It’s been a whole year since my annual review for 2018: odd that! This post reflects on my 2019 year of Archaeodeath blogging. For the first time, I can direct readers’ attention to a just-published academic book chapter where I self-evaluate previous years of blogging: strategies and strengths, areas of limitations or restrictions from 2013 to the end of 2018. I also include some reflections on 2019’s blogging up to April:

Williams, H. 2019. Archaeodeath as digital public mortuary archaeology, in H. Williams, C. Pudney and A. Ezzeldin (eds) Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement, Oxford: Archaeopress, pp. 132−156

Coinciding with finalising this chapter, I conducted a survey of my blog-post for readers in May 2019 which was enlightening and largely positive.

Public Archaeology Research Book Launch, Caroline Pudney, Afnan
Public Archaeology: Arts of Engagement – book Launch, Dr Caroline Pudney, Afnan Ezzeldin & Prof. Howard Williams

Most of the points I make in this publication, and derived from the aforementioned survey, have been confirmed and extended in what I’ve seen regarding the character and reception of my Archaeodeath blog throughout 2019. This was the 6th full year of blogging since I began halfway through 2013. With over 230 blog-posts on a wide range of subjects, it’s difficult to pull out all the points, but I have my own personal highlights. Still, a few general points can be made.

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First up, it has been the most popular yet for Archaeodeath, with over 152,000 views by over 81,000 visitors, a significant increase on the 105,000 for 2018 and the 100,000 for 2017: the hitherto most-viewed years (see screen capture of the graph from WordPress showing my increasing readership). Second, this is the most prolific blogging year thus far, overtaking the 218 posts in 2014 and 220 each for 2017 and 2018. Third, my top-ten posts in terms of views for 2019 reveal some of the range of topics I’ve addressed:

  1. Anglo-Saxon Attitudes?
  2. Wayland’s Smithy and neo-Nazis;
  3. Anglo-Saxons are here to stay!
  4. Reviewing the Archaeology Reviews of “Legends of the Lost with Megan Fox” – Viking Warrior Woman: An Archaeodeath Response Part 8;
  5. Thor’s Stone, Thurstaston Common;
  6. Norsemen Season 2;
  7. Anglo-Saxon Attitudes – Postscript;
  8. Purging ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Archaeology?
  9. Back Boris;
  10. Selling dead bodies and mortuary artefacts in the UK today: Welbeck Hill

In the top-ten there are 4 of the 7 blog-posts I’ve composed in response to ongoing debate regarding the use of the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ in academic research and its public outreach. I remain in favour of its continued use.

IMG_20190903_105944Others relate to media headlines as well as TV documentaries and dramas. I commented critically about the sale of the early Anglo-Saxon cemetery finds and human remains from Welbeck Hill.  Two further posts relate to media stories: one my evaluation of the archaeologists critiquing the TV show ‘Legends of the Lost with Megan Fox’. While noting the overt pseudoarchaeological content, I came out in favour of many elements of the episode on Viking warrior women to the frustration of some in the archaeological community. Another popular post was a review of Season 2 of the Norwegian comedy show ‘Norsemen’.

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A few post with explicit political dimensions have been exceptionally widely viewed. There was my mild political commentary ‘Back Boris‘, reflecting on my interest in animal memorialisation in zoos and written at a time when Boris Johnson was running for Tory leader. Perhaps the most controversial topic of all, however, was my response to the news reports of heathen groups with far-right associations using Wayland’s Smithy for ceremonies and even a swastika carved into one of the beech trees surrounding the monument. My post reflected on the lack of informed public-facing information about the Neolithic monument, its afterlife of use and reuse, and its place-name attribution to a Germanic legendary smith.

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Wayland’s Smithy

Most of my posts, however, are destined for far more niche audiences, even if they receive hundreds of views: far bigger audiences than would attend my public talks or read my academic articles and chapters. Indeed, this is the aim of the blog: not to attempt to chase the news cycle or regularly pitch timely and direct connections between past times and current debates. Still, I did wade in on other news controversies linked to archaeology and heritage, such as the Freddo Treasures debacle that encouraged families to hunt for hidden treasure in the Irish and British Landscape: #cadburygate. Likewise, I waded in on the problematic practices of some academics on social media regarding the depiction of human remains and mortuary contexts. I also stand by my political commentaries linked to early medieval studies, taking as its starting point V for Vendetta. Similarly, it was difficult not to comment on Johnson claiming he’d rather be dead in a ditch than delay Brexit past November 2019! As yet, the UK government hasn’t sought my advice on the best ditches to be found dead in. Further Brexit posts include the links to church archaeology and public memorialisation.

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My comments on PM Johnson’s assertion that he’s rather be ‘dead in a ditch’ than delay Brexit

In contrast, of my many posts about sites and monuments, only one appears in my most-viewed top-ten, about the evocative associations of the Thor’s Stone, Thurstaston Common. Most of my posts, reflecting on sites, monuments, landscapes, heritage sites and museums visited, and announcements regarding conferences, public talks, publications, while the mainstay of my blog get widely viewed, rarely get the same level attention. Still, I feel pleased I can use my blog to offer my critical reviews of museum displays, war memorialisation in Wales and England, as in here, and here. Many other posts reflect on public art and memorials (as in Sheffield), and love-locks in Chester, and a host of other memorial and mortuary practices in churchyards, cemeteries and the wider landscape.  I’m particularly proud, in this regard, of my discussions of stretches of Offa’s and Wat’s Dykes, as in herehere. and here.

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An image from one of my many posts exploring death and memory in the contemporary landscape

Furthers posts include reflecting on my public engagement, including my first-ever YouTube interviews on Viking warrior women, and whether Vikings had horned helmets. I also reported on my first pair of primary school visits and a TV appearance. These don’t get anywhere near as many views, but part of my blog is as much a diary of my activities and events for my own purposes as much as to provide connections to wider academic debates. I also post about each new publication, and there have been a record 18 research outputs to discuss in 2019!

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Me appearing on Dr Jackson Crawford’s YouTube Channel discussing Viking-period mortuary practices.

Mortuary pop culture has been another popular theme on Archaeodeath. Hence, I have used my blog to offer commentaries on TV shows including The Walking Dead, Deep Space Nine, Vikings and The Last Kingdom, the anime Vinland Saga, and even occasionally films, such as Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Hellboy (2019). I also reviewed an aspect of the video game God of War. These are widely viewed but aren’t among the top-ten hits.

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Cremation in ‘God of War’.

A further point of note is that topical older posts are heavily viewed still: blog-posts have a legacy of being read that matches, if not exceeds, many academic publications. Hence, my most-viewed blog-post of 2019 is actually one I wrote in May 2016! Why? Because it relates to Game of Thrones, the final season of which aired in 2019!  Unsurprisingly, my one Star Wars post from 2015 has similarly attracted a lot of attention in 2019 with the release of the final, ninth, Star Wars film.

Finally, I do want to point out that I persist in occasionally publishing fresh interpretations of death and memory in the past and present using the blog, especially on subjects that I do not intend to take further towards publication as a priority, as for the interpretation of the skeletons on the tomb-chest at Plemstall, Cheshire, the memorial reception of St Martin’s Cross from Iona, the Ragnarok on Tadcaster war memorial, the presentation of the medieval dead within the ruins of medieval abbeys, or regarding the emphasis afforded to tattoos and make-up in defining warrior status in the TV show Vikings.  A further personal favourite is my thoughts on Watchmen.

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In summary, 2019 has confirmed and justified my blogging practices as a useful and relevant means of disseminating my observations and thoughts connected to my academic research and teaching on the archaeology and heritage of death and memory. As I outlined in my recent publication, this relates both to how I use it and how I (generally) don’t deploy this medium. It’s also important to remember that this blogging, as with all social media activities, is labour I do to promote my research, my teaching, my colleagues and the wider discipline but without due (aka any) recognition and credit from my employers, although I’m aware that some colleagues and students find it useful.

Thanks so much to those of you who have dipped into the blog and I hope it has contained information of use or interest.  It is now an integral part of my research and scholarship and I aim to persist with it in some form through 2020. Let’s see what I try out new in 2020, especially as I’m reaching the limit of my free WordPress data allocation and I need to decide whether I should start paying a monthly fee to do this or do something else instead.