Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Blogging Carnival: Your Grand Challenges for Archeology

Greetings, readers. I'm honored to report that I've been asked to participate in Doug Rocks-Maqueen's "Blogging Archeology" Carnival. We have all been asked to provide our thoughts on what the grand challenges are to OUR archeology; our own research, participation in the field, work-life balance, etc. This quick note is a place-holder to ask you to watch this space.

We can start off this talk about my own grand challenges with the issue of time management; something that is quite difficult these days as I juggle part time jobs, adjuncting, continuing to wrap-up postdoctoral work, applying for or waiting on jobs, etc. Sleep helps, when I can get it! Anyway, more to come on this subject, so stay tuned. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

May 2016 be grand!

So, this is me joining in the blogosphere chorus to wish all current and potential readers a great 2016. Since I get the feeling that 2015 had more downs than ups for many folks, may that pattern cease for all of us and may we find that everything we hope for comes true. 2015 was busy and stressful for me, but had many positive moments and opportunities too.  As I head into the New Year with a very eclectic schedule, my postdoc ending (but the analysis and write-up to continue), and continued uncertainty about where and when my next major job will be...yeah, that's where we are.

Nevertheless, as I reflect back on the good that came my way in 2015, I know I am fortunate. I had several great opportunities to conduct hands-on science outreach with Q?Rius, saw the release of my first publication from the PhD (in here) and moved others forward, and got to attend or chair panels in great conferences (Atlanta was fantastic, by the way. I learned so much and couldn't have asked for a better entrance into the world of Near Eastern archeology). New colleagues, virtual friends met in person, great Taiko drumming, exciting research and some new travel too.

Jobs continue to be applied for or waited on, and despite rejections, I remain optimistic that 2016 will bring me what I seek. In the meantime, I will be an adjunct professor at American University this spring (an introductory course in physical anthropology/archeology), possibly do some skeletal analysis and curatorial work at Catholic U. of America, and other part time work in and around the postdoc. So, let's see how this all works out.

This is not a resolution to blog more regularly. I've read more than once that if you try to change yourself specifically by making a "New Year's Resolution," you are psychologically more likely to lose resolve. I feel that positive change can not be forced, but has to happen organically or come because you want to, not because you feel obliged by the calendar.

So, I will keep blogging when I can about what interests me or current goings-on. You can find more regular antiquities trade and bioarcheology news thoughts and updates, copies of my papers as they are available, etc. by following me on Twitter @DamienHuffer and @FaintTraces or academia.edu.

So, life goes on. I am sure that 2016 will bring many adventures and exciting developments to share, and I wish the same for you. Life is always a work in progress and paths are often not clear. If you find yourself behind a veil, then may this be the year it lifts. Wishing you all the best.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Howdy from Atlanta and ASOR 2015

Greetings all. Just a quick note to say I've arrived in Atlanta for the ASOR (American School of Oriental Research) 2015 conference! I will write a debriefing blog when I return to DC to share highlights of what I learned, as this will be my first foray into the Near Eastern archeology community. I will talk on Friday in the one and only bioarcheology panel (line-up visible in the PDF version of the program on the website).

I am really looking forward to that conference phenomenon of finally putting names to faces, presenting some highlights of my postdoctoral work, and seeing where to go from here in terms of future publication and collaboration.  And exploring the city and indulging in good BBQ. Etc. If you want to follow along on Twitter as I live Tweet what I attend, look for #ASOR15. Wish me luck, and catch you again when I do.

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!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

This time, on the road from Paris!

Hello blogosphere! As always, my apologies for the lack of updates recently. So, this is to confirm I am still alive, very busy at work plumbing the chemical secrets of the ancient dead (the usual), writing, applying for jobs, etc. I'm on the road again, this time from the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists conference, to be held at Universite Nanterre de la Defence.

Myself and a colleague will co-chair a panel on antiquities trade issues, with situations in Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, and perhaps maritime Indonesia being covered. Everyone is really here, to be honest, to enjoy as much of Paris as possible! I will live Tweet as much as I can (given the very spotty WiFi on everyone's phones, apparently), and write again to debrief once home on the 12th. Happy 4th of July to all my American colleagues or readers!

Friday, April 17, 2015

On the road from the SAAs

Just a quick check in from the road, the road that's led to San Francisco. This, the 80th Annual SAA conference, is proving to be just as exciting and hectic as I suspected. I have enjoyed staying with family, getting some opportunity to explore locations inside and outside of San Francisco proper, reunite with old friends and colleagues (if only in passing), and learn a fair amount.

My first talk is tomorrow, in the long-awaited illicit antiquities trade panel hosted by Dr. Donna Yates and featuring a number of leaders in the field. I will provide what I hope to be an informative update on the research that Prof. Chappell and I have been doing on the global online trade in human remains which we began in Huffer and Chappell 2014.

My second talk will introduce preliminary results of the isotopic work I've been doing on some Bronze Age Mongolian faunal remains, in the context of provious/ongoing studies of human remains from the numerous khirigsuurs (burial mounds), in light of Smithsonian Anthropology dept. colleague's larger efforts to understand the origins of pastoral nomadism on the Central Asian steppe. I look forward to meeting in person some individuals I only know from their published work, and hope I do the cause some sort of justice.

So, wish me luck and good tidings. Fun (if tiring) times had, and more to come!

Friday, March 27, 2015

The SAA Archaeological Record on "Archaeological Practice on Reality Television"

Many in the North American and global archaeological community are undoubtedly awaiting the upcoming Society for American Archaeology conference, to be held this year in San Francisco in three weeks time. If blessed with the proximity, time, and money on any given year, then attending a "mega" conference such as SAAs is a great (if tiring) opportunity to present one's work and learn from or meet experts covering just about every subfield and topic in archaeology imaginable. There's enough going on to fill three conferences and keep everyone moving; not to mention the after parties. This will be my third time, and I've always left glad that I attended and inspired.

While those of us pursuing an archaeological life via academic, museum or CRM (cultural resource management) avenues might prefer the intimacy of smaller, region or time specific conferences in which we're much more likely to have a comfortable home for our work, sometimes taking the plunge is necessary. There is no escaping the fact that it is conferences like the SAAs that have become the discipline and its active practitioner's key means of getting our work (and the realities of this life) out there en masse. Usually in a forum in which we the producers of that knowledge should have the most control.

However, sometimes events can be written about or portrayed on television in the name of archaeology that are very far removed from it, thus spurring outcry, anger and disgrace. So it was with pleasure that today, as the next conference approaches, I open my mailbox to find the latest edition of the SAA Archaeological Record magazine; full of eight intriguing articles specifically addressing archaeology and "reality TV."

Although I admit to not having read it cover to cover yet, I wanted to bring it to people's attention anyway (or those of you readers who aren't already SAA members). Covering such topics as the portrayal of archaeological practice on 'reality' TV, Time Team America: Archaeology as a gateway to science; creating a preservation ethic through 'reality' TV; the possibility of televised metal detecting as a force for public good, and, importantly, other outreach options beyond TV, this edition seems full of promise and is sure to inspire debate.

Blogging archaeology is becoming increasingly common (and has been  its own session at the SAAs for two years now). Many websites explain how participants can "hack" conferences, many of us engage in "live Tweeting," etc. All well and good and important to do as individuals to spread word of our own work and share our perspectives on the realities or controversies behind the headlines.

I would argue that in much of the world, television and movies still play the primary role in shaping public opinion and perception of us and our discipline. Since we can't change this, we have to keep working to steer it in directions we can rest easier with. It's a dilemma with no easy answer, so I look forward to seeing what the authors have to say on the subject. I know what I'll be reading on my Monday morning commute!