After nearly 6 years of blogging Archaeodeath, I set up a short survey on Crowdsignal in the hope of gaining some feedback on my writings on WordPress from regular readers. Hence, throughout May, I was asking Archaeodeath followers to answer some questions about what they think about the content, what they learn from it, and what they would like more of. Obviously, I didn’t expect a vast range of comments, but I’m thankful to those that sent in their views and had constructive things to say about Archaeodeath.
What did I learn? Well, 22 people left helpful and constructive survey replies. Oddly, 2 individuals used the survey as an opportunity to send some anonymous negative comments. Let’s focus on the 22 and review their responses, although I’ll mention the other 2 when they are particularly funny or snide:
1. What is your favourite Aʀᴄʜᴀᴇᴏ𝖉𝖊𝖆𝖙𝖍 post?
I wasn’t sure what people would say here, but 2 of the 22 positive/constructive answers didn’t reply, while 20 said the following:
- mortuary culture in pop culture, e.g. Vikings;
- It is very hard to me to pick one because there are numerous excellent posts on this blog. I really like posts on displaying human and animal remains in museums, cemetery ornithology and funerals in TV-series;
- Any where you go up a big hill in Wales with the kids;
- Those on the Birka female grave;
- “I believe in horned helmets”;
- Any of the posts with moldering piles of modern ‘cremains’;
- Too many to choose from, but especially like how you analyse TV programme death stuff on stuff I’ve watched or will watch;
- Walking dead;
- Can’t say sorry, there have been lots of interesting posts. Perhaps the evolution of war memorials…;
- Can’t find specific post to cite – you traced where a graveslab from current to a possible past location based on the stylistic similarities etc;
- Durrington Walls;
- Not one post but the series looking at the reaction to the Birka burial;
- The female viking burial analyses;
- Series of post dedicated to cemetery ornithology;
- Posts on how people use man-made objects (in all shapes and sizes) to commemorate;
- Anything relating to Offa’s & Wat’s Dyke;
- The ones about visiting ancient sites, but it’s all interesting;
- Couldn’t say I have a favourite, but I do enjoy the ones that you relate things on the ground directly to history;
- The Trump one
This produced fascinating results and I’m really surprised by the range of ‘favourites’ presented here! Some of these are perhaps more predictable than others, as some mentioned are among my more popular posts: The Walking Dead, Vikings, Trump and Viking warrior women. I’m glad that specific site-visits are featured too, including posts reporting on visits to sites and monuments such as Durrington Walls and Offa’s and Wat’s Dyke. Others, however, took me by surprise, including the appeal of the cemetery ornithology and war memorial posts. I need to reflect further on this response, but my preliminary response is to be heartened that even my more obscure posts can appeal to some readers and count among their favourites.
2. What would you like to read more about on Aʀᴄʜᴀᴇᴏ𝖉𝖊𝖆𝖙𝖍?
- All of the topics you cover are interesting;
- I’m happy with anything, it’s all good;
- actually look forward to all the very different angles;
- All interesting as it is really, just carry on the excellent writing on what you get up to;
- Nothing in particular – I’d rather read things which you want to write about because they’re on your mind/of interest to you;
- I enjoy reading things people are passionate about;
- Anything Early Med really;
- Modern manifestations of death rites and commemoration;
- Contemporary archaeology – Different to what has already been posted;
- Like representations of mortuary practice in films/series. Like when you apply archaeological thinking to modern burial grounds/crematoria;
- I would like to read more about interpretation of funerary rituals in films, TV-series or novels;
- Presenting the dead to the public. Ethics, sensitivities, etc.;
- Pop culture;
- Not sure. Maybe more non-English archaeology;
- Changing phenomena (and why traditions might wane, or are established);
- I really would like to read more about funerals in TV-series, comics, films and human-animal relations. I will also willingly read more about death or Viking Age motifs in metal music (e.g. power metal, Mittelalter-Rock, heavy metal);
- research and discussion of current archaeology stories.
I’ve arranged these in order, starting with those who are happy with the range of content and wish me to simply continue to write about topics that excite me. I was also delighted to see the range of period interests from prehistory to present. For instance, ‘cromlechs’ and prehistory are subjects I have blogged about but I’m not a prehistorian, and so they are only occasional features. Early medieval is my thing, so I’m glad someone wants anything about that. Contemporary archaeology on new themes: yes, I can do that. I have many blogs about museums and heritage site displays of human remains and funerary monuments, so I can definitely keep at that too.
More challenging and interesting prompts are requests for more non-English archaeology (by which I presume they mean non-British Isles, since I live in Wales and do a lot of my blogs about Welsh sites, as well as some on Ireland). I do need to visit more of Scotland and also the Continent and Scandinavia, so I will try to do better if opportunities allow me to travel. However, with a young family and no budget for foreign family holidays, I’m not sure I can do more about the geographical range of my posts.
Viking metal? Would love to! But that is really more the field of my friends and colleagues Dr Aleks Pluskowski and Dr Simon Trafford. Still, I will continue to explore death/Viking themes in popular culture where possible. I have forthcoming posts about Viking comic books, for example. Watch this space!
Diachronic variation in mortuary practice: a truly valid point I need to do more about! This is one of the most challenging things to discuss when looking at mortuary cultures, and I will think about how I can address this!
Finally, one person wants me to comment more on contemporary archaeology news stories and new research. With some exceptions, I’ve steered clear of doing this, as it can lead to direct conflict with colleagues, but I will keep reflecting on when and how I pursue this, since some news stories that go viral about themes and issues I have expertise in do deserve blogging about!
3. Has Aʀᴄʜᴀᴇᴏ𝖉𝖊𝖆𝖙𝖍 helped you find out more about the archaeology and heritage of death and memory?
- 17 x ‘Yes’ and ‘Absolutely’ and variations thereof;
- Yes. It helped me a lots;
- yes, it has made me ‘re think and cogitate;
- Yes, see the English perspective in comparison to esp. mainland European;
- Yes. Your posts on Viking burials etc. allowed me to follow up on ideas based upon recent scholarship. Also have found your posts on ethical issues, as well as those concerning our own current commemorative practices, very thought provoking and I went away following up some of your suggested links to those.
- More a case of focussing it than adding to it;
This is a great affirmation that my blog is making people think, whether they agree or disagree with my arguments and observations! Thanks!
I’ve just got to share this one though:
- not at all, I learn more from my respected professors
Good for you, my snide friend!
4. Has Aʀᴄʜᴀᴇᴏ𝖉𝖊𝖆𝖙𝖍 made you think differently about the archaeology of death and memory?
- ‘Yes’/’very much’ x 5;
- Yes, definitely! It shown me that graves and monuments can be interpreted and analysed in fascinating way (and not only counted or measured);
- Yes. It helped me to look on mortuary practices in the more nuanced and wider way;
- Yes. Has been very diverse and thought provoking;
- Yep, you’ve frequently made me rethink what I thought I knew about such basic things;
- It’s made me more aware;
- Yes a refreshingly new perspective;
- Yes, or rather, it has opened my mind to new ideas and concepts;
- It has, as well as different ideas for communicating about it in schools and at outreach events;
- Yes, it clearly shows that archaeology doesn’t stop in 1700AD or some other arbitrary date;
- Yes it has helped me to explore the different aspects of death and memory, including my interest in contemporary archaeology;
- It is a topic that I am interested in as I am interested in genealogy and I appreciate a different perspective;
- Yes, both in specifics to particular cultures and more generally. So the idea that being buried with X must mean Y was one I had, and seeing that differently has been useful. Your posts on more recent monuments etc. have made me question and think about some of the contemporary issues.
- Not sure about differently but it’s expanded my horizons;
- I don’t know that it makes me think differently as I hadn’t really thought about it before coming across the blog;
A great set of responses, suggesting the blog is introducing people to new ideas and perspectives, or making them rethink some of their existing knowledge and ideas, and is opening up the parameters of mortuary archaeology to include the contemporary past and heritage. I was also heartened by the comment that it gives the reader ideas for communicating in schools and at outreach events!
I also got one comment in the negative, but presumably this is because the reader is a mortuary archaeologist, so the material is interesting but hardly making them think differently:
- Not really (but that’s to do with my profession mostly)
And then I got too hilariously bitchy comments, check these out!
- It’s made me read more work by other people;
- it’s a good example of poor interpretation and naval gazing.
I do occasionally write blogs about my experiences, but most of my blog-posts are about sites, monuments, research and ideas of others, or those that link my research to those of others, so while the blog is personal, it isn’t overly myopic I feel.
5. Has Aʀᴄʜᴀᴇᴏ𝖉𝖊𝖆𝖙𝖍 made you think differently about how we conserve, manage and display mortuary sites and monuments?
- 8 x ‘Yes’
- It’s made more aware of it;
- it’s opened me up to considering these points when I’m out and about
photographing cemeteries, churches, cathedrals et al;
- The glimpses of medieval stonework in Welsh churches have made me a little sad. Not only for not knowing they were there but also how much difference even a bit of context can make to understanding them. In more general terms, I think there’s a
broader point about conservation and curatorship of monuments etc. which you’ve helped me begin to think about. Not sure where I’m at with that process yet;
- It is obviously a challenge to recognise the humanity and treat the long departed with respect. I am currently on a tour of England and sometimes confronted to see human remains on display, for example at the Roman Baths in Bath;
- Yes. It includes interesting observations on display of human remains, animal bones and graves in museums.
- Yes. I really value Archaeodeath blog for post concerning displaying human and animal remains at various exhibitions in the museums. They include numerous fascinating and thought provoking observations on the topic;
- Yes although I don’t agree with all aspects – that’s healthy;
- Yes, I’d like to learn more about pivotal periods of change. Why did headstones become so widespread so quickly in late 1600s?
- Very much so especially more modern funerary and commemorative furniture that I tended to dismiss in the past;
- Yes, again, from an (international) comparison perspective;
- Yes. There are many councils and historical bodies that ought to be reading this.
There are clearly those that generally feel it is helping them think about heritage dimensions, and others who specifically like the issues of human and animal remains on display. Equally, the interest in churchyard monuments is great to see.
I’m particularly delighted by the comments on making the readers aware of issues and debates they hadn’t considered before, and the international comparison. The final point that councils and heritage organisations should read the blog is a lovely one! I’m glad at least one reader makes clear that they don’t always agree with me but finds the blog interesting nonetheless.
Some responses are in the negative, but recognise the blog’s value nonetheless:
- Not differently as such, but brought it more to the foreground;
- No, but it has highlighted some interesting issues regarding these.
6. Has Aʀᴄʜᴀᴇᴏ𝖉𝖊𝖆𝖙𝖍 helped you appreciate how mortuary archaeology and funerary monuments influence pop culture?
- ‘Yes’/’definitely’/’of course’ x 10;
- Yes. It includes multiple fascinating observations on this topic;
- Yes. I really appreciate these posts. They inspired me to look more carefully on funeral rituals on the screen and to observe how much they were influenced by the mortuary practices of the different past cultures (e.g. Anglo-Saxons, early medieval
- Oh yes although for hasn’t really occurred to me until now;
- I enjoy new insights and suggested connections that I hadn’t thought of before;
- I suppose. I do like the pop culture reviews but am not sure what it means;
- A little. Probably hindered on this one by my own ignorance of what is currently pop culture!
- Yes, surprisingly.
- oh yes and i love that and bring it into my tours;
- I was aware of this, but really enjoy the examples & reviews
I’m really pleased with these responses, and interested in particular by the fact that the pop culture links are evidently used by one reader in her own archaeological tours. Only one thought this wasn’t an area that surprised them:
- Pop Culture? Nah!
Again, one snide response made me chuckle: an embittered current or ex-student perhaps?:
- No, my supportive tutors do that.
7. Rank your preferred Aʀᴄʜᴀᴇᴏ𝖉𝖊𝖆𝖙𝖍 topics
I honestly got confused over this ranking question. I think the result is that the 9th rank is the least popular topics, while 1 is the most popular. In which case, prehistoric and ancient monuments, buildings and landscapes is most popular, followed by medieval monuments, buildings and landscapes and my posts on mortuary archaeology in TV and film. This is surprising, but then I guess prehistoric and Roman monuments are very very popular, and I’ve covered Avebury, Stonehenge, Pentre Ifan and many more, as well as Roman, Greek and Egyptian sites and monuments displayed in museums, despite them not being my primary expertise or interest.
Post-medieval monuments and buildings, and my own trips, conferences and public events are not really that interesting compared with the other categories. My category ‘Archaeodeath in the media’ is least popular, partly perhaps because it is ambiguous, and partly perhaps because commenting on news stories isn’t really that interesting as an end in itself.
How often do you read Aʀᴄʜᴀᴇᴏ𝖉𝖊𝖆𝖙𝖍?
Wow, those that took the time to answer my survey clearly look at this blog quite regularly, bearing in mind that the 2 negative respondents clearly likely to be the least frequent readers.
Does the Aʀᴄʜᴀᴇᴏ𝖉𝖊𝖆𝖙𝖍 blog have a clear ethical stance in representing and writing about death and the dead?
This was a tough question to ask people and I was nervous as to what the response might be, given I do address some ‘taboo’ subjects. I’m relieve most people think I tend to think ethically, even when tackling sensitive subjects. Equally though, some don’t think I do this at all, and I wonder why they think that. On the basis of these results, it’s difficult to say more, but to assure readers that I do think carefully about the ethical implications of what and how I write, even if I do occasionally deploy humour in relation to serious subjects.
I hadn’t designed a survey before and, with hindsight, I would have perhaps phrased some questions differently and provided different options for readers to rank/select. Still, I was keen to ask about what might have changed in reader’s engagement with the blog in terms of thinking and engagement with the archaeology and heritage of death and memory. I appreciate only a handful of people found the time to take the survey, but I do feel the survey has given me information that helps me to understand what people appreciate about the blog and what I might do differently in future. I enjoy writing Aʀᴄʜᴀᴇᴏ𝖉𝖊𝖆𝖙𝖍 and value the feedback, so thanks to all who participated!