West Cork Osteology

Notes on the business of living and dying

Blog Bodies: Mortuary Archaeology and Blogging

Blog Bodies: Mortuary Archaeology and Blogging.

 

Check out this online book edited by Doug Rocks-Macqueen and Chris Webster.  I haven’t read it yet, but I’m looking forward to the paper from Katy Meyers and Howard Williams on blogging Mortuary Archaeology!

 

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Death and Facebook

Fb death

 

I started this post in 2012…

Facebook has made interesting in-roads into our social lives, as it was designed to do.  But it has also snuck into the space beyond the social networking.  Now for example, first, second and third parties can watch on as relationships begin and end.  Where once on termination, a person might not have seen the former significant other for some time and cut off all contact, now they can monitor the other’s fall out or recovery at a distance (unless they have blocked them, a move which nearly merits its own post).  Facebook stalking…the new, unpleasant way to end a relationship.  I can’t imagine this is conducive to the idea of closure, but it does seem to be a fact of our modern lives.

I started thinking about this when a friend, who lived far away, suddenly died.  I learned of this person’s death through Facebook.1  Someone had put up a post starting with “rest in peace…” I remember a panicked search for information.  I could confirm the death but not the full circumstances.  I remember in the first few days being struck by how affected I was by her death, though I could not say I knew her well.  Perhaps it was because I was expecting her to visit in the following months, and she had been on my mind more than usual.  I had been looking forward to her visit, and a mental itinerary had been forming of things I thought she would like to do.  But it was something more than that.  It seemed to be this concurrent dearth and yet overload of information.  I could see this very public grieving and yet not know the full cause of her death, and I felt that I could not ask.

This open showing of emotion remains somewhat missing in Irish context – in “real life” – but on the web, and on Facebook, it is growing.  Now I hear other friends say they find it strange to see status updates addressing persons no longer living, persons who might never have heard of Facebook.  Generally in Ireland, there is thought to be a growing democratisation of the funeral process, possibly as the population moves away from the ethos of the Catholic Church.  Where previously, a family might have had little or no input as to aspects of the proceedings, now there seems to be more choice.  Decisions about music,  types of coffins, locations for burial or cremation can now be part of the process.  And a more active input, if possible, in the proceedings is probably healthy.  There is a powerlessness, an impotence that death brings with it, whose remedy might begin with the burial process.  It does not appeal to everyone however and many families take comfort in not having to deal with the formalities of an Irish funeral in the first private throes of grief.

In the two years  since I started this post, we have seen various slight changes in our attitudes to mourning.  Now funerals are being skyped to allow emigrants to take part.  I see this as a natural progression from death photography, where photographs of the deceased, sometimes surrounded by family, or laid out in mourning would be sent to family members far away.  It would confirm the death, but also the ties between the living.  It would assure those who could attend that the deceased had been treated properly and given a good send off.  Perhaps another descendant of death photography is the recent funeral selfie fad amongst the young and sociable.  ‘How disrespectful?!’  the sensible adults proclaimed, ‘the narcissistic youth!’

And yet, what did we expect them to do?  We don’t give our young people the framework to discuss or deal with death, because we are so busy ignoring it ourselves.  A couple of years ago, the grandmother of a friend of mine passed away.  Six weeks later, we were picnicking in my garden and she slipped the news into conversation.  I almost missed it.  When I questioned her on it, she told me she didn’t know how to tell any of us.  She watched as her mother and aunt made phone-calls delivering the sad news to family and friends.  She realised that her vehicles for sharing news had become Facebook and Twitter and yet, she had no desire to put such a personal story on her time-line.  Perhaps we are part of an age-group trapped between land-line telephones and handwritten letters and social media.  We started with the old-reliables but now they are being eaten away by instant communication.2  I don’t mind people knowing if I’m in a relationship (or not) on Facebook or Twitter but I certainly don’t want to share with them the beginning or the end.  Our more youthful compatriots adopted these media at younger ages – they share parts of themselves that we, at least in sobriety, cannot.  We consider them daft or vulgar or imagine that they do not understand the reach and permanence of the internet.  I think we give them too little credit.  When teenagers share moments like funeral selfies adorned with sad smileys, some are communicating their grief as best they know how.  If we don’t want them to do this, then we have to teach them another way, rather than shutting down those responses because their manner shocks us.  Grief is shocking.  And when it is restricted, it will find its way out in stranger, more violent vectors.  Right now, I think the funeral selfies, though they go against my ideas of common decency, could be a damn sight healthier than anything I ever learned about grief.

But to return to my late friend on Facebook.   The page slowly fills with posts not about her, but addressed directly to her.  Her close friends and family continue to do so as the months pass, lamenting her absence or recounting a memory.  She is tagged at events with others.  Through this space, it is almost as if she continues to live a full social life.  I was surprised by this initially, and thought as an Irish “emotional alien” that this must have something to do with her nationality.  But it does happen here.  Weeks ago, someone  I did not know personally posted an image of themselves and two lonely words on Facebook and shortly afterwards took their own life.  That post remains on the page, but edges slowly out of sight, their last cry to the world answered only by compliments and platitudes, reminiscences and farewells.

For me, my first experience of the role of Facebook in the death of a friend was strange.  There was a compulsion to join in this online grieving, and I am certain that her death affected me more than it would have, had there been no Facebook.  I probably would not have heard about it until an email I received weeks later.  And I would not have borne witness to this sort of online wake.  I would have assumed that she was loved – she was a lovely, bright intelligent person, but I would never have known the extent to which her light touched the lives of others, and how dark the world first seemed to them with her loss.  Nor could I have seen how, as they continue to include her in their lives, they take the positive with them – that she was here all too briefly but that we were lucky to have known her in that time.  So while I see Facebook’s interaction with our personal relationships as unsettling, might something be said for it in the case of death?  Could Facebook be teaching us how to grieve?

1. I thought about editing images her page for illustrative purposes, but decided against it. Most of us probably know one person whose Facebook page has become an unintentional memorial

2. Yesterday I saw a television advert promoting the use of paper. Paper.

Nazi War Diggers

I am very bad at posting here, I get sucked into posting for two other blogs that I am managing at the moment Traces of the Past and IIRG, and all the social media for work. However, in the last few days I have been really concerned by the National Geographic Channel’s new output ‘Nazi War Diggers’ and I want to post my email to them here in case anyone comes across it. It’s not a great email, but a concern is a concern and must be voiced however ineloquently.

If you have not heard about it, you should start here.

“To whom it may concern,

I’m writing to express my and many other archaeologists’ concerns about the ‘Nazi War Diggers’ programme due to be broadcast in the UK in May 2014.  I watched the Human Bones Removal clip a few days ago and was astounded that such an event was a) recorded and b) thought worthy of broadcast.

I hold a Masters in Human Osteoarchaeology (removed as it refers to my place of work).  I daren’t imagine what other horrors your programme has in store.  I know that many other archaeologists will write to you so I’m not going to labour the points that will be made more eloquently by others:

  •  Those four men had neither the education nor the experience to dig out human remains (they were not excavated)
  • They could not even identify a femur, they drew conclusions as to that individual’s cause of death based simply on what ever came first into their heads
  • Those remains are of an individual, who may have died in the course of war. Neither that person nor their family was afforded a modicum of respect, either in the manner in which they were pulled out from the ground or the way in which it was filmed. You can promise and publish all the Q& A’s you want, but you cannot undo that footage.
  • Your actions are surely in contravention of Article 3. Go look it up. I have contacted the EU Contact Centre on this.
  • If you actually had had an archaeologist on staff as one of your “diggers” claims, they would not have allowed you to do this, unless of course they were drunk on the Fox Network Kool-Aid.
  • Metal-detecting is allowed in the UK, but is illegal in my country without licence because when accompanied by digging, such as shown on your programme, it is entirely destructive and renders the object or human remains recovered worthless in terms of information. How many individuals did you unearth who did not have dog-tags? If they have been forensically excavated, there would have stood a chance of reuniting their remains with their families, you robbed them of this.
  • As a network, you have a responsiblity to encourage ethical actions. All you have done with this is tell night-hawks and looters that what they do is okay. It is not. Grave-robbing in 2014 is not acceptable, because we know better. There is no excuse. Even some metal-detectorists are alarmed by this programme.

I sincerely hope you will bend to mounting pressure and cancel broadcasting of this programme. I doubt it of course, with all the free advance publicity, it would take real strength to do so. As a former National Geographic magazine subscriber, I am saddened by how the channel has let the foundation down so badly. I read somewhere that your ratings are at an all time high. But at what price?
Yours sincerely,

Philippa Barry”

Romeo and Juliet of Romania

Daily Mail image 11:34 GMT, 23 April 2013 Cluj-Napoca individuals

This is one of those articles I put away for development later.  It was supposed to be a quickie…

Much of our time in heritage-related work, that could be devoted to research, study, outreach etc. is currently devoted to finding money. This problem is not limited to Ireland, but in a country where we are closing A & E units, and increasing costs, taxes and the like, on what seems like a daily basis, neither the government nor the public are interested in diverting funds towards heritage.  Naturally, those of us in the heritage industry feel somewhat aggrieved, while at the same time hoping that monies which might have come our way in the past are being better directed towards health and education.  Part of our frustration however lies in the realisation that Ireland could supplement its income through tourism, which would benefit greatly from the nurturing of the heritage industry.

I digress.  This devotion to the pursuit of money, mostly in order to keep people in jobs, leaves us wondering: how do we entice people towards supporting their heritage?  While this may seem cynical, it has a practical benefit in terms of outreach – it is teaching us to communicate our research and people’s own heritage to them, which is what we should be doing, particularly if we work for organisations funded by the public purse.

So what makes heritage attractive to the public?  What draws in a person, that might otherwise have no interest in their local landscape, history or archaeology?  There is an assumption, for example, that Americans of Irish descent will have an interest in the communities from whence their ancestors came, and those ancestors themselves.  If the migration was during the famine, their interests might widen to the famine itself, and perhaps the workhouses and the related history.  If this is not the case, they may have an interest in the general history and archaeology of Ireland, but again, they may not.  From what I have seen, for many people, history and archaeology are interesting only if they can find a point within them, to which they can relate their own story.  Often, the interest lies more in genealogy than a wider, more general history.  So they tend to want to trace back their family tree, or find the homestead of the generations ago.

It is more difficult then, to draw a person’s attention to something where they might find no common ground. What is it that might grab the public’s attention?  The excavation of the supposed Richard III was illuminating in the public interest that it generated.  For me it seemed almost silly, this hype over discovering a body and using various methods to establish personhood, but I suppose we talk about these things so often, we almost assume that they are common knowledge.  And so while parts of me were sceptical about this study, and in particular the nature of the excavation, it brought the public deeper into our sometimes exclusive sphere, and that is a good thing.  It’s just a pity that it took a king to do it!

So when I saw this article on the Romeo and Juliet couple, it again made me think of how we present heritage to the public and how the interest that certain discoveries generates reflects back on us.

Romanian Insider seems to have been the first English language source to break the story online.  Probably because of its enigmatic title, “Romanian archeologists uncover Romeo & Juliet: medieval couple buried together with hands clasped”  it was not long before it was picked up by other sites and shared.  Let’s break down the title before moving on to the piece itself.  Here, for me are the “buzz words (sorry)” :

archeologists

Romeo and Juliet

medieval

hands clasped

Ooooh!  Already I want to know what going on!  I’m picturing some Braveheart/Shakespeare melange fronted by that Blackadder man!  Interestingly, there is no image of the excavation or the remains with the original article, which given our ever-increasing reliance on visuals, shows how strong the title was, that the story still generated such interest.

To the article.  Allow me to emphasise the parts that stand out in bold:

“Archeologists investigating the site of a former Dominican monastery in Cluj have uncovered a remarkable tale of love, preserved in the bones of a medieval grave. Two skeletons, of a young man and a woman, were found clearly buried together with their hands clasped for eternity.

“Dubbed Romeo and Juliet by the archeological team,…

“The remains belonged to “a young couple of around 30 years of age, a man and a woman buried together, facing each other and holding hands. It’s a strange case, a sort of Romeo and Juliet. The man appears to have died in an accident, as the sternum was broken by a blow from a blunt object and the woman buried with him could have had a heart attack on hearing the news, there isn’t really any other explanation for her death,” said Adrian Rusu.”

Let’s start with how they drew us in and made it sexy.  ‘Love’ and ‘eternity’, they could have popped up a picture of the two holding hands and left it at that.   It would have probably gone viral.  But no, they tied them to a Shakespearean tragedy and while they were at it, decided that the female died of a broken heart.  “There isn’t really any other explanation for her death.”

Let me assure the recently dumped that there are myriad other ways for a person to die that won’t leave traces on the skeleton and death from a broken heart is a decidedly rare medical occurrence.  The last quoted sentence is a a bit of porky pie.  There may be translation issues of course, it has not been easy to trace original Romanian texts on the excavation (I may not have tried hard enough).  For example, the death of the male is attributed in one source to BFT to the sternum, while in another to the hip.  And the images that turned up on the Daily Mail, may be of the excavation, (similar pipes on show in a video from Huffpost) but the sources are not cited and they do not turn up elsewhere.  Furthermore, they don’t necessarily match the description of two skeletons facing one another, even with taphonomic changes taken into account – either the images or the description are wrong or misleading.

My aim here is not really to rip the representation of the excavation to shreds, but rather to examine what it means.  Firstly, I feel it is a good example of what it takes to grab the attention of the public when we are confronted every second by new information, new news, new images, new gossip.  Without the Romeo and Juliet moniker, the skeletons would probably have been attractive to the romantics among us because they appear to be holding hands and based on the archaeologist’s interpretation, it seems that one of them was wounded in an assault or accident and that the other simply gave up and died on the strength of it.  There were two other inhumations at the same site that only appeared as afterthoughts in each article, though scientifically, they are hardly less important.  Thousands of skeletons are excavated every year but go unnoticed, slipping silently into the archaeological record.  If we do a search on Huffpost, which would be monitoring the web for popular stories and then reporting on them, the tag “skeleton” reveals the following:

Crooked King Had Parasite Problem, New Study Suggests

King Richard

Mummies Reveal Ancient Egyptians Wore WHAT On Their Toes?

Mummies and toe-rings

Surprising Skull Discovery Has Historians Scratching Their Heads

Not-James Cook, first European to arrive in Australia

Cleopatra’s Murdered Kin Claim Stirs Controversy

self-explanatory

What Rare Fossil Find Reveals About Early Humans

Pre-human fossil from around the time of Lucy

Unearthing the Truth About the Gay Caveman (VIDEO)

“The new hot media trend is “outing” 5,000-year-old skeletons from the apparent sexual confusion of their caves. But does the story of the so-called “Gay Caveman” hold up?”  Unfortunately, the video no longer seems available for this one.

5000 Year Old Warrior’s Skeleton Found Near Rome

Again, this title’s attraction is self-explanatory: Rome, warrior, skeleton, 5000…

The Joe Soaps of archaeology rarely, if ever, make the headlines.

Secondly, the Romanian Romeo & Juliet story displays how far an archaeological team is willing to go to draw the public’s attention, or at the very least, it shows that archaeologists are also susceptible to the odd sensationalist notion.  Turning around and sharing their Romeo and Juliet idea with the public, to me, is questionable.  Furthermore, suggesting that the female suffered a heart attack, and that there is no alternative explanation for her death is highly questionable.  But, archaeologists and perhaps historians (though I imagine they have less room for manoeuvre) are often guilty of this.  We don’t give the public the credit that they deserve; we assume that they will only be capable of processing one line of theory, and often we go on to present such theories as fact.  Most of our work is interpretation or supposition.  I understand completely how trying to convey the seven ideas that we may have on one event can be tongue-twistingly confusing and frustrating for both presenter and listener, but neglecting to mention that the favoured theory is theory only, is in my mind the equivalent of telling a lie.

It seems that we are unable to generate a sustained, long-term concern for our archaeology and history.  I feel that we are trapped by an ability to only create fireworks, to grab the attention short-term, to remind the public of the existence of our shared heritage temporarily, and hope that the more we do it, eventually something might stick.  Heritage is hidden in plain sight.  It is all around us, our museums are drowning under the weight of it, our country even is often held fast in bad ideology by it and yet to most people it is invisible.  Why? Is it somehow unrelatable?  Occasionally one sees celebrities on these genealogy shows crying because their great, great, great, great grand-uncle suffered some indignity and they are suddenly emotionally connected with a person to whom they might previously have never given a moment’s thought.  I suppose in  a way our struggle is similar to those of charities, to make the starving and suffering more human (as opposed to a 2D image), so that we will want to share our money (back to money) with them.  Perhaps this is why it is more difficult to make a martyr out of  hill than a skeleton.  We can’t really relate to fields. Unless of course it is The Field.  Or a field or landscape to which we can tie ourselves or our family.  Sometimes, if a site is lucky, it might find itself written into the origin myth of a people or find significance simply by being named in a tale.  Otherwise it is an inanimate object or place, something behind a ditch, that we vaguely register as we drive past.

Until we find a way to make heritage as emotive as something like soccer, we will remain reliant on Richards and Romeos to save our heritage and share it with the public.

QUICKIE: Earliest artificial eyeball found in Iran

Image of the remains in situ, from http://www.kavehfarrokh.com

Apparently this artificial eye has been in the news since 2006, but I came across it only last night thanks to the Montague Heritage Services facebook page.   But it is not just the eye that is of interest, perhaps the only reason is was recognised so quickly as an artifical eye, was its location in the socket of an adult female, buried in a site known as the Burnt City (site name: Shahr-e Sukhte), near Zahedan, Iran.  The unusally tall (1.82m), 25-30 year old women wore the prosthesis with the aid of a golden thread inserted either side of the hemispherical disc.  The piece was decorated with a central circle, perhaps representing the pupil lines spreading outward from the circle like “rays”.  It is thought that the individual may have developed an absess from wearing the disc.  The excavation is led by Dr. Mansour Seyed Sajjadi.

More about the excavation and the female can be read here:

http://www.tehrantimes.com/highlights/95935-shahr-e-sukhteh-unearthing-the-5000-year-old-city

http://www.kavehfarrokh.com/iranica/maps-of-iran-5000-bc-651-ad/the-worlds-oldest-known-artificial-eye/

QUICKIE: Ming Dynasty Mummy

I love mummies…  This one is really well-preserved, see the shoes and the eyebrows.  I’m very curious about this fluid, which seems to be the preservative.  I must find out more soon.  More images when you click on the link:


READ: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

Mary Roach

Penguin Books, 2004, 9780141007458.

‘Stiff ‘ was recommended by a friend when I was taking my death-centric MAHO.  We talked about death all the time, at every break, and in the pub.  Colleagues and family members would look on in silence while we couldn’t get enough of death.  We could take or leave the cadavers however.

I think we all looked forward to the anatomy module, I certainly did, but we were not prepared for the smell first thing on a Monday morning.  It would mean that for the next five weeks or so, no-one would consider going out on a Sunday night, and most would not eat breakfast until after the module.  On the first day in the lab, we donned the lab coats and the latex gloves.  We were warned that we should dress appropriately; sandals would neither be welcome nor advisable.  We were then asked to show respect to the cadavers, as the remains had been donated in the interests of education and science.  Should we wish to donate, forms were available.

On that first morning, the remains were covered while the head technician welcomed us.  This was probably to keep our attention focused on him, while he went through the rules.  Still, hands and feet poked out at us from beneath the sheets.   For our module, which was actually for first year anatomy students, the cadavers had already been sectioned.  We were therefore confronted only by individual limbs, headed (?) trunks or body parts.  On occasion, a cadaver would be sectioned on the sagittal plane.  I don’t remember seeing a complete cadaver.  We might study the hand and arm one week in lectures and see them the following week in the lab.  So while the selection of remains was mostly to do with the curriculum, I wonder was there also a reason we never saw a full body.  I wonder if it is easier for people to reckon with a limb rather than an entire body.  (Although, most wouldn’t go as far as touch a one; I became known as ‘the butcher’, because it didn’t bother me too much to turn over the cadaverous limbs.)  Some osteologists have no issue handling bones, but dislike working with teeth because it reminds them too much of the person.   Perhaps handling human remains involves some re-working of the ideas of  life, death and the body you may have held for some time.  I have wondered if it is more difficult for those with religious beliefs to reconcile their work with their ideology.

Apart from an enhanced knowledge of anatomy, courtesy of these cadavers, I came away with an interest in donation.  I hate waste and have been trying to think of an ecological way of disposing of my remains when I no longer need them.  I certainly don’t want to have tree felled so that I can be repackaged within it and a number of chemicals for a few hours of show that no-one would like to remember.  I see some romance in the idea of cremation and if that’s what family members want, then send me here, please.  Ideally whatever serviceable organs would be removed, and then the remains would be carted off to the nearest university.  Perhaps a fellow osteologist would like them for a reference collection, although they will have the excuse the condition of my teeth.

While I will endeavour to determine the outcome, it will of course be the decision of those I leave behind.  If I do write a will, they’re all getting copies of ‘Stiff’.  It may be a tasteless bequest to the recently bereaved, but perhaps they’ll dislike me enough at that stage not to care or to comply, and sign away my carcass to science.

Should you be recently bereaved, ‘Stiff’ should probably not be on your reading list.  Also if you still believe in Santa, Easter bunnies and the ability of the Irish state to self-govern, you’re too young for this one – hold on to that precious innocence while it lasts.  Otherwise, if you’re not too squeamish, this is a great antidote to a bad mood.  There are even pictures!  Not gory pictures.  But one for every imaginatively titled chapter, such as ‘A Head is a Terrible Thing to Waste’ and ‘How to Know if You’re Dead’.

Roach writes the book from the viewpoint of the uninitiated, and the humour helps to soften the blow for the squeamish.  It will not appeal to everyone.  I found it really funny and uplifting.  My mother did not*.   The Sunday Times quote on the cover states: “Delightful.  It will leave you feeling more cheerful about life, and calmer about life’s inevitable destination.”

To give you a feel for the book, here is a clip from my favourite chapter ‘Life After Death’, which details the work of Arpad Vass, and the University of Tennessee body farm:

This morning, Arpad and I are riding in the back of a van being driven by the lovable and agreeable Ron Walli, one of ONRL’s media relations guys.  Ron pulls into a row of parking spaces at the far end of the UT Medical Centre lot, labeled G section.  On hot summer days, you can always find a parking space in G section, and not just because it’s a longer walk to the hospital.  G section is bordered by a tall wooden fence topped with concertina wire, and on the other sides of the fence are the bodies.  Arpad steps down from the van.  “Smell’s not that bad today,” he says.  His “not that bad” has that hollow, over-upbeat tone one hears when spouses back over flowerbeds or home coloring goes awry.

I won’t say anything else, in case I spoil it.  If you read it, or have read it, let me know what you think!

* Following this book, I tried her on ‘The Loved One’ by Evelyn Waugh.  More death, and she is probably more worried about my interests but she enjoyed that one.

The absence of choice

So recently, I had the dubious opportunity of visiting the Work Abroad Expo in Cork. This was perhaps not a place I could have seen myself visiting a few years ago.  But then, neither was a Fas course, or a dole queue.  A lot of things are happening around here that we did not foresee, or did not want to see.

My going there was more of an afterthought.  Canada was being sold hard on the news – they had jobs.  They wanted me.  When relatives asked how the job-hunt was going, I mentioned Canada, and suddenly was off to the expo.

I was so unconvinced, I bought the ticket only to force myself to go.  I was unaware they had to stop selling on Monday (the day I bought mine) until Tuesday, when I met someone without one.  My small enthusiasm was diminished.    I woke up on 07:00 on Wednesday, and couldn’t get out of bed.  At 09:00, Paschal Sheehy was interviewing people in the queue who had been there since the early hours of the morning, and by half past, I had learned not to bring the car to the hotel.  I was so vexed, that when I realised I didn’t have my headphones to keep an ear on the situation via radio, I resorted to twitter.

The expo was not that bad for ticket holders.  The queue was long, but we were prioritized over the ticketless unfortunates.  Once we got through the door, it was not as congested as Dublin, and I managed to talk to some people at the stands and sit in on two talks: one on Quebec, the other on Saskatchewan.  Saskatchewan was sold as just like home, but better.  Better governance, better decisions, less fantasy banking.  Quebec seems like a gleaming research planet on Star Trek, but in French.  Both were very attractive.

Anyhoo, I was fairly satisfied with my odyssey and while the crowds were underestimated, lessons had been learned at the Dublin expo.  Credit where credit is due, I was willing to share this when I came across a tweet by the really lovely journalist Pamela Duncan, looking for someone who had been to the expo.  I thought she was looking for comments on how it went.  Following an exchange of details, she explained what she actually had in mind.  I was a bit embarrassed, having misunderstood, so I endeavoured to answer her questions in an email, and expected that she would respond, politely declining my assistance.  As you can see, I have tendency to go on.   The email was a little long.  But she felt I was a suitable candidate, and took a few quotes from it.  Which was nice.

Then paralysed with embarrassment, I kept it to myself until it was published.   I showed it to my mother and it cheered her up, so it was worth that much.  My Dad also got a kick out of it, though he spent some time wondering how I had fabricated an article about myself.  Both were visibly disappointed it wouldn’t appear in Time magazine.

The Time.com article is here.

I have decided that I might as well share the waffley email.  If I had been writing it for something like this blog, it would have been heavily edited.  As it was going to someone I didn’t know, from whom I never expected to hear again, the filter was turned off and I was just typing.  It is just a rushed snapshot of a moment in one person’s life.  It is a moment where a decision is being made, but I don’t feel like I’m making it.

I always wanted to work and study abroad, I hoped to do it.  What has changed is the removal of choice.  We have lost many material things in this country and little by little, we are losing our choices.  I recently heard of a man, who when he went to pay his mortgage, was told by the bank that he should not be shopping in Tesco as an Aldi was nearby.  They had seen a transaction on his statement.  The bank is telling him where to get food. They are wading so far into people’s lives, that they dictate on their sources of sustenance.  Everyday we are taking more decisions in the absence of choice.  Need, obligation or fear decides us.  Losing the right and then the ability to choose surely feeds into the myriad other mental stressors our nation is enduring.  Even our government is denied this privilege of choice and it is as if we are in the control of absentee landlords once again.  At what cost to our psyche?

Final comment.  I was reading the other day about the INSPIRE programme, which aims at getting more women involved in politics.  I always had an interest, more so in my mid-teens before I was disillusioned (saw sense).  As the opportunity antenna are constantly extended at the moment, I thought about it briefly.  But who would I represent?  My demographic is gone.  I would have to run my campaign in Saskatchewan.

Here is the promised text, warts and all.  If you’re still reading, you’ve earned it.  I have only taken out one sentence about family members which they may have considered too personal, indicated by the ellipsis in brackets.

Hi Pamela,

Thanks for your email.  Just to give you an idea of where I am at the moment.  I have only started to consider emigration recently.  I have been working in commercial archaeology since I completed my masters in human osteology in October 2010.  I started in law, so by the time I reached archaeology, I had missed the boom.  There was a lot of talk about the ‘good old days’ on my first contract, which through the luck and skill of my director lasted 6 months longer than the proposed 8 weeks.  Since then I have been out of work for a period of 3 months, which was partly due to back injury, followed by 3 months work in the north.  At the end of January I had 6 days work, which generally, though I believe it depends on your dole office, the system is not designed to support.*  Commercial archaeology is tied into construction, and so has suffered as construction has declined.  There is something like over 80% unemployment in our sector.  I have specialized, so someone would have to emigrate or die before I get the job I want.  The surviving archaeology companies are downsizing, not recruiting.  I would like to do a PhD, but because I never met the thresholds for grants, I have too much debt to do so right now.

I can now either stay here on the dole, or in a job for which I am untrained, or which requires something like the leaving cert (which is a bit galling after 6 years of university); or I can move to find work in my chosen field. After the jobs expo, I am even considering taking a job in something else just to [get] going, until I find something I want.  Fas have told me to retrain in IT as I do have some experience in that line.  I could do that at the expense of the Irish government and then emigrate…  When I did law, we felt sorry for the computer science students, because everyone had been talking about the .com bubble, now we don’t have enough of them.  I also don’t want my parents worrying about me.  Most parents have enough of their own worries now without fretting over their adult children.

I don’t want to leave the country right now, even though I always envisaged getting my PhD abroad, and I am trying to find work, particularly in the heritage sector.  I did live in Germany for a year during my law degree and loved it.  Quebec seems similar to the ideal European city, shiny, with good transport infrastructure, free education, safe etc.  I live in West Cork and the towns are deserted of people my age.  Everyone talks about how depressed the small towns are here, and how it doesn’t seem as bad as when you go to the cities.  My sister works in London, and seemingly, you wouldn’t know there is a recession there.  The minister for advanced education** etc. in Saskatchewan gave a great talk during the expo, and though I am usually cynical, I thought how nice it would be to have a government made up of intelligent people like him.  Far away hills may be green, but anything would be better than what we have here.

I have a relative who has spent four years in Australia, working and going to college at night.  He loves it there, and was able to visit recently for the first time this year.  […]  People of my parents age keep telling me they would go if they could.  I find that nearly sadder that the youth leaving.  A good number of my friends started work just before the end of the boom, they would have finished college in 2006, 2007.  They tend to be employed.  A few of my law graduate friends have tried to stay in education to wait out the recession, but now are emigrating to the UK. There were unfortunately too many people encouraged into law.  Other friends are trying to find a way out.  One is in New York on a holiday.  He’ll probably come back to collect his clothes and leave.  The archaeology sector was supplemented by a lot of Polish and Swedish people in the boom.  They are now petering out of the country.

Anyway, sorry for the waffley email, I wanted to give you some details in case it didn’t suit your story.  I have an appointment with the dentist today, so I won’t be available from about half one till half three or so.  I’m not sure if I will be able to speak for a few hours afterwards!

Best of luck with the article.
Philippa

*This was based on anecdotal evidence.  I have since learned that short-term work can be facilitated.  ***Honourable Rob Norris, seriously: look at this guy.  The spectacles have been updated.

I got a filling.  I was fine after a few hours.  Thanks for asking.

Worseley Man’s Violent Death

The BBC and A Blog about History report that Worsley Man, discovered in a bog in 1958, has recently undergone a CAT scan.  The male, aged at 20-30,  appears to have been “bludgeoned over the head, garrotted then beheaded.”  Evidence also suggests a ligature around the neck.  Lindow man, thought to have lived 150 year earlier than Worseley (50BC), may also have been garrotted, and had his throat slit.  So far, there are no images available from the back of the skull.  The beeb has a nice little video above, but far too short.

 

CAT scan of Worsley Man, staples holding the skull together are in blue.

The skull was scanned by staff of the Radiology department of the Manchester Children’s hospital.  Ever wondered how one scans a skull?  That’s how:

 

While researching this, I came across this snazzy video on the Hudermose Woman, of whom I had not previously heard.  Can’t beat those bog bodies.

Welcome…

… to West Cork Osteology, a blog for all things osteo.  Most of the content will be the latest archaeological and bioarchaeological happenings, as I come across them, on the web.  This is mostly to keep me busy, help me keep track of interesting articles and sites, and to spread the osteo word.  Maybe sometime in the future, a discussion or two will be encouraged.  Enjoy.