Friday, 28 December 2012

Christmas Parcels

What excitement is this? Parcels in the post over Xmas! Perhaps more exciting than all the Xmas chocolates and treats? It's the long awaited box of micromorphology slides from Medieval Riga, Latvia! Ok, so maybe not quite as exciting as chocolate, but still pretty fab. I've been waiting for these to be ready since September so it's quite a nice suprise to see them all finished and coverslipped, just in time to get back to work after the holidays. Excuse the camera flash, I will scan them in properly at some point.

Waterlogged and charred plant remains, and also (I suspect) animal dung
Occupation debris accumulated on a medieval floor from the city of Riga

I also got sent a copy of The Archaeology of the Prussian Crusade by Aleks Pluskowski, PI on the Ecology of Crusading project.

Parcels of excitement
This is something else I have been looking forward to - I did a lot of the line drawings for it and it has been very exciting seeing it come together over the past year. Time to brush up on all my background reading to go with all the data analysis for the project. It's a great looking book, and available in paperback at a very reasonable price.

I also got a copy of another Baltic related book last week, largely in Polish but featuring a chapter in English on the environmental remains by myself and other project specialists, I'll be scanning the chapter soon and posting on my Academia profile for anyone who may be interested.

Carson, S., Shillito, L-M., Brown, A. and Pluskowski, A. G. (2012) Environmental assessment of samples from the castle site at Grudziądz, Poland.  Wiewióra, M (ed). Zamek w Grudziądzu w świetle badań archeologiczno-architektonicznych. Materiały i studia. Toruń: UMK.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Patience when phytolith processing

Not what you want to see when going to check on samples in the drying oven
This week I've mostly been packing up boxes and boxes of samples and books ready to be shipped to Edinburgh in January, as well as getting on with the final bits of data tidying for the Feeding Stonehenge project, getting it ready for publication in spring. I can't wait to share the details! I was also sent a set of samples for urgent phytolith processing for the Ecology of Crusading project, to include in a preliminary environmental report for the Elbląg project. Phytolith extraction is probably one of the most straightforward lab processes that I do, though it can be time consuming as it involves lots of stages where the samples need to be dried out. Let this be a lesson; ramping up the temperature of the drying oven may help dry your samples out quicker but it may also have unforseen consequences. In this case I have ruined 3 of my lovely petri dishes. Though bizarrely they haven't actually melted or gone soft at all, just twisted and warped. Kinda like Shrinky Dinks. Luckily the samples are fine! I'll be getting on with removal of carbonates tomorrow, How To details coming soon.

For more on the archaeology of Elbląg, check out this blog here: It's in Polish but the google translate button gives you the basic idea - though some of the translations are truly bizarre. The entry on pottery production translates 'fragments' as 'blood' for some reason, giving rise to such interesting phrases as "information on how to manufacture blood" and "Some of the forms of the blood are characteristic of areas in Central Germany".

In other news, my article in Geoarchaeology is now published, which covers the detailed micromorphology results from my PhD and 2 years' additional work on further material. I am so glad this one is finally done, having had it floating around for about a year and a half. There are few suitable journals that allow sufficient word/page count for an epic micromorphology descriptive monster like this, and it has been edited so many times I am quite sick of the sight of it. But don't let that put you off! There are lots of pretty pictures too if that helps, and a bunch of useful refs to other geoarchaeology related work at Catalhoyuk. Co-authored with my PhD supervisor Wendy Matthews. As always, pdf available from me if you don't have access. 

Shillito, L.-M., and Matthews, W. (2013). Geoarchaeological Investigations of Midden-Formation Processes in the Early to Late Ceramic Neolithic Levels at Çatalhöyük, Turkey ca. 8550–8370 cal BP Geoarchaeology: an International Journal 28:25 – 49.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Micrograph of the Month - Beautiful Basalt

These are examples of some of the floor deposits from Margat Castle, Syria (you can see the full thin section in my previous post here). The upper left shows A. a microscopic fragment of charcoal, B. A rounded basalt pebble and B. a rounded weathered basalt pebble, all embedded within a calcitic fabric, most likely a lime based material. The upper right shows a lower portion of the floor, where the inclusions are angular. The 'bubbly' shape of part A. suggest vesicles from vitrification. Part B is the inner unweathered core of basalt. The lower left image shows A. smaller fragments of weathered vitrified granite that appear to have been crushed up and embedded in the B. lime floor matrix. The lower right image shows A. a fragment of highly weathered bone in B. a 'pure' lime floor that overlays all the pebbly floors.

At least, that's what I make of it so far! Might have to enlist the help of a geologist to figure out where the materials are coming from and exactly what processes are going on here, any suggestions? I know the nearest beach consists of basalt sand which would explain the rounded pebbles seen in the upper left, not so sure about the vitrified weathered stuff. Margat Castle itself is constructed from black basalt, not sure where it was quarried though - I can't find much online. Might have to enlist a historian as well!

Sunday, 2 December 2012

News from November

Setting up the new microscope lab
November has certainly been a busy month, so busy in fact that I didn't have time to blog about half of what I got up to, so here's a bit of a catch up.

The new microscope laboratory in S-Block at the University of York is now set up (minus the computer needed to run the camera software, but I'm working on that). After several demonstrations from various companies, I am happy we decided to go for the Leica models. Although they are more expensive, the difference in quality is very clear - these are pretty much as good as the top end research microscopes, just without some of the fancy features. For straight forward micromorphology and microfossil analysis, these are fab, and can also be upgraded in future.

Leica DM750P with integrated digital camera
So, just as I get the perfect space set up for my microscopy research and teaching, it appears I am leaving York in January. Though I already technically 'left' in August at the end of the Feeding Stonehenge project, I have continued to be based here whilst working on the Ecology of Crusading project for the University of Reading, and am now an honorary Research Associate. I recently confirmed I will be taking up the post of Early Career Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, School of History, Classics and Archaeology. It will be a very different environment to either Reading or York, but one I am very much looking forward to. There are several colleagues at Edinburgh with interests in Near Eastern archaeology, so it will be great to be able to develop my research in Turkey and Azerbaijan. And although the archaeological sciences are not as prominent as at York, the laboratory space I have available has huge potential - I anticipate I'll be setting up another new microcope laboratory shortly!

Due to some administrative 'hiccups' I will now probably not be attending the WAC-7 conference in Jordan, which is a real shame. Though in a way it is also a relief as it will give me more time to get settled in the new job. However, the exhibition I was hoping to run with Earthslides will be going ahead at some point in 2013 at another conference, so watch this space!

And back to the first conference of the year, and the first post in this blog, the deadline for submissions to the special issue of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences journal has finally passed. As suspected the majority of submissions were right before the November deadline, meaning a bit of a mad panic sorting out reviewers and whatnot. It is harder than you might think to a) get people to submit papers, even with almost a whole year's notice and b) finding suitable people to review them. But in the end it looks like we have a good spread representing both the conference and the subject in general.

And finally, I have my first publication of 2013 already! Though not sure if it really counts as new, as it was submitted and accepted in 2011. If anyone would like a copy and doesn't have access to VHA, I'd be more than happy to email the pdf. Shillito, L-M. (2013) Grains of truth or transparent blindfolds?Debates in archaeological phytolith analysis Vegetation History and Archaeobotany 22 (1): 71-82