Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Life musings + following the dead to Ottawa.

Well hello again. My apologies for the long absence, but like every time that you might think I've vanished or decided to stop blogging: fear not! I have just entered hibernation mode or taken an unavoidable break due to the nearly overwhelming load of lab work, writing, science outreach (e.g. today in Natural History's Q'Rius space to an unfortunately rambunctious group of middle schoolers), or just wading full throttle into the onset of job application season.

All of the above combined takes a lot of time. I like to imagine that I'm fishing in the stream of life with a hook baited with stable isotopes and bone collagen. Not only am I applying to every relevant academic job in the US I can find, but also two grants in Australia, a government job here, three separate grants or jobs at the Smithsonian that would keep me around through 2016, a possibility at the Field Museum, etc. Whatever I can think of.

So, with all that on there's been precious little time to think new profound thoughts or create and share novel research beyond my current efforts to finish postdoctoral data collection and begin to write it up. And just survive, really; working to find interesting things to do each day to keep my spirits and energy up. Not to say that I've gone totally quiet on the illicit trade front. I'll share below two things of note.

Firstly, I was honored to be invited to chair a panel at the 16th annual Central Eurasian Studies conference, just held here at George Washington University in DC. The conference was hosted by GWU's Central Asia program and the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies. Speakers were asked to think about the means by which new archeological data and databases from excavations can and should be used to aid in understanding the growing threats to Mongolia's cultural heritage and where current legal and CRM (cultural resource management) efforts can be strengthened.

You can view the final program here; full of great talks on numerous topics, but most not archeology related. It was a pleasure to host speakers from Yale's Anthropology department, and importantly, Mongolia itself (Institute of Archeology, Mongolian Academy of Sciences).  Just as I'd hoped, I was able to learn from experts, a thorough summary discussion was provided, and everyone was very comprehensively updated on the still-urgent situation in the country. Mongolia and Central Asia as a whole has been rather overlooked in global discussions of the antiquities trade, so this is long overdue, I say.

Secondly, I am very pleased to announce that tomorrow morning I am off to Ottawa (photo at left) for four days of a "working" vacation. Due to the good graces and hard work of my colleague and friend Dr. Shawn Graham (originally a Twitter contact, or "tweep"), I am being flown up to Carleton University to present a guest lecture on my and colleague's ongoing research into the online trade in human remains. My colleagues and I (Prof. Duncan Chappell, U. Sydney; Dr. Nathan Charlton, U. Technology, Sydney; and Mr. Brian Spatola, National Museum of Health and Medicine) are actively working to update Huffer and Chappell 2014 and expand upon what I presented at this year's SAA conference in San Francisco. Sharing with hopefully eager undergrads and grads, and having other informal chats with them about grad life and beyond will be great! I will be realistic but fair.

As this research continues and we work on a book chapter, we look forward to following more leads down the various "rabbit holes" that this trade represents. Where are grey areas between licit and illicit? How can or should social media platforms be held accountable for their role in facilitating this trade? How can the legitimate reasons for the acquisition of genuine teaching specimens be separated from private and collection of the dead? What about the trade in War dead? Watch this space.

For now, following the dead will take me to Canada and I can't wait. Haven't had a vacation of any sort for awhile now, so I revel in the opportunity. Perhaps the election of a new Prime Minister the other day will bode well for my trip? Now to finishing packing and get some sleep. Poutine, a beaver tail, and good maple syrup awaits me. Catch you soon!


  1. Hope you enjoyed your time in Ottawa, Damien. Downloaded your article - can't wait to read it!

  2. Hello Leighann! Yes, I did very much, and it was great to meet you and the many others I saw or shared knowledge with. I look forward to brainstorming ideas with you, and hope you like what you read. Questions? I'm always reachable!