Tuesday, 19 January 2016

To Tweet or Not to Tweet? Some thoughts from the AEA conference.

No tweets!
Having already written about 2000 words on the AEA conference, I thought I'd save these last few thoughts for a separate post, as it feeds into something I've been thinking about in general. It's a bit late considering the conference was back in November 2015, but better late than never and all that. The AEA is the first conference I've been to that had a social media guidelines, in the form on Tweet/No Tweet symbols. I wish I had actually taken note of the use of the symbol, though qualitatively I think most people were ok with it.
Someone made the observation that it was mostly early career researchers that were using the No tweet. This may seem surprising at first, as us 'early career' people are supposed to be all over this social media thing, right? I've seen some discussions on Twitter that really don't see the problem with sharing someone else's work in a public forum; science should be open, and open means sharing. I think there is a tension between being open with data, and the real worry about career impacts (and really, it is ok to care about your career - we're all doing science/archaeology because we love it, but we also need jobs). There is the argument that if you are open, and have your name attached to an idea, then everyone will know that it is yours and you don't have to worry. I think it is more complicated than this, especially if you work in an area that is very competitive and popular. It would be pretty easy for someone to say they came up with an idea independently, and to publish it before you (in an actual journal, which is what counts when it comes to getting jobs).
I noticed one No Tweet paper had a slightly different approach, in that Tweeting was ok, but no pictures of the slides. The presentation used a lot of archive images, and perhaps the speaker didn't have permission for these to be 'shared'? There is also the question of stealing someone's thunder; they are the ones presenting this exciting new research to an audience of peers, but it is the tweeter who is sharing that to a wider audience, and perhaps gaining all the kudos of retweets and shares.
I don't have an answer to this yet. My own tweeting at conferences is much more about my thoughts on a paper rather than trying to tweet the results/data. Now that I have a permanent job, I feel much happier about being fully open about everything, though I would prefer to have a conference talk filmed and shared that way, rather than a disconnected series of tweets.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Grand Challenges of Geoarchaeology?

I have a very important deadline tomorrow, hence it's the perfect time to do a blog post for Doug's Archaeology Blogging Carnival. Last year I took part in a series of posts about the purpose of blogging. This time the theme is Grand Challenges facing archaeology, specifically the participant's archaeology. In my case of course this is geoarchaeology. It's a good theme for me, as it's something I've been reflecting on a lot recently. I am writing a paper on investigating 'use of space', and multi-proxy approaches in archaeology. It's half review, half critique, and is turning into a bit of a monster. What follows is some of the central thoughts I am discussing in that paper, so actually any comments and feedback would be much appreciated!

One of the major challenges that I see facing geoarchaeology, is the integration of data from different scales. How do we use data collected for example at the microscale (such as geochemical patterning of floors, sediment micromorphology), and link this back to activities and processes at larger scales? I first started thinking about this over a decade ago, during my PhD, in relation to the landscape surrounding Catalhoyuk. There has been a long running idea (though recently this is changing), that the land surrounding Catalhoyuk was a big marshy swamp. This was based on a series of sediment cores that identified 'backswamp' deposits. One problem I always had with this was how we extrapolate from a small number of cores, to what is a very large landscape. How representative are these cores - are they telling us about the wider landscape, or something very localised? 

This got me thinking about sample sizes in general. When studying individual skeletons (as an example), how many do we need to look at before we can make generalisations about the population? And when we are studying buildings, how many buildings do we need to study to understand the patterns of use of space within a settlement? At Catalhoyuk we have seen an impressive suite of science applied to building floors, in an attempt to reconstruct activity patterns. This has included thin section micromorphology, microartefact patterning and geochemical analyses, phytoliths and starch, alongside artefact studies, macrobotanical and zooarchaeological analysis. In order to understand activity, it is important that we look at all of these lines of evidence together. An activity does not always (often?) leave a single material trace. The integration of different lines of evidence is what is meant by multi-proxy archaeology. The potential of a multi-proxy approach is that it provides a more complete characterisation of the material record, and thus focuses the range of possible interpretations (in theory!). By bringing together multiple lines of evidence, we can better define specific activities which produce an ‘assemblage’ of signals.

But how do we do this in reality? Samples and data are collected by different specialists at different scales, and though it may seem easy enough to go back and compare data afterwards, it can be surprisingly difficultMicromorphology for example can rarely be directly integrated with microartefact patterning. Whilst microartefacts represent cumulative deposition (palimpsests of activity), micromorphology looks at single (or close to single) events sequentially. For multi-proxy archaeology to work properly, samples must be collected together, and analysed together (ideally with the same aims). In theory, the reflexive methodology that was proposed for Catalhoyuk is supposed to overcome this problem. Rather than looking at different categories of material in isolation, a reflexive methodology 'keeps finds in their context'. But again, how? It's a question of scale, and a question of focus. Multi-proxy archaeology works well in hypothesis-led analysis, but often archaeology works in a more exploratory fashion.

In the end, what we have with Catalhoyuk (from a microanalysis perspective) is a small number of buildings studied in an incredible level of detail, but without the analyses being comparable a lot of the time. How representative are they of the settlement as a whole? Sometimes what we have is not even a reflection of activity within the building, but a reflection of  variations in building materials. How much time (and money) should we spend on obtaining such an incredible level of detail? I think the grand challenge for my archaeology, is resolving this problem of scale, and defining the relationship between the details of microanalysis, and the bigger picture.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Happy New Year 2016! Happy 5th Birthday, Blog!

Today is my first day back in the office after the Xmas hols, though I've actually been itching to get back. Not because I don't like the holidays - it was great, I had a real Christmas tree for the first time in my life which was very exciting, and I am now planning on ways to turn it into reference material for environmental archaeology practical classes. This is also the first time ever that I can think of, where I genuinely did not do ANY WORK AT ALL over the holidays. This definitely correlates with the fact I got a permanent position last September, and so am no longer in that state of permanent anxiety that characterizes being a postdoc. I made a promise to my family that I would get better at work-life balance and stop being in continuous work mode. I do not regret this decision at all, I am happier, my family is happier, we had a fantastic Xmas and New Year. But I do find it so hard to stop working. It's a combination of actually loving my job, all the paper writing and musing over ideas, but also I find it very hard to not do things straight away. I've had a whole list of tasks waiting over the holidays, from writing a new module, writing new contributed lectures for other modules, putting together reading lists, marking, multiple papers to finish. When I have stuff to do, I just itch to get it done. My way of working is a bit sporadic - if an idea comes into my head, or the inspiration to do some writing hits, I find it hard to focus on doing something else. Along with not doing any work, I also didn't do any blogging for the whole of December, not even a microfossil of the month! This is the first time since I started the blog that I haven't posted at all in a whole month. My new years' resolution therefore is to work blog more in 2016, and perhaps even get to the point where I can schedule posts for the holidays. Also, happy birthday Castles and Coprolites, my blog is 5 years old at the end of this week!