Over the last three days I have been attending the annual Theoretical Archaeology Group (TAG) conference at Bournemouth University, Poole, Dorset. I didn’t get to the beach, nor did I attend a session on maritime archaeology, but TAG-On-Sea it most certainly was.
Many of the key components of TAG were present and but everything worked super-smoothly this year. The t-shirt-wearing student volunteers were beyond helpful and the lecture theatres seemed to have been designed by architects who consulted on their use prior to construction: a rare thing. There were good packed lunches available, ample tea and coffee and book stalls with many bargain discounts.
The Antiquity Lecture was by the famous behavioural archaeologist Michael Schiffer on ‘Science and Archaeology’. Not my cup of tea at all I have to say. I have nothing against Michael and he had interesting things to say, but the principle of bringing in an American scholar or an anthropologist (yes, the great Tim Ingold was presiding over another session at the conference) to ‘tell us how it is’ gets right up my nose. At the Exeter TAG we organised a partially successful plenary of postgraduates giving their vision of the future of archaeological theory. This was far more profitable and provoked a robust debate.
This was followed by a wine reception on Monday evening. Some idiot managed to drop and smash his full wine glass on the floor before he even drank anything. Said individual, suitably humiliated, retired quickly from the scene but reappeared later at the Bournemouth Pizza Co. to eat … pizza… and to chat the evening away about archaeology of all kinds. There was a TAG token which gave access to the wine reception, a very fun idea. There were gold, silver and bronze versions (very London Olympics 2012); I ended up with the bronze. Happy with that.
On Tuesday evening with the retrieved TAG token, entry could be gained to the Antiquity Quiz followed by the TAG party at the Old Fire Station. I didn’t do the quiz – arriving late from gorging on KFC – but I did get a few questions right. Beer was quaffed and there was a band: The Standing Stones (Prof. Tim Darvill on guitar). Fun stuff and people did dance. That idiot was there again singing along to Slade, T-Rex, Beatles, Blue Suede Shoes and a range of other random tunes from days of yore. Some went on to drink at the nearby bars into the early hours at a rock bar called ‘The Anvil’. More quaffing took place there, as well as some good conversation. Wednesday evening involved the long train journey back home.
There were of course two-and-a-half days of sessions on a range of themes and theoretical perspectives from taskscapes to burial archaeology, maritime archaeology to Deleuze, art to acoustics. In the sessions I attended, I listened to some provocative, insightful and controversial perspectives in archaeological thinking and interpretation. Of course there were many half-baked ideas (including my own presentations). There were some papers involving theoretical posturing but with little application, and some application without a robust theoretical framework and much nuanced regurgitation of 1980s and 1990s theory using new terms. Having said all that, there were surprisingly few heads-up-arses papers and perhaps only one or two complete turkeys. Still, there was plenty of interest and to make me glad that I attended.
Of course the best thing about TAG is talking to fellow archaeologists: old friends, colleagues, ex-students and new acquaintances. Some call this ‘networking’ but apparently it is now meshworking…
Among other people, I got to chat to the new Antiquity journal team and peruse bookstalls, and scheme with various archaeologists about plans that will probably never happen. Another role of mine was setting up a stall to promote the Archaeological Journal. I also had a meeting with our likely commercial publishing partner.
More on the sessions I attended in a future blog posting. All told, a good event, and well done to the Bournemouth team for sustaining and, in many ways, perfecting the TAG formula. The next TAG will be in Manchester in December 2014.