Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2014: Archaeology in Science Fiction

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2014, an event hosted by myself and Oh, the Books!. You can keep up to date by following @SciFiMonth on Twitter, or the official hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

Simply put, archaeology is one of the most amazing fields of study and career paths ever. And I am not at all biased here. Okay – well maybe a little bit. I am so happy that I made the decision to study it alongside ancient history, because I know that I’m definitely on the right track to the career that I want. Every time I read a book or watch a film that features archaeologists, I do a little cheer in my head for my fellow lovers of the ancient.

I love you, Doctor, but I do not appreciate your tone.

I love you, Doctor, but I do not appreciate your tone.

One thing I have noticed is that archaeology seems to crop up a lot in science fiction. Whether it is used as a form of exposition to explain the history of a planet or civilisation, or forms a major plot point such as the uncovering of an ancient terror, I love to read about it. Sometimes it makes me cringe and want to throw the book/TV/whatever across the room because UGH SO INCORRECT (one time I saw a series where they wanted to do dendrochronology on a bone, it’s used for TREE RINGS), and other times I wish I had access to all that crazy future archaeological technology. Within science fiction it is often referred to as ‘xenoarchaeology’.

So, where have I spotted archaeology in science fiction?

Archaeology in books

Revelation Space Rendezvous with Rama

Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space opens with the excavation of a 900,000 year old civilisation on the planet Resurgam. The evidence discovered reveals a lot more than was previously known, and the archaeologist directing the excavation soon becomes involved in a rather complicated and dangerous plot. I haven’t read this particular Reynolds book so cannot comment on the archaeology, but since I loved House of Suns so much, it’s definitely on my radar.

Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke is another prominent example of archaeology in science fiction. Set in 2130s, it follows a group of explorers who must intercept a spaceship (nicknamed ‘Rama’) hurtling through the solar system towards Earth. I actually managed to pick up a copy of this one at an archaeological book sale a few weeks ago.

Archaeology in film

Prometheus

Prometheus is one of my favourite films, despite being rather silly, because SPACE ARCHAEOLOGY AND AWESOME TECHNOLOGY (and Michael Fassbender doesn’t hurt either…). It follows two archaeologists who are following a pattern they have discovered: the same images, of what they believe to be extraterrestrial life, reoccurring in many ancient cultures, thousands of years and miles apart. Together with their crew, they follow the ‘star map’ and discover a planet – with obvious signs of civilisation.

Archaeology in Prometheus is mostly just used to get the plot rolling, and give the crew a reason to start their mission. Their treatment of artefacts is questionable (shoving extra-terrestrial remains into a bag without any care) and techniques lacking (no apparent planning), but the technology is pretty amazing. A tool that allows you to instantly date something, without having to wait an age for carbon 14 results to come back? Yes please.

Archaeology on TV

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UGH RIVER I LOVE YOU. I think the most obvious example of an archaeologist in a science fiction TV show is River Song from Doctor Who. We never get to see her showing off her Professor of Archaeology skills, but she got into archaeology so she could track the Doctor through time and studied at Luna University. Unfortunately, the Doctor doesn’t care much for archaeologists, which makes me sad. I just love that she is such a badass: smart, witty, quick on her feet and also a pretty damn good shot. I’m going to put that all down to her being an archaeologist, and having nothing to do with her being a child of the TARDIS. Definitely.

Archaeology in video games

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Oh would you look at that, my favourite video game series ever also features archaeology. Mass Effect centres around the discovery of ancient Prothean civilisation and artefacts, and Liara T’Soni is an Asari archaeologist with expert knowledge on the subject. She joins your crew in the first game, where you can speak to her in her super high tech laboratory aboard the Normandy. There is also a mission set on an archaeological excavation. AND THE GAME ADDRESSES THIS SUPER ANNOYING COMMON OCCURRENCE:

Garrus: So Liara, ever dug up – what do humans call it – a dinosaur?
Liara: No. Dinosaurs and other fossils would be paleontology. I’m an archaeologist. I study artifacts left by sapient species. The two fields are completely different. And… you were joking…?
Garrus: A bit. But at least you’re catching on these days.

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Archaeology appears in so many more areas of science fiction, but I just wanted to discuss a few. Sometimes it’s accurate, sometimes the author/writer obviously has no idea how archaeology even BEGINS to work, and occasionally you find a future fictional archaeological development that you hope will become fact one day. It’s a field that can lend a lot to science fiction, allowing the history of past alien cultures to be set out easily.

What do I like most about archaeology in science fiction? The fact that it is still a thriving area of research and work in these future civilisations. There will always be more history for us to dig up, especially if we are able to do it on other planets – and that’s an exciting thought.

Have you ever encountered archaeology in science fiction? What did you think of how it was presented – did it seem plausible to you?

Notes from the Netherlands

Notes from the Netherlands #4

Note from the Netherlands

Notes from the Netherlands is my feature where I discuss my time studying at Leiden University. I want to blog about this amazing experience as much as I can!

I’m getting a better balance of blogging and studying now!
  • I have my first two exams in three weeks and I’m kind of freaking out. I really don’t feel prepared in the slightest, we don’t even really know the sorts of questions we’ll be getting. Plus it’s just been sprung on us that we have to read an entire textbook for the Museum History exam – it would’ve been nice to have known that four weeks ago!
  • I went to Antwerp one Sunday to meet up with some friends – online friends, who I’ve known for seven years, and until that point had never met in person. It was wonderful to finally meet them after talking to them so often for such a long time. Hopefully we’ll sort another meeting out soon!
  • Antwerpen Stadhuis

    Antwerpen Stadhuis

  • There was something called Nacht van Kunst en Kennis (Night of Art and Knowledge) here in Leiden, so I went with my friend Jack. We assumed, from the description, that there would be street entertainment and stalls, so we’d be okay with not buying a ticket as they were €17.50 each. However everything was inside so we didn’t really get to see anything that was part of the event! Instead we went for some drinks and a chat, which was really lovely.
  • Our Museum History assignment is to compare two ‘time capsule’ museums: Museum Meermanno in Den Haag, and Teylers Museum in Haarlem. We’ve already been to Museum Meermanno (with a rather strange ‘Birds’ exhibition) and by the time this post goes up I should also have visited Haarlem!
  • Leiden by night.

    Leiden by night.

  • On 25th and 26th September, it was the official opening of the new archaeology building. To celebrate, they held a symposium for all students and staff. The first day consisted of a series of lectures by guest speakers from universities across the world, and the second day was a ‘crafts market’. They had stalls set up representing different areas of archaeology, for example at the osteoarchaeology stall there was a ‘skeleton puzzle’ where you had to try and put an entire skeleton together. They even had a camel you could ride and BABY GOATS!! I WANT A BABY GOAT NOW PLEASE AND THANK YOU.
  • Then there was a free bar from 5pm, and a party. Lesson learned: do not give archaeology students, or rather ANY students, an all night free bar. Fifteen glasses of wine later (in SOME cases, hahaha… I had about eight) and we were done before 10pm. Cheapest Friday night ever.
  • BABY GOATSES!!

    BABY GOATSES!!

  • Up and coming (although gone by the time this has been posted, so I will have more to tell in the next one) is Leiden Ontzet, the celebration of the resistance of the Spanish siege. Basically a HUGE city wide party, fairground and everyone gets really, really drunk. It sounds amazing.
  • My grandparents are also visiting from 9th – 13th October, so that should be interesting! I’ll have to take them to a couple of different cities, it’s so easy to get anywhere from here.

    Next time I hope to have an account of Leiden Ontzet for you! Now back to studying…

Monthly Roundup

Monthly Roundup: September 2014

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Every first Wednesday of the month, I’ll be posting a roundup of the month just gone, and writing about what’s to come in the next few weeks.

September 2014

Last month I read a total of five books: Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, Doctor Sleep (The Shining #2) by Stephen King, Archaeological Theory by Matthew Johnson (ugh yes I read the whole thing voluntarily), Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3) by Sarah J. Maas and The Queen of the Tearling (The Queen of the Tearling #1) by Erika Johansen.

It was certainly a slow month for reading. I haven’t been making the time to read as much since I started uni – I’ve been spending my spare time socialising (*gasp*), reading for lectures or starting to think about my thesis. I kind of feel like I have to fill up my spare time with uni-orientated stuff, which is frustrating, and is exactly how I felt during the three years of my undergrad. However, I found that once I picked up an actual physical book rather than using my Kindle, I was more interested in reading again! Doctor Sleep definitely lived up to its reputation and was well worth the wait – if you enjoyed The Shining, I urge you to pick up the sequel! And Heir of Fire… well, my review will be up soon, but let’s just say AMAZING AND UGH WHY.

 

Challenge progress:

  • I read three books towards the Avengers vs. X-Men Challenge. October’s villain is the Green Goblin, which is pretty perfect for Halloween!
  • I have currently read one hundred and nine books towards my Goodreads goal of one hundred and twenty. This is the fourth time I’ve raised it this year, so I’m not too bothered if I don’t hit the final goal but hopefully I will!

 

Currently reading:

The Martian by Andy Weir

How was September for you?

Thoughts

Thoughts #15: The Careers of Book Bloggers

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So this Thoughts post, as you can see, is not a bookish discussion… but as I was thinking about the book blogging community, it got me wondering. I like reading about my fellow bloggers, not just their favourite books and series and characters, but the things they do outside of the blog. And what I’ve noticed is the wide range of careers, jobs and areas of study that the community covers. I mean, my blogging friends range from a pastry chef, to a preschool teacher, from a research scientist to a librarian and many more different careers and jobs. Sure, some of us work with books or are studying publishing – but many of us have nothing to do with it, career-wise.

I myself am aiming to become a museum curator, and today I wanted to talk a little about that – and I’d love to hear about your job or area of study! Tell me all about it in the comments section, feel free to use the following questions and adapt them to suit yourself.

What did you study at university?

I took my Bachelors in Ancient History and Archaeology, and graduated in 2012 from the University of Reading. From this September, I’ll be moving to the Netherlands to study a Masters degree in Archaeological Heritage and Museum Studies at the University of Leiden. Actually, I’ll be moving in mid-August, although term doesn’t start until 1st September. I’m scared and excited for this huge change!

Why have you decided on a career as a museum curator?

Ever since I was little, history (particularly ancient history) has fascinated me. It was always my favourite subject at school (along with German!) and it’s something I will never tire of. I lived in Bristol when I was younger, and spent many days at the amazing museum there. When I was making my choices for university, I saw that many universities offered Archaeology alongside Ancient History – and I thought it would be interesting to do both, so I would have something more practical to go with it. That’s one choice I definitely do not regret – as my experience with archaeology, excavations and museums has only confirmed that this is what I want to do with my life.

Share some stories relating to your job/area of study.

Between 2010 and 2012, I worked at Silchester every summer. Silchester is an Iron Age/Roman town on the Hampshire/Berkshire border in England, and my university does an excavation there every year. For three years running I worked as part of the ‘finds team’: cleaning everything that had been dug up, sorting, marking it and keeping a record, talking to visitors about finds, teaching fellow students. We lived and worked in the same field (the dig lasts six weeks each year), through boiling hot sunshine and torrential rain. Take a look at 2012…

Living in a tent for up to a month at a time was tough – especially when as soon as you clean yourself you’re muddy again, the only bathrooms around for miles are Portaloos and it WON’T STOP RAINING – but the work during the day was amazing and reminded me just why I absolutely love archaeology and everything to do with it.

Working on the finds team meant I got to clean off the finds, uncover and see for the first time what someone had held, or used, or eaten from, about two thousand years ago. Some of the pottery that was found was in such good condition that it was hard to believe it had been sat in the ground for that long. That is what I really love about this aspect of the job – being able to interact with objects that someone in the past owned and used. Here’s one of my favourite things from Silchester, and it’s something we bring out every year because the story is just wonderful:

silchester 3

This is a tegula (flat Roman roof tile, as opposed to the curved one which is called an imbrex). Whoever made it obviously set it out to dry in the sun – and then someone walked all over it in their hobnailed boots. Not only that, but it was also trodden on by a fox (the paw print with claws extended) and a dog. Perhaps the dog was chasing the fox? And perhaps the hobnail-booted person was chasing the dog? Who knows. I just love that we have this one tile that has so many possibilities and stories behind it!

And you know what else I love?

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PUTTING POTS BACK TOGETHER! Occasionally we came across a whole pot, or close enough. Sometimes still intact (in which case I got to excavate the inside of the pot which was amazing), and sometimes in fragments, but enough to reconstruct the pot. The pot above is named Percy – because they all need names. They’d be stuck together with tape first, then glue when everything was in place.

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And this sight: cleaned and sorted finds trays. That’s a days worth of cleaning and marking – the number corresponds to the context (area and layer of the site) in which each artefact was found. They’re not just full of pottery – but animal bone, teeth, iron nails, hobnails, glass and more. All ‘small finds’ (rarer objects, not necessarily small in size! This also includes human bone) are kept separately and recorded in a log book. If you want to read more about the small finds at Silchester then take a look here – my favourite is the figurine of Harpocrates.

I’ve also done some volunteer work at a local museum, but I’ve had to stop that now due to work hours. Whilst I was there I made information sheets for various exhibits, created a hand-drawn booklet on the story of Perseus and Medusa (the illustrations were based on Greek red and black pottery) and held a ‘hands on’ finds session during the school holidays.

Obviously, working on this excavation was not exactly the same as working as a museum curator. However, the basic aspects (and the most important, to me) remain the same. Working with artefacts, presenting them in a way that is appealing to visitors, and constantly learning more and more about past civilisations.

Anything else you want to share with us?

Yeah. Look after the archaeology equipment guys, you never know what might happen!

silchester
I’m not sure where else in the world you can play Ultimate Frisbee in a Roman amphitheater (yes, really), throw raves in the same marquee that you eat dinner in, find tape measures a reasonable source of amusement, have a ‘fertility ritual’ performed by Morris dancers for you on your birthday, have a yearly pirate party where the locals and the archaeologists charge each other across the village green, receive a visit from Alex Kingston aka River Song (I WAS SO EXCITED) and live in your own dirt for longer than is normally socially acceptable.

Oh, and I won’t be missing this ‘bedroom’…

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What is your job or area of study? I want to know all about it, tell me in the comments! 🙂

If you want to read more about the Silchester town excavation, you can do so here.

I Dig Archaeology!

Thoughts

Thoughts #12: Neglected Non-Fiction

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There is one thing I’ve noticed a definite lack of in the blogosphere.

Non-fiction.

Personally, I love many genres of non-fiction: autobiographies, memories, history and archaeology books, books on nature, science, linguistics… But it feels that many bloggers don’t have a particular interest, or at least don’t share it. So why is it not a common feature amongst the blogs?

  • It can be quite difficult to review (apparently I’ve reviewed only six non-fiction books since starting the blog), which means that whilst my fellow bloggers may enjoy non-fiction, it’s difficult to feature on the blog.
  • How do you review something that is fact? You can’t criticise so many of the different areas you would look at for a work of fiction. It seriously reduces the amount you can really say about the book.
  • Some people read to escape to other worlds, so non-fiction just doesn’t work for them.
  • I know that when I was at university, I avoided reading any history or archaeology books that were NOT relevant to my course, because I had so much to take in anyway, and didn’t want to end up remembering stuff about Henry VIII when my course was in ancient history! So perhaps, for that same reason, many fellow bloggers who are still studying prefer to avoid non-fiction.

I thought perhaps I’d share some of my favourite non-fiction books, in various categories, and hopefully you can share yours with me!

History & archaeology

Pompeii by Mary Beard The Borgias by Christopher Hibbert Love and Louis XIV by Antonia Fraser

This is perhaps, along with travel, one of my more read areas of non-fiction – as my degree was in ancient history and archaeology. I’ll read about almost any period of history up until the twentieth century. Mary Beard is one of my favourite classicists so anything by her is good. I also have a particular interest in the Borgia family (so much scheming!), and Louis XIV after studying him for History A Level when I was 18. I think books like this can often have a reputation for being stuffy, written by scholars who know everything about these ancient worlds and nothing about the present day one. And whilst that may be the case with some books of this type, there are so many wonderfully written and accessible history books. You could start with books that accompany a TV series of the same subject, as they’re often written for people who are learning along with the show.

Travel

A Ride in the Neon Sun by Josie Dew The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson

If you’ve not yet read anything by either Bill Bryson or Josie Dew, then step on it! The two write very witty travel accounts – Bryson travelling alone by car (normally), and Dew alone by bicycle. They both capture the spirit of the countries they visit, and somehow poke fun at various elements of culture without being offensive in any way. Words cannot describe how excited I was last year when I realised there was a Bill Bryson book I hadn’t read yet – and so I got to experience that first read through joy!

Biography & memoir

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson 35488 How To Be A Woman

When it comes to biographies and memoirs, to me they either have to be witty and perhaps a bit self-deprecating, or of truly fascinating lives. Some memoirs I’ve read just don’t have either – even after the ‘big break through’. Or perhaps it was just how they were written. Once again, Bill Bryson makes the list with his autobiography, as does Caitlin Moran with her hilarious anecdotes of her younger self. And I recently read Johnny Cash’s autobiography and absolutely LOVED it. He is one of my very favourite musicians and had such an interesting life – plus the way it was told was just wonderful. He rambles from tale to tale, nothing is in chronological order – but it works. It’s as if you were sat there, having drinks with him and listening to him talk about his life.

What about you – do you enjoy reading non-fiction? What are your favourite genres of non-fiction? If you don’t enjoy it, tell me why! Why do you think it’s not often featured on book blogs?

Monthly Roundup

Monthly Roundup: January 2014

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Every first Wednesday of the month (Tuesday this month, due to the Book of Apex tour!) , I’ll be posting a roundup of the month just gone, and writing about what’s to come in the next few weeks.

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This month I read fifteen books, which as far as I’m aware is a personal record! Admittedly there were a couple of novellas and graphic novels, but I’m happy with my progress. The Death Pit by A.L. Kennedy, Into the Nowhere by Jenny Colgan, Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, Archaeology: the Basics by Clive Gamble (refreshing my memory!), Supernatural: Origins by Peter Johnson, The Bone Season (The Bone Season #1) by Samantha Shannon, The Creature in the Case (The Old Kingdom #3.5) by Garth Nix, Watchmen by Alan Moore, Red Sonja: Queen of Plagues by Gail Simone & Walter Geovanni, Daughter of Smoke and Bone (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #1) by Laini Taylor, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, Mass Effect: Foundation by Mac Walters, The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co #1) by Jonathan Stroud, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells and The QI Book of the Dead by John Lloyd.

Standout books include Brideshead Revisited, Daughter of Smoke and Bone and The Screaming Staircase. I’ve now read fifteen books towards my goal of fifty for this year – so I may have to raise it, but I also have to remember that my reading will greatly decrease from mid-August.

 

Challenge progress:

 

Currently reading:

Mistborn (The Final Empire #1) by Brandon Sanderson The Trojan War by Barry Strauss

 

Reviews on the blog on this month:

 

Other posts:

 

Upcoming:

  • I’m taking part in the Book of Apex tour, organised by Andrea @ Little Red Reviewer. Yay, speculative fiction!
  • I’m also taking part in Insta-love 101, hosted by the lovely ladies at A Novel Idea. Boo, insta-love!
  • And finally: the Review Copy Cleanup hosted by Books, Biscuits & Tea! and Nyx Book Reviews – time to tame that Netgalley ratio!

 

And that’s been my month! Pretty busy I think! How was January for you?

Review

Review: Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen (Samantha Sutton #2) by Jordan Jacobs

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

A book about archaeologists? Boudicca? Set in Cambridge?

I’m sold.

This tale about a young girl who dreams of being an archaeologist one day is written by an archaeologist, and it shows. A fast-paced and thrilling adventure, packed full of historical and archaeological references, I loved this one! I only wish it had been around when I was Samantha’s age. The use of illustrations was a brilliant idea – at the beginning of every chapter we see a page of Samantha’s beloved notebook, which also provides information for those perhaps unsure of the period of history that the book covered, or unfamiliar with the city of Cambridge. For example, one page was a timeline of British history (complete with mini illustrations!) whilst another was a map of Cambridge, with all the colleges marked. Readers should not be put off by Samantha’s young age (she is twelve), in fact I think it makes her all the more interesting. Such determination and ambition at  that age makes for a great character, plus she’s naive enough to not completely understand and work things out right away, which leaves room for the reader to make their own judgements.

One thing I really loved were all the little references, nods to the amazing field that is archaeology (not at all biased here). The Pitt-Rivers twins: Augustus Pitt Rivers was a nineteenth century archaeologist, and his collection founded the basis of the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford, which also happens to be my favourite museum EVER (seriously, it’s amazing, it’s basically just a giant warehouse PACKED with amazing objects). The references to ancient burial places like Cairn and Barrows. Ned and Graham Aubrey, who I’m guessing were named after John Aubrey, discoverer of Avebury and an early archaeologist/antiquarian. Mostly things you wouldn’t know unless you’d studied archaeology yourself, which make for some wonderful little ‘in-jokes’ almost.

Of course, there were a few things I had to question – for example Samantha becomes coxswain of a Cambridge college rowing team, and I’m pretty sure you’d have to be a member of the college for that. And the ease at which items from the British Museum were borrowed. But these all made for some fun adventures, so are really just me nit-picking!

There may also be an issue with terminology, as Jacobs tends to use the proper archaeological terminology which may confuse those not familiar with it, although it was hard to judge as someone who is familiar – so it would be interesting to see a review from someone who doesn’t know anything about archaeology.

I’ve always been fascinated by the early history of Britain (as you can probably guess by my degree choice), and wrote a paper on Boudicca’s rebellion in my second year, so this was a subject close to my heart. Combine that with archaeologists and you pretty much get my perfect story. Overall, a fantastically fun adventure, that should appeal to anyone with an interest in archaeology or history, regardless of age!