Call for Papers – TAG 2017 Cardiff – “Unstuck in Time – science fiction, speculative futures, and archaeological imaginings”

Science fiction and archaeology are a classic combination in popular culture – long before Indiana Jones’ Nazi foes unleashed the forces within the Ark of the Covenant there were dire consequences for investigating the Mountains of Madness, perils of unleashing demonic forces at the Devil’s Hump, and cautions on the limitations of anthro-centric interpretations in the classic novel Rogue Moon.
Archaeology and science fiction make such comfortable bedfellows because of their common interest on constructing interpretations of human worlds – past, present, future, sideways – that are consciously and unconsciously mirrors of the present cultural and social mores, mired in the existing political and sociological constructs governing society. Both are mirrors for society’s ills and achievements, its hopes and dreams. Archaeologists construct pasts of human achievement, drive, ingenuity, warfare, cataclysm and change; writers and artists create science fiction worlds out the same building blocks.

Both the writer and the archaeologist, then, are unstuck in time. They take cues from the past, present, and speculative future to create something that belongs in none of those places and all of them at once – something that invokes a sense of belonging in the intended audience. They both weave models of the human condition, create snapshots of a human way of life that never did or will never exist, but that can be recognised, empathised and related to by the audience.
This session is open to any interpretation on the theme of archaeology and science fiction. What is the future of the past? Whether that’s looking at depictions of archaeologists in popular culture, or how interpretations of the past are inspired by the way we hope the future will unfold, or how speculative advances in machine learning and automation move towards a science-fiction future where humans no longer need to act as archaeologists, we welcome creative approaches.

Submission of abstracts should be made using the form available on the TAG 2017 website and emailed to the organisers via before August 25th.

Organisers: Penelope Foreman (Bournemouth University), Florence Smith Nicholls (Compass Archaeology)

Take the red/white/black survey!

Related to my research, I’m trying to understand our relationship with red, white, and black in current cultures. The Google form below records this information (anonymously – although I ask for age and gender details to see if patterns emerge, I cannot track any other data such as IP or location). It takes roughly 2 minutes and I’m looking to gather as many samples as possible!

Instructions are in the form itself. Many thanks, and I’m looking forward to sharing the results!

Take the short survey  – Google Forms

Women in digital archaeology redux: The girl with the space unicorn tattoo

So last week I presented my paper on the experiences of women in digital archaeology at CAA Atlanta. The small crowd there for the session were friendly, open to my findings, and engaged with what I was saying – there’s always going to be a degree of preaching to the converted. It started some great conversations on Twitter and hopefully got at least a few people to a place where they know where they can talk about their issues, know they’re not alone, and know that someone is out there fighting their corner.

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Choose Your Own Adventure: The Thesis of Firetop Mountain

It is 1982 and, fresh of the presses, your birthday present this year is a copy of the thrillingly titled Warlock of Firetop Mountain. You have already devoured shelves full of fiction, but this book is something different. You are going to decide how it ends. Which paths to take. Who to trust and who to fight – perhaps even who to kill. All you need is a pencil, some dice, and a sense of adventure.

Image result for warlock of firetop mountain

It is 2018. You are putting the finishing touches to your thesis’ final draft. You’ve read countless academic journals, book sections, personal correspondences and rival theses. But this is something different. You got to decide how the argument plays out. Which methodology to undertake. Which academics to support, which to trust – perhaps even which to denounce. All you need is a red pen, some coffee, and a sense of self-doubt.

1982. You look over the list of of equipment that you’re allowed to choose a measly six items from. Would a grappling hook be more useful, or extra gold for bribes? What about a dagger for hand to hand combat, rather than that massive bow (arrows extra)? Is that spell tome useful, or can I just coerce a mage to do whatever needs doing for me? Do I cheat and choose more than six – will victory feel the same?

2018. You’re a good 15000 words over a reasonable word count and know it needs cutting, sharply. Ruthlessly. What needs to stay in? If you make very wordy diagrams, does that class as cheating? If you cut out something you know is weak and then hope it’s not brought up in the viva, will passing with minor corrections feel the same?

1982. Time to roll your attributes. How skillful? How much stamina? How lucky? Clearly the first rolls were just practice rolls and don’t count. Have a second go. Round it up. You don’t want to have a luck score so low that every Tom, Dick, and Goblin finished you off in the first brawl.

2018. Time to back up your arguments. How many peer-reviewed papers did you publish? How many conference papers? How many citations do you have? How many arguments at the bar at TAG? Sound confident in what you’ve already written and published, even if you don’t feel it. You don’t want the external examiner to rip you to shreds at the first question.

1982. You’re deep into the adventure and keep one thumb on the last page just in case an encounter goes badly and you need to rethink. Part of you wants to kick away that safety net and just play until your inevitable doom. The rest of you doesn’t want to spend another six hours getting to the position you’re in now.

2018. You’re well into the final draft and the ruthless red pen is doing its work. You keep a copy of all your previous drafts and look longingly at that 8000 word rant about the rejection of phenomenology and part of you wishes you could reinstate it, without some of the more inflammatory comments. The rest of you wants to sleep some time this month and wants to finish this draft before the coffee runs out.

1982. You’ve battled, found both keys, the treasure is yours. You wonder how many paths you could have taken, what different choices in equipment and different dice rolls would have lead you to. Who could you have met? Would it have been faster, easier, harder, slower? Time to play again. This time, no rounding up the dice rolls.

2018. You’ve sent the PDF to print. You wonder how many different universes worth of printing is being done, right now across the multiverse. How different choices would have resulted in different opinions, beliefs, viewpoints.

If the papers read during literature review were 10% different, how would that have effected my choice of methodology, my theoretical standpoint, my views on post-structuralism, object-orientated ontologies and the rejection of phenomenology?  If I had grown up reading something other than Fighting Fantasy books and libraries worth of science fiction, would my path to this thesis be different? If I’d worked in different jobs or lived in different cities, who would I have met that would make this journey longer, shorter, harder, easier, or not happen at all? What baggage do I carry with me that has made my writing different to me in another universe with different baggage? How differently would me without children have done it? Or me that didn’t take a ten year break from archaeology? In the end this thesis is the ultimate choose your own adventure, and the treasure is graduation. Monsters along the way come in the form of deadlines, hostile conference receptions, self-doubt and impostor syndrome, data loss or poor data collection choices. Slay them, and the keys to the treasure – that’s thorough knowledge and rigour in your studies – are yours. I might not have been aware of what scores the dice rolls of my life gave me for my attributes, nor what my past experiences, choices, and lifestyle gave me in the way of baggage, but I can see where they have lead me. Where they are leading me.

It might not yet be 2018 and I’m not yet on even the first thesis draft, but I am writing. Time to write again – and this time, no slacking to write a strange blog posts.

Call for Papers: EAA 2017 Maastricht: “Stone is the Storyteller: The materiality of stone through time (and mind)?”

This call for papers is now closed – thank you for all of your submissions. We look forward to the conference in August, and hope to record the session so those that can’t be there can still see our series of papers. Links will be provided closer to the time.

At EAA’s meeting this year in Maastricht, we invite you to submit papers on the materiality of stone. Penelope Foreman (Bournemouth University), Katy Whitaker (Reading University) and Claudia Sciuto (Umea University) invite submissions from those both inside and outside archaeology to talk about the call of stone through time, and how it becomes entangled with human experience, shifting landscapes, cultural mores, beliefs, folklore and legend.

The abstract for the session is as follows:

Stone is the media of much of archaeology. It persists and survives where much of the other apparatus of life – cloth, food, bodies, stories and songs – decay and become lost. For this reason it forms not only a large part of the archaeological record, but also forms the props and settings of many of the stories archaeologists tell about the past. But should the stone tell other stories – how do archaeologists interpret and present the agency of the stones themselves?

We intend to broaden our enquiry, reaching beyond the confines of prehistory’s preoccupation with stone into historical periods and the present day. Our interests extend to the material agency of stone in contexts that could be characterised as the small, personal, and intimate, such as jewellery; and those that could be characterised as communal, public, and topographic, such as architecture. Your stone might be raw and not modified by processes such as carving, knapping, cutting – we are interested in the material agency of stone in all its forms.

This session will hear stories from stones, not just of prehistory but at all stages of their entanglement in human history. We invite contributions from archaeologists, geologists and geographers, architectural and art historians, artists, curators, and anyone working with, interpreting, and presenting stony materials. We are especially interested in trans-disciplinary, innovative, and creative approaches.

Presentations should be 15 minute papers, to be followed by time for discussion. We welcome non-traditional formats such as video presentations, artistic interpretations, and others – be creative! Please email us to discuss at,, and 

Submissions should be made at the EAA Website  using the login and password you used to register for the conference. Please note that the deadline is March 15th. We appreciate that not everyone is yet registered; we encourage anyone with enquiries to email us at the addresses above to discuss possible submissions if they wish to do so before committing to register.



What is Storytelling? An archaeologist’s view

While preparing resources and contacting people regarding my education outreach project, I’m often asked – what do I mean by storytelling?

It’s a fair question. It definitely conjures up images of sitting around in a huddle listening to the teacher read from an open book, or more poetically, huddled around the fire listening to the latest yarns from a visiting bard. Depends how much folklore and fantasy novels you read on that last one.

Music and fires within roundhouses are optional props for storytelling, but highly recommended! Here prehistoric + historical music experts Kate and Corwen play in the Earthouse, Ancient Technology Centre, Dorset.

Given that this is National Storytelling Week I feel it’s only fair I set out my own stall, and tell what I think storytelling is, from my perspective as an academic, an educator, and a lover of telling tales. For me, it falls into three distinct categories:

1. Telling Tales

This is probably what you’re imagining when you think of storytelling – someone recounting adventures or struggles or triumphs. When I think about telling tales, I’m looking to preserve the skill of telling a story – not just reading from a book, but really getting under the skin of the listeners and telling them a story that sticks.

Tell a few stories around a steaming mug of something – alcoholic or not – on a special day. Make them up, retell ones you know in a new way, or recount old favourites. Storytelling is a treasure of human imagination.

2. Translating Tales

This takes a little more explaining, as what I’m really talking about here is translating what artefacts, landscapes, monuments, human remains and other archaeological features tell me as an archaeologist, and then present it in a story that is engaging, interesting, and relevant to the listener. That might take the form of an academic paper, or an interactive session with school children handling and exploring object stories, or helping develop interpretation for heritage outreach. To me, rather than storyteller, the archaeologist is a translator, bringing the stories of non-human or deceased entities to a new audience. More on the theoretical background to this is to follow in both a paper I’m currently writing and my CAA poster.

3. Presenting the workings of the world as a Tale

Differing slightly from 2, this is the act of taking scientific, academic, philosophical, archaeological, or other “non-fiction” topic and recounting it in such a way that the story it tells has a narrative structure that engages with the audience. It’s a key aspect of successful outreach and relates research that may, at first glance, be dry or uninteresting, and make it relevant and exciting to as many people as possible. This is the kind of work that people like STEM Ambassadors,  BIG Heritage, and other educational organisations strive to achieve. If you saw my TAG presentation on archaeological outreach in education then you’ll know that for me, this kind of storytelling is what helps our reputation as experts and academics be rehabilitated from the current anti-expert rhetoric and engage with the public in a way that lets them see we are working on projects that are not the products of aloof, elitist academics.

So there’s my three branches of storytelling, and what I mean when I say “I’m into archaeological stories”. Examples on the way!

Archaeopoetry #2 – Hiraeth

Hiraeth is walking up Cadair Idris on Midsummer, hoping
To come back down a poet. It is smiling at the word smwthio as you iron
The lines out of your once-a-year shawl, worn
With a felt leek on St David’s Day.
It is seeing the mountains as you drive down the M5
And knowing home is near, even if
You’ve lived across the border
These long years.

Hiraeth remembers. Capel Celyn. Llywelyn ap Gruffudd. Aberfan.
It chairs the bards and, with circles of stone
Marks the scars of words into the land.

Hiraeth is knowing dragons exist, or waiting on St Dwynwen’s
For that celebration kiss. It is the different words for milk
One North, one South. Mountains and Valleys.
It is rebellious princes, and mining pride,
Black gold and full high streets and song.
It is remembering an idyll
That, if ever existed, has gone.


Under Stonehenge

After receiving the 25th email for comment on this subject, I realise it’s time I actually say something. Stonehenge. It’s so many things to so many people; must-see tourism destination for foreign and domestic visitors, spiritual hub for pagans of many persuasions, site of incredible archaeological significance that we’re only just beginning to understand, traffic hotspot nightmare for London-bound commuters, over-commodified neolithic theme park. But what about me? Where do I fall in that spectrum of experience?


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Archaeological outreach as a political act: the plan

In December I presented at TAG Southampton about a subject just as close to my heart as my PhD research: archaeological outreach in schools. The session I presented in, Archaeology is a Political Matter, was a timely and vital collection of papers on the political implications of archaeology today, from Brexit to Cornish nationalism to British exceptionalism and why leaving your job can be a political act. The session can be viewed online here (with my paper being from 2:55:25 onwards).

I’m an ex-teacher, a mother, an academic, but above all I’m a rational human being that realises that the way we educate young people effects how they grow as people. With that in mind, I spoke about how archaeology – taken into schools as a regular and well-developed subject – can instil in children skills of critical thinking, researching, awareness of bias and influence, not to mention a plethora of scientific, analytical, and communication skills. Getting people engaged in high-quality, researched, outreach from a young age gives them the tools to not only appreciate archaeology as they get older but also to spread to their families and communities just how important, relevant, and exciting archaeology can be. It’s an antidote to the anti-expert rhetoric that’s doing the rounds at the moment. It’s a way of ensuring public support for archaeology in times when we fill face great challenges. It’s a way of helping people to critically analyse what they are told about the past, about cultures, about society.

With that in mind, I thought of this year’s resolutions. Last year I made a list that, I am ashamed to say, I did not stick to. I didn’t get my trowel dirty, I read barely anything that wasn’t study related. This year, I want to make a resolution that’s not really about me, but about others.

This year, my resolution is to take positive action to make better archaeological outreach a reality.

There is already some great work being done by archaeologists out there: the Schools Prehistory team provide schools with sessions from experts and fantastic handling collections, and independents like lovely archaeosoup do great school sessions (as well as some very informative video content). However, I’m looking to build a resource bank that any archaeologist can use to tailor to their own expertise, then get into schools as easily as possible, backed up by ready made planning, resources, and collaboration from others within the network.

With that in mind, I am currently developing three streams of outreach content, that will eventually form the very beginning of what I hope to be an online archive of good practice, available to all who wish to get into the classroom (or beyond) with their work and engage the public, especially children in schools. These three themes are:

  1. Sensing the past – a range of sensory activities using replica and real artefacts to help people with storytelling about the past using creative, informal sessions. This is aimed at all ages. The first session in this block, using Neolithic Carved Stone Balls as storytelling aides, will be the first and hopefully rolled out this spring.
  2. Murder Mystery BC – aimed mostly at secondary schools but versions could be tailored for upper primary, and post 18 education. Each participant has a role to play – with their own agenda, own information, and own motives. At the end you’ve got to vote for who committed the ancient crime. Follow up sessions examine why people came to certain conclusions? What swayed their opinions? Why do certain motives make people act in certain ways? What influenced people to act the way they did?
  3. The archaeologist’s day: A series of sessions delivered by archaeologists in different specialisms, where there work is presented and their tools, artefacts can be seen, held and felt, and relevant activities written to “help” the archaeologists with their research.

In each stream, the visits are backed up by a cross-curricular, fully developed lesson plan system with links to quality online content, recommendations for locations to visit, links to producers of high quality replicas or equipment, and contact details for people in the profession willing to answer questions or do future follow up visits.

This plan is currently very much in development stage, and I don’t foresee that it will be fully up and running until 2018 – 2017 is all about planning, planning, planning. If you would like to get involved in this project, I would be very happy for any help and collaboration; please contact me at