Haunted Futures and Alien Archaeologies

maxresdefaultJust before Christmas I attended the annual Theoretical Archaeology Group conference in Chester. To be honest, I mostly steered clear of the hardcore theory – while I do quite like it, I liked it on my own terms and when my brain is feeling fresh and focused: the week before Christmas, at the end of a long and tiring year, not so much. But there was a lot else going on at the conference and I attended several inspiring panels about outreach, engagement and how archaeology relates to other fields. I’ve written about the conference in general over on the CREWS blog, but here I wanted to go into a little detail about my own paper, which was firmly in this blog’s thematic ambit since it was about the archaeology of alien megastructures in fiction. Continue reading


Writing in Time and Space: the writing ‘systems’ of Doctor Who

I’ve written about invented writing in Doctor Who over on the CREWS Project blog.

doctor_who_season_11_logo_thumb800Anyone who’s followed the CREWS blog will know that we’re fond of a bit of sci-fi and fantasy. We’ve talked about the writing systems of Star Wars, Game of Thrones and Indiana Jones. But ever since I was a kid, my absolute favourite piece of science fiction has been Doctor Who. Since it’s finally back this weekend, what better time to look at how it handles writing?

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Further Experiments in Ancient Baking: Pop-tarblets

I’ve been trying my hand at ancient baking again, over on the CREWS Project blog.

A couple of weeks ago, when I wrote about my visit to the British Museum, one person commented that the cuneiform tablets looked like pop-tarts. Anyone familiar with the CREWS Project and our love of ancient baking will know that this is the sort of challenge we can’t let go. I haven’t had pop-tarts since I was a kid, and not too often then, but it turns out they’re not too difficult to make. Naturally we had to give it a try.


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Jabba’s Guide to Bronze Age Diplomacy

I just mentioned Jabba the Hutt in the academic book I’m writing. At first it was a bit of a joke, something that would never make it through the first edit, but actually, the more I think about it, the more I think it’s helpful. I’m going to drop one of those terrible academic clichés now, so forgive me, but when it comes to the Late Bronze Age Mediterranean, Jabba might actually be Good To Think With. Let me explain.

jabbahall Continue reading

Rebel Scum! Conceptualising rebellion in Star Wars and the ancient Near East

Symbol-_-rebel-250x250The ancient world is full of rebellion. In my patch, the Bronze Age Near East, the world was one of dominant ‘great kings’ with imperial aspirations. In the southern Mediterranean was Egypt, ancient and arrogant; in the east, Babylon and later Assyria; in the north, the Hurrian kingdom of Mitanni, which was later supplanted by the Hittite Empire. Most histories of the Bronze Age tell political and military tales of the waxing and waning of these great empires and the great campaigns of their rulers – people like Ramesses II or Šuppiluliuma I.

But these empires weren’t all there was, of course. There are other histories to be told. In my research I work on Ugarit, a small but important kingdom on what’s now the Syrian coast. It was militarily weak, but a great trading power. Like many of the small Levantine kingdoms, it found itself charting a dangerous course between the rival influences of its powerful neighbours. In the Middle Bronze Age it seems to have aligned itself with Egypt, but around the middle of the second millennium BC it made the shrewd political decision to ‘invite in’ the Hittites and become a vassal, sparing itself the punishing repercussions of being taken by force.

For the great kings of the Bronze Age, these smaller kingdoms were one of two things – vassals (either their own or someone else’s, assuming they accepted the legitimacy of the claim) or rebels. The latter was not, it is clear, a Good Thing.

These days we love rebels. At least since the twentieth century, western culture has celebrated the underdog who stands up against overwhelming power, especially when that power is grounded in tradition. People are proud to brand themselves ‘rebels’ or part of a ‘resistance’.

rebel-without-a-cause-poster3Often rebellion is associated with youth: we take it for granted that young people are by nature rebellious and questioning of the values and authority of their elders. Even those who seek to shut down such dissent often implicitly accept that this is part of the normal behaviour of the young. But youth – especially being teenage – is a highly culturally-constructed category. Arguably, these assumptions tell us more about our own culture than they do about human nature.
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Second CREWS Conference: Call for Papers

The CREWS Project’s second conference has been announced. This one’s my baby and focuses on something I’ve wanted to get people together to talk about for some time now – writing systems in context. There’s been a long tradition in studying writing systems to treat them as something rather abstract and self-contained. People have focused on linguistic and palaeographical questions, and there’s often not been as much attention paid to how they sit within society and culture. In this conference I’m hoping we’ll be able to bring together academics with very diverse backgrounds and expertise to think about things like the archaeology of writing systems, their cultural histories, their social significance. If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, please check out the full details on the CREWS Project blog.


We are pleased to announce the second CREWS conference, to take place in March 2019.

‘Exploring the Social and Cultural Contexts of Historic Writing Systems’ aims to look at writing systems’ place in society and culture.

Full details, including the call for papers, are available on the conference page.

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Classical Trek: 4000 Years of Boldly Going

My friend Daniel has started something I always meant to do but never got round to because it’s such a daunting task – looking at the relationship between Classics and Star Trek. There’s a lot to say here. A lot. Even more if you include archaeology, which Star Trek is curiously obsessed with. This first instalment’s very interesting and you should all check it out.


From meeting the god Apollo in The Original Series, to the Roman-inflected Terran Empire in Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek has always drawn heavily on ancient Greece and Rome for inspiration. Since both Star Trek and Classics have been important parts of my life from a young age, I’ve decided to take a look at some of the more interesting way the franchise has engaged with the ancient world, whether through direct allusion or more subtle thematic patterning.

In this first instalment, I begin by looking at the very ancient roots of one of pop culture’s most famous split infinitives.

To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no-one has gone before.
This is, of course, the conclusion of the phrase that opens the credit-sequences of both the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. (1) This…

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