Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Material culture but not as we know it

Having a great time at UW, and getting loads of microscope work and writing done! The lab I'm working in even has a big red danger button. I haven't tried pressing it yet. Maybe I'll give it a go if my seminar next week goes badly.

Big Red Button

Here are a few sneak peeks of the types of things I've been finding in the latest lot of samples from Çatalhöyük. The most exciting part of this analysis is going to be the integration of other data sets, especially the microbotanical remains, currently being analysed by archaeobotanist Dr. Ryan at the British Museum. Although we can see the depositional characteristics and micro-context of remains such as microcharcoal and phytoliths in thin section, it can be difficult to identify the types and relative quantities, so it is essential to combine the two approaches to get the most information.

Top left: Ootic limestone pebble. Top right: Lithic chip embedded in ash. Bottom left: Large husk (probably wheat) mixed with ash. Bottom right: coprolite containing digested bone fragment.

In other Seattle related news, check out this article in British Archaeology by Dr. Steve Ashby at York, a really interesting discussion of  artefacts and monuments of grunge music. It is also a great example of the intersection between many areas of geography and archaeology. I used to think it was just Quaternary environmental reconstruction that had relevence to archaeology, but there are so many areas of overlap, including historic, urban, and cultural geography for example (interaction with the enviroment, use of space, cultural landscapes, environmental determinism). The spatial dimension of geography is what sets it apart somewhat from anthropology, and perhaps also it retains more of a positivist approach - in this way archaeology has more in common with geography than sociocultural anthropology? I'm a little rusty on my subject philosophies, but I am curious to see how the shifts in thinking in geography, anthropology and archaeology are related, or if they have informed each other at all. I'll add that to my list of important things to do.

After reading Steve's article I was also struck by the way the 'material culture' of grunge music was presented at the EMP, almost as typologies of flyers, photographs and musical instruments, and also the way these objects evoked memories of what it was like being a teenager listening to such music, and created a particular 'place in the space' (even for myself, who just caught the tail end of it in my very early teens). It again highlights how powerful presentation and images can be, and the importance of cultural heritage management (discussed briefly in a previous blog post).

A palimpsest of posters - micromorphology of the future will reveal cyclical episodes of repostering!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Sleepy in Seattle

Denny Hall
Day 6 in Seattle and time for a blog update. This is Denny Hall, my new home for the next month, which possibly rivals Kings Manor for one of the prettiest departmental exteriors where I've worked!

I appear to have arrived right at the beginning of Spring Break, which is rather handy as it gives me time to recover from jetlag before all the students get back. In addition to a spot of sightseeing and family meet ups over the weekend I met up with Dr Ben Marwick on monday, and was introduced to the microscope I will be working with over the coming month. It's great to be back at the microscope after being in the lab for so many months, and finally having time to analyse all the new micromorphology slides that have been accumulating since last summer. As well as research related activities, I am also giving a series of talks for the departmental lecture series, details here.

The UW campus is really beautiful. I was struck again by the way everything in the US is like a larger scale version of what we get in the UK. There is a quad on campus which is like a giant version of an Oxbridge college (this is only one half!):

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

To Star Carr

Fair Star Carr, we weep to see
You fade away so soon:
As yet the archaeologists,
Have not unearthed your boon.
Stay, stay
Until the field seasons
Have run
Unto their final year;
And having found your secrets, we
Will leave you with good cheer.

We have five years to study you,
Three seasons yet to dig               
The dryland and the lake,
Find bone points, and antler picks.
We’ll try
Before the land acidifies,
To take
Soil samples, pollen cores;
So many Mesolithic clues
Beside the relict shores.  

We started planning the geoarchaeological aspects of the new Star Carr excavations this afternoon. The latest round of research at the site begins this year with Nicky Milner's 5 year ERC project. It looks like it will be quite challenging from a microarchaeology perspective, not least because of the peaty sediments which are notoriously difficult to thin section! But I do like a challenge. My involvement will begin properly from August when Feeding Stonehenge comes to an end, and I start working simultaneously on the Ecology of Crusading and Star Carr. From a methodological perspective I'm very excited to be working on such a diverse range of sites, which will provide excellent comparative material for investigating microscale taphonomic processes and preservation. In other news, I'm off to Seattle on friday for a month as a visiting fellow at the University of Washington. Be prepared for many updates about microscopes and coffee.

Monday, 12 March 2012

there ought to be Experiments of Light, as well as of Fruit

"It is strange that we are not able to inculate into the minds of many men the necessity of that distinction of Lord Bacon's, that there ought to be Experiments of Light, as well as of Fruit. It is their usual word, what solid good will come from thence? They are indeed to be commended for being so severe enactors of goodness. And it were to be wished, that they would not only excercise this vigour about Experiments but on their own lives and actions: that they would still question with themselves in all that they do: what solid good will come from thence? But they are to know that in so large and so various an Art as this of Experiments, there are many degrees of usefulness: some may serve for real and plain benefit, without much delight: some for teaching, without apparant profit: some for light now and for use hereafter: some only for ornament and curiosity. If they persist in condeming all experiments, except those which bring with them immediate gain and a present harvest, they may as well cavil at the Providence of God, that he has not made all the seasons of the year to be times of mowing, reaping and vintage".

Thomas Spratt, 1667,
History of the Royal Society of London, for the improving of natural knowledge.

I might copy and paste this in the impact section of funding applications. Actually, I do agree that researchers should be made to think more about why they are doing what they are doing, and what the benefit is to the wider academic community as well as the wider world, though I do not think the benefit has to be in economic terms (as Spratt said, such research is surely "without much delight"!).

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The lady of the höyük

On either side the höyük lie
Marshland and Cyperaceae,
That cloth the wold and meet the sky;
And thro’ the mounds a river runs by
To the many-levelled höyük;
And up and down the people go.
Climbing ladders to and fro
Round a höyük there below.
The höyük of Çatal!

Marsh birds sing and sheep/goat shiver,
Phragmites reeds go on forever,
Marls and clays are gathered hither,
Resources flourish, by the river
Flowing down to Çatalhöyük.
Mudbrick walls and buildings hidden,
Overlook a space of midden,
Beneath the building floors are hidden
The dead of Çatalhöyük.

By the edges, backswamp sealed,
Lies early midden, now concealed,
The cattle graze, perhaps, a field
Where wheat and barley grow to yield,
Surplus at Çatalhöyük.
In the houses, people sweep,
They form deposits, Sounding Deep,
Yearly plaster coatings keep
The walls at Çatalhöyük.

On the rooftops people meet
And piles of rubbish form the streets;
The ash and bones, remains of feasts
When trampled down, the tell increased,
Preserved at Çatalhöyük
Obsidian tools and figurines,
The Mother Goddess, so she seems,
A symbol of forgotten dreams;
The treasures of the höyük.

One thousand years of life unwind
But in the end the town declined,
The buildings filled and left behind,
They left remains for us to find
The end of Çatalhöyük.
But who hath seen the story told?
The mysteries as they unfold?
From beginning to the end behold,
The lady of the höyük.

Sometimes a troop of students glad,
An artist with a drawing pad,
Sometimes a scruffy Suffolk lad
With X ray gun and undergrad,
Comes by to Çatalhöyük.
And oftentimes by mini bus
The Profs come in and make a fuss,
While in the labs researchers cuss,
And excavators they discuss
Entangled Çatalhöyük.

And in the field she would delight
To show the höyük’s magic sights,
And often through the starry nights
A fire burned with plumes and lights,
And music played, at Çatalhöyük.
No longer will we hear the sound
Of daily treks across the mound,
But memories they will abound,
The lady of the höyük.

Photo by Jason Quinlan

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Seminars and soils

It's less than two weeks until my visit to UW in Seattle now! I hear it's a great place for coffee, which I'm looking forward to almost as much as the actual research visit. Coffee is a great friend of mine that I met as a graduate student at Reading, and our relationship has gone from strength to strength ever since. Hopefully next week will be a bit less hectic than the week just passed, to give me some time to recover before a very intensive month of seminars and microscope work in Seattle. I've been travelling all over the place giving lectures including an introduction to Geoarchaeology for the MA Medieval Landscape at Reading, to Lipid chemistry for archaeologists for York's BSc Bioarchaeology, followed by a seminar on Microarchaeology and architectural materials in the Near East this past friday for our newly formed micromorphology research group. I appear to have almost lost my voice, but on the plus side I have convinced non-science students that geoarchaeology is great and microanalysis is the way forward. I highly recommend the tactic of distributing soils to play with in seminars. If there's one thing that archaeologists like to do it's play with dirt.

Check out the gleying in that section <3