Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Stratified Desks | Stratified Minds | An archaeological Survey | 100th blog post

Facebook, eh?

Don’t ya just love it?

Endless streams of Lolcats … ‘I’m doing this mildly amusing thing for charity’ events … ‘which 18th century Pope are you?’ quizzes (I got ‘Servant of God Benedict XIII’). I can't really complain - I’m as guilty as anyone of contributing to this constant sensory bombardment. My particular humour niche appears to be the Star Wars pun – especially if judged by what people post to my Facebook wall saying ‘you’ll like this!’ (answer: yes, yes I do!). I hope that I post enough links to solidly interesting, engaging, and though provoking material too to provide temper and not alienate the entirety of my online friends and family.

Why do I mention this? Well … a little while ago I was trawling through Facebook … reading an article here, looking at a funny video there … the usual stuff! Along the way there was a link to ‘Rare Historical Photos’ on The Slightly Warped Website. I’ve seen so many of these over the last few years, I almost didn’t click on the link to have a look. Seriously – there are only so many times you can gawp in wonder at the set of circumstances that brought Alice Cooper together with Colonel Saunders, the Eiffel Tower under construction, or even Bill Gates’ mug shot from 1977. I had no reason to expect that this offering from Slightly Warped would be anything different. In fairness, it wasn’t all that different … I’d seen the majority of them before – some inspire awe and wonder every time I see them, some … less so.

In amongst all these little wonders there was an ostensibly ordinary photograph. A chair at a desk. Some shelves and a blackboard behind. A few journals are neatly stacked, but a chaotic spread of books and papers appeared to be the dominant theme. A smoker’s pipe lay as a bookmark on an open page. The swivel chair at an angle, as though the occupant has just stepped out, but will be back in a moment. I had never seen this one before. It caught my attention precisely because it seemed so ordinary – so out of place in the company of some rather breath-taking and inspiring images. In many respects, it is every bit as ordinary as it looks. The notable features are that the desk belonged to Albert Einstein and that the photograph was taken on the 18th of April 1955 – the day he died. When placed within these contexts, the simple snapshot image takes on a much greater significance. As a record of the personal writing and thinking space of the late, great physicist it has a very human resonance – all the more so at the thought that he has died and that this place can never be used in this way again by this person. Reconnecting this great mind of the 20th century with his physical surroundings serves to personalise the experience. No one will understand his works with any greater clarity for having seen this image, but many will – rightly or wrongly – feel that they know him better for having seen where he sat. This was the place where he worked – it was shaped by his physical and intellectual needs, desires, and circumstances. It is as much an extension of his mind and imagination as his work in physics. While I’d not previously encountered the photograph, I was instantly reminded of the well-known Einstein quote: ‘If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?’

Albert Einstein | Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey | More Info
Let's get a couple of things straight: I’m no Einstein, and I certainly have no intention of shuffling off this mortal coil any time soon. Nonetheless, this image gave me an idea. What do our desks say about us? As archaeologists, much of our time is spent writing for wider consumption – excavation reports, scholarly articles, books, magazine pieces, emails, lectures … even the occasional blog post. In these ways we show part of ourselves to the wider world. I think it’s time we showed slightly more!

To celebrate the 100th post on this blog I wanted to do something a little unusual and, hopefully, a little special. To this end I have asked a group of archaeologists along with an assortment of affiliated heritage professionals and enthusiasts, from various backgrounds and specialisms, to take a simple snapshot of their desks as they are right now – no clean-ups, no tidying (and conversely – no deliberate messing it up to look more interesting). I don’t think for a second that anyone looking at these images will come away with a greater understanding of our research, or the academic minutia that excite us, propel us and compel us. I do, however, think that it may be an interesting piece of outreach to say to the wider world: ‘This is what we’re like. These are the spaces and places that we have created. They are where we work, where we think, where we write’. Mostly, I just thought it’s be fun!

My requirements were simple. Without changing anything about your desk, just go take a picture right now … it can be arty, it can be a snapshot … anything so long as it’s in focus and you’re pointing in the right direction. Email the same to me with your name, your location, and a link to a bit about you.

I was remarkably heartened by the speed and willingness of the responses. Starting with my own, I give you my survey of archaeological desks (click on any image to make larger):

Robert M Chapple | Belfast | More Info
Iestyn Jones | Cardiff | More Info
Marion Dowd | Dromahair | More Info
Monty Dobson | St Louis, Missouri | More Info

"I am editing a series about archaeology so my desk is all monitors and electronics at present"
David Connolly |  Luggate Burn, East Lothian | More Info 

Maggie Struckmeier | Whittingehame, East Lothian | More Info
Doug Rocks-Macqueen | Edinburgh | More Info
Conor McHale | Dublin

"Chaos attached. I do tidy (occasionally) and often curse myself for being so unkempt."
Philip I Powell (Megalithic Monuments of Ireland) | Athy, Co. Kildare, Ireland | More Info

"If its messy desks your looking for, well I've got one big, hell of a mess. But, funnily enough, I seem to know where everything is."
Stephen W Muller | Adelaide | More Info
Adam Stanford MIFA | Harrowfields, Eckington, WR10 3BA | More Info [and here | and here]
"Taken yesterday before I read your email...."

Ed Lyne | Museum of Copenhagen | More Info

"And yes, its a mess!!"
Aoife Daly | Copenhagen | More Info

John Tierney | Kinsale | More Info [and here | and here]

"The archaeology we do today is community-led and strongly digital ( and The large screen is for the desktop computer and the laptop is used in the field/site office. There are two gps cameras on the desk with the most recent field surveys being copied to the server and archiving folders. A standard Nokia phone cos my smartphone charger is kaput and the Nokia is doing great. The Brother label printer (back left) is key for proper labelling of analogue records. The black notebook is a Moleskine and over 6 years old – still in use for passwords and contact details (great when digital contact lists are not accessible). Back right-hand corner has plastic storage for 'funny' pliers and spare keys. Also has stack of books and maps used for current projects. The folded sheet of paper is notes from close of business yesterday reminding me what to continue with today. Car keys are in the jumble reflecting the fact that we travel a lot on a weekly basis from our West Waterford offices."
Paul Everill | Winchester | More Info
Graham Hull | Co. Clare | More Info

David Beard | Aschaffenberg, Germany | More Info

Patricia Furphy | Manchester | More Info

"This is my desk at 9.15am, more layers are deposited throughout the day, then scrapped back at dinner time.
Harris matrix will be complete when PhD ends!"
Niall Gregory | Cashel, Co. Tipperary

"Looking forward to seeing the results - perhaps you Ghant Chart the results or create a typological sequence through geographic location, sex, urban-rural locations, religion, race, levels of clutter, etc!"
Philippa E Barry  |  Discovery Programme, Dublin | More Info

"It looks like I'm having an identity crisis!"

Michelle Comber | NUI, Galway | More Info

"you caught me as I'm about to start cataloguing some Caherconnell artefacts"

James Bonsall | Claremorris | More Info

"Had this been taken a month ago there would have been 50% more paper strewn around"

Eileen Reilly | Dublin | More Info

"Taken as it is right now - nothing moved or tidied!"

Laura Angélica Ortíz Tenorio | Mexico City | More Info

Rodrigo A. Islas | México, D.F. | More Info

Rodrigo A. Islas | México, D.F. | Other desk

Tiziana Talocci | Rome | More Info

"this is my desk..."
Isabel Bennett | near Slea Head on the Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry | More Info

"The one at work is not much better, but is of the museum curator me, rather than the archaeologist, so this is the better one."

Colm Moloney | Edinburgh | More Info

"Here is my desk in Edinburgh where I work most of the time now. It’s a disaster!"
Sue Carter | Perth, Australia | More Info

"I have just rearranged my office space so it is a bit tidier than usual, but the research folders in the background will give you some hint as to the amount of work I am doing on Fortified England, and that is not all the folders, I have more in the other room ;/"

Maura Barrett | Carrick on Suir, Co Tipperary | More Info

David Hunter | Melbourne, Australia | More Info
Duncan Berryman | Belfast | More Info

Here's a photo of my desk, I definitely didn't tidy it for you.

Lorraine Evans | Highlands/World Domination Mother-ship | More Info  [and here]

"just rolled out of bed, grabbed the camera and here you are. One shot of my 'work station' as is. Couldn't get any closer with the camera as my bed is a foot away from my desk!!"

Margaretha Marie-Lou McFarland Vlahos | Brisbane, Australia | More Info

"Here's a before and after of my desk at Uni. I'm usually a very organized person. But in this case it's more organized chaos"

Margaretha Marie-Lou McFarland Vlahos | Brisbane, Australia | Other desk

Nigel J. Hetherington | Cairo, Egypt | More Info
Aurélien Burlot | Youghal, Co. Cork | More Info

"It's messy tho, but that's the rule."

Dr Jonny Geber | Post-doctoral research fellow, Department of Archaeology, University College Cork | More Info

"I’m attaching a photo of my desk – where all the magic happens! You can tell that I am Swedish just by counting the number of take-away coffee mugs!"

Ivor Kenny | Wicklow | More Info

"Amateur archaeological explorer/wishful thinker and renowned for ten unsuccessful years searching for evidence of Bronze Age mining in Leinster, being mystified by stonecutters’ marks and being convinced that we know next to nothing about prehistoric life in the Irish uplands."
Neil Jackman | North Kildare | More Info

"My desk is currently a right state, with books piled up in a sort of stratigraphy reflecting the sequence of work over the last few days. To be honest it drives me mad and I regularly clear it all up, but after two days it's back to mess again. I'm currently writing an Audioguide for Swords and looking into the monastic site there, I suppose one of the things I like best about creating audioguides and helping to promote heritage sites, is that you get to see so much of the country and learn about lots of different periods and aspects of Irish archaeology and history. I really enjoy the variety."

Stuart Rathbone | Achill Island | More Info

"Terribly dull and boring though. You should see me when I'm working at home and it looks like a bomb hit a library!"

Terry O'Hagan | Dublin | More Info
Terence Meaden | Oxford | More Info
Brian Ó Donnchad​ha | Portland, Oregon | More Info

Brian Ó Donnchadha, Sagittarius. My turn-ons include inherited wealth, ownership of a brewery and lose morals. And my dream in life is to cure world hunger through interpretive dance.
This is my work desk at the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal entity HQ’ed in Portland, Oregon in the US. I’m in the middle of some tribal consultation for a couple of big projects, hence my desk is currently hidden under 2 ft. of field reports for dissemination to all our consulting parties (mostly Native American tribes).
Overhead desk includes my reference library as well as compulsory Irish stickered hard-hat, a collection of lithics picked up along the way, a sage medicine bundle from the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and a slíothar imprinted with the Galway crest that I can throw at anyone who needs a sudden jolt to the head.
Adam Slater | Blackfriars, Leicester | More Info

"This is my desk away from office at Blackfriars in Leicester"

Atsushi Noguchi |  Tokyo, Japan

"Currently I'm occupying 3 desks. The first one has already lost its original function..."
Atsushi Noguchi |  Tokyo, Japan

"The second one is for editorial works but almost kept by me..."
Atsushi Noguchi |  Tokyo, Japan

"The last one is set up just yesterday. It should be kept clear for operating 3D scanner, but I'm confident that it will be messy soon later."

David Mennear | North East England | More Info

"Always a copious amount of books by the bedside, although I hadn't realised how battered the laptop looks!"

Markus Milligan | London | More Info

Stephen Mandal | Dublin | More Info

"I didn't cheat!"
Bairbre Mullee | Dublin | More Info

"its looking fairly tidy today…"
Judith Carroll | Dublin | More Info
JG O'Donoghue | Cork | More Info

JG O’Donoghue  is an emerging illustrator and artist from Cork, Ireland, who creates archaeological reconstruction illustration and heritage art. He finished his masters in Illustration, at Hertfordshire university in 2010, previous to that his degree was in Digital Design. Since then he has done a variety of illustration commissions, mostly archaeological but occasionally story based, and his clients include the NRA(National Roads Authority) and Fortified England. His work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, exhibitions, seminars and various other media. His blog post about his studio space: here.

Katrien Janin | University of Leicester | More Info

"as you will see in my case my desk is not large enough and my research tend to spread out over my flat. This is a normal occurrence when finishing a report."
Seosaimhín Bradley | University of Central Lancashire | More Info

"not as interesting as Einstein's, although he didn't have a knitted Star Carr frontlet"
Michael Gleeson | Leitrim | Mature (45) student at IT Sligo studying Applied Archaeology

"Decided on this profession post redundancy when my wonderful wife sat me down and asked me "What would you like to do when you grow up?""
Edward Bourke, National Monuments Service | Dublin | More Info

"I spend one hour every morning testing this latest database. The idea is that we will get interns in to read and set kewords for each file and to tie this into the SMR database so that each file which is located to a monument will be searchable on that basis. Eventually leading to a situation that if there is a file on a monument, the basic details will be available online through our system the hope is that such a system could be up and running in about 2-3 years. The latest plan of many, but we live in hope.
The file being added is Wexford, Templeshannon (Windmill on Vinegar Hill) - Guardianship - NM No. 392" which is tied in to SMR WX0220-032----"
Caterina Pisu | Viterbo, Italy | More Info
Spencer Gavin Smith | Nannerch, North-East Wales | More Info

Let me talk you round it.

Chair: Bought by my great-grandmother from a bodger who called at her door sometime before 1911. It has the letters JW carved on the underside of the seat.

Spotted Box: Paper archive of the two excavations I directed for a TV series in 2003 and 2004.

Picture above Desk: 'Goldfinch' Artist Unknown

Lamp: As close as I could get to an Anglepoise without breaking the bank.

Items on desk from left to right: Glass Paperweight / Lancia Stratos model car / Pen in the shape of a Penguin / 'Spencer' train from Thomas the Tank Engine series / Alfa Romeo Giuila Sprint Gta model car / Portable Hard Drive / Wireless Mouse (weirdly I use one at my desk) / USB Multiport / Mug coaster in the shape of a tropical fish / Unfinished thumbnail scraper found in Lincolnshire / 'Spitfire' postage stamp.
Thomas Kador | University of Bristol, England | More Info [and here]
Brian Kerr | Fort Cumberland, Portsmouth

"It's got books, papers, files, plants, some art, and post-it notes. Quite a nice room, really, in the officers' houses of 1862-3"
Gillian Boazman | Rosscarbery, West Cork | More Info

'I was finishing an article at the time but really it's seldom much different'
Tomás Pádraig Ó Niallagáin | Co. LaoisMore Info

'while I run TheStandingStone I actually specialise in ancient literature and did my doctorate on New Testament texts'
Robert Hensey | Glencar, Co. Sligo | More Info

'One thing that occurred to me while doing this was that the computer has now truly usurped the desk - how much of Einstein's paper mountain from his famous desk picture would now be on his computer desktop if photographed today? That was one reason I focused more on my computer screens rather than the desk proper. The screen image on the left is the second most famous waterfall in Glencar. It is known as ” Sruth in aghaidh an aird ” which translates as ” Stream against the slope ” as it appears to blow upwards when the wind blows hard from the south-west. The one on the right is of Clegnagh passage tomb Co. Antrim'
Finally ... for all of you who have persevered and made your way to the end ... or even just those of you who just scrolled to the end to see if there was anything here! I give you a bonus image ... a broad view of my desk within its office landscape setting.

If you’ve scrolled this far, you’ll have seen (if my math is correct) 64 desks from 60 archaeologists. Two have provided photos of their two desks, and one has three desks in increasing levels of chaos. When I started this process, I had wondered if there would be some easy commonalities that could be drawn from these images. I had presumed that we’d be a pretty messy, disorganised-looking lot but with order beneath the apparent pandemonium … which is how I like to imagine my desk appears. True, some of my correspondents lived up to that stereotype … but many didn’t. Almost everyone had a computer of some kind … quite a few even had two screens … but not all. A select few have shown an admirable attraction to decorating their desks with skulls of various types and other archaeology-related paraphernalia. Some of these places appear (to me) quite Spartan, while others are sumptuous, rich, and inviting. I was interested to note that there is only one obvious smoker in this number, with cigarettes clearly on the desk. Years ago I would have been the same – I had a number of ashtrays on my desk and rarely ever sat to write without first lighting up. While I was on the verge of lamenting my inability to find some thread that drew us all together, I began to think back on how we as a group are regularly portrayed in the media. All those stories that start ‘Archaeologists have found a …’ or ‘Archaeologists now believe that …’ where we appear to be a vast homogenous lump. Looking at these desks reminds me that we may be united in our professional and personal interests in all things ‘heritage’, but we remain a diverse bunch of individuals, with different specialisms, research agendas, and all that goes with that. From a personal point of view, I know the contributors at different levels – some are long-term friends and colleagues that I’ve worked with and drank with; some I know only professionally – we’ve rarely, if ever, met in person, but I know and respect their published works; some are known to me only through social media of one form or another – there’s even one or two that were totally unknown to me, but heard about my project through a third party and felt like joining in.

However they have come to be here, I thank them all for being willing to engage with this little project. I would encourage anyone reading this post to go sample some of our collective diversity by clicking on some of the ‘More Info’ links that accompany many of the images. You’ll see how we represent a huge spread of approaches, thinking, geography, and time periods. In that same spirit of thanks, I want to express my huge appreciation to all readers of this blog. If no one had been interested to read what I put up here, this endeavour would have quickly faded. But the readers came and so have guest bloggers – and I thank you all! Without developing an audience this little blog would never have survived, and would certainly never have come to celebrate its 100th post. Long may we continue together!

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all!

Robert M Chapple

Late Additions to the survey - please feel free to send me your pics!

Spencer Carter | London | More Info

I forgot to send these. Can I be grandfathered? They're not contrived.
They are of a moment. Lithicists-cum-Editors move slowly and systematically
Spencer Carter | London | Second Desk
Telizhenko Sergey | Kiev | More Info

Before annexion of Crimea I worked at Crimean branch of Institute of 
Archaeology National Ukrainian Academy of Science (department of
 prehistory archaeology). From April 1-st I working in Kyiv in Institute 
of Archaeology in department of Crimean archaeology. Here you 
can see my workplace when I came back from excavations of 
Late Neolithic site Novoselivka-VI. Ceramics are everywhere.
Tom Gardner | Edinburgh | More Info

I'm a 4th year undergrad in archaeology at the University of Edinburgh.
On [the desk] are some papers on animal coprolites, and plans from the Bradford
Kaims site, which I supervise for the Bamburgh Research Project. Other than
that its a relatively empty desk, hopefully not evidence of an empty mind.
Candace Weddle | Greenville, SC | More Info

Mine is fairly organized, which is undoubtedly an indication of some sort of mental 
illness.  I like to say that I have  CDO - It's like OCD, but in alphabetical order. 
Genavie Thomas | Portland, Oregon
The wine bottle was from last nights binge reporting, and the coffee is this mornings cup.
I just got a new tool, note the auger on the guest bed.
Hanno Conring | Norden, Lower Saxony, Germany
Peter McCrone | near Poulton-le-Fylde

Current Count: 
People: 67
Desks 72

A notice of this post has appeared on the superb These Bones of Mine blog (here). It's a lovely tribute to this piece, but quite a bit more eloquent and better written than mine. Another one is to be found on the wonderful The Lorraine Evans Blog (here)

Bob Muckle at Capilano U in Vancouver (definitely worth a follow on Twitter - here) has, in a parallel endeavour, shared his own desk, crammed with fantastic bits and pieces: here.

The most wonderful and interesting Ivor Kenny has sent me this very engaging MindNode map of the desks in the survey (up to May 20th 2014).

Inspired by this post, the Rantin' and Rovin' blog has posted a lovely piece about how they don't have a desk, but move from Starbucks to Starbucks with a laptop ... a lovely, lovely read that I can't recommend highly enough! See it: here

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