Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Microfossil of the Month - Globigerina Ooze

A bit of a geoscience themed iPhone micrograph for September (I am getting quite good at this iPhone down the eyepiece photo taking thing). Yes, there really is a sediment called ooze...Globigerina ooze! Archaeologists are probably aware that much of our global scale climate reconstructions come from the isotopic analysis of deep sea sediment cores, and Globigerina ooze is one of these sediments. Huge areas of the ocean floor are covered in this stuff, which consists largely of the shells of various foraminifera, of which the species Globigerina bulloides is the most common. The shells of these little creatures are composed of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) and it is the oxygen component of this that is used for oxygen isotope analysis in the reconstruction of temperature in the past. The name Globigerina ooze was first used to describe the sediment during planning and construction of the earliest transatlantic telegraph cables. They are very delightful looking little things, and although we don't really come across them much in archaeology, they do turn up occasionally in building materials for example, and it is useful to be able to distinguish them from other microfossils such as diatoms and pollen. And even though archaeologists don't work on deep sea cores, we certainly rely on the climate data from these analyses. In order to understand climate and environmental change on archaeological timescales, we must understand the wider context of global environmental change in the Quaternary.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Ochre in Orkney

Oh the excitement! Today I received a parcel from Earthslides, with 20 new thin section samples from the Ness of Brodgar. These samples were collected in 2014 and are mostly from the Trench T midden. Although I don't yet have the kit in place to do a proper analysis, I couldn't resist having a quick peek with my old Swift scope. The level of complexity is daunting - so may fine layers of stratigraphy hidden within layers that appear relatively homogeneous in the field. But already I can see something interesting things - layers of burnt peat,  a very large amount of burnt bone, and even a tiny fragment of red ochre pigment, about 2mm in diameter. This pigment has been found in various contexts in Orkney (and elsewhere around the world), for example Gordon Childe at Skara Brae found containers of pigment he interpreted as 'paint pots'.  At the Ness it is thought that the pigment was ground down and used as a paint for the stone walls in buildings. Behold my attempts at taking photos down the eyepiece with my iPhone camera - sorry about all the reflections, but you get the idea!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015


Like many archaeologists, and people in general, I am deeply saddened by the ongoing destruction of cultural heritage in Syria, and the plight of the people who have become refugees. Every time there is a new horror story in the news, I've been going back to my photographs from the time I spent in Syria in 2010. I didn't have time to go and see Palmyra, and it saddens me that I will never get the chance now. What saddens me more is that I have no way of knowing what has happened to the Syrians I met while I was working there. The lovely guy who helped me with my paperwork at the border crossing from Turkey, and made sure I got on the right bus to get to Baniyas. The lovely family I met, who gave me a Syrian pop music CD and a carved cowry shell. The shopkeepers at Al-Hamidiyah Souq who sold me olive soap and beautiful inlaid boxes. The local man who showed me around Margat castle - we couldn't communicate well as he had no English and I have even less Arabic, but we somehow managed with smiles and gestures, and he asked me to take his photo. To think that only 5 years ago they were just ordinary people going about their day to day lives, and how quickly their world has been torn apart. I am bloody awful at taking photos when I'm away doing archaeology. I have folders full of soil section photos and only a handful with actual people in them. I wish I'd stayed in touch, instead of assuming I would just see them again next field season. I hope they have managed to find somewhere safe. I wish there was more I could do. I found this blog useful that suggests some of the things that we can do to help Syrian refugees.