The theme for this month’s blogging carnival post is the good, the bad and the ugly of blogging.
The good (and the bad): The majority of traffic I get on my blog comes from people searching for information on Çatalhöyük. If I wasn’t writing about our bioarchaeological work at such a well-known archaeological site I would certainly have far fewer visitors than I have now. This exposure can be a double-edged sword, however. Since its discovery in 1958 by James Mellaart, the site has come to symbolize different things for different people, and beliefs about life in Neolithic Çatalhöyük and the archaeological work now conducted there are often strongly held and resistant to change. For some, Çatal represents an egalitarian, peace-loving matriarchal society that existed before the emergence of more war-like patriarchal societies. For others it represents a sort of proto-communist utopia. Some archaeologists I’ve met, most of whom have never visited the site or bothered to read any of the current literature, are convinced that we don’t practice science at Çatal and that Ian Hodder and his “post-processual” archaeological theories have generated very little in the way of hard data. By writing about the bioarchaeological research we’re conducting, however, I hope that in my own small way I can convince people that we do, in fact, conduct science at Çatalhöyük and that, in conjunction with the excavators and the other specialist labs, we’ve produced an enormous quantity of empirical data which is (as much as possible) available and open to interpretation by other researchers and members of the public. Last summer, however, I had a run-in with an Egyptologist who had his own relatively fact-free ideas about Çatalhöyük and the type of work we do there, despite the long list of references provided to him. It was a reminder that, no matter how much evidence you produce, you won’t always convince people of the validity of your work. Nevertheless, it’s good to have your own interpretations challenged, especially by people outside your regional/specialist bubble, as it forces you to reconsider many of the ideas you take for granted.
The ugly: Last summer, one of my blog posts on the discovery of well-preserved textiles and other items in a burial at Çatal was picked up by several Turkish newspapers and translated verbatim into Turkish. This caused the project some worry as we are not supposed to announce any major finds to the press before clearing it with the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. The newspaper articles gave the impression that I had supplied this information to them, rather than them having recycled my blog posts without asking me. Nothing came of it in the end, but at one point I did fear that I’d got the project in deep trouble and that I’d have to curtail my blog posts from the field. The situation is the same in Egypt, although the rules are much stricter: online images and discussion of ongoing fieldwork are embargoed until they have been approved by the Ministry of State for Antiquities. As a result, most project directors forbid the posting of photos or in-depth discussions of ongoing research. This is why I’ve yet to post anything about my fieldwork activities in Egypt, as much as I’d love to. With archaeologists increasingly turning to blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter updates to keep their audiences informed, conflicts with government agencies, funding bodies and private companies (in the case of commercial archaeology) will increasingly become an issue.