02 December, 2013

Blog Carnival; Archaeological Blogging – Why?

Over at Doug’s Archaeology Blog, Doug has organised a Blog Carnival about Archaeological Blogging. His open gambit was to ask the question why blog? And further why are you still Blogging?
Why blogging?
In many respects Theoretical Structural Archaeology is a statistical outlier, in that it presents original archaeological research from outside the academic system. Moreover, since it is evidence based metrical research into postholes, the most common of all archaeological features and central to understanding of ancient built environments, why is it being blogged?
Primarily, this blog is about empowerment of the individual to publish their research, however, it has to be said that the medium quite suits the visual nature of the subject, and its interactive nature has fostered some interesting collaborations.
It's a tale of exciting discoveries, dastardly deeds, betrayal, hope, friendship, and much raging against the machine, read on . . . . . .
Why Blogging? Empowerment.
Like many other professional archaeologists, I had struggled with understanding the plans of posthole structures, and after twenty years of working on the problem, I decided to invest my life savings in a PhD, at Newcastle, my local University, with a view to publishing my research and going into teaching.
It is difficult to describe the abject mediocrity of my experience of 
Archaeology at Newcastle, but it was a life changing experience for me and my family. 
I have worked in some tough industries, but nothing had prepared me for a culture of such mendacious duplicity; having read very little of the 3 chapters of my PhD, and having attended none of the five paper I gave in my first year, my Tutor had me suspended for not doing any work. In a nutshell; while I was striving for an objective methodology, she was the University’s Expert in Iron Age Building Cosmology, and thought I should be writing about annotating archaeological plans with beliefs and perceptions. [1] 
While Universities in UK may be publically funded,  they are run like private members club, and I had been blackballed. My work was officially pronounced of no value, although it might have been considered a courtesy, or even prudent, if someone at Newcastle University has read it first. [2]
I was Verboten, and when they cleared my desk, they threw away much of my research marking the end of my career in academia together my life savings. To be told that one is too stupid to study Archaeology even at Newcastle University is sort of thing that leaves a stain of a families reputation for generations, and makes a chap want to do the decent thing with a service revolver. 
Twenty years ago it really would be the end, but that was before Google Blogger; without access to a library or colleagues it is hard to engage in regular academic publishing, so I blog my research.
Caveat emptor

Using SketchUp for modelling archaeological data.

Blogging and Visual Media 

The plans and sections of archaeological features, the scaled diagrammatic representations of excavated sites, are one of the most fundamental and important datasets in British Prehistory, but are little studied or understood.  My research and Blog is about how to understand any engineered structures represented in this visual information, blogging is thus well suited, offering virtually unlimited colour graphics, and even moving images with sound. 

A layered graphic demonstrating aspects of the building geometry

Some information can only be efficiently communicated in specific visual forms such as  graphs, photographs, or diagrams.  As an early adopter of CAD and electronic drawing, I have always been interesting in these technologies as tools for the analysis, modelling, and presentation of data. This is the most positive aspect of blogging, the technology now routinely available that is powerful enough to express very complex ideas; my models of structures like Stonehenge, Woodhenge, and the Timber Wall exist electronically, as a multi-layered graphic or 3D CAD model.  

How and why a model works, the proof or solution to the spatial dataset, comes is in the form of visual information, and not primarily in words.  It will be possible to explain the structure by a guided walk through tour of a 3D model; set this in a wider environment and look through the windows back out into a virtual representation landscape. No more real than any other image of the past, just more accurate.

Thus a blog allows me to communicate large amounts visually, which has always been more difficult and certainly more expensive in conventional forms of publishing. 
Why Blogging? A  Self-selecting Audience
One of the advantages of Blogging is that one can find and interact with an audience; I use ‘Audience’ rather than ‘Readership’ advisedly and in its widest sense, as blogs can incorporate a wide variety of media.  It is one of the objectives of the internet to match people and information, and thus people who end up looking at my blog are interested in understand this type of evidence.
I think was unable to communicate with my colleagues at Newcastle because everything they knew about archaeology they had read in books, and this had provided no frame of reference for understanding building as a technology.
Pictures of the past are fiction
Additionally, it is a fundamental and important point about archaeology that thinking is often conditioned by the pictures we have of the past; images that are fictional, and yet influence the way we rationalise the evidence.  Research that challenges these pictures, or undermined the visual narrative of the past is inherently difficult for people to accept.
However, in real politic of academic information, even though my analysis is mostly based on measurement of existing published data sets, everything is this blog is effectively untrue and has no veracity or value  because it is not peer reviewed. [3]  
While blogging may not be peer reviewed, it is of value for those who understand it, which is why I am not in the market for belief. It is open to comment and criticism by all comers, and I always engage with anyone who takes the time to read and comment on by work.
Above; On going work  on the Edwin Harness building  [2D layered graphic] 

As a result, blogging has brought me into contact with fellow professionals who understand the nature of dataset, and this which has provided the opportunity with to collaborate with like-minded people from around the world.   The blog has resulted in some TV work, invitations to give papers at international conferences, a book offer, and I have recently co-authored a paper on Prehistoric Buildings in Ohio.  

Why are you still Blogging? 

This August, the fifth Anniversary of my blog slipped by without ceremony; during those 5 years I have, for example,  demonstrated there was an initial timber phase of Hadrian’s Wall, and proved that Professor Darvill was correct in suggesting ‘Timber circles'/ Class Ei structures were buildings, [4]. Clearly, this would be significant if I correct, however, none of this is ‘true’ -  because if I would be working for a University and not writing a blog [q.e.d.].  370,000 wasted pageviews.

A CAD Model of a Roman Vallum
While I am more than willing of contributing the to the local knowledge economy, as I understand it, my participation is an “over my dead body” situation, and while an obvious solution presents itself, my innate sense of chivalry and several hundred years of legal president advise against taking it, thus, I will remain a blogger.

[1] Archaeologists are writing about cosmologies and perceptions based on the images in their own head, projecting their own thoughts and feelings into minds of imaginary people who inhabit these pictures.
[2] Ultimately, I paid real money for Dr Jane Webster, Newcastle’s Universities expert on Iron Age Building Cosmology, to be the Judge, Jury, and Executioner of my work on reverse engineering archaeological structures, in what turned out to be a futile exercise in self-abuse; it would have been cheaper, and less painful to pay a prostitute to beat me to death with a copy of Architecture and Order.

[3] In reality, if you are writing papers about cosmologies for which there is absolutely no evidence, peer review simply means the author worked for a University dumb enough to pay people to write this type of fiction.  
[4] ’Neolithic houses in northwest Europe and beyond’’ (1996) Neolithic Houses in North-West Europe and beyond (Oxbow monograph 57) [Paperback]. T.C. Darvill (Editor), Julian Thomas (Editor)