Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Archaeology in Social Media | Chronicles 09

Hello & welcome again to my personal pic of what's interesting to read in Irish archaeology & related topics on ... go ahead, have a read ... it's free!

Philip Macdonald: The Base of a Probable Candlestick from the Mass Rock at Carrickanaltar, Aghanaglack, County Fermanagh
Philip Macdonald: Medieval Belfast Considered

Philip Macdonald, Naomi Carver, & Mike Yates: Excavations at McIlwhans Hill, Ballyutoag, County Antrim

Stephen Cameron, Philip Macdonald, & Brian Sloan: Two Assemblages of Worked Flint from Linford, County Antrim

Colm Donnelly, Philip Macdonald, Eileen Murphy & Nicholas Beer: Excavations at Boho High Cross, Toneel North, County Fermanagh

Karin Margarita Frei, Ulla Mannering, Kristian Kristiansen, Morten E. Allentoft, Andrew S. Wilson, Irene Skals, Silvana Tridico, Marie Louise Nosch, Eske Willerslev, Leon Clarke, & Robert Frei: Tracing the dynamic life story of a Bronze Age Female

Stefan Bergh & Robert Hensey: Unpicking the Chronology of Carrowmore

Andrea Watters and Niamh Ní Riain (eds.) Trowel. Volume XII. 2010. The volume contains all of the following:
Andrew May: The Archaeology of Ambiguity
Sarah Forde: Dying for their King: A critical analysis of the relationshipbetween Iron Age bog bodies and boundaries
Margaret Williams: Transformations: assessing the relationship between ironworking and burial in early medieval Ireland
Oliver Reuss: Never trust a text: Rediscovering “De Oratorio” in HispericaFamina
Claire Kavanagh: Late Iron Age/Early Medieval Burial Grounds
Russell Ó Riagáin: The Round Towers of Ireland: Date, Origin, Functions and Symbolism
Niall Colfer: Turning stone into Bread: Harrylock Millstone Quarry, The HookPeninsula, County Wexford.
Nienke Van Etten: The Murder of Murchad Ua Maelsechnaill: a re-examination of the Irish Round Towers
Kevin Rowan De Groote: With your shield or on it: An experimental approach to the Greek Hoplite shield
Catherine Sara Parnell: The Ancient Greek Kopis and Machaira
Maeve Mc Hugh: Occupant, house and state in Hellenistic Greece: A case study of the houses from New Halos
Leon Mc Namee: An examination of the Iconographic exchange between the Aegean and Egypt in the Bronze Age
Michael Ann Bevivino: The story of a fragment: The mummy wrapping of Khnum-Nakht
Michael Harte: An Ethnographic Study of the third gender and its application to the archaeological record

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Celts: art and identity | Some thoughts on an exhibition at The British Museum

If you’re in any way involved in archaeology you’ve probably already been bombarded by advertising and publicity surrounding The British Museum’s latest blockbuster exhibition Celts: art and identity. I studied Celtic Art (Capital C, Capital A) many years ago as part of my undergraduate degree at UCG (now NUIG). While I loved the art and the artistry, I never really developed my interests in the field and my attention instead settled on ringforts, excavation, and radiocarbon dates. One way or another, when I heard that this show was coming to the British Museum, I decided that it was something that I really did not want to miss. It has been described as “the first major British exhibition in 40 years to tell the story of the Celts” … basically, if you have any interest in the Celts and Celtic art this show is for you. What’s not to like?

Cauldron, Gundestrup, Jutland, Denmark (c. 150-50 BC)
Well …

I suppose the first thing to state clearly is that I really loved the exhibits … seeing so many famous pieces up close that I’ve previously only known as illustrations in papers and text books was fascinating. Even pieces from The British Museum’s own collections take on a special feeling when experienced together in this atmospheric space. I’m afraid that I had to apologise to a young couple beside me for swearing loudly when I looked up from a display label to find that I was only inches away from the fabulous Waldalgesheim torc … it is crafted in gold and, even after 2400 years, is shockingly beautiful seen up close. If you know me in real life, you’ll also probably be aware that I’m rather devoted to this particular artefact as I regularly wear a full-size silver reproduction of it … and still the effect of seeing these pieces ‘in the flesh’ is startling … though only a select few will be moved to breathily whisper ‘f**k’ at certain artefacts. This part of the exhibition could be easily and justifiably be described as ‘Celtic Art’s Greatest Hits’ … or even ‘Now That’s What I Call Celtic Art’ … all the very best of the genre is here: the Basse Yutz Flagons, the Snettisham Hoard, the Battersea Shield, the Gundestrup cauldron. Yeah! The gang’s all here!

Battersea Shield (R. Thames), London, England (350-50 BC)

Sandstone figure, Holzgerlingen,
Baden-Württenberg, Germany
(c. 500-400 BC)
Well … that’s the first half of the exhibition … after that it gets all ‘Christians using Celtic Art’ or ‘Insular Fusion’, if you prefer (which is lovely), eventually followed by eighteenth and nineteenth century popular reimaginings of The Celts, ending up with some twentieth century manifestations of the theme, including an appearance of Cú Chulainn as a ‘Celtic demi-god’ in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and a couple of photos of sectarian murals from Norn Iron that reuse and rework the same form of imagery. As the exhibition progresses the focus becomes increasingly narrow, starting with a broad range of ancient material from across Europe, dwindling to a near-exclusive concentration on Scotland and Wales by the very end. As this progression broadly follows my level of interest from Celts & Christian metalwork (High) to 18th/19th century (Middle) to Modern (Low … ish), I found it difficult to escape the feeling that the exhibition was being padded as it petered out towards the end. A number of commentators have pointed out that this second leg of the exhibition is less engaging than the earlier material. For example, Ben Luke in the Evening Standard says: “It’s at this point that the show loses its way — imagery of the druids beloved of the revival, of the figure of The Bard, immortalised in Thomas Gray’s poem of that name, and Ossian, the fictitious poet created by the Scottish writer James Macpherson, are so visually impoverished compared to what has gone before.”

Bucket, Aylesford, Kent, England (75-25 BC)

Left: Waterloo Helmet (R. Thames), London, England (c. 200-100 BC).
Right: bronze helmet from south-western Greece (c. 460 BC)
But I think that there’s more going on here than just putting a series of lovely things in glass cases. The act of placing any item or collection of items on display is inherently a political act. There are multiple levels of meaning and theoretical positioning integral in such ostensibly simple acts as choosing which items to display and which ones to leave in the stores; or which objects to display together to make a certain aesthetic or thematic point. Even the act of deciding to organise a certain exhibition holds much more meaning beyond the business decision that it will draw crowds and bring in money, or how long ago the last one on this topic was held. Now, I’ve never claimed to be the deepest of thinkers, but it has surprised me that (as far as I’ve seen) no archaeological commentator has made mention of what I see as the construction of this exhibit as blatantly political act. A number of commentators, including Jonathan Jones in The Guardian, note that the exhibition catalogue and the general guide texts on the walls heavily promote the notion that ‘The Celts’ as scholars once knew them - and as they still retain a place in current popular thought - did not exist. Jones says: “Celts, we’re told, never called themselves Celts and modern constructions of a genetic and eternal Celtic identity – promoted by Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalists – are as insubstantial as mist on a loch.” He eventually takes the decision to ignore the text and simply dive into the art, deciding that “The Celts may never have existed, but their art is amazing”.

Flagons, Basse Yutz, Lorraine, France (c. 400-360 BC)
At this point, I should say that I reckon that what the curators are attempting to do here is absolutely laudable. Scholarship has moved on quite some way in the last half century and academic understandings of the Celts as a pan-European carry-all cultural identity have long been in retreat. As Jones points out from the explanatory texts, the academic world has moved towards a much more nuanced and sophisticated view of ‘The Celts’ than previously understood. This is a view where The Celts didn’t consider themselves as a single, unified race or ethnic group, and would probably not have identified themselves using the term ‘Celt’. This is clearly stated in the explanatory texts and is echoed in the choice of artefacts and how they are displayed. In one case the two-horned Waterloo Helmet (c.200-100 BC) shares the viewer’s attention with a bronze helmet from south-western Greece (c. 460 BC). In another, the Basse Yutz Flagons share space with an Etruscan jug of broadly similar form. And again, a gold snake brooch from Roman Pompeii is shown alongside an artefact from Inverness that may share a similar date and inspiration. At one level, this is perfectly admirable. Big exhibitions like this are valuable in that they provide a space where current academic thinking can be presented for a non-specialist audience. In this way an exhibition may be judged a success if a ‘general’ visitor comes away with a deeper, enhanced understanding of the subject and an appreciation of where current thinking and arguments rest.

Cauldron, Gundestrup, Jutland, Denmark (c. 150-50 BC)

Overview of exhibition space with reproduction of
statue from Glauberg, Hessen, Germany at centre
To me, at least, the impression created is not just of ‘The Celts aren’t who you think they were’, but of non-existent Celts – they shared so much with the rest of their European neighbours in terms of art and culture and were internally divided by religion and language that they simply did not exist. While there is some truth in this view – their trade networks and cultural borrowings were wider and less ‘pure Celt’ than popular imagining may have them – and they were less an internally cohesive ‘culture’ than simple Celts vs Romans narratives would lead us to believe. The British Museum exhibition only concentrates on the negatives without attempting to provide a balanced portrayal how these Iron Age peoples understood themselves in their own cultures and how they may have seen layers of ‘otherness’ and cultural inclusivity. While there may be no historical basis for taking on Celtic identities in the modern world, the British Museum show fails to appreciate that these have any genuine meaning to those individuals and groups. One frequently quoted piece from outgoing Museum Director Neil McGregor about this show says: “New research is challenging our preconception of the Celts as a single people, revealing the complex story of how that name has been used and appropriated over the last 2,500 years. While the Celts are not a distinct race or genetic group that can be traced through time, the word ‘Celtic’ still resonates powerfully” [here | here]. A less frequently reproduced quote from McGregor perhaps explains the show much more succinctly – this is “not so much a show about a people as a show about a label” [here]. It is in this context, one of how our imagining of The Celts has changed, as opposed to an actual understanding of the peoples involved, that this show starts to take on some form of coherence. There’s no need to deal with real Iron Age people, because they’re a myth – a dream conjured up by James Macpherson and John Duncan; reimagined by Margaret Gilmour and Charles Rennie Mackintosh; reinvented in pseudo national costumes for the Welsh Eisteddfod and Victorian Highland Games for the Scots; and reworked by both Republicans  and Loyalists in separate parts of a divided Belfast. Taken together, the message appears to be that this 'Celticism' is just a jumble of misdirected ideas, some designed to forge alternate social identities as a response to the crushing homogeneity of Empire, and others designed to strengthen that bond. How could we take this seriously? This is clearly a case of childish wish-fulfilment and poor scholarship – the Celts we get are not a real people, they are the product of successive needs and desires to create alternate identities and pseudo cultures. In this way The Celts become nothing more than the empty vessels that modern individuals and groups pour their insubstantial fantasies into.  

In such a reading of the exhibition the replica brooch presented to Queen Victoria by Prince Albert for Christmas 1849 takes on particular interest and relevance. It was ostensibly presented as a gift from a man who knew his wife’s love of Celtic jewellery (Victoria owned a number of reproductions). However, the associated caption also points out that there was a defined political motivation in the choice of gift as the interest it generated was intended to bolster the local jewellery industry in the period directly after the Irish Potato Famine. To me, the underlying message is that Celtic Art is at its best when used as a political tool by the British state. It is really only a matter of scale: If we move from this one artefact and its political context to the wider one of this entire exhibition, the messages it promotes, and the fact that it is organised by that most British of State institutions, The BM, we see that the issues are the same. Before you think I’ve got my tinfoil hat jammed on too tight, I would suggest that you ask: Cui bono? Who profits? … and to what end? For me, the key is in the locations where this exhibition is going to be shown: London – the lynchpin in the UK’s Sweet Chariot – and Edinburgh, the capital of a constituent nation that recently attempted to leave that Union. Is this exhibition not being sent out like some latter day Marshal Wade? … “May he sedition hush, and like a torrent rush, Rebellious Scots to crush” … if we can sell the idea that all these appeals to a shared Celtic heritage are nothing more than the invocation of childish fantasy that has no basis in reality, whither the appeal of an independent Scotland? More than that, if you can be convinced of the idea that the way in which Celtic identities are created and manipulated is actually an articulation of the ideals of Union, forging disparate strands together for the common good, aren’t we Better Together?

Bronze chariot fittings (AD 50-100) from Polden Hill, Somerset, England; Alfrison, East Sussex, England; Stanwick, North Yourkshire, England; and Westhall, Suffolk, England. Organised as illustrated in Horæ Ferales: Or, Studies in the Archæology of the Northern Nations, by John Mitchell Kemble (1864).

A selection of European torcs
Maybe I am reading too much into this and seeing agendas where there are none … or maybe I’m not. While not being quite as bombastic, Martin Gayford, writing in the The Spectaror, at least recognises that there are broader themes at play in this exhibition beyond the obvious: “The message is: art can seem to be all about identity, but simultaneously depend on interchange with everyone else. In the contemporary political context this is an intriguing message, especially as the exhibition moves to Edinburgh next spring.”

Either way, I don’t think that Jonathan Jones’ approach is correct (“In the end I just ignored the texts and succumbed to the art”). Instead, I would encourage all to go and enjoy the beautiful pieces on display. At the same time, I would also urge everyone to be aware that there may be deeper political messages for contemporary Britain encoded in every aspect of the exhibition than they may be aware of. Rather than ignore them, fixate on the glittery objects, and allow them to work at a subconscious level, I would implore all visitors to approach the exhibition with an analytic mind. See beyond the artefacts, read beyond the approved texts, and question the motivations of the organisers. Muttering appreciative swearwords at the torcs and cauldrons remains entirely optional.

Exit via of the gift shop ... everything Celtic

Silver torc, Trichtingen, Baden-Württenberg, Germany (200-50 BC)
Celts: art and identity is at The British Museum, London until January 31 2016. Adult tickets are priced at £16.50. The exhibition will then travel to Edinburgh, going on display at The National Museum of Scotland from March 10 to September 25 2016. Adult tickets will be priced at £10.00.

Using the 'Search Amazon' portal on the right side of this blog to buy the Exhibition Catalogue (Celts: art and identity) will generate a small amount of cash that helps to fund this project!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Survey: Reporting of Archaeologcal Objects - Ireland

Posting on behalf of Gary Dempsey.

Please take a moment to respond to this survey on the reporting of archaeological objects in Ireland:

I am undertaking research into how archaeological objects are reported in Ireland.  Occasionally as heritage practitioners we encounter people who have in the past discovered an archaeological object, or know of one discovered by a family member which has not been reported to the National Museum.  I am interested in finding out how prevalent this may be in Ireland and if people are aware of the laws and regulations surrounding the reporting of archaeological objects in Ireland.

Through my work with community groups I have encounter a number of people who were not aware of the acts relating to archaeological finds, and in their best intentions stored an object for safety or out of personal interest.  I am interested in developing some education about this subject, separate to cases where objects are removed in malice, or for profit.

As no work has been carried out on this subject as of yet, I have put together a short survey in the hopes of understanding the basic level of knowledge in this area. The survey is for anyone who has an interest in heritage and archaeology in Ireland, and not just for for those working in the industry. I would be grateful if you could circulate this short survey to your Colleagues/Students/Social Media Contacts.

Coordinator Roscommon3d/Galway3d

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Archaeology in Social Media | Chronicles 08

I've been having a read through what I feel is some of the most interesting archaeology-related stuff available on the site ... as always, it's mostly Irish material, with a sprinkling of other things that caught my eye ... I suggest that you have a look, have a read, consider signing up to for a free account and even come follow me & read some of my writing [here]

Karina Grömer: Efficiency and technique – Experiments with original spindle whorls

Colm J Donnelly & Eileen Murphy: The origins of cilliní in Ireland

Hilary Cool, Howard Mason, & Philip Macdonald: Excavations on the Defences of Caerleon Legionary Fortress in 1982

Rick Schulting, Alison Sheridan, Rebecca Crozier, & Eileen Murphy: Revisiting Quanterness: new AMS dates and stable isotope data from an Orcadian chamber tomb

Ian Armit, Graeme T. Swindles, Katharina Becker, Gill Plunkett, & Maarten Blaauw: Rapid climate change did not cause population collapse at the end of the European Bronze Age

Bernhard Weninger, Kevan Edinborough, Marcel Bradtmöller, Mark Collard, Philippe Crombé, Uwe Danzeglocke, Daniela Holst, Olafjöris, Marcel Niekus, Stephen Shennan, & Rick Schulting: A Radiocarbon Database for the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic In Northwest Europe

Robin Bendrey, Nick Thorpe, Alan Outram, & Louise H. Van Wijngaarden-Bakker: The Origins of Domestic Horses in North-west Europe: new Direct Dates on the Horses of Newgrange, Ireland

Aidan O’Sullivan, Mark Powers, John Murphy, Niall Inwood, Bernard Gilhooly, Niamh Kelly, Wayne Malone, John Mulrooney, Cian Corrigan, Maeve L’Estrange, Antoinette Burke, Maria Kazuro, Conor McDermott, Graeme Warren, Brendan O’Neill, Mark Heffernan & Mairead Sweeney: Experimental Archaeology: making; understanding; story-telling

Robin Bendrey: Animal Paleopathology

Ian Riddler & Nicola Trzaska-Nartowski: Notes to Chanting on a Dunghill

Killian Driscoll, Jonas Alcaina, Natàlia Égüez, Xavier Mangado, Josep-Maria Fullola, & José-Miguel Tejero: Trampled under foot: A quartz and chert human trampling experiment at the Cova del Parco rock shelter, Spain

Elizabeth Shee-Twohig & Ken Williams: Irish Open-Air Rock-Art: issues of Erosion and Management

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Once more with less coherence | Further correspondence from Minister Mark H Durkan

In the aftermath of the hurried release of Prof Cooney’s Review of the context of the excavation of a crannog in Drumclay townland Co. Fermanagh on the route of the Cherrymount Link Road, I published a considered reply on this blog: Mud, lies and hazard tape: Reviewing The Report on the Drumclay Crannog. One of the outcomes of my piece was the formulation of a series of questions for a number of the key stakeholder organisations: Amey Plc, The Department of Regional Development, and the Northern Ireland Environment Service. It was in relation to the last one that I sent an email to Mark H Durkan, Minister at the Department of the Environment. The response I received was … less than satisfactory … I would go so far as to call it a non-reply … and I did: Drumclay Crannog & Top Men: A non-reply from Minister Mark H Durkan. My reply was to reiterate the original set of questions (and one new one) in the hope that, this time, the request would find its way to a different desk, where the occupant was capable of rational thought and had some degree of basic literacy. I had such modest hopes. On October 19 2015 I received this reply from Iain Greenway, Director, Historic Environment Division:

Our ref: TOF-1286-2015

19 October 2015
Dear Mr Chapple

Thank you for your email of 1 October 2015. The Minister has seen your email and asked me to respond.

In your email you refer to an earlier response by Mr Ian Maye, then Deputy Secretary in the Department, which you feel was an insufficient reply to your original questions of 17 July 2015. In his letter Mr Maye set out that a review of the events surrounding the excavation of the crannog at Drumclay has been completed. As you are aware, this review was led by Professor Gabriel Cooney, Chair of the Historic Monuments Council and Professor of Celtic Archaeology at University College Dublin. Professor Cooney was aided in his review by Sarah Witchell, a member of the Historic Monuments Council and qualified solicitor and legal consultant, alongside Nick Brannon, also a member of the Historic Monuments Council, a former Director of Built Heritage, and former President of the Society for Post-Medieval Archaeology. The qualifications and experience of the review panel were therefore relevant and wide-ranging.

The terms of reference for the review were set out for the panel of experts by Alex Attwood, then Minister of the Environment. The review met its terms of reference, presented its findings and identified six recommendations for further action. The six recommendations have been accepted by the Minister and work is ongoing to implement them. I can report that some of the recommendations have already been addressed and that all will be by April 2016.

As to your other queries, it is my opinion that in addressing the six recommendations we will have met the requirements of the Drumclay Review findings and have addressed the legitimate concerns you have raised. In stating this, I note that, in your recent correspondence, you "broadly agree with Prof Cooney's six recommendations". I also note your suggestion as to broadening recommendations 1-3 to include all commercial sector archaeological excavations in Northern Ireland; this is something that we are already considering. However, it is the delivery of the review recommendation action plan that is the primary focus at this time.

Finally, you mention the post-excavation process for the crannog excavation and the possible making public of what you term a 'roadmap' to completion and publication. The matter of completion and publication is something we have been carefully considering. As Mr Maye stated in his letter, this is recognised as an important work area but, as with many other government funded activities, is dependent on available resources. I anticipate that, as you request, Historic Environment Division will make our 'roadmap' available to the public in due course.

Yours sincerely

Director, Historic Environment Division

Drumclay under excavation
Cutting through the waffle, it is clear that the NIEA claim to be working on implementing Cooney’s recommendations and that they expect to have this process completed by April 2016. Further, they think that broadening Cooney’s first three recommendations (currently only referencing road schemes) to include all developer-led has some merit and that it is already under consideration by NIEA. That’s, really, as good as it gets in terms of answering actual, direct questions. Greenway appears to be unfamiliar with the usage of the word ‘roadmap’ to refer to ‘any plan or guide to show how something is arranged or can be accomplished’, twice using it within inverted commas. It hardly fills me with confidence that he then resorts to the same insipid, evasive language that I repeatedly received about when Cooney’s Report would be published. Considering the difficulty encountered in getting the DoE to release the Cooney Report, I will treat Greenway’s use of “in due course” with the degree of caution it deserves. As for publication of this exceptionally important site, Greenway considers it ‘an important work area’ but is ‘dependent on available resources’ … I don’t know about of you, dear reader, but I’m hardly overcome with any sense that this is a priority for Greenway or the NIEA: ‘Yeah … if we get some spare cash, we’ll probably do something about it, but don’t hold your breath!’

Greenway is also of the opinion that the NIEA’s implementation of Cooney’s six recommendations will address “the legitimate concerns you have raised” … well, that’s lovely and I’m really happy for them, but it doesn’t actually answer the actual questions … actually ... Considering that several of the questions are specifically noted as not being addressed by Prof Cooney’s report, the assertion that they will automatically be addressed by his recommendations seems unlikely. I have nothing but respect for Prof Cooney’s abilities, but claiming that issues he does not address or identify will be miraculously cured by recommendations not intended to address them may be filed under “eloquent and insincere rhetoric.”

While I’m loath to admit it, the problem may be one of my own making. I realise that my writing style can be somewhat convoluted and demanding, and not always conducive to understanding and simple clarity. Hush! Hush, dear reader! I know you will disagree, but it is true. I have run my ‘enlarged’ set of questions through MSWord’s spelling and grammar checker and find that they have a Flesch Reading Ease score of 29.9, indicating that it is ‘best understood by university graduates’ and are on the borderline between Difficult and Very Confusing. With a mind to simplifying the questions, I’ve attempted to rewrite them in the following manner:

1) John O’Keeffe has made comments in print and in person that there were ‘many inaccuracies’ in the reporting of the events around this situation. These have now been shown to be false and baseless. Will you please instruct him to issue a full apology to myself and the others involved in this campaign?

2) Have you or will you issue guidance on how to ensure that NIEA are represented by suitably senior/qualified people at meetings with other agencies, Departments, and companies?

3) Will you be organising an investigation into John O’Keeffe and his Senior Inspectors failure of leadership and appropriate communication?

4) Will you explain the circumstances around the Prof Cooney’s allegation of unlicensed trenching?

5) Who met with Declan Hurl to discuss these allegations and to who were the minutes of these meetings passed for action?

6) Will you explain why NIEA did not seek to prosecute anyone for this alleged of unlicensed trenching?

7) Who made the decision not to prosecute?

8) Why was this decision not challenged by NIEA personnel?

9) Can you explain whether the Senior Inspectors were deliberately hiding their actions from John O’Keeffe, or were they working without sufficient support and oversight from their manager?

10) Will the staff involved in this case be sent on training and receive mentoring to improve their future performance?

11) If this does not succeed, will you consider redeploying the individuals to less demanding roles or removing them from the organisation?

12) Will you make a commitment to disciplining NIEA members who have acted improperly?

13) As John O’Keeffe’s appears to have been fed incomplete or false information by Senior Inspector Maybelline Gormley do you not have cause to question her competency and ability?

14) Will you extend Prof Cooney’s recommendations 1-3 to cover all commercial sector excavations in Northern Ireland? [Partially answered, but I don’t want it to disappear off the list!]

15) Should NIEA directly consider whether Declan Hurl is allowed to hold an excavation license again?

16) Will you allocate increased funding to the Northern Ireland Sites and Monuments Record?

17) Would investing in the NISMR be more expensive than another Drumclay excavation?

18) Will you issue guidance on whether engineering firms should supply their own archaeological professionals, or whether there should be a degree of separation between the two groups?

19) Will you issue a statement to appropriately acknowledge the vital actions of the Cherrymount Crannog Crisis group and the various stakeholders of the advocacy movement in bringing this case to a successful conclusion?

20) Do you actually have a plan to conserve and publish the Drumclay material?

21) Will you make this plan public? [Not just Greenway’s “in due course”]

22) Will you make the conservation, analysis, and publication of the Drumclay material a priority for the NIEA?

I have striven to make the questions more direct to facilitate clarity. The questions now have a Flesch Reading Ease of 42.4, still ‘Difficult’ but quite an improvement. It’s hardly the stuff of XKCD’s Up Goer Five, but it is a start. Hopefully the questions are now sufficiently clear that they can be directly answered by either the Minister or his chosen subaltern. With this in mind, I have written yet again to Minister Mark H. Durkan:

Your ref: TOF-1286-2015
Dear Minister Durkan,
Thank you so much for Iain Greenway’s October 19 reply to my second attempt to get a series of clear and concise answers to several questions arising from Prof Cooney’s report into the Drumclay fiasco. While Mr Greenway’s reply is strong on restating the obvious and well-known, he is less successful at answering any of the questions that have been asked of you.

To facilitate clearer communication, I have recast the original request as a leaner, cleaner set of 22 individual questions. While Mr Greenway’s response partially answers Question 14 (on the expansion of Prof Cooney’s Recommendations 1-3 to cover all development-led archaeological excavations), and touches on Questions 20 and 21 (the Department’s plan to conserve and publish the material from the site - though it is by no means certain that he understands the terminology used), his bland assertion that the implementation of Prof Cooney’s Recommendations will answer all my other queries is patently ridiculous and blatantly disingenuous. While I appreciate that this is given as his opinion, I cannot stress enough that I am seeking direct, concrete answers, not opinions.

Thus, it is in hope that – on the third time of asking – you can find someone on your staff with the necessary intellectual acuity to answer these questions without prevarication and dissembling, that I submit them to you once again.


Robert M Chapple

PS – my analysis of Greenway’s letter and a fuller explanation of my reasoning can be found on my blog [here]

Such answers as I shall receive will be posted to this blog in due course …


The first part of the title of this post comes from Mongol Horde's classic track Casual Threats From Weekend Hardmen. But, of course, you knew that …