Terry O'Connor

Home » Archaeology » What I learned in 2016

What I learned in 2016


We should all learn from our experiences, apparently, so here is a quick look back at 2016 in an attempt to draw something useful from a year that will be the answer to pub-quiz questions for years to come.

1. The ‘paperless office’ always was, and continues to be, a myth. In March 2016, I removed the last boxes of papers and other junk from my former office on the University of York campus. Despite ferocious filleting and chucking with gay abandon, the must-keep residue filled the car. Given that I am not by nature a collector of things, I shudder to think how much stuff some academics must accumulate during their careers.

2. Orkney is a fine place. We visited twice this year, once for conferences and once to catch up with old friends and to enjoy the peace. Yes, the weather can be a bit lively, but when the rain stops and the wind drops below Force 5 (Fresh breeze, moderate waves of some length) there is no better place to sit on the beach, watch the sea and avoid the arctic terns.


Eider ducks snoozing in the Orkney sunshine

3. Whatever the politerati say, the NHS is a damn fine resource. Sonia’s emergency dash to hospital early one morning could have been a lot worse but for calm and helpful paramedics and efficient, though over-stretched, A&E staff. On the ward, staff did their level best to keep patients comfortable and informed, and even brought cups of tea for alarmed husbands, despite being run off their feet.

4. Deserts can be remarkably beautiful. Our spell of fieldwork in Abu Dhabi was busy, hot and dusty, but low evening light cast shadows and colours across the dunes, turning mundane piles of sand into something quite memorable. And, of course, piles of camel bones added to the charm.


Desert, near Baynunah

5. There are plenty of really good people around. The gang of cavers and archaeologists in whose company we dug into Haggs Brow Cave were delightful company, and an excellent advertisement for the replacement joints that they all seemed to have. Time spent on beaches in Devon and France was made all the more enjoyable by sharing it with good friends. Even the memorial event for Don Brothwell became a warm occasion, a meeting of old and new friends. Given some of the vile things that were going on in the wider world, it was a year in which to value friendship.


Nick and Simon getting to grips with the sediment grab in Pymouth Sound

What about 2017? All being well, there will be further cave and camel excavations, more time on beaches, and maybe another visit to Orkney. Perhaps some of 2016’s political nonsense will unravel and be knitted up into something more serviceable? Or is that too much to hope for?


National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh. The seated couple gave permission for use.

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