Being a major Doctor Who fan I today spent one of many many days of my life rewatching episodes from the classic series. In this case they included the Terror of the Zygons from the Tom Baker days season 13. It always strikes me how much kids probably learn about history from first watching this show. I know it certainly made me think when I was growing up. And so here is the first of a random new series on the archaeology and history connected to our favourite Sci Fi shows.
The Terror of the Zygons is in the majority set in the area of Loch Ness. A place many people have undoubtedly heard of due to its so-called monster but few realise the richness of its archaeology and history.
Loch Ness has been an area of significance for military, political and commercial reasons for the majority of its association with humanity, with archaeology showing that it has had settlers along its banks for at least 4000 years.
During the first millennium after Christ the area was populated by Pictish tribes who were later converted to Christianity following the pilgrimages of Christian saints and figures such as St Columba in the sixth century. In excavations in the 1980s a silver chain dating to around the sixth century was found belonging to this early Christian era. There is also evidence for a church established by early Celtic monks on St Michael’s Mount in the area close to the river leading to the Loch.
Following the first millennium its colourful history is still evident in the castles and archaeological sites that dot its banks. Urquhart Castle was the site of turmoil as revolts against the monarchy lost the castle to the English and then later reverted back to the Scottish with the coronation of Robert the Bruce in 1306. During the following centuries the castle fell through several hands including to the Clan MacDonald and then was eventually abandoned in the 1600s but remains standing in part as a reminder of the centuries of colourful history it saw and was a part of.
Even during more recent centuries, and even decades, Loch Ness has been a site of significant historical importance which has nothing to do with any monsters. During WW2, a Wellington Bomber (part of which currently sits mounted on my bedroom wall…) was forced to ditch into the Loch. Forty years after the event it was recovered in surprisingly good condition and restored. The spectacle of its recovery provided much public interest and after restoration it was moved to a museum where it can still be visited.
Inverness at the mouth of the river into Loch Ness is also a site of interest to historians. There are several other sites of old Early Christian churches and the Inverness castle is thought to have been established by Malcolm III of Scotland after he destroyed a previous castle at that point which had been built by MacBeth. This is based on literary evidence but the castle itself remains an impressive high point in the city and monument to the city’s medieval past. Culloden moor, the site of the Battle of Culloden in 1746, is also nearby. The Battle of Culloden ended the Jacobite Rising of 1745-6.
So forget about the monster when you are outside the realms of Doctor Who, when you think about Loch Ness’ history and archaeology. Real life stories of the Loch are just as interesting, just in a different way. This area dates back as far as the Bronze Age if not further. The Clava cairns for example, to the East of Inverness is the site of some amazing archaeology that really gets your imagination going. The site contains several of the around 50 cairns of this type in the area. Corbelled passage graves still containing burial remains. Okay the monster might be more interesting to conspiracy nuts but this is an area which can certainly be appreciated for its established history and archaeology.
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Several universities these days advertise themselves to students by stressing their practical archaeology opportunities but unfortunately they do not make as many opportunities available as they first stressed. What they often also don’t tell you is that there are plenty of other ways to get archaeological experience through a range of institutions, companies and other universities. So if you are wanting to go on a dig let me tell you some of the quick easy successful ways that you can get on one that the university will likely forget to mention.
And remember, anyone can go on a dig, it doesn’t matter about age, whether you are in university or whether you have been on one before. I did my first dig at 17 (oldest person I’ve seen volunteer on a dig = 73) before I went to university and am just about to do my 10th this time back in Turkey, 6 years later. Only one of these has actually been through an Australian university. You just need to know where to look.
How to find international fieldschools
Basically if you are enthusiastic and willing to put up costs for flights and accommodation (which aren’t too badly priced) then a field school will happily take you on. I have never not been accepted for a field school that I have applied for. I’m sure it happens but not in my experience.
The best way to go on an archaeology field school is through the American universities who have established sites and better funding. Australia does have a few Egyptian field school but they are really picky and the selection process is kind of ridiculous. It is much easier and frankly less costly to go through an international institution. And remember, if you are at a university, most universities with an archaeology component or ancient history department will have a course where you can gain credits for the field school even if it is through another university.
By far the best way to find a dig or field school is through Past Horizons which I have used for three of my digs in Scotland and Turkey. Their search options allow you to search by area, country and time period so you can tailor it to your specific interests. There are currently 264 listed digs on the website which you can browse. All you need to do is look over the cited website and email the contact provided.
Other companies and associations you can go through include:
Past Horizons and the other two websites list all known field schools throughout the world and through any international institution.
For Australian digs specifically you can go through the above channels and also Australian universities. However the Australian universities are known to be quite insular and don’t encourage outsiders to join. However there are other channels you can go through.
Joining mailing lists for the archaeology societies will tell you if there is anything coming up that may interest you. For instance the AAA, Australian Archaeology Association lists upcoming digs. Heritage organisations also advertise and there are several private companies that you can contact. My first Australian dig I undertook with AMAC.
Certain city councils also have access to information regarding digs as historically significant cities like Sydney and Parramatta are required by law to contract archaeological firms to survey certain sites before construction work is undertaken.
Other institutions which provide information include:
- Australasian Quarternary Association (AQUA)
- Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology (ASHA)
- Australian Anthropological Society (AAS)
- Australian Archaeological Association (AAA)
- Australian Association of Consulting Archaeologists Inc. (AACAI)
- Australian Institute of Maritime Archaeology (AIMA)
- Australian Rock Art Association (AURA)
- International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS)
- Museums Australia
- National Archaeology Week (NAW)
- National Trust
It is important I know to fit digs into your everyday lives and holidays. So here are when digs usually take place:
- Egypt, Africa – November to February
- Europe, Turkey, Near East – June to August
- Australia – October to February
- Americas and Canada – May to August
Basically the dig seasons fit in with University holidays and study breaks because most of them are ran by professors who only have the chance to run digs outside the university semesters. Archaeology companies do run year round though if you are most flexible.
Other ways to hear about digs:
Seriously, join twitter
And don’t be scared to just email universities and companies
To give you an idea here is who I have gone through in previous years, half of these have simply been from googling!
- Parramatta, Australia – AMAC – found in Newspaper advertisement
- Sydney – Sydney Archaeological Archives – Emailed university of Sydney
- Greece - Ohio State University
- Greece – North Dakota University
- Camden, Australia – Edward Higginbotham and Associates Pty Ltd
- Orkney, Scotland – University of the Highlands and Islands
- Edinburgh, Scotland – Past Horizons
- Edinburgh, Scotland – Edinburgh University
- South Turkey 1 – University of Nebraska-Lincoln, found through Past Horizons
- South Turkey 2 – University of Nebraska-Lincoln
If you would like some ideas on funding check out the next post on funding ideas.
Live free and dig hard!
And remember, we are not Tomb raiders or people who use tiny brushes and waste time. Get rid of romanticised views before you start! I’ve seen too many people last less than a day.
- Anthropology Students Selected for National Internship Program (prweb.com)
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- Medieval Knight’s Tomb Found in Parking Lot (livescience.com)
- Archaeology Travel Blog 2013 (graecomuse.wordpress.com)
- What is happening in Australian archaeology atm? (ancienthistorygurus.wordpress.com)
- PhD position in Archaeology (youreducationblog.wordpress.com)
- “The Bible’s Buried Secrets,” – Archaeological findings that will annoy believers as well as sceptics. (eagleman6788.wordpress.com)
- Archaeological Beginnings (graecomuse.wordpress.com)
- Caherconnell Archaeological Field School (archaeology.co.uk)
- Irish Archaeological Field School (archaeology.co.uk)
One of the stranger ancient scripts one might come across, Ogham is also known as the ‘Celtic Tree Alphabet’. Estimated to have been used from the fourth to the tenth century AD it is believed to have been possibly named after the Irish god Ogma but this is debated widely. Ogham actually refers to the characters themselves, the script as a whole is more appropriately named Beith-luis-nin after the order of alphabet letters BLFSN.
The script originally contained twenty letters grouped into four groups of five. Five more letters were later added creating a fifth group. Each of these groups was named after its first letter. There are some four to five hundred surviving ogham inscriptions throughout Britain and Ireland with the largest number appearing in Pembrokeshire. The rest of the inscriptions were located around south-eastern Ireland, Scotland, Orkney, the Isle of Man and around the border of Devon and Cornwall. Ogham was used to write in Archaic Irish, Old Welsh and Latin mostly on wood and stone and is based on a high medieval Briatharogam tradition of ascribing the name of trees to individual characters. The inscriptions containing Ogham are almost exclusively made up of personal names and marks of land ownership.
There are four popular theories discussing the origin of Ogham. The differing theories are unsurprising considering that the script has similarities to ciphers in Germanic runes, Latin, elder futhark and the Greek alphabet.
The first theory is based on the work of scholars such as Carney and MacNeill who suggest that Ogham was first created as a cryptic alphabet designed by the Irish. They assert that the Irish designed it in response to political, military and/or religious reasons so that those with knowledge of just Latin could not read it.
The second theory is held by McManus who argues that Ogham was invented by the first Christians in early Ireland in a quest for uniqueness. The argument maintains that the sounds of the primitive Irish language were too difficult to transcribe into Latin.
The third theory states that the Ogham script from invented in West Wales in the fourth century BC to intertwine the Latin alphabet with the Irish language in response to the intermarriage between the Romans and the Romanized Britons. This would account for the fact that some of the Ogham inscriptions are bilingual; spelling out Irish and Brythonic-Latin.
The fourth theory is supported by MacAlister and used to be popular before other theories began to overtake it. It states that Ogham was invented in Cisalpine Gaul around 600 BC by Gaulish Druids who created it as a hand signal and oral language. MacAliser suggests that it was transmitted orally until it was finally put into writing in early Christian Ireland. He argues that the lines incorporated into Ogham represent the hand by being based on four groups of five letters with a sequence of strokes from one to five. However, there is no evidence for MacAlisters theory that Ogham’s language and system originated in Gaul.
Mythical theories for the origin of Ogham also appear in texts from the eleventh to fifteenth centuries. The eleventh century Lebor Gabala Erenn tells that Ogham was invented soon after the fall of the tower of Babel, as does the fifteenth century Auraicept na n-eces text. The Book of Babymote also includes ninty-two recorded secret modes of writing Ogham written in 1390-91.
When students start studying archaeology and ancient history they tend to always think of one thing: Indiana Jones and Tombraider. Okay technically that is two things but they amount to the same, the romaticised view. So here is what really happens to the professional archaeologist! Live free and die hard is actually an accurate way of describing time as an international archaeologist. In my time I have had an absolute ball but I have had to work ridiculously hard to get where I am and get the opportunities to play hard.
Honestly, if you love history as much as I do then the hard work can’t help but come with some fun. I have cliff jumped in the Peloponnese, got drunk in ancient temples of Apollo, played rock cricket with internationally acclaimed academics and then played beer pong with them in university libraries. Every dig i have been on has had its theme song from Dr Horrible’s Bad Horse in Scotland to The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up in Greece (The mp3 player got stuck during pottery analysis with that one). I have discussed Doctor Who with Orthodox nuns, found a TARDIS and gone on a Doctor Who hunt through the British Library, flown planes over active volcanoes, chased thieves off ancient sites and had conversations with Romanian strippers about their shoes. And note that none of these few things were planned!
Life as an archaeologist has been awesome but I’m an eccentric and outgoing person so who knows, this could have happened with any job I chose to pursue. These are the things I do not confess to my students because they are only a small part of the whole. But admittedly I love the other side just as much though often stressful and tedious!
On my last dig season in Greece I went through so much pottery and got so desensitized that I thought of drowning myself in the wet sieve. I had to give up going to Olympia the first time to finish reading and reviewing a dissertation on Roman drainage pipes. The reality of the archaeologist is many hours of finding nothing in stifling heat or marsh land in the pouring rain or sitting in an isolated room for forty hours a week sorting through hundreds of Greek inscriptions to find the one one that is useful. Eight years of university to get a PhD (and it is taking forever). The reality of archaeology is a lot of repetitive research and analysis, lesson plans and bad weather. But you know what? I still love it! The opportunities are amazing if you are proactive even though the pay is virtually non-existent. The history one has in their hands is inspiring and never boring in the long run.
So if you are thinking of starting a career in archaeology remember the two sides to the coin. Its bloody hard work but it’s worth it if one loves what they are doing as I do. Plus its kind of fun saying that you can read several ancient languages and seeing someones jaw drop. Archaeologists are not by any means boring people. They are generally eccentric and quite mad (I’ve associated with Hawaiian shirted underwater experts and former smugglers turned archaeologists)
Also remember that one needs the languages. Its what students often find the hardest part but it really is necessary, who knows one day you could end up in my class or could be teaching a class of your own.