s happening in Britain now (two of them by yours truly). This is a newspaper that used to have such good archaeological coverage, and has recently (notwithstanding Maev Kennedy’s sterling efforts – she and I once shared the British archaeology press award for our Guardian contributions, and (more…)
Today, amongst other things, I’ve been editing readers’ letters for the next issue of British Archaeology. This is always one of my favourite editing jobs – and one of the most frustrating. (more…)
The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor by Colin Tudge with Josh Young
The Sunday Times review by Mike Pitts
Late in 2006, over fruit juice and vodka, Jorn Hurum, a paleontologist at Oslo university’s Natural History Museum and a science broadcaster, was offered a small fossil for $1m. The German dealer who made the offer demanded complete privacy for his client.
Hurum was astonished by what he was (more…)
For the March/April 2009 issue of British Archaeology, I talked to the great British composer, Sir Harrison Birtwistle about music, archaeology and landscapes. We had a DVD of his opera The Minotaur in the house, and for a few weeks it became our two-year-old daughter’s favourite, ousting Pingu. My photo shows Sir Harry (right) with Julian Richards at our Stonehenge dig in 2008. This is the text of my edit from the tape. I asked why he named a piece of music – Silbury Air – after a prehistoric monument?
“This is hard to talk about. The idea of modern music when I was a kid, particularly in England, was something which reflected landscape. In the case of Elgar, I think that (more…)
Stonehenge is unique – the road tunnel would have respected that
Misconceptions about this ancient site have led to the rejection of this visionary scheme, says Mike Pitts
The Guardian, Tuesday March 11 2008
Jonathan Jones is absolutely right to (more…)