"Archaeology is whatever you want it to become" (Clive Gamble, Archaeology. The basics)

8 August 2016

Pikachu, the vandal

by Daniel García Raso

Would you abandon him now?
Until very recently, Nintendo, one of the giants of video games, had refused flatly (quite incomprehensibly from a business point of view) to create games for smartphones and other mobile devices, or even to allow their classic games (Mario, Donkey Kong or sagas like Metroid) to be available on these platforms.

But at a meeting of senior executives, someone had to bring Tatsumi Kimishima to reason because Miitomo, the first smartphone app of the Japanese company, was released on March 17 with terrific success: in less than a month it got 4 million downloads. In less than a month since its launch on July 7, Pokémon Go surpassed platforms like Twitter in terms of user numbers. Thanks to the fetishist momentum of casual gamers, some must be gloating in Tokyo... even recovering from the ‘bump’ of Wii U, until they stated a mere 32% of stocks in Niantic, the actual company that released the app. 

Pokémon Go is not only the first game application using augmented reality to harvest a great success, but also a game that has changed the behaviour of a huge segment of society, even within heritage (it remains to be seen if it's just the fever of novelty or if it will have a long-lasting effect). A new, sadomasochistic relationship between two forms of material culture that sometimes are almost one and the same: videogames and heritage, or videogames as heritage.Leaving aside the news that direct our attention to the true nature of human stupidity (e.g. several deaths caused by falls and even shootings at Pokémon-hunters believing they were thieves have been reported, and other ‘wonderful’ examples of the digital age: even the National Police in Spain had to issue advice on how to play Pokémon Go safely [!]), those relating to unfortunate incidents in a number of museums, monuments, squares, and other honourable heritage places, have been in no way less, as if Pikachu had become a barbarian such as those who passed through the Empire after the fall of Rome (or worse: a kind of pirate graffiti artist).

In Turkey, some want to ban Pokémon Go, before mosques are filled with teams of Pokémon-hunters. Auswitch Memorial in Poland had to ask visitors not to play inside, much like the Holocaust Memorial Museum in New York. But other heritage sites, and some museums, did not miss the opportunity to ‘capture’ potential visitors, using Pokémon Go as lure and embracing the hype via their social media accounts. However, after the news of the Pokémon-hunters-caused destruction at the MorikamiMuseum in Florida broke, some regretted it. In this category are also those who saw in this phenomenon a chance to create a fun way to learn or an informative way to play: searching pokémons in archaeological sites. Will Pikachu resist in Numancia?

Pokémon Go becomes then, with an entirely bipolar approach, threat and opportunity at the same time. More visitors would go to museums if they advertised (as it happened) that they contain pokémons; and more elements of heritage can be threatened by the digital commodification of their GPS coordinates. One might wonder which creatures can be found in some sites, the morality of which is constantly being challenged, in countries like Spain, where the Valley of the Fallen or Moncloa´s Victory Arch in Madrid are both symbols of the victory of fascism in the Spanish Civil War. Will we find there a weak Meowth or a powerful Mewtwo? Will the arrival of the hunters end up destroying the heritage character that exasperates many people in those places? We'll see... In the era of the Third Industrial Revolution everything is possible, especially when pokémons can be found even in our own toilet.

Literally in Jaime's toilet

However, some theoretical questions about material culture arise: could something similar have happened in the past, such as a sudden introduction of a new form of material culture that could have threatened or altered an existing one up to completely changing its meaning? It's just a thought to keep in mind. Who knows what can happen in the future if, for example, a Charmander is found on the remains of a new hominin in Olduvai. Will we descend then from a pixel? Where is the limit between relevant and incidental? Pikachu the vandal knows and is watching you, waiting for you...

18 May 2016

DGUF Conference 2016 - Experiencing politics in Berlin

I did not expect such a good weather in Berlin. With a full program from Thursday to Sunday, I had limited time to see Berlin, so right after checking in at the hotel I run out for a walk. I usually see politics everywhere, but Berlin was overwhelming; the struggle between Communism and Capitalism is still more than evident anywhere you look.

Curry at the Wall, Berlin

I wanted to open the post with this photo, because it is, in a way, a perfect introduction to my thoughts on the conference. You can only see the sausage and a bit of a balloon right where the wall was, not that long ago. Of course, Coca Cola is there and the bear holds victoriously his sausage as a trophy. Communism is over and we are all so happy about it that the new planning of the city embraced Capitalism in a way few cities have done. Meanwhile, in Checkpoint Charlie, a couple of guys in army uniforms take photos with happy tourists that just entered the USA quarter. I cannot pay my public transport ticket with a MasterCard or a 50€ bill in the machines. Well, fine.

You already know my reviews are not very traditional. When it comes to book reviews I try to be focused, because they give me the book and I kind of owe them. But now I do this for pleasure and the risk to underdescribe the event is high. However, although this seems to be disconnected, I really think it has a lot to do with one of the topics that was not well-represented in the debates of the conference (let's start with the bad stuff): IDEOLOGY. Why? Because the conference was about Politics, Power, etc.

Are we still afraid to discuss where we stand? I was shocked with some of the comments about DGUF membership and its history. They basically boycotted conservative academics to start a different kind of society, radical (and lefty). Still today, in 2016, many people are not very keen to say in public they are members... out of fear. Well, let's face it: ideology is everywhere, also here. I use Zizek's toilets talk as an example. Germany: metaphysics and poetry. Now changing to the French approach...

If I recall well, we ended up talking about two main issues: communities and policy making. If you want to find out more about the talks, just check the Twitter feed for #DGUF2016 and some of the videos in the Bergische Historiker Youtube channel. Soon, DGUF will make available a summary of the debates, that were probably the best feature of the whole conference, taking place after every couple of talks.

During a debate at DGUF2016
Recycling at DGUF2016

And the recycled coffee cups... I loved them.

Anyway, back to the topic, I think we are still in a transition from traditional archaeology to new ways of understanding our position in the world. DGUF is probably a great example, from the Tübingen Thesis to this conference and probably the ones to come.

At this point, I need to thank the organisers and Sophie for keeping us posted with the language, as many presentations were in German and I overestimated my understanding of the language. In some way we biased the debates with the external approach to German problems, but maybe that was interesting and it definitely opened my eyes in many ways (example: huge gender gap in German archaeology vs. small gender gap in Spanish archaeology). Maybe this is why ideology was not directly faced in this conference. It was not the time yet...

If I could make a short summary of the conference, I would say that Germany finally addressed many issues that were still caged by traditional archaeology, and that is extremely important. Topics went from "prekariat" and how bad archaeology is for living outside academia, to the implications of power (in terms of research and policy) for the management of archaeology. Within this background, communities where present all the time. Their role in the general picture was one of the issues raised by McGimsey in Public Archeology and is still one of the great challenges for archaeology in Europe and anywhere else. Legislation is probably one of the main components for understanding how things are, although Academia has mostly done what they wanted and management is not 100% dependent on it. But legislation is not always in our hands and this is the case for many countries where archaeology's link to society has been historically weak (in terms of active participation from either side).
A good introduction (as it was) to the whole topic, addressed during the conference, is Diane Schrezler's talk:

One of the issues I spotted was a neocolonial approach (not necessarily conscious) within archaeological practice coming from the UK. Don't get me wrong. I share most of the aims, but it often looks like anything coming from the UK is great and should be adopted, while we keep on underestimating our own values and avoid looking for innovative solutions. I am sorry, but the community archaeology approach of the UK does not seem to work in most of the world. However, it works fairly well bad there. This is power and politics too. A critical approach to these practices is needed, as things are not as good as they sound and, anyway, we cannot apply them freely in our own countries. 

That said, there were some valuable discussions and examples from local participants, and knowing what else we can find abroad is always interesting.
But I don't want to be very long... I prefer that you read the outcomes when they come out and maybe watch the videos too. One of the great aspects of technology is that we can 'be' almost anywhere with a click. 

I would like to make some final points clear with my conclusions of the conference:
1. Archaeology is not the best working environment and we do not know how to solve this problem (or do we?).
2. Power relations in (and out of) archaeology are present and undermine the development of the discipline.
3. We need to embrace politics and, once we actually do it, be open to ideologies.
4. The role of communities is still an issue to be addressed and the Faro Convention is not that good or clear about it.
5. We need new formats of communication in order to be effective at all levels.

BRAVO to DGUF for a great conference... You might be small, but you are doing great things that will change the world of German Archaeology.

Jaime Almansa Sánchez

25 February 2016

Evaluating our journal

This year's editorial had a lot to do with the future of the archaeology publishing world – a future that looks bleak – and an Open Access model that should confront neoliberal trends in academic publishing. It might sound strange coming from a journal sponsored by a company, but we believe our ethical stand on this matter is crystal clear.
One of the issues we need to address now is the quality of the journal. There are certain things we are not willing to change. For instance, we believe that a large academic Editorial Board, which has little or no involvement in the real daily affairs of the journal, would not change anything for the better. However, there clearly is room for improvement and we ask you to help us in this effort.

Radboud University Nijmegen has launched "Quality Open Access Market" (QOAM) to evaluate Open Access journals in a collaborative way. We want to use this tool in order to improve the journal, so we will not ask you for a 5.0 to be greener than anyone, but a sincere opinion on our journal so that we change towards a real 5.0.
In order to participate, you need to have an institutional email, and it would be better if you have been an author, as some of the questions are related to the editorial process. Jaime already participated and, as you can see, he is aware of some things we are missing. So, fill out your score cards to help us keep improving!
Our plans for the future include some small changes. A first dilemma we have has to do with the use of DOI. As you know it is being largely used by top journals, but we do not see its real benefit beyond an easier tracking system for cross references within the traditional indexing arena. After all, it is just a link to another already existing link. The difference? The price. You have to pay in order to get it, feeding someone's business.
Are we wrong? Maybe. This is why we also want to encourage you to share your ideas for improvement with us, explaining why you think they must be implemented.
Thanks a lot in advance and we can’t wait to see your comments!

The Editorial Team

25 December 2015

Editorial: Consolidating the model

As we are about to bid farewell to 2015, we must admit that this past year has been interesting regarding the academic publishing sector. In September 2014 we presented a poster at the EAA Meeting in Istanbul to celebrate our journal’s first five years. One of the points highlighted in our poster was our commitment to provide a completely free service to both authors and readers. This academic publishing model is by no means innovative. It has been established in Spanish archaeology since 1998 with ArqueoWeb and, during the past few years, most institutional journals have been uploaded under the OJS (Open Journal Systems) platform. In the case of public institutions, Open Access is understood as part of their academic responsibilities and its standard costs are incorporated in the general budget for publications. In our case, JAS Arqueología S.L.U. supports the small material costs of the journal, while our team works voluntarily for the project.

Then, is AP Journal a loss-making endeavour? Of course it is. With zero returns it is practically impossible to make any money. The point, however, is not making profit but sharing public archaeology, and this is what distinguishes us from any other editorial. Once the web hosting service is paid, the material costs of the journal are less than 100€ per year, which is affordable for the company if donations to the journal are low. However, the financial costs are only one part of the equation. The other critical part is the time spent and effort put into the whole project. Obviously, we all have other work─and life─related commitments and responsibilities, but still we are willing to commit to the project in our spare time, although the latter is sometimes hard to find. We (Elena and Jaime), as founders and editors of the journal, have the responsibility to do it, but should thank again (and always) the rest of the team for their hard work and for sticking with us. Together we spend several dozens of hours handling and copyediting papers, communicating with authors, reviewers and publishers, managing our social media, holding online meetings, producing each volume, and publishing content that is steadily increasing and getting better.

In March 2015 we submitted an application to be considered for inclusion in Scopus, just to try and see what would happen. Up to now, the application status is still “Submission received” (i.e. the first out of seven steps). Meanwhile, Latindex (from UNAM, Mexico) listed us with 32 out of 36 criteria[1] met in less than a week and ISOC (from CSIC, Spain) did so in two days. It is a pity that only ISI (Thomson-Reuters) and Scopus (Elsevier) are valuable for the academic system, but we do not care about our submission’s outcome or its timing as we firmly believe that the value of the journal must be measured by our readers and authors, and that the peer-review system is a first step to ensure its quality. The real challenge, however, is to survive (and thrive) in an environment where internet journals are still undervalued and authors prefer to publish in indexed journals to increase their h-index (which deserves its own editorial). If one day Scopus decides to include us, we can be sure of one thing: the number of papers received would increase exponentially in weeks. Hopefully this entire model will have collapsed by then and we want to be part of the reform.

We said it has been an interesting year for the academic publishing world, also because Maney Publishing has been acquired by Taylor and Francis Group. As you probably know, Maney was the publisher of the journals Public Archaeology and Journal of Community Archaeology and Heritage. As a result, the annual subscription fee for both journals recently rose from 188€ to 236€. We are worried because the rising costs of journal subscriptions are another example of how academic research and publishing is still extremely commoditized. Nevertheless, we sincerely hope they carry on with quality content for those who can afford a subscription. For those of us who are not linked to an academic institution with funds to pay subscriptions, affordable prices and Open Access are the only ways to access research. This is why we want to consolidate our model and be an alternative to the market. This is why we kindly invite you to take part in this quest and enjoy the benefits of publishing in open online journals like ours. We will only state one: everybody can read you.

Regarding the current volume and its contents, this year we had a slight change of plans: due to recent events and other internal issues, we took the decision to postpone the third part of our looting forum for next year. At present it is our pleasure to bring you a collection of papers that we believe you will find useful. Volume 5 opens with a research article, signed by Festo Gabriel, in which the author examines local communities’ perceptions of archaeology and cultural heritage resources in the Mtwara region of Tanzania. The paper is revealing as to the chasm between local communities views and conventional practice, which combined with the lack of community involvement in heritage management can have repercussions for the protection of cultural heritage. Indeed, community involvement is key to effective heritage management and a holistic approach from which local communities can benefit is the only ethical and sustainable path. In our second article, Alicja Piślewska explores the relationship between archaeology and society in Poland, providing an overview of the latter throughout the 20th century, discussing public participation while giving a detailed account of the role of archaeological museums, festivals, re-enactments, and reconstructed sites, and closing with a critical discussion on digital public archaeology. Next, Johan Normark examines the 2012-phenomenon, presenting his personal experience in dealing with it as an academic blogger, and provides a critical discussion on the ways archaeologists tackle fringe ‘archaeologies’ through traditional and social media. Our fourth paper takes us to present day Albania. The authors of this research paper, Francesco Iacono and Klejd L. Këlliçi, study the public perception of the material heritage of the country’s recent dictatorial past and discuss how, in the case under study, notions of ‘difficult heritage’ can be problematic if often neglected aspects other than trauma are not taken into account. In our final article, signed by Colleen Morgan, ‘punk archaeology’ and the relation of archaeology with DIY practices and anarchy are under investigation.

There is a common thread running through most of this volume’s articles. Public perceptions of archaeology and cultural heritage should be seriously taken into account, if increasing the public’s involvement and engagement with the past when practicing public archaeology is a priority. Bridging the gap between society’s needs and conventional practice is not only still relevant today in numerous contexts but also of utmost importance.

In this volume you will also find our regular Points of You article. Helen Stefanopoulos reflects on why alternative and more inclusive approaches to archaeological heritage management in Greece should be adopted and points out the necessity of re-evaluating existing policies. Finally, we are pleased to also share with you a series of book reviews, representing some of the most interesting publications of the last couple of years and covering most of the topics that pertain to public archaeology, from illicit trade of antiquities to popular representations of the past, and from theoretical approaches to management and community engagement. We are doing our best to provide what we consider to be an essential tool for the critical analysis of current trends in the field and would like to remind you that we are waiting to review your titles in the future. As for the blog, we would like to remind you that we regularly publish reviews of events as well as links to Open Access theses. Remember, you can send us the link to yours and we will be happy to share it.

This year we participated for the first time in the Day of Archaeology, an important digital public archaeology project that grows each year, with a post by Elena (http://www.dayofarchaeology.com/ap-journal-its-journey-and-my-day-of-archaeology/). Hopefully we will get more involved in the coming years and encourage you to do so too.

There are different approaches to public archaeology in different countries, but with public archaeology slowly shifting away from the definition debate towards a more reflective and critical outlook and discussion of both theory and practice, we feel optimistic that true progress can be achieved. We want to be part of this, and we want to do it with you. Last but not least, we wish to make a few announcements:

1.   Call for Debate:

We welcome guest blog posts on a wide range of topics related to public archaeology as well as event reviews. You can send your posts in a Word document with image files attached to our email. We also encourage your feedback and comments, after visiting our blog, as well as discussion via our other social media (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Google+). If you have any specific topic in mind that you want to write about, we are open to suggestions.

2.   Call for Papers:

Volume 6 will be published in 2016. The deadline for submissions is 31 March 2016. As the number of papers submitted is steadily increasing, we wish to receive papers for our next volume as soon as possible so that there will be enough time to get things done in a timely, consistent manner. For more information about the submission procedure, please visit our website. In case you have any questions or doubts, please feel free to contact us.

3.   Call for Special Issue Proposals:
We invite guest editor proposals from those who wish to discuss particular topics and areas of research that fall within the aims and scopes of the journal. Special issues provide a great opportunity to review a specific topic, examine aspects that remain unaddressed, discuss, suggest and develop novel approaches, and encourage new research models. Feel free to contact us for guidance on preparing your proposal.

4.   Call for Donations:

As previously mentioned JAS Arqueología will continue to take care of and publish this journal for as long as it exists. The philosophy of this journal—and of its editors—is to provide the widest access at no cost for both authors and readers. AP is—and will remain—a free-access and not-for-profit journal, thus, sustainability is always an issue. Keeping the journal an open-access and ad-free publication means its future depends on your support. So if you find any stimulation in AP Journal, please consider a modest donation. We will be grateful for your support and donations, no matter how small the amount, make a big difference.

At this point, we should warmly thank and express our gratitude to our donors. Should you wish to support AP Journal, you can do so either directly or indirectly, by buying a hard copy of any of the existing volumes:

·         Direct donation via PayPal on our web page.
·         Purchase of the hard copy. There is a fixed price of 10€. Just ask us.

Jaime Almansa Sánchez
Elena Papagiannopoulou

[1] Two of the criteria do not apply to us, as they are meant for Spanish/Portuguese publications that should offer Abstract and Keywords in two languages. A third one will be readily met, starting with this volume (i.e. adding dates for reception and acceptance of papers), and the fourth, technical criterion will be addressed as soon as we find a way to include it, as it will also be useful for other repositories and search engines.

19 August 2015

Review: Best Practices in World Heritage

Review of the II International Conference on Best Practices in World Heritage: People and Communities
(Mahón, April-May 2015)

by Nekbet Corpas Cívicos

Group photo of  the Conference assistants in the venue

Some weeks after the 2nd International Conference on Best Practices in World Heritage, it is time to take stock. This second edition, which focused on People and Communities, would not have been possible without substantial development in research and continuous effort. Excitement and accumulated experience were essential for the Complutense University of Madrid’s research team of which the Conference’s directors, Alicia Castillo and Ángeles Querol, are part. Once again, Menorca’s Council supported the event in its search for support to the Talayotic Menorca’s nomination to UNESCO World Heritage.
The topic of this second edition, held in Mahon (Menorca, Balearic Islands) from the 29th of March to the 2nd of April 2015, perfectly reflects current changes in Cultural Heritage Management; from a monumental approach to a social one. Take the evolution of the Conference itself: Archaeology was the topic of the first Conference (i.e. restoration, preservation, dissemination); the emphasis seems to be now put on people. And by this, we do not only mean those who work with or define Cultural Heritage, but also those who appreciate heritage properties and enjoy them —or just coexist with them.
The event began with a World Heritage’s thorny issue put forward by Claire Smith (University of Flinders, Australia): the use of these assets to make political statements through terrorism. Social Media seem to play a key role in augmenting the impact and results of these violent actions. Among the six guest lectures given during the Conference, one of the most interesting was probably the one about “Perception and Interpretation”. In this arena, Neil Silberman set the agenda of future research on collective memories and sensorial impact of cultural heritage sites.
Given the big number of communications presented in this Conference,  a great deal of time was necessary to monitor all of them. In fact, a system of yellow/red cards (like a proper football match) was established. The audience could show them when the speaker was running out of time —or was not being the most interesting speaker. Despite the brightness of the idea, its efficiency was decreased since many speakers did not look at the audience while reading their texts.
The second session, “Conflict Resolution and Social Implication”, opened with the difficult situation experienced regarding World Heritage in the Mexican city of Puebla. Defence of these assets by society was made self-evident through citizens’ demonstrations and activities —actions that have not reverted into the public benefit. This session was especially engaging due to the presence of several citizen associations created to protect their Cultural Heritage. The “live” status of Cultural Heritage properties was proved, challenging once again their label as “old stuff”.

Carlos Montero during his speech about Puebla, Mexico
What’s more, proof of such good health of Cultural Heritage was displayed that same afternoon by the Drama School of Menorca. A group of students enacted a play entitled “The Dilemma of Taulas”, which showed different hypotheses about the construction of Menorca’s unique monuments: taulas. The play was enjoyed, but also helped the attendees understand the reason why Menorca had been selected as the venue of this international Conference: Menorca’s people, their support to and pride in their heritage assets.
Actors representing the candidature logo after the performance of the play

Another participative action that took place involved the local association of chefs called Fra Roger Association. They organised a collaborative activity which brought together chefs and the Conference’s participants in order to ‘build’ with food the prehistoric landscape of the island and its characteristic monuments. The latter were made of vegetables and meat and were enjoyed with a glass of wine. Undoubtedly, this was an adequate end to the session of Cooperation —a real cooperation between speakers and the audience was achieved. Professor Yonas Beyene was the keynote speaker of that session and he defended the role of UNESCO in providing local communities with resources to protect their heritage. Nonetheless, he also recognized that direct communication between UNESCO and local communities is not always ensured. The key idea is that communities, unlike tourists, live in or nearby heritage properties. What prevails, then? To ensure the survival of these resources as meaningful and relevant landmarks and features in people’s lives, it is necessary to manage them in a balanced and cross-disciplinary way. An example was presented by Hang Peou, who -has worked in water resources of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat area in order to ensure water supplies to communities living close to this World Heritage property and to protect the foundations of this set of impressive monuments.

An image of the final plate "cooked" during the participative action

Although each one of the sessions ended with a round table of the speakers of those days, the last one was probably the most participative. Whilst previous round tables allowed speakers to complete their communications, this one enabled discussion of really interesting topics. Among them, an interesting division established since the beginning of the conference was realized; a division between “us”, that is to say scientists and experts in World Heritage, and “them”, i.e. the rest of society; as if the former were not part of the latter. Besides, it was recognized that society is usually homogenized by using labels such as “community” or “lay society”. The most controversial topic might have been World Heritage nominations and the arguments used to justify them, which are normally away from people —although theoretically founded on them.

The fifth session was opened by Professor Jordi Tresserras who presented a series of ideas to ensure sustainable cultural tourism. Especially interesting is the idea that instead of managing visitors, their experiences should be managed. However, tourism is the second step when the status and protection of World Heritage of a site is ensured, something that is not always granted. This is the case of the Palestinian village of Battir. Eman Alassi argued for its defense against political issues during the last session of the conference.

One of the most original aspects of this Conference was the encouragement of relationships between in-site attendees and outsiders. Apart from the above mentioned cards, a whiteboard was presented. People could post notes on it with comments about topics interesting to them, doubts, critiques —evidently, constructive criticism— and contributions. This activity was highly successful and will be the basis to elaborate on the document on Best Practices. This document feeds from the formulae followed in the previous conference: groups made up of people with different nationalities and ages joined together in order to discuss and fill in several cards about possible best practices related to World Heritage and its management. It is hoped that the adoption of these documents, resulting from collective experiences and work of this Second Conference’s participants, will be as welcomed as the document on Best Practices of the First Conference was.

The whiteboard with notes

Since we started speaking about the power of social media, we are going to finish with the same power —although with more productive aims. The entire conference was broadcasted via live streaming video as well as Twitter with comments on the communications and activities in three different languages: Catalan, English and Spanish. Both Twitter and Facebook accounts of the Conference, working since September of last year, experienced an important growth during the Conference —achieving the target of interacting with non-attending audiences.

During the discussion groups with social media streaming on the left

Therefore, we can conclude that participation is the most remarkable aspect of the Conference as a whole. It was aimed at both physical attendees and virtual ones, professional and non-professional individuals.

Despite the efforts, there are some questions that are worth to look at: Is it possible-positive- to encourage this sort of participation in other spheres of life? How could we deal with the different existing views on Cultural Heritage? Can we include (all/some of) them in the management of heritage resources? Are they equally important -why is that so?

During the visit to talayotic sites the last day