Saturday, 6 August 2011

What Happened to Hannah??

oh hello there, hannah here. for some mysterious reason, mostly than im writing this on my phone whilst travelling to my next dig, i suspect, i cant use much punctuation, or capital letters, which is probably going to upset hannahs need for proper punctuation very soon ...

so what have i been doing with myself? did i finish finals then collapse in a quivering heap? well, not entirely. i went to italy, as you do, and spent three weeks there on a really awesome dig at the base on vesuvius. i will put the link to the apolline project website on here once i can. maybe some digging photos too, if youre really lucky.

the site itself was a roman bathhouse, possibly as part of a villa complex, although that still remains to be seen. at any rate, the baths were pretty big, so it seems fairly likely that its a villa.

it was constructed shortly after the famous eruption of vesuvius in seventynine ad, according to a recent discovery of some securely dateable brickstamps. this is particularly interesting as it suggests that people moved on to the site shortly after the eruption, regardless of past dangers of worries about the lives that were lost.

the complex was then covered by later eruptions, particularly the fourseventwo event, which is what we were mostly picking through. there was a lot of pickaxing.

so what did we do and find? we opened a test pit to see how far down the fourseventwo event went down. in that particular place, down to eight metres, not entirely representative of the rest of the site... we excavated a well which was next to some of the service rooms and may have been a water outlet rather than a well. we further defined the shape of the buildings, which were well preserved and architecturally very interesting to look at. also cleared the areas of the cocciopesto floors and were able to identify a chronology of events where in the later periods of its use, some of the brickwork was stripped, entrances were changed and the floors were repaired and altered with poorer quality cocciopesto work. theres still a lot more to excavate, parrticularly in the nymphaeum, which was turning up some lovely pottery, stucco and plaster work, some of which was still painted.

the excavation was complicated by an attempted destruction of the site in the nineteeneighties, when the area was used as a municipal rubbish dump. in an attempt to destroy the site a digger was called in and you can actually see the scratch marks in the vault of the caldarium made by the machine. the problem then is that this machine has then mixed ancient and modern contexts in some places, making ancient finds in the area essentially useless. we had to be careful what we were keeping and it seemed like such a waste.

the dig consisted of oxford university students and italian archaeology students from local universities. we all seemed to get along and work together really well, despite not always understanding each other. definitely one id want to go back to too follow its progress.

presently on my way to york for the next dig, vikings romans and medieval at archaeology live. should be good, although im supposed to be supervising, or helping to, a little.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Dinosaur Hugs

I'm taking exams at the moment. Exams suck. Dinosaurs do not. I now only seem able to express my emotions through the medium of dinosaur cartoons...

But in case you think I'm broken or something, it's all OK really ...


Sunday, 15 May 2011

Eurovision (this one's ancient, see?)

Gladiators like this ...

This is what Eurovision is all about for me. Women in ridiculous costumes, short skirts, pyrotechnics, bizarre lyrics, circus acrobatics and spontaneous drumming. Or maybe I'm just swayed by the men in the teeny tiny skirts. More likely it's because they're "gladiators" ...

Or like this? (Come on, it was going to happen at some point ...)

Friday, 13 May 2011

Lookin' Fiiine

Why I Love Antigone, by Hannah age 21 and a half

[WARNING: SPOILERS] I've mentioned this before, but Antigone by Sophocles is, like, my most favouritest Greek tragedy ever. Her almost desperate struggle, caught between institutions, laws and ideals is not only heart-wrenching, but also indicative of the awareness in Classical Athens of the disparity between the requirements of law, moral behaviour and their own religion. Although you might wonder how different this play would be if the protagonist was a man, in essence it remains desperately tragic, in, for me, the best way possible.
Marie Stillman - Antigone
The essential plot: Antigone and Ismene are the daughters of Oedipus (the unfortunate King of Thebes). Upon his death (in the Sophoclean version), their uncle, Creon becomes king. Their two brothers, Polynieces and Eteocles, are fighting over Thebes and kill each other. (Ah, lovely tragedy). Creon allows the burial of Eteocles, but forbids the same honours for Polynieces and leaves his body to rot outside the gates of Thebes. Antigone, obeying the religious law that a sister should bury her brother, sneaks out and buries him, disobeying not only her family, but also the King, the maker of laws and is punishable by death. She is caught and brought before the king. She does not beg for mercy, only for justice in the name of sisterly love. Creon sends her away to become the "bride of death" (ie be buried alive in a wedding dress), as she has transgressed the word of the law and so must be punished. Unfortunately, Creon's son was to be Antigone's husband, and begs the King to repent. Being a hardline, no-nonsense monarch, of course, he refuses, until a wandering seer warns of him of his mistake and that tragedy will befall Thebes. But too late! Antigone has hanged herself in her rock tomb, the King's son, on finding her, kills himself, and the Queen, on hearing of her son's death, kills herself. As you do.

... Summarising it like that makes it sound incredibly far-fetched. But the way the play feels, is pure heart-breaking emotion. Creon is obviously too hard on his own kin and makes the mistake of following the law to the letter. But isn't that what the law is there for? To be followed absolutely, with no exceptions, otherwise, wouldn't everyone be able to plead an exception?

Creon: I will not make myself a liar to my people. He who does his duty in his own household will be found righteous in the state also. [658-660].

Antigone, above all, raises the issue of divine law versus secular law. She obeys the laws of the gods, who require that both brothers are buried with equal rites by the next of kin. So surely, in a time when divine law judged mortal law, she is not culpable? Creon has created a Catch-22 for himself by proclaiming death for anyone who interferes, only to find that it is a member of his own family.

Antigone: ... That a mortal could override the unwritten and unfailing statues of heaven for their life is not of today or yesterday, but from all time, and no man knows when they were first put forth. [450-458].

To put this in context, Athenian tragedy, as a genre, was intended to question morality. It was not necessarily a reflection of real life, but was meant to pose a question, a "what would you do if ..." situation. The play itself was written c.442BC in Athens. This was the time of the 'radical democracy', when Athens was at war with Sparta, encountering the public burial of war dead and justifying the polis' democratic position, combining both the written laws of the constitution and the unwritten laws that were divine, moral or assumed.

But as well as all that, to me, it really will always be a gorgeous, tragic and beautiful play.

Attic Red Figure, Antigone is brought before Creon c.490BC (?) Looks like a krater ...

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Bossy Women

Just to make how I feel about women absolutely clear before I start this. I am a woman. I have female friends. I have male friends. Women are lovely, but they can also be right pains. The same can be said for men. I am not a feminist. I am a gender equality-ist. It doesn't enrage me that women in history have been badly treated, because that's history. So long as it doesn't happen again.

Right, so here's a thought I had this morning as I was sitting down to breakfast and Jeremy Kyle. (oops). Today's society is outstandingly matriarchal. I'm just talking about western society, Britain in particular, I'm not getting into any discussion about particular religions' attitudes towards women or the treatment of women in other countries. But it does seem to me, that in the household, as the centre of each individual's both private and public society, women rule.

It's like, on a lot of these chat shows, (ok, I admit it, I'm just using Jeremy Kyle as an example), the 'head woman' of the household can be so incredibly controlling and dominant. They have the final say on who their son/daughter is allowed to see, who is 'in' and who is 'out' of their household. They can be bossy and domineering, (but of course there are counter-examples of completely down-trodden women). But the majority of women today, I think, do have a fair amount of control, both in the household and the workplace.

Obviously, this wasn't always the case. Women in the Classical Greek world had no rights to speak of. In fifth and fourth century Athens, women could not give evidence in the jury-courts and they had no rights to property. Their position was not even as head of household, but they belonged to the oikos, the household and to their husband, as can be seen in the trials and speeches of Demosthenes. Even when women apparently gain power in Aristophanes' comedy Ekklesiazusai, the very idea of women in such a role is  comedy in itself. The women then essentially create a welfare state that feeds and cares for every Athenian citizen and a kind of 'sexual socialism'. Unusually enough for Aristophanes, the situation is never resolved, but it is clear that the very concept of a matriarchal society for the Athenians was completely ludicrous. 

Antigone, by Frederic Leighton 1882, looking all Pre-Raphaelite-y.
Then there is my absolutely all-time favourite Greek tragedy EVER: Sophocles' Antigone. Antigone acts against the laws of the king, her uncle, in burying her dead brother, yet acts in complete agreement with the laws of kinship and of the gods. Therefore she must suffer the consequences and tragedy occurs. It was, of course, the duty of a sister to give her brother the correct funeral rights, but we might wonder if the same events would have occurred if it was a man in her place, or whether it really is the fate of the family of Oedipus to end in utter tragedy.

In the material evidence, women in ancient Greece were goddesses, or korai, (archaic statues with essentially, no personality) and were rarely depicted as individuals until the mid-fifth century, and even then they were dumpy, even masculine in features [Polyxena stele c.440BC]. Even when women were truly represented as 'women' it was always in a domestic context, with a husband, slave or child:

Hegeso stele c.400BC. If she stood up she'd be taller than the stele itself, plus her breasts are all crazy-wonky.

A similar picture can be drawn for ancient Rome. Although we might get the impression that Roman women were much more liberated, and TV series like Rome might give us the impression that they regularly interfered in politics and threw orgies. (One I saw a bit of recently, Spartacus: Gods of the Arena definitely gave that impression. I only saw a little of it, but spent the entire time wishing they'd hurry up with the orgy. Oh dear... Apparently it was given 9.5/10. This makes me a little sad). 

Yet the Senate remained male, during the Imperial period, the Emperors were male and women remained subordinate; matrons of the state. Cornelia Scipionis Africana, daughter of the famous Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus was seen almost as the ideal Roman woman. She was the mother of the ill-fated Gracchi; the widow who refused to re-marry, even when proposed to by the King Ptolemy VIII Physcon, the supporter of her children and student of Greek and Latin literature, all of which were, despite her prominent role in the second century BC, subordinate positions.

The wives of the Emperors especially were expected to maintain the image of dutiful wives and as examples of good Roman women. Augustus' wife, Livia, despite her husband's apparent reputation was seen as a pious matron, although later craving power on behalf of her son, Tiberius.

Women were certainly never forgotten, but were side-lined and a certain duties and actions were expected of them. Even during the Hellenistic period they remained subordinate, yet it is in this period, in Ptolemaic Egypt, that we actually see the prominent role of women. The (often) sister-wives of the Ptolemies were treated as divine humans in their own right. Roman empresses were worshipped as part of their ruler cult, but so were the queens of the third and second centuries BC. Yet the royal couples were still represented as a family. Women were able to branch into the male sphere of euergetism and munificence, and this is how we see the prominence of women in ancient Rome. Eumachia was able to dedicate a building to Concordia and Pietas (peace and piety - womanly virtues, perhaps?) in the Forum at Pompeii. Plancia Magna financed the re-building of an entire city gate in Perge. These were successful women, able to publicly display their own wealth, so long as it was beneficial to others, yet they had both been priestesses of Venus and of Artemis respectively, and so keeping to roles deemed appropriate for women.
Eumachia statue, Pompeii, first century AD. She is veiled in a pudicitia pose; appropriate for a woman, even an affluent one.

Perhaps it is through looking at women in ancient history anachronistically that I am even able to consider calling today's society a matriarchy. I realise that this is not a true 'matriarchy', but when looking at past evidence, it is certainly possibly to see that a number of women today possess 'matriarchal aspirations' that it was once never possible to even consider holding. Perhaps the only reason why we do not live in a matriarchal society today is because we still perceive matriarchs as the bossy mothers on Jeremy Kyle and as "bra-burning" feminists. Just a thought ...

This has turned into an incredibly long piece, which is er, slightly ironic, seeing as I actually really dislike the theme of women in history. I feel that it's important to understand what role they played and why they were seen as subordinate. But I do think that it's unnecessary to base entire essays on the subject as though it's a surprise. (In A Level History, I had to write essays on the role of women in Stalinist Russia. I feel like that is kind of missing the point of the subject itself). The same can also be seen for women in ancient history, but because material and inscription-al evidence is often so sparse, we feel the need to illustrate and explain points that we might otherwise see as quite common sense. 

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Too Much?

This is specifically for a friend of mine, who apparently didn't want to see dinosaurs with boobs on his browser. I'm actually in the middle of writing some intelligent posts and revising the Hellenistic East, but whatever ...

Monday, 28 March 2011

If Dinosaurs Had Pets ...

This is what happens when I revise in my own room.

(Un)fortunately there are a lot more where this came from ...

Sunday, 27 March 2011

So I Decided to Make a Blog

I'm Hannah. I'm an Oxford undergraduate and I have finals. So I decided to make a blog. Maybe as some kind of revision aid, but probably as extra procrastination.

I'm studying Classical Archaeology and Ancient History and apparently like it enough to proclaim this pretty openly.

How best to start? Perhaps a summary of who I am and what I like ... ?

Dear Hannah,
I have some questions for you, please answer them.
All the best,

Why did you decide to make a blog? Because I enjoy archaeology, ancient history and writing. I especially want to combine all three and get other people to learn about them. (If I'm totally honest, a few friends have been making their own blogs and I thought I might as well get in on it and maybe do it better ... *bad Hannah*)
Do you often talk to yourself like this? Yes. A lot. Some of the best conversations I have are with myself. Some of the best showers I've had have been at 2am.
Favourite areas of archaeology? Roman Art, Roman Architecture. Human sculpture. Attributing meaning to images. Political "propaganda".
Do you like digging in a hole in the ground? YES! Find me more holes!
Plans for the future? Become Indiana Jones. Maybe with fewer Nazis. Steal Tony Robinson's job and become best friends with Bettany Hughes (honestly not in such a creepy way as I'm making it sound). Dig up awesome things. Realise it's all futile and that I've technically been unemployed for 10 years and that my best friend is just a cardboard cut-out that I've been force-feeding it tea and biscuits every day and become a teacher. (I actually wouldn't mind becoming a teacher, I'd just like to do other things first. Not necessarily involving cardboard cut-outs).
Urm, right ... anything else we ought to know? Sure. I like dinosaurs (a lot). And rocks. And ginger wine. And collecting postcards. And Disney films (perhaps more than a 21 year old should). I like making a fool of myself in pantomimes and filing things away neatly. I like spring, soup and cycle rides. I live on a smallholding with goats.
Well. Everything's a LOT clearer now ... Thanks for that Hannah. No problem Hannah. Any time.

Hopefully that makes more sense...

Plan for these blogs? Promote interesting aspects of what I'm studying, either through what I'm learning about each week, revising (or failing to), or some interesting article in the media. If I'm completely honest, there will almost definitely be inappropriately history-related links to pretty pictures, not-particularly-Roman gladiators and maybe even a little Harrison Ford. But that's only if I'm feeling *really* inappropriate. Ohhooo.