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Posts Tagged ‘CADW’

Look what was waiting for me when I got home: new comics!

Technically, they’re not new, of course: I drew these comics for CADW almost two years ago. It’s taken a while to complete the whole process of editing, translation and printing – but they’re finally here: printed comics in English and Welsh for Bryn Celli Ddu, Barclodiad y Gawres and Llyn Cerrig Bach.

I’m really pleased with the way they look; there’s something special about comics when they’re actually ink and paper. They’re online now through CADW, and paper copies should also be available at the Oriel Ynys Mon on Anglesey.

So what are you waiting for? Grab yourself some copies today!

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Archaeological games and puzzles - other things to do on-site at Llyn Cerrig Bach, Barclodiad y Gawres and Bryn Celli Ddu.

Archaeological games and puzzles – other things to do on-site at Llyn Cerrig Bach, Barclodiad y Gawres and Bryn Celli Ddu.

I’m just finishing up the last edits for the Anglesey Prehistory Comics for CADW and MB Heritage Management that I’ve been working on since September. This last phase of the job also involves creating and illustrating a series of activity pages for each comic. The objective of these activity pages was to add another dimension to the whole idea of “engaging” the readership with/at the site. Originally, it was thought that the activities would be something to be done after the visit to the site – but a month or so ago we decided that it would be better to create at least some activities which could be done on-site.

So I’ve been designing games and puzzles which draw on some of the themes and stories developed in the comics themselves. I’m no professional games-designer, by any means, but I do like archaeological games, puzzles and activities. When I was a kid, I used to love those Viking and Roman activity books the BM used to publish. So at the back of my mind while I was designing these activity pages was always the 10-year old me – what sort of games and puzzles would have caught my imagination?

And you know what? It’s been huge fun creating these games: I’ve got a “Neolithic Year” board game, a trading game you can play on the beach, archaeological drawing and excavation games and mazes based on the rock art. We decided to drop the cut-out-and-glue card models because of the difficulty and expense involved in putting card insert pages into the comics, and there are no word-games (crosswords, word-searches, etc.), because the comics will eventually be in both English and Welsh. If there were funds available for some online resources, we might have been able to include them.

Designing the games and puzzles has made me think more about what they do in a didactic context such as this one. I have a feeling that they create mini environments in which information can be toyed with, played with – processed. Information about neolithic  trade can be communicated to a reader in any number of ways (including comics), but I think something happens to the way an audience engages with that information when it becomes part of a game or some other kind of activity. There’s a different kind of mind-hand engagement; as I say – a kind of processing that’s different to the processing that takes place during reading.  It’s made me think of other ways in which haptic engagement could be included in archaeological interpretative material – even for older age-groups, too. DIG in York is a good example of the way in which hands-on interaction with archaeological exhibits isn’t just for kids; and Caesar III and all those various historically-based games have broad appeal across a wide age-range.

Perhaps, like archaeological comics, archaeological games and puzzles might have value in interpretative material aimed at grown-ups as well?

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Creating archaeological knowledge - panels from my Llyn Cerrig Bach comic; CADW/MB Heritage Management.

Creating archaeological knowledge – panels from my Llyn Cerrig Bach comic; CADW/MB Heritage Management.

Thanks to everyone who came to my paper this afternoon at Comics Forum 2013 on comics, archaeology and professional discourse. For those of you who were asking, the text of the paper (minus slides) is here.

And if you’re interested in any of the things I talked about, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – particularly if you’re an archaeologist making your own comics! I’m keen to try and establish links between those of us in archaeology interested in using comics in our work. Towards the end of the year, the Comics Forum website will host a guest blog post about a recent “Comics and Archaeology” e-panel, in which a group of us archaeology comics creators  – Hannah Sackett, Al. B. Wesolowsky, Troy Lovata, Peter Conelly, Chloe Brown and myself, John G. Swogger – discuss what comics we’ve done and where we think archaeology and comics might – should? – head next. Hopefully it’s all part of starting the conversation.

In the meantime, my comics on prehistoric sites on Anglesey will be published by CADW sometime next year. I’ve got one or two other comics and archaeology projects up my sleeve as well, including my collaboration with Hannah on One Girl Goes Hunting.

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The Stars are Right! Looking again at the sometimes thorny question of astronomical alignments at archaeological sites. From my Bryn Celli Ddu comic for CADW/MB Heritage Management.

The Stars are Right! Looking again at the sometimes thorny question of astronomical alignments at archaeological sites. From my Bryn Celli Ddu comic for CADW/MB Heritage Management.

Archaeology is in a very difficult position when it comes to being open-minded about new ideas. It’s very easy to theorise wildly in archaeology. Sometimes it’s a legitimate part of knowledge creation – sometimes it’s all about existing agendas. Understandably, faced with everything from lost tribes to lost civilisations, mainstream archaeology gets a little bit nervous when people come up with yet another Most Astounding Theory About The Past, Ever™. Archaeo-astronomy has had a chequered professional relationship with other branches of archaeology. Sometimes it’s theorising has legitimately opened up new avenues of research; sometimes it’s simply opened the doors to an endless parade of eccentrics and crackpots. Sometimes, a theory with genuine legitimacy gets lost in amongst the eccentrics and crackpots, and it can be a long time before mainstream archaeology admits that they got it wrong.

Enter Sir Norman Lockyer, astronomer and archaeo-astronomer, keenly interested at the turn of the century in the possibility of astronomical alignments at prehistoric sites in Wales. He was fresh from suggesting that Stonehenge was an ancient, stone age observatory, and thought he might find similar alignments at sites in Wales. He did – convincingly so at Bryn Celli Ddu – but his conclusions were lost amidst claims of similar alignments at other sites which turned out to be rather less convincing. His theories were dismissed by establishment archaeologists, and Lockyer went back to mainstream astronomy. But in 2010, Steve Burrow, curator of Neolithic Archaeology at the National Museum of Wales, published a paper in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society confirming the alignment Lockyer had discovered at Bryn Celli Ddu, and vindicating the astronomer’s theories (well, a portion of them) after just over a century.

This re-evaluation of Bryn Celli Ddu forms a central part of the story of the CADW/MB Heritage Management comic I’m doing about the site. It’s a chance that’s not often taken in archaeology to show the public how archaeological knowledge is made – the way theories are fought over, rubbished, dismissed and sometimes rehabilitated. It’s a slightly grubby side to archaeology – but it’s real. It happens in all the sciences, and it’s nice to be able to acknowledge it sometimes. I think it’s important, even in something aimed at younger audiences, to demonstrate the processes that shape our understanding of scientific knowledge: it’s not handed to us from on high, carved on stone tablets – it’s debated and argued and tested and revised, and sometimes that process can be both long-winded and painful.

 

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Stone Calendars - Inside Bryn Celli Ddu; panel from the last of my Anglesey comics.

Stone Calendars – Inside Bryn Celli Ddu; panel from the last of my Anglesey comics.

Ah, this takes me back! I’m working on the third of the Anglesey archaeology comics for CADW and MB Heritage Management. I’ve finished the comics for Llyn Cerrig Bach and Barclodiad y Gawres, and now I’m working on the comic for Bryn Celli Ddu.

It’s always been one of my favourite prehistoric sites on Anglesey (although I’m ambivalent about the new approach to the site itself – I preferred it when you could just go from the old farm; you get a much, much better feel for the site in the landscape. Getting to it via the new, hedged-in path makes you feel like you’re tunnelling to it from the road). And it’s clearly other peoples’ favourite as well. The site has all sorts of things to recommend it to the visitor, but something in particular has attracted a lot of specialised attention over the years.

I’m talking, of course, about the solar alignment of the tomb – a significant (and unique) feature of the site. This has, over the years, given the site a special kind of significance to modern-day pagans, druids and others.  Back in the summer, the local druid group had a double-page spread in the Sunday Times photographed at the site. They join other minority stakeholders such as prehistoric re-enactors who are playing an increasingly mainstream role in the way the site is used, perceived and presented. Part of the brief for the Llyn Cerrig Bach comic is to address these shifts and tie them into the “traditional” archaeological story of the site – a story which has itself changed significantly, as the site’s solar alignment – long disparaged and marginalised by mainstream archaeological scholarship – has recently been re-investigated, confirmed and published in the Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society.

So as much as working on this comic is taking me back, there’s also a lot of new things to grapple with as well. How very archaeology!

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People in the past. Just how much like us were they? How much should we recognise ourselves in representations of them?

People in the past. Just how much like us were they? How much should we recognise ourselves in representations of them?

So how similar or different was the past to the present? How much should we “recognise” the past when we look at representations of it? To what extent should different audiences feel that the past is “familiar” or “alien” to them?

Anyone who does any work visualising the past – whether in text or in image, actually – will instantly recognise these questions. This debate – rumbling ever since the first archaeologist stuck the first trowel in the ground – isn’t one that’s really ever going to be resolved. And just how much “like us” the people in the past were is one of the central debates of archaeology, never mind its visualisation. Even great illustrators like Peter Connolly get it in the neck as successive generations of archaeological opinion shifts.

So representing the Neolithic inhabitants of Anglesey in a kids’ comic presents a whole series of interesting challenges. Do we go nuclear family? Do we go traditional male/female roles? Do we depict familiar, contemporary representations of relationships, emotions and situations dressed up in Neolithic clothes – or do we attempt to create an utterly alien environment? How does all this affect the reader? What draws someone in to a representation of people in the past – and what pushes them away?

I’ve ended up somewhere in the middle. Occasionally there are, indeed, nuclear families with “typical” roles suggested, displaying essentially “modern” attitudes – but every now and again, I’ve tried to put something alien in as well. Hopefully, this compromise creates an impression not that archaeology doesn’t know, but that the past can be both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time – rather like the present, perhaps?

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Connections at Barclodiad y Gawres - how the archaeology links to the site to similar monuments across the British isles and Europe.

Connections at Barclodiad y Gawres – how the archaeology links to the site to similar monuments across the British isles and Europe.

One of the most interesting things about working on this series of comics for prehistoric sites on Anglesey has been the opportunity to revisit a period I’ve not had anything much to do with since I was an undergraduate. I always enjoyed British prehistory, but got swept away by the exotica of the Anatolian Neolithic fairly early on in my career. The result has been that for the past twenty years, I’ve usually come to British prehistoric sites with not much more knowledge than the average visitor.

So it’s been kind of nice to get my teeth into some of the detail of this period again through working on these comics. Inevitably, it has reminded me of all the intricacy and connectivity of Neolithic Europe and the British Isles. That’s one of the key things that CADW wanted to make sure was included in this comic – and this panel shows how the art and architecture of Barclodiad y Gawres links it to sites from Orkney to Portugal. This is a level of information and detail which I think is often missing in site interpretation aimed at a younger audience – maybe because it’s assumed that they won’t quite “get” the significance of these connections because our world is so connected? Whatever the reason, one of the key themes of these comics has been making the links between sites on Anglesey and the wider Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age world much more explicit.

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Barclodiad y Gawres - a spectacular passage grave near Rhosneigr, Anglesey.

Barclodiad y Gawres – a spectacular passage grave near Rhosneigr, Anglesey.

The next prehistoric site on Anglesey I’m working on is Barclodiad y Gawres – a dramatically-sited passage grave on the coast just near Rhosneigr. It was excavated and reconstructed in the 1950s, partly to conserve the monument’s extraordinary collection of carved stones. Unfortunately, the reconstruction has not withstood the test of time. The concrete oculus designed to allow light into the tomb really doesn’t shine any workable light into the inner chamber, the locked iron gates keep you too far back to see the actual carvings, and the information panels don’t really talk as much as they should about the significance of the site. The result is a monument that, for all its accessibility and visibility in a popular tourist area, doesn’t really reward the casual visitor in the way that it should.

Which is a shame, as the carvings in the tomb are really pretty spectacular, and the site itself deserves to be much better known and much more widely visited. However, this project is all about addressing some of these problems, and I’m hoping that my comic will give younger visitors a flavour of the nature and significance of the site.

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Eflyn Owen-Jones, daughter of the man who discovered the Iron Age hoard at Llyn Cerrig Bach.

Eflyn Owen-Jones, daughter of the man who discovered the Iron Age hoard at Llyn Cerrig Bach.

The Llyn Cerrig Bach comic is completed, and the comics for the other two sites – Barclodiad y Gawres and Bryn Celli Ddu – are well underway.

It’s been a pleasure to return to a site I’ve known about since I was an undergraduate – to put a geographical “face”, as it were, to the name. It’s also been a real pleasure to actually get to meet someone involved in the original discovery of the in the 1940s: Eflyn Owen Jones, the daughter of the man who found the slave chains in 1943.

Names and faces in archaeology often get very badly separated. It’s hard enough for those of us who are actually archaeologists to meet or know personally people who have worked at well-known or important sites; how much harder must it be for non-archaeologists. No wonder archaeology seems so remote and distant to people. I think one of the great virtues of Time Team was that it consciously built up relationships between its audience and its staff and crew; Time Team gave its archaeology a face. By contrast, much research and commercial archaeology comes across as utterly impersonal; faceless.

Anyway, meeting Eflyn gave us a chance to make the Llyn Cerrig Bach comic personal. Not only did I get to include her father in the comic, but her too – important links connecting archaeology with its own past.

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Sir Cyril Fox makes a guest appearance in the Llyn Cerrig Bach comic!

Sir Cyril Fox makes a guest appearance in the Llyn Cerrig Bach comic!

This month has been all about the comics I’ve been producing for MB Heritage Management and CADW. 

I’m about 2/3rds of the way through the project now, and it’s still just as fun as it was when we started. I’ve finished the final draft of the Llyn Cerrig Bach comic now, and it’s off getting its final proof-reading and editing. The next step will be getting the Welsh-language version done. It’s not entirely clear whether we’ll produce two separate editions – a Welsh and an English – for each comic book, or whether we’ll have a combo Welsh/English edition for each site (like those old Ace doubles – anyone remember them?).

Next week I’ll be well into the final draft of the comic for Barclodiad y Gawres, but in the meantime, here are a few more Llyn Cerrig Bach panels.

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