Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Archaeology of Christmas: 2

Just time (there's always time) to check on the ongoing experimental archaeology project that some call Christmas. It's been two years since we last looked in on the project and things have, as expected, changed: clocks move on, artefacts multiply, stratigraphy builds.
The exercise in stratigraphical development for archaeo-historical magazines (2014) has come to an end, movement of the sofa in order to permit the annual insertion of a tree, has demonstrated that for this year the depth of paper-based stratigraphy was 1.86m.

Careful examination, excavation, recording and removal of layers have shown a well-preserved chronological sequence from BBC History Magazine (December) right the way down to the primary deposit, a copy of the Radio Times ('legendary double issue') for Christmas 2013.

A quick recalculation of time-depth, however, proved necessary due to a small intrusive pocket of non-archaeo-historical magazine publications preserved midway in the sequence (relating to the late summer months of 2014).

Hence the true depth of specifically archaeological and historic magazine related literature for 2014 was actually 1.78m, an increase of 0.14m on 2012-3 when the stratigraphic sequence was last measured.

Looking up, the relative dating of tinsel-installation now numbers 11 drawing pin holes per strategic coving placement, meaning it has now been just over a decade since the last major phase of painting and decorating.

Further afield, the annual movement of furniture has produced artefacts relating to the last celebration of Christmas, key find of which was the 2013 Waitrose Christmas 'bag for life' (other supermarket bags are available).

Whilst clearance of bookshelves produced a bumper crop of unused crackers

misplaced cracker 'gifts'

and a particularly fine example of displaced joke-related fun.

A full report on the comparison between 2013 and 2014 cracker-based gifts and the de-evolution of humour in the intervening 12 months is currently in preparation and will, it is hoped, be published in the New Year.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Moanhenge 3: Goodbye to the Time Tunnel

As the old saying goes "Ah'll be lovely when it's finished"

It may actually be finished quite soon, or at least the 'visitor experience', as promised for much of the 20th and early 21st century, will be.

As we speak (and as noted in my last henge-related post) the great new visitor centre / motorway-service-station-built-from-discarded-matchsticks / experimental wind-tunnel (delete as applicable) is open, allowing people to see real artefacts and learn stuff without having to first purchase a guide book (though you can still do this). As I think I said before, I very much like the interior of the visitor centre and the interpretative recreations of Neolithic houses are uniformly excellent. The exterior I could do without (but then what do I know about modern architecture?).

Today the British government 'unveiled' new plans for the A303 road tunnel, which seems to have upset and excited people in equal measure. Some pundits are enraged because the proposal to drive the road underground means that those motoring past will, in future, be deprived of the 'free treat' of seeing the world's most famous megalithic monument (slowing down to gawp and thus generating an immense traffic jam). Others are pleased that, whilst standing close to the worlds most famous megalithic monument they will, in future, no longer see the huge train of motorists gawping at them as they pass noisily by, enroute to the beaches of Devon and Cornwall.

As the road tunnel is discussed and the new visitor centre and associated car / coach park 'goes live', the old Stonehenge concrete gift shop / Führerbunker is in the final stages of demolition.

Having grown up with these facilities, I have mixed feelings about this.

Yes, it's good to get rid of the old road, in the process opening up the Stonehenge Avenue and reconnecting the monument to its wider landscape and yes, the old facilities, such as they were, were probably just a wee bit too close to the stones, but I knew them, liked them and, as with all friends, tolerated their little failures and foibles. Now they've gone, smashed into oblivion by the mechanised soldiers of the State, I confess that I miss them.

I miss the elongated car park where coaches endlessly reversed into one another; I miss the old toilet block that shook every time a truck went past; I miss the white-painted circles on the car park tarmac which indicated the former position of prehistoric timbers; I miss the windswept café which looked as if it had been designed to withstand heavy gunfire; I miss the tea served in large unwieldy paper buckets and the thickly iced doughnuts; I miss the security-checkpoint and ticket booth; I miss the old gift shop with its plate glass windows displaying stick-on druid beards and Excalibur-shaped envelope-openers.

Most of all, though, I miss the Time Tunnel.  

This simple concrete and steel passageway ran beneath the old road, herding generations of tourists away from the delights of the gift shop and out to the majestic splendour of the stones themselves. I loved its cold Dalek-grey, mock-marble lining and oddly angular edges, slightly alleviated by multi-coloured 60s Star Trek lighting. I miss the large reconstruction paintings of hirsute Neolithic farmers straining sarsen boulders through the ancient landscape of Salisbury Plain. I miss the giddy-school boy excitement of turning the very last corner at the end of the tunnel and climbing the pebble-dashed ramp, seeing the sarsens rise up magically in the distance.

The tunnel reminds me of visits past: of sheltering from the rain and driving hail; waiting in the semi-darkness with school and university fieldtrips. It was here, when we were excavating inside the circle, that we chatted with night security. It was here that we wheeled spoil past incredulous French, Italian and Japanese tourists. It was here that, on seemingly endless school visits, that we compared tacky purchases (novelty pencils, pens and snow globes). It was here, if you were particularly good at suspending your disbelief, that you could imagine that you were leaving the modern-world behind, plunging headlong back into the distant prehistoric past.   

This part of Stonehenge has now gone, never to return.

I know, of course, that the landscape is steadily being improved and, in the long run, this is all for the good, but the Time Tunnel was part of my Stonehenge experience, my own personal phenomenology and I will never see it again.

Goodbye time may not have been liked by everyone, but I for one will miss you.

Friday, 28 November 2014

Archaeo newswatch: cultures (and vultures)

There's lots of talk in the British media (as there is in any run up to a general election) about culture, nationality, sovereignty and immigration. As an archaeologist, whose job it is to study ancient culture, nations, sovereigns and migration, I find it all rather repetitive, depressing, unnecessary and, dare I say it, a little bit dull, especially in a week where the tabloid press is bleating (as it always now seems to) about what it means to be British and how 'our' cultural traditions are being steadily eroded by Europe / Asia / America / Australia (and, come to think of it, why not Antarctica given the number of penguins currently on TV?).
Without sounding like Mr Angry from Tunbridge Wells, there has, I'm sorry to say, never been such a thing as a static, unchanging 'British culture' - it's always been in a state of flux, all manner of words, customs, fashions, foods (etc) regularly coming in from other peoples, cultures, ethnicities and nationalities. Every country, nation or state (with the possible exception of North Korea) is, however much their politicians deny it, continually copying, adopting, adapting, plagiarising or stealing ideas from one another. When you take the big UK news story of today (well apart from the one about a Conservative MP calling a serving police officer a pleb - haven't we done this one already?), 
the impact of 'Black Friday', a brand new (imported) tradition in which seemingly normal people queue all night outside a department store so that, at the strike of midnight, they can assault one another with children's toys,

or the big story of last month about the impact of the (new) annual Halloween tradition of 'Trick-or-Treat' (30 years ago in the UK all we had for entertainment on 'All Hallows Eve' was apple-bobbing and whittling a parsnip), then it's clear that culture is (as it always has been) in a state of change. 
Do I mind that so-called 'British traditions' are on the decline? Well no, actually, having no particular desire to sit in a thatched hut covered in blue woad with horse urine and chalk dust in my hair eating roast pork (as the first 'true' Britons apparently did according to the totally fair and objective travel writer Julius Caesar), I'm actually quite glad that things have moved on in the last two millennia and we now have things like tea and wine and curry, not to mention shampoo and soap.
Last year, a journalist from a tabloid newspaper was interviewing me about a skeleton dug up from a Roman cemetery which appeared to represent the remains of a woman from sub Saharan Africa. 'Was she a slave?' the journalist asked (unconsciously enforcing his own cultural prejudices). 'No' I replied, 'given that she was a high status burial in a high status cemetery that seemed quite unlikely'. 'Well' the journalist went on, 'she must have appeared quite out of place in northern Europe at the time'. I could see where he was going with this (given the stance taken by his own particular paper on immigration). 'Again no' I replied, 'given that we have good documentary and archaeological evidence from Roman Britain for Syrians, Egyptians, Iraqis, Algerians and Ethiopians, not to mention Germans, Spaniards, Italians and peoples from areas now incorporated within France, Hungary, Romania, Albania etc etc, she would probably have fitted right in. In fact' I decided to really upset him with a hard dose of archaeological reality, 'Roman Britain was probably one of the most multi-cultural and racially diverse periods in British history, all these ethnicities adding to the rich ancestral mix that we have today'.
The interview ended shortly after that and never appeared in print.
Oh well, less than six months to the election, then we can all talk about some other news story - there must be something else happening in the world surely?

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Digging for Troy

Archaeologists are proud to call a spade a spade (and not a hand-operated, steel tipped, wooden handled soil interface device) and covert those hand-operated, steel tipped, wooden handled soil interface devices that slice well, slice deep into the earth, never giving them up to the inexperienced practitioner.

One such digging tool has just sold for a quite incredible $6,250 in the USA, not because of its excellent soil-slicing properties (although I'm sure it has those in...ahem...spades) but because of its erstwhile literary connections. 

The spade was once briefly owned by playwright George Bernard Shaw, who used it to plant a mulberry tree on his 80th birthday in 1936.
Later it was presented to the author Ray Bradbury as a Christmas gift.

Bradbury, a huge fan of Shaw, was apparently so delighted in taking possession of the artefact, that he wrote a poem to commemorate the event. As so few poems are ever written about the act of digging (and as the Press, in their wisdom, published only a few lines), it is perhaps worth setting it down in full:
I hold the dear spade in my hands,
Its vibrant lightnings strike and move along my arms,
The ghost of Shaw climbs up through me
I feel a fiery brambling of chin
I feel my spine
Stand straight as if a lightning bolt had struck
His old voice whispers in my ear, dear boy
Find Troy, go on, dig deep, find Troy, find Troy!
But where, I cry, but where, but where?
Why there, good lad, there there, ah, there
Electric goes his fingers. I quake, start
The old man's ghost is pointing at my heart
Can that be true, how deep, how long the digging, can it be true?
Good grief, shut up, says Shaw, grab hold, fall to!
He steps back in the dust, down in the shade,
And I stand, Christmas morn, with ancient spade,
Great Shaw the First is gone, is dead?
His son stands here, Excalibured,
And crowned my head.
I love the enthusiasm with which Bradbury eulogises both playwright and spade, as if the power of the former fully inhabitants the garden implement. I can understand his feelings. Many years ago I came in possession of a small set of digging equipment previously owned, and used, by Eric Holden and John Pull, pioneering Sussex amateur archaeologists and I well recall the tingling sense that, in holding the pick, shovel and spades, I was in some way connecting directly with both the personalities of the fieldworkers and the sites they had investigated.

I also love Bradbury's sense of emulating Heinrich Scliemann in attempting to find Troy. Recalling the epic trenches cut by hand at the direction of that great German antiquarian explorer in the early 1870s through the Turkish site of Hissarlik, in which over 250,000 cubic meters of soil was displaced by 200 workmen using horse carts, wheel barrows and a small rail track over a 3 year period, I expect that it would have taken the author quite some time to replicate Schliemann's efforts.

Still I admire his courage and, thinking about it, 'Go on, dig deep, find Troy, find Troy' sounds like it may well become the site motto for next year's summer fieldwork project.
Although finding an ancient Trojan city in the middle of the Dorset countryside may prove quite a task.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Latin as she is spoke

I don't, as I think I've said before (and probably at length), speak Latin. People believe that, as an archaeologist with some classical leanings that I ought to. Well I don't. Throw me a Roman inscription (well, pass me one with care so that I don't drop it and break a toe) and I'll make a passable stab at translating it, but that's a completely different ollam piscium. Inscriptions follow a set formula and they're (relatively) easy to disentangle and make sense of. Big swathes of Latin text: now that's far more tricky.

For some reason people confuse being a field archaeologist with being a classical scholar with a full understanding of all ancient languages. Usually that's not too much of a problem, for I can quickly (and privately) explain and diffuse the situation before anyone gets too embarrassed.

Not today, however.

No, today, in front of a (relatively) large crowd of students, ex students and parents, all gathered for a graduation ceremony, somebody innocently asked if anyone could possibly explain what the  university motto, emblazoned in ten-foot high golden letters above the main podium, actually meant. In the deafening silence that followed I could feel 54 pairs of eyes swivel slowly in my direction. I knew from experience that I couldn't get to the fire exit in time nor could I suddenly fall to the floor, feigning a no doubt very painful injury. These people knew I was an archaeologist; they knew that I dig Roman remains for a living.

The words were by this time glaring down at me contemptuously - daring me to make a translation: 

Discere Mutari Est  

I tried to look confident and cleared my throat:

"er....Carthage Must be Destroyed"

No one was all that convinced.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Archaeology of Pokemon

So there I was, absentmindedly flicking between TV channels, when it happened...I discovered the future of archaeology. As with all things, the future appears to be Japanese.
The programme, a (very) short documentary, focused upon the pioneering work of one Professor Cedric Juniper, currently engaged in the archaeological examination of the White Ruins, a site I cannot place using Google Earth (other geographical search engines are (not) available), but which I guess must be somewhere deep inside Japan.

Juniper, a man with rather distracting tastes in facial furniture (like half an Easter Egg strapped to his chin) and a Tin Tin-esque quiff proved to be a classic example of the archaeo-boffin, a literal 'Egg-head' possessing a tricky relationship with Real People and the Real World (TM) and an archaic mode of speech that made his conversations (and chain of thought) rather difficult to follow. 

He also appears to have a worrying degree of control over his field team, all of whom are kitted out in designer archeo-uniforms, a strict dress code of khaki paramilitary style shirts, shorts and pith helmets being enforced upon all members of the expedition. 

This rather eccentric attitude seems, however, to be forgiven by the relevant heritage authorities given Juniper's undoubted success in the use of robotic excavation and survey equipment,

large amounts of rubble being cleared (scientifically) in a matter of minutes,

allowing Juniper and his team to directly access the main burial chamber of the monumental tomb without having to spend days mindlessly recording anything.

In fact all kind of 'traditional ' recording tools (cameras, context sheet, plans, sections, notebooks) seem to be unnecessary and are entirely dispensed with under the new Juniper-regime of robotic excavation. To say that the documentary left me 'gob-smacked' is an understatement. The whole nature and ethos of archaeological examination has been completely overturned by Professor Juniper's pioneering research and I await to see how soon his methods of survey, excavation and recording are adopted in the UK.
OK so, having got to the main burial chamber, the Professor managed to unleash a powerful supernatural nasty with the power to eradicate humanity.... 

....but hey, nobody's perfect.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Moanhenge 2: Goodbye Tarmac, Hello Obama

I was reviewing the Sunday papers a few weeks ago in a local radio station (I know, wacky eh?) where I had a creeping sense of dread that there wouldn't actually be anything in the news that I was even remotely qualified to talk about (it all being relentlessly depressing). This was a big concern, having been given two requests by the show's producer namely 'find something historical / heritage related' and 'keep it light'. Luckily I needn't have worried for there is one archeo-staple that you can be sure will always be in the papers, especially on a Sunday:


This time it wasn't the road closures / land-train / entrance price / druids / display of human remains / startling new interpretation etc etc, but the very simple story concerning the surprise visit by the US president to a set of sarsen boulders 'somewhere' in the Wiltshire landscape.

Apparently it had been on his 'bucket list' for some time and, if the photos are any judge, it looked like he had a good time.

My only worry is that he didn't get the complete Stonehenge experience. No gift shop, no land-train, no chance to see or walk within the wider landscape, no chance to eat cake.
The visitor experience at Europe's most iconic archaeological site is, of course, currently undergoing significant modification. The road that ran so perilously close to the monument, allowing trucks, coaches and cars to thunder across the line of the Avenue, severing Stonehenge from its immediate environs, has gone, whilst the car park, ticket office and concrete bunker-style gift-shop and adjoining café, are all being demolished, and that's all good...
...isn't it?
Well yes, of course, removing some of the more intrusive 20th and 21st century buildings and returning a more 'natural' feel to this much neglected site is, and will continue to be, hugely beneficial, drastically improving both the environment and the overall visitor experience (although whether it really does reduce numbers at the stones is a matter for debate), opening up the surrounding landscape and permitting better access to the Avenue, Cursus and surrounding barrow groups.
But (there's always a ‘but’) I must admit a degree of sadness at the loss of certain parts of the 'old' Stonehenge property. Certainly the new visitor centre should be applauded, especially given that, throughout the 20th century, there was no on-site museum, interpretation or display. OK so I remain to be convinced about the exterior of said new-build, which looks a bit like an unfinished motorway service station
but the interior is uniformly excellent. Larger shop (always good) indoor café (even better) and best of all a set of displays, artefact show-cases and interactive thingamys explaining the who, what, why and wherefore of Stonehenge. Here you can at last learn about the monument and about the Neolithic and Bronze Age and all the many periods of antiquarian and later investigation conducted, and I particularly enjoyed seeing some of the many interpretations of the stone structure being discussed by leading experts who used words like 'Wiltshire', 'Tradition' and 'Wales'
or who spent time explaining why they like wearing clothes with maps of Europe and Africa printed on them
All in all then, the experience for visitors has improved considerably, although poor Mr Obama obviously did not have time to fully appreciate this, being cajoled by his bodyguard to return to his helicopter and the defence of the free-world as soon as politely possible.
But (there we go again), I still can't help but feel nostalgia for what has gone. Having spent so much time in the old tarmac covered car park, complete with its incongruous circular white-blobs, painted to show where Mesolithic timber posts once stood (and which always confused unwary motorists), buying 'Stonehenge rock cakes' and (the rather unappealingly named) 'Aubrey-hole doughnuts' (and eating them sat on a windswept bench watching parties of German, French and Japanese tourists flock past) as well as spending time (and not an inconsiderable amount of money) in the old-bunker shop (buying stick-on druid beards and snow-globes) and deep-set underground toilet facilities, I do feel rather sad that these are things that have now, together with the road, houses, petrol station, airfield etc, all been consigned to archaeological history. Is that just me......? is just me isn't it.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Lumpy Bumpy Pudding

I read the obituary of Jocelyn Stevens today. I never met the man, nor came into contact with him so I cannot offer an opinion as to his character. I was not one of the 700 people whose jobs he cut when he was chairman of English Heritage, nor was I one of the people he sacked when he was in charge of the Royal College of Arts. I was not one of the people who claimed he was, as reported in today's Times "a monstrous bully" or whom he apparently humiliated, abused or regularly shouted at. I did not see the sign on his door that read "The floggings will continue until morale improves" and I did not give him the nickname 'Piranha Teeth' (that was, by all accounts, Private Eye). In short, therefore, I have nothing really to add concerning his life, reputation and legacy....

....except, one thing that every obituary or remembrance failed to recall, amongst the many sayings, comments and outbursts recited in the press, was his very public dismissal, whilst chairman of English Heritage (an appointment that one person at the time, in 1992, commented was "Like putting King Herod in charge of child care") of the UK archaeological resource as "just lumps and bumps in the ground".

Now I like lumps and bumps (especially in Lumpy Bumpy Pudding), but this wholesale dissing of the cultural heritage which he, as chairman, was supposed to be protecting and fighting to preserve, conserve and celebrate, has curiously stayed with me to this day. It's a reflection of the mind-set that all members of the Thatcher / Major regime adhered to and it is, sadly, one that still appears to infect the minds of politicians of whatever hue.

Amazing what things stay with you; what things that you can never, ever forgive.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Return to Beanotown

It's been a while since I've had a chance to catch up on archaeological fieldwork being undertaken in Beanotown (see Nov 2013: The Archaeology of Pies) and, given the extraordinary nature of prehistoric pastry-related discoveries previously made there, I was very pleased to see that a sequel documentary has been commissioned and screened by the good people of the CBBC channel (still not worked out what CBBC stands for but I suspect it's very important - Cultural British Broadcasting Corporation perhaps?).

Anyway, the nature of fieldwork seems to have changed for the second season of investigation. On the positive side, as far as I can see, the project is far better resourced this time around, the team operating within a considerably larger trench  

(although I'm altogether sure that this is necessarily a good thing given that Beanotown School apparently sits, as revealed last time, slap bang in an Area of Outstanding Scientific Interest). On the negative side the bulk of the investigation is currently being undertaken by volunteers  

(which is not, I suspect, strictly ethical given that most seem to be of pre GCSE grade age). There were also a few issues concerning health and safety (only the director seems to be wearing a hard hat and any kind of high vis jacket – and I'm not sure what the Health and Safety at Work Act has to say about the wearing of bow ties on site)


whilst the recording of contexts seems to be almost non existent (although it's always difficult to see what has been staged for the purposes of television - but I didn’t, for that matter, see any discussion of artefact associations or associated bone groups either) nor was there any site photography or drawing going on (which was a bit odd).

This may, of course, all be due to the fact that director of operations is now Dr Palaeo (rather than the more pastry-obsessed Lancashire Smith). I'm not aware of Dr Palaeo's work, but he does seem to know his stuff, and I have to say that I was most convinced by his meticulous recreation of the Mutton-Poultry-Bovineo-Saurus in the final scenes


That is at least until the very close of the programme when it was hinted (quite strongly by the film maker) that the bulk of the faunal remains had been planted (akin to the way in which the faked bones of Piltdown Man had been discretely placed within the pre-disturbed gravels of Barkham Manor way back in 1912), which, as far as revelations go, was more than a tad explosive.
If this newly identified species of prehistoric animal is indeed a fake, and if there is any doubt concerning the overall authenticity of the Mutton-Poultry-Bovineo-Saurus, I think we need to know, certainly before any it becomes the subject of further PhD research and / or a best-selling book.   

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Groundhog 21

Is the music still playing?

Anyway, cogs whirr and brain patterns flash a familiar sub-routine. Click click click.

Thought 1: there comes a time in every profession when the 'Groundhog Day' factor comes into play: the feeling that you are trapped in a time loop, forced to relive and replay the same events, day after day.

Thought 2: the trouble with working in academia is that the 'Groundhog Factor' is calculated in 12 calendar months rather than a mere 24 hours. Sure as eggs is eggs, induction is followed by term one which is followed by Christmas then term two, Easter, exams, summer fieldwork, summer holiday before you are plunged back into induction endless cycle.

Not that I'm complaining mind, far from it.

I love archaeology (have I mentioned that before?) be it teaching it, talking about it, digging it, lecturing about it, reading about it, visiting it, it's all good.

So that's (to coin a phrase) all custard then. Vanilla custard.

Thought 3: it's just that the cycles of groundhogey-ness seem to be moving ever faster (a common complaint I know). A colleague with a cheery, optimistic, 'happy-go-lucky' outlook on life once commented that such certainty in professional matters (i.e. doing the same thing again and again) was undoubtedly a good thing for it indicated job / life security coupled with the pleasure of mixing with the young and youthful (thus remaining forever young or at least never growing mentally old). A rather more pessimistic colleague noted, in relation to the same observation, that working in a university was a bad thing for 'every year you get older whilst those whom you teach are eternally 18....'

....well anyway, I think he got counselling in the end.

Thought 4: the observation that there is a certain structure and formality to the academic year is probably not that novel, but, as I sit here mindlessly tapping on the keyboard thinking on the Groundhog Factor (now there's a game show title) waiting for my new tutees to arrive, I realise just how quickly the year has gone. One minute I was considering the Big Dig theme, to be taken from the Eurovision 2014 list of hopefuls, and then suddenly the archaeological fieldwork began...then it's all over for another year. We dug lots, we found lots and there's certainly lots to investigate further and discuss.

Fingers tap keyboard as notes are prepared...there's a knock on the door. Are these my tutees? It would appear yes...thirteen new faces enter the room.

Groundhog 21 begins.

Normal Service will be Resumed as soon as Possible


...a chance to dig some archaeology...

 ...go on holiday.....

...visit some archaeology on holiday...

....visit some things that aren't archaeology on holiday....

....visit some more archaeology....

..but, as they say, and indeed as a whole nine people have noticed, it does mean that, just occasionally, certain things can end up 'on hold' or simply forgotten. This is one such slidey, timey-wimey, forgotteny thing. To the nine of you who noticed, I apologise, and hope to reassure you that normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

In the meantime, here is some music.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Hair today (an archaeological scare story)

"Dr Russell I presume?" The two people I had agreed to meet in the busy university reception hall approached in what was rapidly becoming a very Livingstone-style moment of recognition. "Yes, hello". We all shook hands. "How did you...?" I began, somewhat perplexed. The first smiled: "well, you do look like an archaeologist".

I never really know how to respond to statements like this - is it a good thing that I (or indeed anyone) actually look (or looks) like an archaeologist and, in any case, what does an archaeologist look like? Shouldn't I be wearing khaki-coloured shorts and a pith helmet in order to more properly (and authentically) fit the pop culture stereotype?

Feeling this wasn't evidently explanation enough for their rather extraordinary display of recognition, the second added "it's the beard"

Ah well's the beard. Every archaeologist, male or female, evidently has one for purposes of professional identification, a sort of brand-logo for the otherwise career-ID-challenged. Of course, now I think of it all pop-culture archaeologists from Indiana Jones to Lara Croft, via Howard Carter and Mortimer Wheeler has one (er...don't they?) and even the female of the species have names like 'Mary Beard', evidently in order to disguise the fact that they are otherwise challenged in the hairy chin department (like Frank Beard, the drummer and only member of countrythrash-blues hairy sexist mash-up that was 80s band ZZ Top to not actually sport a beard)...

It's hard to place the point at which the beard became such a clear and present marker of archaeo-identification, especially, when you look long and hard at the history of the profession, it's clear that few practitioners ever really sported one (and certainly not, as I recall, any of the women). Perhaps, as it's more a cultural marker of two clearly defined ends of the male social spectrum, the hyper intelligent and socially inept brainiac (egg-head or boffin) and the down and out alcoholic mess - both sometimes rather startlingly combined within the single archeo-male stereotype - that it has unconsciously (like the pith helmet, which few ever really wore) become the short-hand for the archaeo-academic. 

Whatever the origins of the fuzzy-face archaeo-indicator, given the prevalence of facial furniture evident across the whole spectrum of the male celebrity today, especially now that every (male) TV presenter seems to be sporting said hair from the well-trimmed and curiously coloured variety,

to the more gravitationally challenged, 

can it really be said (if it ever truly was) to be an exclusively archaeological phenomenon? Furthermore, whereas (in the good old days) the beard was a marker of the evil doer, the cad, bounder and all round bad egg,

today (and especially after this year's Eurovision Song Contest) the beard would appear to have transgressed all simplistic social codes, so that everyone has got one.

Needless to say, at the end of the meeting, so as to avoid all future confusion, I went home and shaved.