Monday, December 30, 2019

Thanks for Reading! | The Top 10 posts of 2019

As we come to the last days of the old year I’ve been having a look at what people enjoyed reading. Here’s my Top 10 most-read posts of 2019:

10: The Petrie Museum | Overview

9: Co Tyrone: Archaeological Objects at The British Museum

8: Co Kildare: Archaeological Objects at The British Museum

7: I have always imagined Paradise as a kind of library: some books of enduring importance (to me)

6: The Tauntaun of Fermanagh. 17th Century Cryptids in West Ulster

5: Co Louth: Archaeological Objects at The British Museum

4: Co Antrim: Archaeological Objects at The British Museum Part III

3: Don’t steal, don’t lift: Thoughts on the consequences of plagiarism

2: I got a letter on a lonesome day: The anatomy of a dispute with the Keeper of Irish Antiquities

1: Archaeological Archives for Sale! Buy it or bin it!

To this list, I’d add three further posts for your consideration that I think are worth a read but didn’t make the top 10.

John de Courcy & The Infinite Monkey Theorem – a case of plagiarism in popular publishing

An Open Letter to the Students of University College London

Clowning about in Galway | Excavating an archive from Summer 1994

As a final note I just want to say a heartfelt Thanks to everyone who has visited this blog over the last year – I am genuinely grateful that people read my fevered scribblings and even, on occasion, enjoyed them!

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

From the fireplace where my letters to you are burning: Waiting for an apology from the Keeper of Irish Antiquities

How many days has it been since the Keeper of Irish Antiquities claimed that I was trying to defraud the Irish State when I was merely looking to be paid for work they directed me to undertake?

Backstory: In a letter dated February 17 2019 Maeve Sikora, Keeper of Irish Antiquities said that “It is completely unacceptable for you to attempt to extract public monies for discharging duties to which you signed up under the terms of the excavation licence.” She appears to believe that I am held in perpetual indentured servitude to her on the basis of a licence application I signed almost two decades ago and that I must carry out her orders on my own time and at my own expense, without expectation of payment for my services.

I have repeatedly asked for a retraction of her egregious and wounding words and to offer a full, unconditional apology. To date, this has not been forthcoming. On November 27 2019 I published my account of my dispute, along with the full archive of letters we have exchanged. You can read the post here: I got a letter on a lonesome day: The anatomy of a dispute with the Keeper of Irish Antiquities. My hope was to spur either the Chief Archaeologist at the National Monuments Service or the Director of the National Museum of Ireland to step up and help resolve this issue. Unfortunately, they appear to be incapable of the task.

I have now published this post that counts up from the day the Keeper of Irish Antiquities made her hideous remarks, in the (probably forlorn) hope that these people can be forced into action. In case this post gets slowly buried under further posts to this blog, I've added it as a widget to every page. Just scroll to the end of any page on this blog and you'll see it looking back at you!

Old man with an hourglass by Gonzales Coques (Public domain)

The first portion of the title of this blog post is taken from Bob Dylan's song When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky, taken from his 1985 album Empire Burlesque. But, of course, you knew that.


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

As the curtain is drawn – Monsters & ghosts at a kabuki theatre

In the summer of 2019, I had one of the best weekends of my adult life. In fulfilment of a promise to my eldest, he and I spent a couple of days and nights exploring London. I wanted to take him to see parts of the city that had particular resonance for me as well as visiting places that were new to us both. Part of our plan was to visit the Manga exhibition at the British Museum. Before we went, I wasn’t a particular fan of the art style. To be fair, I’m still not, though I do have a much-increased appreciation and opinion of it. I can also vouch for the fact that the BM can put on a spectacular exhibition – claimed to be the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of the Manga art style ever mounted outside of Japan. Rather than provide a late review for the show, I wanted to pick out a couple of pieces that caught my eye and attention.

The first piece I want to look at is the magnificent Shintomi theatre curtain from 1880. This 17m long masterpiece was created for the newly opened Shintomi kabuki theatre in Tokyo. Its theme is taken from the traditional folklore story of the Night Procession of the Hundred Demons (hyakki yagyō). The faces of the demons, monsters, ghost, and assorted ghouls are modelled on renowned kabuki actors of the day who are show emerging from a bamboo costume chest.

The top edge of the curtain, above the actors, contains the red-dyed acting crests that identified which actor was in the role of which monster. The museum’s information card noted that the central monster, rokurokubi, with the long neck and protruding tongue, was portrayed by Ichikawa Danjūrō IX. While my knowledge of Japanese folklore is clearly imperfect, I am more used to seeing rokurokubi depicted with a long, slender, graceful neck. The artist’s choice of a lined, wrinkly – perhaps even muscular – neck (to my mind) adds an additional level of horror to the character. Directly to the left is a depiction of Onoe Kikugorō V in the guise of the Cat Witch of Okazaki, wearing a sumptuous wig.

The curtain is truly a remarkable artefact, partly (I guess) from the mode of its’ creation. It is recorded that the artist, Kawanabe Kyōsai, completed it in a single four-hour session after drinking several bottles of rice wine. He then used the hemp-palm broom he’d used as a paintbrush to sign it and describe it as ‘a picture done on the spot’ (sekiga). The artist’s inky foot and hand prints are still visible in places on the curtain, leaving a tangible trace of the frenetic activity required to produce it.

This piece was on loan to the Bristish museum from The Tsubouchi Memorial Theatre Museum at Waseda University, Tokyo.

The first part of the title for this post comes from the Bob Dylan song Restless Farewell, from his 1964 album The Times They Are a-Changin'. But, of course, you knew that.