Thursday, 31 May 2012

More poop in the post

To most people, recieving a box of excrement in the post would probably be quite a distressing experience, and  a sign that you had aquired a pretty extreme stalker and/or a critic who really disagreed with that paper you published. For me however, such an occassion tends to be a cause of excitement, and has happened  not once but twice so far this year. Today's offering of poop is in the form of thin section micromorphology slides from Paisley Caves, Oregon. I have been waiting on these rather nifty samples for about a year now, due to the slow process firstly of exporting them, then having them turned into thin sections. But it was worth the wait. Paisley Caves is famous for its poop, being the site of the earliest human DNA in North America, recovered from a coprolite. My poop is not quite as exciting, consisting largely of tiny little bat pellets that form layers between (hopefully) anthropogenic features such as ash layers from hearths. Though a first glance suggests there may be some omnivore poop in there as well.

Those with keen eyes (and a knowledge of micromorphology) may also notice the slide to the left - more from Çatalhöyük., possibly one of the most extensively studied sites in terms of microarchaeology. A set of samples was collected a couple of seasons ago to identify whether this feature is a large pit with multiple phases of relining. Hopefully the samples will shed light not only on the construction and formation processes of the feature, but also what types of products may have been stored in it. Hopefully not poop, though this wouldn't come as a huge suprise considering the stuff is quite abundant in the middens at Çatalhöyük.

The slides are of fantastic quality, and again I'd highly recommend to anyone.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Quo vadis? Cesis!

Back in the lab after a week in the field in Latvia, taking micromorphology samples for the Ecology of Crusading project at Cesis Castle. As I was only there for the week I missed all the fun of actually excavating the trench and uncovering exciting stuff like the fully articulated horse skeleton (hence the nickname 'horse trench'!), and horse related paraphernalia including bridle bosses, spurs and stirrups.

Wet muddy trench of doom
This did mean that I had a nice fully exposed section to work with, which makes it much easier to work out the best locations for taking micromorphology blocks - in this case to identify the surface residues on the floor and test the hypothesis that this was stable. The benefit of this however was perhaps outweighed by the fact the trench was filling up with water as I collected the samples, and the presence of a huge waterlogged beam conveniently located right where I needed to stand, making it a rather muddy business with some precarious balancing on rocks. Probably not the safest thing to do when holding a knife and screwdriver (high tech sampling tools).

Photographing a stirrup

I also had the pleasure of helping take photographs of finds with the project conservator, Alaina Schmisseur, and to take some X-rays of block lifts at the local hospital, where the staff were kind enough to agree to letting us using the kit. They were also kind enough not to object to us traipsing all over their nice clean floors in our excavation gear, and getting dirt and mortar fragments all over the X ray table. Or maybe they did, it could be our translator was just being polite! This was the first time I have ever seen a digital X ray, which was fantastic, and very quick.