A report from Krakow

After his report of the UISPP conference in Lisbon, Andrea Vianello provides us with his views of the EAA Annual Meeting in Krakow 19-24 September:

It was about a week that I came back from Lisbon and the UISPP conference, and I found myself once again on a plane to a new conference: the EAA annual meeting in Cracow. The journey was eventless, and I could recognise some friends and colleagues already on the plane. That Cracow was a town of what was communist Europe became clear taking the train from the airport to the main railway station: the train was more like a tram on an old abandoned line. When the doors opened in Cracow, we were greeted not only by a large gap to the platform, but unexpectedly, we were also much lower than the platform. Clive Orton was next to me, we looked to each other, and we started with the first laugh. The EAA is always a feel good occasion. Our next challenge was to catch the trams to our hotels: these were not passing through the station due to some road works and required what we discovered was a lengthy deviation. That said, the trams were not far from said station, and Cracow presented itself immediately as a gorgeous town. That day there was the opening ceremony in the afternoon. I was tired, and found myself looking for the Auditorium Maximum. There it was the usual fare of welcomes and introductions. I fear to have fallen asleep during Stanislaw Tabaczynski’s presentation, and later I discovered I wasn’t the only one. Perhaps that’s a side effect of theory as starter. I was told anyway that it was usual to fall asleep at such presentations, and indeed I can’t recollect any since my first EAA meeting in 2001. Worth mentioning was Anthony Harding’s comments on the Bosnian pyramids, which also appear in issue 5794 of Science, but as I noted to him later, at the same time the media were reporting silly declarations by self-proclaimed experts, damaging Bosnian archaeologists even more if possible. Sad. The same evening there was a nice reception in the lovely gardens of the archaeological museum, with a tent built for us. Nice food and drinks, good company, it was a sparkling start to a memorable conference.

Next day the sessions started, I usually find the conference very useful given my interests, and indeed it did not delude. The most interesting session was the one questioning the death of archaeological theory, “The Death of Archaeological Theory?”, organised by John Bintliff and Mark Pearce. I knew that theory is here to stay, and given the effects on me the previous day I decided it was a definite miss. I was taught by John Barrett in his “Reinventing archaeology” course some years ago, and would not be surprised if they decided to reinvent archaeological theory. I didn’t enquire, staying in a blissful darkness about any decisions they may have taken. Instead, I headed to a session organised by Sarah-Jane Hathaway and Mark Maltby on the more earthly and now humble salt. It was an ideal starting session given the strong connection that Cracow has with salt. “‘Salt of the Earth’, Salt Production and Beyond” was illuminating for someone like me that is just starting to explore the topic. I then moved to Dragos Gheorghiu’s session on figurines, which was also quite interesting, but not before receiving tea and sweets from the splendid conference organisers. Although changing sessions may appear bad at first sight, there are many sessions running in parallel and to make the most of the conference one has to prepare in advance a calendar with not-to-be-missed papers and interesting sessions and move from room to room. Staying at one session for its full length is now almost impossible even for session organisers. In the afternoon I was attending “Living mobility – Crossing-border Archaeology in the modern world” organised by Serena Sabatini and Anita Synnestvedt, where Sophie Bergerbrant made a remark that I found very important, albeit it was marginal to her presentation: Baltic amber found outside northern Europe could easily fit a single rucksack. Sometimes the evidence on which archaeologists found their interpretations is really minimal, and this should come as a stark warning to consider the broader context as well. Sophie pointed out that each bead may represent a single journey by individuals, about whom, as she noted, we cannot even know their gender. Per Cornell further elaborated on the concept of mobility in antiquity, noting how long journeys by individuals and small groups are difficult, but sometimes not impossible to recognise in the archaeological record. Such perilous journeys after all probably constituted the large majority of all travels in antiquity. Li Winter then presented her PhD research, still in progress, and concentrated on presenting some technical skills of ancient seafaring in the northern seas. I am aware of similar studies in the Mediterranean, particularly Marazzi’s work on Late Bronze Age seafaring between modern Greece and Italy. It was however nice to hear how some questions that still baffle modern oceanographers, might have been easily answered by pre-classic seafarers. Maybe it is true that to know the sea, you have to live it.

Friday morning came, and I had to give two presentations. First I was in Tobias Kienlin, Bénédicte Quilliec, Ben Roberts’ “Beyond Types, Composition and Production Techniques: what insights can studying metal provide into the social dynamics of prehistoric communities in Europe?” session. A long name for a session that was nicknamed “metallurgy” by everybody. I started attending Jan Bouzek’s paper, who clearly demonstrated he was an old master of the topic, presenting so much information that it was impossible to absorb it all. He is now seriously convinced that metals were one of the most important elements in ancient life, and he was really able to depict a world spinning around metals, from sourcing to consumption. Next, I moved to “The Materiality of Death – Bodies, Burials, Beliefs” organised by Fredrik Fahlander and Terje Oestigaard to attend Helène Whittaker von Hofsten’s presentation on the symbolic use of gold by the Mycenaeans. Gold more than any other metal really makes me think that Jan Bouzek is right and metals became essential to human culture since their discovery. I headed back to the “metallurgy” session – see how practical that name is – and attended Peter Northover’s presentation. He focused his talk on England, but one useful general remark he made was that scrap metals for recycling were probably the largest source of raw material since the Bronze Age. I had then my presentation on Aegean metals in the Bronze Age West Mediterranean after a break, and although it is still a work in progress, I received several useful comments and many questions. Those about chronology I didn’t like and politely disagreed, and they were an optimal excuse to flee. As soon the session organisers suggested time was up for questions, I said “yes!” and quickly left the room, to the great surprise of Mark Pearce who was asking me a question. I had already planned my strategic retreat not just because of my second paper, but because I concluded my presentation to a respected audience of archaeometallurgists with, “in my field, ceramics rule”. I arrived just a few minutes earlier to deliver my second presentation, at “General Session: Culture Heritage and Modern Information Technology”, where Wodzimierz Rczkowski was the “forced” moderator. Wlodek, as he calls himself, apparently mistrusts computers, and he was in charge of a session of what he probably considered computer nerds without any idea of what real archaeology is. I presented Intute and I grasped that Wlodek was changing his mind on computers after a morning of computing projects being laid down in front of him. Lunch time came, and Jan Bouzek had to kindly point to me that “metals rule”, and that in Sardinia there are more Bronze Age metals than anywhere else in Europe. Mark Pearce and I settled for a dinner together with friends that evening. It was now early afternoon and time to attend Marc Vander Linden and Karlene Jones-Bley’s “Departure from the homeland: Indo-Europeans and archaeology” session. Karlene started with a presentation declaring the importance of the Indo-Europeans, followed by the ineffable John Robb who denied the very existence of Indo-Europeans as a cultural homogenous group. John acknowledges the importance of linguistic studies, but he simply cannot see how people speaking similar languages can be grouped into one. I side with John, but appreciate the courage of Karlene in inviting John, and his courage into accepting. None of the other papers really mentioned the Indo-Europeans, except from a strict linguistic point of view or as a passing reference. I didn’t attend the whole session and rather rested a bit and idly browsed the (several) tempting book stands.

On Friday evening there was the annual party, but four of us had different plans: Mark Pearce, Franco Nicolis, Øivind Lunde and I met early in the evening and headed towards the Kazimierz District. Eventually, we discovered that it wasn’t a great idea to go to Kazimierz on a Friday night without having booked a table. We had to tour a bit before a nice place, but then we found the waitress of our dreams and following her inside a restaurant we also found a free table. As later Koji Mizoguchi warned me, this is a very unsafe way of doing things, but then, we were four hungry men and the place seemed good. In the end it became a memorable dinner, there were few people at the restaurant and we soon were left as the only customers, but all that was because it was an upmarket (read: expensive) restaurant. Luckily, expensive in Cracow is still moderate compared to Britain and anyway it was money well spent. On a passing note, Mark and I finished the questions of the morning and eventually agreed that chronology can be tricky and therefore it should be left open to discussion, but we would have agreed on almost anything with the food and drinks that we had in front of us (I had a delicate boletuses soup and sight of a scantily clad waitress at that point). Soon Mark enquired about the UISPP, which he missed, and anyway he already decided that it was not for him. My comments on the free excursion, also that report prompted him to label me as sado-masochist, and he was more than happy to label so the whole bunch of UISPP-goers, in a humorous spirit. The two remaining members instead found it funny to dance on top of a Roman mosaic, as in our meeting in Lyon; that turned up a lot of us in truth. At the end, we tried to send Franco to the waitress behind the bar, to ask for the bill but hopefully as payment, but he declined to move and rather asked for the bill with a gesture. On the way back we had more drinks at the hotel; several hours had gone in eating and drinking.


Saturday it was the last day of the sessions, and I decided to take the morning off to visit the Wawel Castle, though by the time that I arrived I could only see the archaeological exhibition and buy a few sweets from a shop promptly suggested to me by Gabriele Cifani. I had missed the “European Egyptologists Gaze The Future” session organised by Amanda-Alice Maravelia and Galina A. Belova, where Franck Goddio should have presented a paper about his recent researches off the Egyptian coast; the “European Anthropological Spaces. Archaeology vs. Anthropology?” session organised by Dragos Gheorghiu and Giorgos Dimitriadis; the “The Archaeology and Archaeoprospection of Large Rivers and River Confluences” session organised by Antony Brown, but none of the papers really interested me. Instead, I managed to hear the final part of the “Building Bridges With The Past: The Significance of Memory and Tradition In The Genesis And Transmission Of Culture” organised by Chrysanthi Gallou and Mercourios Georgiadis, though I must have nearly started sleeping: John Bintliff started laughing at me. The papers were fine, it was me being exceptionally tired at that point. Then it came the time of our annual business meeting. A few things emerged clearly: very few members seem to vote in internal elections; Vincent Megaw should be made official barrister for the sheepish audience at these meetings; and we will have to pay more in fees in the future. Vincent proposed to separate retired and student fees on the understanding that the former still earn more than the latter, which was a way to find more finances without pricing out some members. Koji and I met before the annual dinner and, like mature and responsible people do before eating, we had some of those sweets that I bought earlier and a drink. At the dinner, some people danced, everybody ate and drank. By 23:30 the first bus to the hotels came, and in fact the party was over. This may be a good sign: if people are tired at the end of a conference it should mean that they attended many presentations. It may sound as the dinner wasn’t that great, and perhaps the food could have been indeed better, but in reality it was the loud music and tiredness that constrained the lot. It was a nice chance to see and talk to many old friends, which I had barely seen during the conference. And several of us had a long day ahead, returning home, or like me, finally visiting Cracow.

Sunday morning Dragos Gheorghiu and I had a nice walking tour of the town (Dragos spotted a Masonic symbol on a palace in the city centre, which puzzled us because we expected that the Communist authorities would have been erased it), and could visit the superb museum. Some workers were still dismantling the tent of our first day, and that is telling of how much the city worked to greet us. The museum was very well illustrated, although we expected a bit more about salt and Dragos was deluded by the fact that some figurines he really wanted to see were not available. At the museum, Kristian Kristiansen joined us and off we went to Wawel Castle and then we had lunch together. In the afternoon, it was time for me to see the Wieliczka salt mine, before leaving on Monday morning. For the curious, I did taste the walls of the underground tunnels, and yes, they’re made of salt. I should have perhaps gone to Auschwitz, but just the idea of seen that concentration camp made me depressed and I preferred to leave it for a later moment in my life. Both should be seen, though, and not having seen Auschwitz probably means that I will return to Cracow in the future.

Once at home, I received an email that Wlodek circulated to the speakers in his session. He thanked us, especially because we made the session “very interesting and stimulating indeed” after he reminded us of his expectations of a “very low quality session”. Wlodek never lost an occasion to tell us that he didn’t believe on the speakers, but he seems ready to repeat the experience next year in Zadar “if we can develop further our work”. Well, I think that having a session organiser averse to the topic stimulated all of the speakers in presenting their projects as best and simply as they could, and that helped in the success of the session. Next year we meet in Zadar, Croatia, and several of us are already looking forward to it. For now, it is time to go back to work.

Thanks to Andrea for this report. Feel free to leave a comment here or submit your own views on the EAA Annual Meeting.

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One Response to A report from Krakow

  1. sheryy says:

    I’ve read an interesting article on http://www.bosnian-pyramid.net about the corners of the pyramid. It would be an easy way to proof quickly the existence, but they dig near the corners but not the corners. Then they’ve dug something on the top of it, but not the top!? I’ve seen some pictures on that really let me think again about this whole thing. Every day I believe less in this mystery.